Real Travel for Real People

Sergio NibbiAll that Jazz

Considering that Bottle Rock was history and the ground had finally stopped shaking, we thought that it would be a perfect time to visit Napa. Late spring, looking for summer, with the vines starting to perform their yearly ritual. Beautiful weather, with cult wines looking to be discovered, decanted, and enjoyed. Looking for some peace and quiet, we made reservations at the new Archer Hotel in the center of downtown, which opened just six weeks after the devastating fires that swept through the wine country. Anchoring the new 183 room Archer Hotel is Charlie Parmer's Steak House, a carnivore's delight with their "cowboy cut" 18-ounce Ribeye served with a side of Béarnaise sauce, truffle, and bacon twice-baked potato and roasted mushrooms. Fortunately, Queen of the Valley Hospital is just a mile down the road!

The ride home was pleasant. Feeling badly about our lack of jazz involvement, I did find some smooth jazz on the radio to play on the ride back. Perhaps next year we can come better prepared to join the crowds, enjoy some of that great talent, and catch some live entertainment, but for now my apologies to The Commodores, Norman Brown, Peter White, Faith Evans and Bobby Caldwell…see you next time”

Moments after checking in, I picked up a copy of Inside Napa Valley and there it was, The Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, a week's worth of more raucous music and more tourists. With that, we took a quick walk across the street and decided to split a club sandwich at the Subway Sandwich franchise and down it with a diet coke; so much for being in the gastronomical center of the universe.

That evening we decided to have dinner in the Sky and Vine Restaurant on the rooftop of the hotel, and of course, that evening was the fourth playoff game for the Warriors, and again more whooping and hollering, and yes it was an amazing sweep for our three-time champs. The staff gave us one of the best tables near the TVs behind the bar. With so many people standing in front of the TVs it was impossible to see any of the action, but we could tell from the gyrations of the guests that we were headed for victory. By the end of the evening our ears were ringing, and we both got a free lesson on lip reading before the final cheers subsided.

On Saturday we headed to Yountville for lunch and took a chance at Michael Chiarello's Bottega. Both the inside and outside were packed with diners, but somehow we lucked out with one of the best tables on the outside patio. Ordering was easy; we always have the Gnocchi Della Nonna, fluffy pillows filled with ricotta cheese served with a delicious tomato sauce…Yes!

For dinner we took another chance and without reservations headed to Filippi's Pizza Grotto. We sat down at the plastic-covered table and settled for the mushroom and sausage pizza. Not being beer drinkers, we surprisingly ordered a pitcher of the locally crafted beer and proceeded to drink it all. Again, this was not the French Laundry, but that pizza was out of this world, and although we ordered the smaller one we had to force ourselves to devour the entire six slices. And if that wasn't enough we walked across the street to the Oxbow Public Market and took home a couple of Kara's cupcakes in case we suffered hunger pangs in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, we did manage a real meal with some friends at the River Terrace Inn, where we enjoyed the alfresco dining while sharing a nice Pinot from the Napa Valley. Monday morning's breakfast was again at the Sky and Vine rooftop restaurant, where the weather was picture perfect and the background music very pleasing to our tired ears.

The ride home was pleasant. Feeling badly about our lack of jazz involvement, I did find some smooth jazz on the radio to play on the ride back. Perhaps next year we can come better prepared to join the crowds, enjoy some of that great talent, and catch some live entertainment, but for now my apologies to The Commodores, Norman Brown, Peter White, Faith Evans and Bobby Caldwell…see you next time.

Sergio gets around — the world!

July 2018

A Royal Visit

With all the hoopla and around the clock coverage of the Royal Wedding, I couldn't help but think about the first time we visited Windsor. It was in 2008, and after an easy flight from SFO to Heathrow we were picked up at the airport and driven to Windsor for the 90 minute ride to this lovely town that reminded us so much of Carmel.

When we arrived at the Harte & Garter Hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to see our room, not very large and not very fancy, but it was directly across the street from Windsor Castle. The large iron balcony off our room gave us a direct view of the Castle, the changing of the guards, and the young men from Eton College, a very famous public school, jogging down the street intermingled with the endless swarms of tourists. A priceless location for watching a Royal Wedding, if only we knew.

As we strolled around town we discovered great little shops with the most interesting names, like the Italian restaurant called Little Italy—Pizza Express, The Two Brewers, whose message over the door read, "Dedicated to Life, Liberty, Food, Drink and Other Less Serious Matters" and of course, a McDonalds. Walking around, we admired the Crooked House, a Woolworth's, and Hooters, a very clever name for a store selling musical instruments.

After crossing the Windsor Bridge, we visited the old train station that had been converted to a lovely shopping arcade, where we saw another cleverly named shop called "Wooden it be Lovely." Another sign reminded us that there was "No Driving on This Side of the Street."

The following day we walked past a gaggle of swans as we made our way to a river cruise on the Thames, and watched as swimmers dodged the cleverly decorated mini-house boats and small yachts tied to the banks of the river.

The next morning we made our way through security and entered Windsor Castle. The grounds are meticulous, with guards standing like ramrods at every entrance to the various rooms. Photographs are allowed outside but not inside, which was very disappointing as we visited St. George's Chapel, and yes, there were no royals there to greet us. We were able to have our picture taken with one of the guards as he stood there motionless, and I'm sure thinking to himself, "enough of this, already." On our way out, we walked past Windsor Guildhall, the building where Prince Charles and Camilla, now the Duchess of Cornwall, were married in a civil ceremony. Again, a lot of tradition as to why they could not be married in St. George's Chapel.

In the evening, we again watched the changing of the guards as they marched along with their drums, flutes, and more pomp and circumstance, and of course the usual wall-to-wall tourists.

Our stay was short but made all that much more interesting having visited this lovely town, and now revisiting it again on national television as the royals romp around in their carriages, on horseback, in their Rolls, and with the women sporting their designer clothes and plumed hats.

The Royal Wedding has been a great spectacle, and thank you Harry and Meghan for putting on a truly enjoyable show, but for us there is no Royal Honeymoon as we come to the realization that tomorrow is just another day of slaving away. God bless the Queen.

Sergio gets around — the world!

 

June 2018

Cinque Terre, Italy

The Salt of the Earth

We flew from San Francisco to London, with a few days at the Mayfair Hotel, and then a quick flight to Florence for the 50th birthday celebration of a dear friend from Woodside. During our stay in Florence, we managed to drive to the Cinque Terre, which was a harrowing experience, driving along those narrow, winding roads, hanging on to those steep cliffs, but certainly worth the adventure while we enjoyed the spectacular views of the crystal blue waters below.

Schloss Fuschl, Saltzburg

Next on our agenda was a drive to Salzburg, Austria with a few stops in-between. Our hotel, the Schloss Fuschl, a former castle, was located on the lake of the same name and a real treasure. It was a short ride into Salzburg and our first stop was at the Mirabell Palace, where we admired the Marble Hall and decided that it would be a great spot for our next party. Lovely, until we stepped onto the geometrically arranged Mirabell Gardens, with its bronze sculptures by Italian sculptor, Ottavio Mosto. Truly unbelievable. We later learned that several scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed there where the children sang Do-Re-Mi' while dancing around the horse fountain and using the steps as a musical scale. We just could not get that song out of our heads for the next several days.

The main streets sported beautiful new streetcars that coexisted peacefully with the centuries-old horse and buggies, as well as stores full of delicious-looking cakes and desserts. We settled for an ice cream cone from a shop right next door to a MacDonald's. It was a quiet Sunday, but still enough people who caught the attention of a very clever dog playing a piano as we all watched the chess players in the middle of the plaza playing with life size chess pieces.

As beautiful as the main Cathedral was, it did not compare to listening to the dual organs playing simultaneously in this massive structure. From there we took the funicular to the top of the fortress and prided ourselves by walking all the way down and saved 20 Schilling in the process, we should have taken the tram back down and spent the money. A quick stop by Mozart's House, and then it was back to our hotel.

The following day we drove to Hallstatt where pastel-colored houses cast flickering reflections on the glassy lake. Surrounded by the mighty Alps, the entire area has been known for hundreds of years for the production of salt, which was a major economic force. The one place we skipped was the Bone House, home to over 1,200 human skulls, which was used as the local cemetery. We settled for a cold beer instead.

Our visit was extremely enjoyable, but as often happens, far too short. From there we drove through a lush valley covered with wild flowers and on to Innsbruck, Lucerne, and eventually finding our way back to Pisa where we returned our rented Mercedes. So many great memories.

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

May 2018

 

 

 

Skating on Thin Ice

It appears that North and South Korea decided that it is a lot more fun to challenge each other on the slopes than lobbing nukes at each other. I've truly enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang every evening and cheering those young athletes from around the world performing those amazing stunts on the mountain sides and marveling at their skill and courage. But while watching this amazing show I can't help but think about the 1960 winter Olympics held only a few hundred miles away at, of all places, "Squaw Valley."

It was 1956, and as a young man I remember driving to Lake Tahoe and putting up with the endless delays as men and equipment worked fearlessly to expand Highway 80 in order to handle the additional traffic. While drilling rigs bored into the sides of the mountain, brave men packed the chambers with dynamite in order to disrupt the beauty of nature for the sake of humankind. The wait was endless as we sat patiently anticipating the next "boom." The roadway signs warning us "Do not turn on radios." Just imagine with today's I-Phones, cell phones and I-Pads the mayhem in controlling the threat of a pre-mature explosion. Talk about terror!

Once Squaw was chosen, the challenge was to turn the virtually unknown and undeveloped Squaw Valley into a world-renowned resort. The task was accomplished in an unbelievably short length of time and for a total cost of 80 million dollars, a far cry from today's billions spent in recent years by host countries. Without today's fanfare or chain cutting, the politicians were able to deliver the project on time and probably under budget, but that was the California of old. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown was governor and should have taken a little more time educating his young son in the ways of governing, but wait a minute, this is about history and not political comment which shall be left for the more talented columnists appearing on these very same pages.

The amount of planning, design and construction is unfathomable in today's litigious society, and starting from a clean slate was an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. McKinney Creek Stadium, as well as Blyth Memorial Arena, were built from the ground up, and the latter used as the site of both the opening and closing ceremonies. And who better to chair the Pageantry Committee than Walt Disney himself, who was responsible for both ceremonies.

I vividly remember attending the spectacle and being enthralled by the high jump as skiers soared hundreds of feet in the air. I only wish I had stayed to see the closing festivities, but the treat of driving back on a brand new four lane Highway 80 was too tempting to resist.

So now the games are over, the medals proudly displayed, and the nukes still in their silos. Perhaps we should extend the games to run all year long — certainly a lot more fun and a much safer world.

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

March 2018

Homeless

Mt. Shasta

I do not remember why but I do remember when. It was in 1970 and we decided to leave the comfort of our home and venture north to spend 10 days in a rented motorhome. With our three young children, we packed our Winnebago, maps in hand, and headed out. Our first night was spent at a campsite along the Sacramento River outside of Corning, and at that point all was good. We had done some research on stops along the way, but obviously GPS did not exist and certainly no Google. One of the first things we learned was that every day we had to stop and empty the holding tank and refill our water. We also found out that you just didn't start cooking in the tiny galley while speeding down the highway. The campsites that we visited were comfortable and the people friendly, but we had to make sure that we had all our provisions with us, there were no 7 Elevens at the campsites and going shopping meant unhooking the electrical, water and sewer and driving to the closest town and risking the chance of not finding another spot at the campsite for that evening.

Btrchart Gardens

As we continued north, we made brief stops in Red Bluff and Redding, and then witnessed the majesty of Mount Shasta and the beauty of Lake Shasta. We did not know it at the time, but in later years, Ashland became one of our favorite destinations as we returned on several occasions for the Oregon Shakespeare festival to enjoy not only the performances, but also the fine food and lovely accommodations.

A stop in Portland allowed us the opportunity to introduce our children to Karen's grandparents, aunts and uncles while enjoying a home cooked meal and doing some much need laundry. Our final destination was Victoria, British Columbia and in order to get there we put our trusty home away from home on a ferry from Anacortes, Washington to Victoria, which took us through the San Juan Islands, which became another one of our must-see destinations in later years.

San Juan Park, Washington

Once in Victoria our first order of business was to jump ship, which in our case meant our motor home, and check in to a nice, clean, warm hotel for 2 days to give our tired backs and stomachs a much-needed rest. One of the most famous sites in Victoria is the Butchard Gardens located on Vancouver Island, and what a treat that was. With its beautiful sunken garden, waterfalls, statuary and its massive Italian garden it is truly worthy of its designation as a Canadian National Historic Site.

Butchart Gardens

So once again, it was time to squeeze our belongings in our home on six wheels and head back. The one thing that I still remember was the excellent condition of the roads that we traveled through Washington and Oregon, and how quickly we realized when we were back in California, and that was 48 years ago. Where do all those tax dollars go? And speaking of dollars, why are we in a trade dispute with Canada that may result in as much as a 25% import tax on newsprint which is mostly produced in Canada? Are we "Making America Great Again" by putting our newspapers out of business? Perhaps they got it backwards and our Pres is trying to make "Canada" great again!!!

Sergio gets around—the world.

February 2018

Giving Thanks

It's only a basketball game for Pete's sake! Actually a few games with eight teams competing over a period of three days. The games are broadcast on ESPN and out there for the entire world to watch. The only difference is that this tournament is not at the Warriors' arena or somewhere back east. This tournament is called the Maui Jim Maui Invitational and it just so happens to be in, you guessed it, Maui. Two of the eight teams playing are Marquette, where our granddaughter graduated, and Michigan, where her father graduated. So considering what a sports fan I am (not), what better excuse to join them for a few days on this island paradise. It's Thanksgiving week, not much is going on at the office, and we finally cleaned out our suitcases after our 18-day cruise through the Panama Canal. So here we are overlooking the blue Pacific from our 10th floor windows, watching the surfers fighting the crashing waves, and wishing that we could join them, but unfortunately our insurance won't allow it.

We left on Saturday morning at 10:15 and settled in our very comfortable seats on Hawaiian's direct flight to Kahului. After a short bus ride to the rental car office, we drove off into the sunset for the short 17-mile drive to the Kaanapali Alii, which took us over an hour in stop and go traffic to get here. You think that downtown San Francisco is bad?

Actually, as it really happened, we ended up with a family gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving and give us a chance to visit with our children and grandchildren. With four of our grandchildren either working or attending college back east, it's always fun to catch up on their adventures, and it's a great place to get away from the everyday hassle and enjoy a margarita on the beach.

Nevertheless, the one thing that I've always enjoyed and look forward to is a visit to Lahaina, where the junk shops are wall to wall and the barkers are all trying to give you free samples of skin cream or suntan lotion. A lot has changed in the area surrounding our hotel but not much has changed in Lahaina. It's the same two-lane street through the center of town, no new construction, and certainly no high-rises, but the one thing that is still here and very visible is the large neon sign on top of a local church that still proclaims, "Jesus is Coming."

I've been told that I'm a real pain to travel with through Lahaina because I stop every few feet for another photo op--how many photos does one need of the same area? From previous visits, I have a bunch. In the past, we could enjoy the meals and drinks at the Lahaina Yacht Club, but unfortunately no longer. It's a private club, and as members of St. Francis Yacht Club we had reciprocal rights, but again our boating days are gone, and as hard as I tried getting a table, there was no going back.

During this short week, our days are spent enjoying the beach, listening to the crashing waves and walking around the Whaler Village, which is a mere five minutes from our room. At night, we all gather to discuss the day's wins and losses and then pool our resources for a fun-filled potluck dinner. The Maui News, along with its companion, the Lahaina News, updates us on the latest scores and who is still in the running. At this point we know that Michigan beat VCU for 5th place, and Marquette beat LSU for third place, making our granddaughter happy to have her school outdo her dad's alma mater.

But as much fun as the tournament has been, one needs a little diversion as well, so last night Karen and I had a date night that took us to Roy's, just a few minutes' walk from the hotel. Our corner table had a spectacular view of the golf course and the major hotels beyond, and always being ready for something different, I settled for the "Duck, Duck, Goose"--and different it was. Finger licking good for sure. Tonight, we all gather around the bar-b-que pits for another family gathering and put our cash on the line: will it be Notre Dame or Wichita State who walks away with the championship?

Sergio gets around — the world! Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

December 2017

Keeping America Great

If anyone has any doubts of how great our county really is, all one has to do is head to the area of the Panama Canal. We all learned in our history classes that the French started the work on the canal in 1880 after a very successful project building the Suez Canal. Dig a trench from one ocean to the other and start collecting the money. Unfortunately that’s not how it happened. The French tried the same method of digging from ocean to ocean and failed miserably, both financially and sadly with over 25,000 deaths, mainly from yellow fever and malaria. It was not until 1903 that the United States bought the rights to the canal, along with the realization that the transit had to be accomplished by a series of water elevators.

With that the work was started and successfully completed in a mere 11 years. One of the greatest engineering endeavors of all time, it still stands as a compliment to American determination, ingenuity, skill, and medical innovation.

The canal was opened on August 15, 1914 under the management of the United States and remained so until December 31, 1999, when it was turned over to the Panamanian government by a treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter. The most fascinating part is that every time a ship is raised or lowered through the locks, the water is used only once and then spilled out to sea. With six locks between the seas and with millions of gallons of water used each time in each lock, you can imagine the amount of water that is used daily and yet the Panama Canal has never run out of water in all these years. The third canal that was opened just last year is much wider and longer and does have a reservoir that recycles over 60 percent of the water, but as we were told, were it not for the rain forest surrounding the area there would be no water, and with no water no canal.

Two ships crossing

Our transit was done during daylight hours that started obviously from the Pacific side as we passed by Panama City with its two million inhabitants, endless high-rises rivaling Miami or Manhattan, and what is now one of the largest banking centers in the word. Another interesting point is that they do not take Visa or MasterCard - yes it’s strictly cash. Our captain mentioned that it cost $185,000 for our crossing, but with the new 3rd channel the Post-Panamax vessels can carry thousands of containers, and they can pay well over one million dollars per crossing.

After the crossing we overnighted in Colon, on the Atlantic side of the canal, and the following day we had arranged for a 6 hour bus and train ride on the Panama Canal Railway Company that took us from Colon to Panama, and back over what was the first Continental Railway, established before the canal was built to ferry the early 49ers going from Europe to California for the gold rush. Today it still carries a fair number of tourists, but its main business is still carrying over one thousand containers a day from ocean to ocean. Our guide spoke constantly, pointing out the highlights of the canal, and eventually stopping off at the new visitor’s center to get a closer look at the newly built 3rd channel. Most importantly, he taught us the meaning of such phrases as a Shakespeare stop, “to pee or not to pee,” and also gave us the opportunity to stop along the way back and do some “chopping.”

The Panama Canal is now considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world and our thanks go to our politicians at the time, our congress, FDR, the Army Core of Engineers and the talent of the men and woman of this great country.

The next stop was just as eventful as we visited Cartagena, Columbia, and found another beautiful, modern city and home to endless American ex-pats. Certainly no drug lords standing on the corners selling their wares to unsuspecting tourists but rather a very modern city surrounded by old churches, forts and a beautiful Old-Town that was packed with tourists and visitors alike. Once again we found a friendly, English speaking guide who took us around for over two hours starting out with the Convento de la Popa with spectacular views of the city below and of course the mandatory photo with the donkey, standing behind the cutout of the pirate and damsel while fighting off all the vendors selling all sorts of hats, shirts, jewelry and religious souvenirs. We stopped off in Old-Town for some great photo ops, touring the walled city and eventually found our way back to the “chip.”

Fruit Stand in Cartagena

Our last stop was to be in George Town, Grand Cayman where we were scheduled to anchor but because of the rough seas from Hurricane Nate we had to skip that one and spend the day at sea.

Bright and early on Sunday morning we arrived in Miami, had one last breakfast at our favorite Terrace Restaurant and headed down the gangplank.

Before leaving, my main concern was how to spend 18 days on the ship, 18 days later we wondered where did those 18 days go? It was truly an adventure; we got to see some amazing places, were surprised at the unexpected beauty of so many of the stops and had the opportunity to overnight in Miami before heading home.

The cruise was a fantasy, today its reality. Let us be thankful for our good fortune, help others in need as we look forward to the next adventure. Take care and stay well…..God bless.

Sergio gets around — the world! Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

Scaling the Wall

Thank God that our presiding President hasn't built that wall yet because between the earthquakes and the hurricanes it would have tumbled down and the remnants blown away. It took Mother Nature to show us what should and shouldn't be done to our fellow human beings and we're just starting to see the real story.

Arriving in Ensanada

Under misty skies and with a slight chop we left San Francisco's beautiful Cruise Terminal and headed out to sea, past Alcatraz, Fort Point, and under the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge, leaving behind two Coast Guard patrol boats escorting us, and eventually the Bar Pilot as he fearlessly jumped off our ship, gripped the safety rails on his craft and smartly made a U-turn back to the City of St. Francis.

We obviously had serious reservations before leaving on September 20th for an 18 day cruise on Oceana's Regatta to Miami by way of the Panama Canal, going through some of the devastation that has been filling the TVs and newspapers, but at our age what do we have to lose?

If this is what Trump is trying to keep out perhaps he should consider building a gate instead of a wall to let these wonderful people into our country. I've yet to see a homeless person or a beggar on the streets, and certainly San Francisco could take some lessons from what we've seen so far."

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The Regatta is small by comparison, and with only 510 of the normal 685 passengers joining us, we soon learned most of the names and faces of our fellow passengers. We're surprised at how many couples are from other countries. Since there's just the two of us it's always fun to share a dinner table and make new friends every day. The first night we sat with two couples, one from South Africa and one from London.

Dinner with the Captain

The second night we were honored to be asked to sit at the Captain's table, and again more world travelers to meet and trade stories. Our Captain, Luksa Kristovic, is from the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia and what a nice, personable individual he is.

And to make things even sweeter, I was seated next to Jennifer Smith, a beautiful young woman who is an on-board entertainer and who recently graduated from Boston's Conservatory of Music. The eight of us talked the evening away and we made sure to catch Jennifer's show at the Regatta Lounge the following evening. After a day at sea we arrived in Ensenada, took the two dollar bus ride into town and walked past all the beer joints and barkers. My first impression was how nice and polite everyone is and certainly enterprising. My greatest treat was honing my negotiating skills, and after scoring two hats and a very nice pair of ten dollar sunglasses I couldn't help but feel guilty about beating up on those poor merchants, so we stopped by the local church and left a few dinero in the collection plate.

If this is what Trump is trying to keep out perhaps he should consider building a gate instead of a wall to let these wonderful people into our country. I've yet to see a homeless person or a beggar on the streets, and certainly San Francisco could take some lessons from what we've seen so far. With all the devastation from the storms I'm sure that good help is going to be in big demand.

After a relaxing day at sea, our dinner Saturday night was at one of the two specialty restaurants, Toscana, where the food was delicious and Pasquale's service spectacular.

Cabo San Lucas' famous rocks greet us

Sunday morning we were awakened by the sound of the anchors being dropped, and after the usual announcements, we headed for the tender ride into Cabo San Lucas. Shops, shops, and more shops. Barkers and beer was once again the norm, and there were more offers of boat rides and tours than people. Cuban cigars are big with the street vendors, and with every pharmacy plastering their windows with the Viagra and Cialis ads, and with all that Tequila, one would think that siesta time would run 24 hours a day!

The most amazing part of this area is the amount of new construction going on. Beautiful hotels, condos and huge yachts are everywhere. The restaurants are packed and the music louder than ever. Certainly no signs of a slowing economy. Security is very tight with young men and women patrolling the area, their AK47's at the ready. The only thing that we managed to walk away with was a copy of Gringo Gazette and, as its masthead proudly proclaims, "Priceless."

So tomorrow is another day at sea before reaching Acapulco on Tuesday, which gives us plenty to time to catch up on what's been happening in Cabo. But the best part is, as it says in the dateline, "No Bad News."

Sergio gets around—the world!

October 2017

The Big Dig

According to Wikipedia “The Big Dig” was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by cost overruns, delays, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests and sadly, one death. The work was to be Boston’s solution to historically congested streets and, although the project was originally scheduled to be completed in 1998 at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion, the project was not completed until 2007 at a cost of over $14.6 billion. Hopefully this will not be the case with the new underground Muni Metro Central Subway extension that will daylight at Stockton and Washington streets in Chinatown.

 

 

It all sounds like a world of fun as long as we don’t run into any hurricanes, bad storms, or banditos. We’re looking forward to it and I hope to share some new adventures with all of you. In the meantime, we’ll be brushing up on our Spanish.”

Another massive project that certainly had its problems is the world famous Panama Canal. Originally started by the French, and later finished by the United States, it is truly an amazing work of engineering and determination.

We had occasion to cruise from Miami to Los Angeles in 1999 on the Crystal Symphony and truly enjoyed every moment of our transit, not only the actual crossing itself, but the views of the first attempts of the original excavation that are still there to remind us of the struggles to dig from ocean to ocean. The French began the work in 1881, but stopped due to engineering problems and the medical issues that brought the project to its demise. It was the American engineering skill and medical advancements that prevailed, and the new canal was opened in 1914, completing one of the most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

These efforts were certainly not lost on us as we braved the extreme humidity and constant rain showers while listening from our veranda to dialog on the history, construction, and historical facts being broadcast from the bridge from a member of the local historical society. It took all day to traverse the 48 miles between the two oceans, and what a thrill it was. Of course, we also enjoyed the great meals and cocktails aboard, as well as the many stops along the way including Cartagena, Columbia, Caldera in Costa Rica, and Acapulco.

So here we are, 18 years later and ready to do a repeat, except this time we go directly from San Francisco to Miami for an 18-day voyage. The best part is that we drive to the ship terminal on the Embarcadero, board our ship, Oceania’s Regatta, and settle in. First stop, Ensenada, which was recently changed from Catalina Island, but just think of all the junk shops that we can visit before getting serious about the next stops. We’ll be visiting Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the granddaddy, a daylight cruise through the Panama Canal. Cartagena will get us to the Straits of Florida, Key West, and finally Miami.

Then we have an overnight in Miami and a non-stop to SFO and back home, where we can unwind, get our sea legs back, and go through 20 days of mail, junk and yes, bills.

It all sounds like a world of fun as long as we don’t run into any hurricanes, bad storms, or banditos. We’re looking forward to it and I hope to share some new adventures with all of you. In the meantime, we’ll be brushing up on our Spanish.

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: Sergio@westsideobserver.com

Basking in the Sun

With global warming in full bloom, we figured that we had better visit Alaska one more time before it turns into Palm Springs. So with a dozen friends tagging along, we all gathered aboard Crystal’s Harmony, located the cocktail lounge and readied ourselves for the beautiful view out the windows as we steamed out of San Francisco Bay and under the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. We passed the Farallon Islands, following the setting sun as we settled in and prepared for our first stop, Victoria, British Columbia.

Following a full day at sea we arrived bright and early, put on our best tourist faces, and helped the local economy while still managing a quick bite of lunch and a respite at the local ice-cream store. Refreshed and fortified, we grabbed a ride on the Harbor Tour Boats that look like something out of a child’s coloring book. After a mandatory visit to the ageless Empress Hotel, it was back to the shelter and comfort of our ship.

The next morning we arrived in Vancouver with its sweeping canvas roofed terminal reminiscent of the Opera House in Sidney. With a local driver named Billy, we got the tour of a lifetime as he showed us a couple of the mega yachts docked at the harbor and then headed to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The footbridge is 450 feet long and was originally built as a cedar plank and hemp rope bridge but is now strung with steel cable and supposedly can hold 1,990 people. We felt very happy with the 30 or so crossing at one time, and although the height did not scare us, the swinging and swaying made for a very uncomfortable feeling. Getting across was great except for the fact that we had to cross it again in order to get back. We made it and even got a certificate proving the fact. The last stop was at Grandville Market, an old industrial area that was converted to artist’s studios, shops and a phenomenal market and food court that is the envy of all its visitors.

The following day it was Sitka, but not before enjoying a delicious dinner at Kioto where we were treated to a lovely display of appetizers skillfully arranged on a 3-foot long bamboo rowboat with chopsticks for oars. It started out great, but unfortunately, the later it got, the bumpier it got and somewhere between the Kobe beef and the green tea ice cream most of the dining room opted for an early exit. By show time, it got so rough that the Captain decided to cancel the show and drain the pool and spas to keep the water from splashing all over. It did not take long to figure out who owns this ocean—it’s not the Americans and it’s not the Russians, it’s a gal named Gale. With 20-foot seas and gale force winds we bounced around all night long, but oddly enough, we glided into Sitka the next morning under overcast skies but flat, calm seas.

Sitka has about 8,000 residents and the same number of shirt shops and souvenir stands. Our first stop was at the Bishop’s house. A lot of history was passed on to us during the tour and we came away in awe of the strength and stamina that the people had in those days. Next was at the National Park, where we hiked a 2-mile trail enjoying the view of the harbor while stopping along the way to watch the thousands of salmon swimming upstream, spawning, and then dying along the creek beds, fulfilling their natural cycle.

 

 

 

 

The city of Skagway looked newly decorated, considering its age and stage in its history. Most of the shops sport brightly colored clapboard exteriors, dazzling flags and signs, and nicely decorated windows. The shopkeepers are very polite and honestly admit to the fact that the end of the season is here and would like to get rid of all their merchandise. We helped them clean out their stock, making two trips into town in the breezy and wet weather.

The capital of Alaska is Juneau, which can only be reached by ferry or by plane. Our arrival Saturday morning brought heavy rains but fairly mild temperatures. Fortunately, we tied up right across the street from the center of town and made our first stop at the Red Dog Saloon, where sawdust on the floor remains along with the usual signs requesting that firearms be checked at the door. After another afternoon of shopping, it was back to the ship and we all agreed that we really enjoyed Juneau, but found the people a little more impersonal, and the shops a lot less likely to negotiate.

Sunday it was all day in Glacier Bay, described as “The Gem of Alaska’s Inside Passage” and “God’s Gift to Mankind.” One has to see it to appreciate it, no matter how many photos, video or adjectives. At 7 am, we slowed down to pick up the three park rangers, and by mid-morning we started to see the splendor of our surroundings. Over the ship’s PA system, the rangers kept us up to date on the various highlights, occasionally pointing out bears, cubs, mountain goats and all sorts of exotic wildlife. The John Muir glacier was the largest of the many that we saw and the most awe-inspiring. Having reached the end of the inlet, the ship paused reverently, almost religiously, her bow pointed straight ahead, her engines barely audible. Then as if ready to genuflect, she started a ballet like 360 degree spin so all aboard could see and feel the power and beauty of this spectacle. When it was over the ship sat there motionless for the longest time as if waiting for applause to break out, then silently started the trek back, all with the highest respect for its surroundings. One of the greatest things this country has ever done was to designate Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve a national monument in 1925, and what a what a treasure it’s been.

Early the next morning we arrived in Ketchikan and tied up at the dock right in the middle of town. Last chance for shopping and we certainly didn’t let the opportunity slip idly by. Our first stop, Dolly’s House, where the most infamous madam in these parts still draws visitors to her tiny cottage on Creek Street. A raised wooden pathway houses a handful of small buildings selling other, more appropriate ware. Sadly, by midafternoon it was off with the lines and on with our return to reality.

So sometime early in the morning, under the cover of darkness, we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and back to a normal, routine life on land. What a great adventure, and hopefully it will be there for years to come and certainly better than Palm Springs.

Sergio gets around — the world!

July / August 2017

10-17 Foxtrot

Trevor

With all the construction going on at SFO it's a wonder that we made it to United's boarding area. TSA Pre-check worked as designed, and thankfully we were not ejected from our United seat at the last minute, avoiding the evening news. Our flight to Boston left on time and arrived 20 minutes early. Our driver bent our respective ears for the next two hours as he weaved in and out of the late afternoon traffic while delivering us from Boston's Logan to the Vanderbilt Grace on Newport, Rhode Island.

We had visited Newport many years ago while on a cruise, but only for the day. This time its 4 days to attend our grandson's graduation from the Naval OCS program, Officer Training Command, Newport. After 12 weeks of rigorous physical and emotional upheaval, the end was near. The cocktail party on Thursday evening was a precursor to Friday's graduation ceremony. The more than 200 guests were royally treated to food and cocktails as two candidate officers stood proudly at the microphone introducing Captain Michael Savageaux, the Commanding Officer who heads up the training program, as well as Rear Admiral Sean Filipowski, the Deputy Director of Operations, along with a select list of retired naval officers and dignitaries.

The highlight of the evening came with the introduction of three of the 65 students who were singled out for special recognition, and as proud grandparents we were thrilled to hear Trevor Nibbi's name as one of the three. The beautifully framed proclamation said it all, "In recognition for achieving the highest average for academic and military training."

I was fortunate enough to take a series of photos with the officers and future Ensigns, but one individual shone like a bright star, Gunnery Sergeant Jeremy Hager, who was the group's drill instructor and believe me, Hollywood could not have painted a better picture. Tall, slim, and tough as nails. He was a Marine. I approached him very cautiously for a photo op, not knowing if my head would be bitten off, but I survived and was tempted to salute him, but for me those days were gone.

The following morning at 9 am sharp, the official graduation ceremony commenced, and in walked the 65 proud young men and women in their white dress uniforms who then stood at attention while we all recited the National Anthem. An Invocation followed, and then after some brief remarks the Oath of Office was taken, and one by one the soon to be officers were introduced as they moved on stage to accept their commissions.

With the playing of the Marine Hymn followed by a rousing rendition of Anchors Aweigh, tradition took over as the hats were removed and tossed into the air. And finally the one word that they had waited for, Dismissed! So many wonderful young men and women starting a completely new way of life.

A delicious lunch capped off the day as we headed back to our hotel, The Vanderbilt Grace. A beautiful building in a perfect location staffed by some of the nicest people that we have ever encountered. After Thursday night's reception we had dinner at The Mooring, on Sayer's Wharf, and on Saturday Meg, our daughter in law, arranged for a 2 hour tour on a private boat that took us around the island as we enjoyed amazing old homes, yacht clubs, and ancient forts. Friday night's dinner was at Bouchard's Restaurant, which advertises itself as "Fine French Dining" and "Fine" it was. Beautifully prepared, served, and enjoyed.

On Sunday, after an early breakfast at the hotel with our entire family, we all said our congratulations and good byes as we headed for the high-speed ferry to Nantucket, a first for us. The ride was a tad bumpy from the previous day's storm but our view from the top deck was amazing. Our stay at the Jared Coffin House was another treat as we enjoyed a few more of the local restaurants. Lola 22 was a real surprise as we were informed from some of the other guests at the hotel that they had some of the best Italian food in the area, but as we found out the menu was heavy on Asian. Surprisingly, the Gnocchi with Lobster was delicious. For me it was always Clam Chowder and a fish dish during our stay, not a single hamburger or hotdog in all those days.

But after seeing all those great young men and women of the Class 10-17 that just graduated from the Naval Academy, I can guarantee you that regardless of what the media has to say, we are so fortunate to be living in this marvelous country of ours, and having the dedication and talent of those new Naval Officers.

June 2017

A Walk in the Park

The view of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge was spectacular. Our short walk from our parking spot to the entrance of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park was a treat all of its own. The more than 50 of Claude Monet's Impressionist paintings were on display and promoted as "Monet: The Early Years," which are devoted solely to the artist's early career which spanned from 1840 to 1872. As beautiful as the show was, the biggest surprise came early as the wall-to-wall visitors were quickly ushered out of the museum, without any explanation, and moved far away from the building because of some unidentified alarm that went off and posed some serious concern. Police, fire and security gathered all around and after a 30-minute wait we were able to reenter and fortunately for us many of the visitors did not return which left a lot more space for the rest of us to wonder around and enjoy the paintings.

 

But as beautiful as the show was I couldn't help but think about our visit to Paris in 2012 when we traveled to Giverny to visit Monet's home and gardens to see firsthand the lily ponds and his world famous Japanese bridge that we all associate with his later work.”

One of Monet's most popular paintings is the "Houses by the Zaan at Zaandam" along with a portrait of his future wife Camille called "The Red Kerchief" but the one painting that did little for me was a painting called "Still Life with Melon."

It turned out to be a truly wonderful visit on a beautiful afternoon followed by a delicious lunch at the Cliff House. But as beautiful as the show was I couldn't help but think about our visit to Paris in 2012 when we traveled to Giverny to visit Monet's home and gardens to see firsthand the lily ponds and his world famous Japanese bridge that we all associate with his later work.

We left our hotel early on an overcast day for a pleasant ride through the countryside, stopping off briefly at Benquor and arrived comfortably before the crowds. The huge sign past the entrance reaffirmed that we were at "Maison et Jardine de Claude Monet." Surrounding the beautifully maintained gardens is a restaurant, public facilities and of course the souvenir shops. Our driver, Sim, worked as a professional photographer and we took advantage of his talents and put him to work as he took endless photos of the two of us on the bridge, around the lily ponds and in the main garden area.

The house was open for tours but unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. As we walked through the gardens, Sims gave us a running commentary of Monet's early years, from his financial struggles to his self-imposed exile to London to escape the military draft. As expected the crowds milled around the lily ponds and bridge but we certainly had enough time to enjoy the view and marvel at how well kept and realistic the area remains. Truly picture perfect.

On our return, we stopped by the village of La Roche-Guyon where the centuries old Chateau of the same name was used as Rommel's headquarters during the Second World War. Quite a contrast from the beauty and serenity of Monet's garden to the horrible plans that were formulated within those stone walls.

The ride back was not bad until we hit the center of town and then we saw what some of the 30 million yearly visitors look like. Driving down the Champs-Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe and enjoying the view of the Eiffel Tower from our hotel room was truly memorable but then the 30 minute ride back home from the Legion of Honor was certainly a treat without suffering the normal jet-lag. An exhibit of late-career works by Monet is set to open at the Legion of Honor in 2019. Do we wait two more years or do we plan another trip to the Parisian countryside? Only time will tell.

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

 

May 2017

Tempus Fugit

Fifty years ago, the ground under San Francisco shook violently once again, but this time it was not due to seismic forces but to human interaction. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were the main ingredients as thousands of young people gathered at the infamous intersection of Haight and Asbury. Would-be hippies from all over the country came to San Francisco to "Turn on, tune in and drop out." 50 years ago, the only thing that I dropped was into the office every day from early morning to late evening and I certainly didn't wear flowers in my hair, even though I still had hair in those days. "A Summer of Love" for all to enjoy but I often wonder if the thousands that gathered at the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park ever thought about the fact that a mere 25 years earlier the entire world was shaken by the brutal surprise attack on Pearl Harbor?

Hawaii has always been one of our favorite vacation destinations, from our honeymoon to numerous trips with our children and grandchildren. Through the years, we have traveled from island to island and stayed at various hotels, but my favorite spot has always been the Island of Maui, and especially the village of Lahaina. Our first stop was always at the Lahaina Yacht Club, where we had reciprocal rights and enjoyed all the privileges of a regular member. Be it lunch or dinner, the views of the ocean and the passing yachts were always memorable, and the strolls down the lively Front Street picture perfect. I still remember visiting the Pioneer Inn, and of course, the U.S. Seamen's Hospital, but the day was never complete without a stop at a souvenir shop for a new T-shirt or two.

On our honeymoon we stayed at the Kauai Surf Hotel that has since been replaced with one of the major chains, but I still remember sitting on the bench on our veranda overlooking Nawiliwili Bay as the sun set. Our trip to Lanai was an adventure all in itself, as we sat on the top deck of a 50' ferry enjoying the sun and sea breeze, only to be tossed around like a cork on our return as a handful of passengers sitting below took advantage of the little paper bags neatly tucked behind the seat in front of them. Somehow, Paradise and mal de mar did not quite seem to match up.

Honolulu, which is on the island of Oahu, is the most commercial of the islands, and home to the ship terminals and Honolulu International Airport. A little more hectic than the other islands, the view of Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach is spectacular. Again, one of our favorite spots was relaxing and dining at the Outrigger Canoe Club, which is a private club founded in 1908, but again, we had reciprocal rights and enjoyed not only the Club but also the beach at Waikiki.

During one of our first trips, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial, which is reached from the naval base at Pearl Harbor, and we were deeply saddened to be reminded of the over 2,400 individuals that lost their lives on December 7, 1941, "A date which will live in infamy" as was proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. So much sadness in such beautiful surroundings. Our visit was very sobering, and one has to wonder if the hippies that invaded our beautiful City had ever heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the thousands of brave men and women who fought two wars simultaneously so they could romp around the streets of San Francisco free to do as they pleased. Perhaps their time would have been better spent reading history books, rather than dropping LSD and psychedelic drugs. They should have found out more about the dead, instead of the Grateful Dead.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently printed a magazine on the "Summer of Love" and in perusing through it, I thought I recognized a few of the people in the crowd. In fact, I could swear that one looked like Bill Clinton. After all, he admitted to smoking pot, but wait a minute, I just remembered, he didn't inhale!

Sergio@westsideobserver.com

April 2017

Bad Hombres

North Korea, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia. Ominous names in today's crazy world. Nuts with nukes and spooks around every corner spying on all of us, but that was certainly not the case when in 2009 we took a cruise on Azamara's Quest from Singapore to Hong Kong. The ports of call and our accommodations were superb, and we saw both sheer poverty and opulence of the highest order.

Our first stop, the President's Palace, where we saw firsthand the famous palace gates where the Russian and then the Chinese tanks broke through, virtually ending the American involvement in the Vietnam War. ”

One of our most interesting stops was Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, where our captain told us the night before that he would be on the bridge at 3am to guide the ship down the narrow, winding Saigon River. We had reserved a car and driver for the day and as it turned out our "Miss Saigon" turned out to be a fine young man named John who was waiting for us at the dock Saturday morning. Our first stop, the President's Palace, where we saw firsthand the famous palace gates where the Russian and then the Chinese tanks broke through, virtually ending the American involvement in the Vietnam War.

The American Embassy building was just a few blocks away, and again we all remembered those famous pictures of the last American helicopter leaving with hordes of people trying desperately to grab on to any part of the aircraft for a last chance at freedom.

John then took us to the War Museum, where American tanks and aircraft guard the entrance to this large building which displays some of the most gruesome pictures of that horrible conflict.

The only pleasant part was our stop at the museum's shop where I bought a "Good Morning Vietnam" T-shirt, and a Vietnam Army fatigue cap emblazoned with the communists' yellow star on a red background — I made sure that I did not wear that coming through Passport Control in San Francisco!

John's choice for lunch was a bustling restaurant in the center of town whose claim to fame was Bill and Chelsea Clinton's visit in 1990. The service was quick and the food OK and we would have gotten out of there sooner had it not been for our struggles with the chopsticks — eating soup with chopsticks is not easy.

The following day we arrived at the port of Tien Sa, which got us into Danang bright and early. Our driver, Ti, and our guide, Huang, brought us to the open air Cham Museum to view some of the oldest sand carvings dating back thousands of years.

Along the way, we passed by China Beach, made famous by our GIs enjoying some much-deserved R&R. The short drive to the city of Hoi Am was congested with motor scooters, each carrying three or four people. Hoi Am is an ancient city that was spared destruction during the war and is a tourist Mecca. We visited a silk factory where we saw silk worms, from infancy to maturity, turn into cocoons of silk which were then spun into beautiful textiles. The embroidered art work was absolutely marvelous and of course the shops next door were wide open for business.

The following day we arrived in Hanoi where we stayed overnight at the Sofitel Hotel. Our one-hour rickshaw ride was our reward for having endured a four-hour drive from Halong Bay to Hanoi. Imagine driving for 4 hours down a two-lane road ruled by motorbikes racing four to six abreast — most with three or four passengers. The road has a broken white line down the middle, but that is strictly for decoration. They drive wherever there is space, weaving back in as the approaching vehicle madly flashes its lights, horns blaring. On the way to Hanoi we saw one overturned car, four motorcycle accidents and a poor cow in the middle of the road lifting its badly bleeding hoof.

On the way back, we drove by two automobile accidents, two motorcycle accidents and an overturned truck carrying a load of pigs. A couple of the pigs looked like they might end up on someone's breakfast buffet in the morning.

Bright and early we were on the stump again with our first stop at Ho Chi Minh's marble and granite tomb. Security was tight and cameras absolutely forbidden. I must say, the father of Vietnam looked great lying in state with the four soldiers guarding his tomb, motionless, as if cast in bronze.

We then proceeded to Ho Chi Minh's cottage and private lake, the One Pillar Pagoda and the two block long Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius, and finally to the Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed "Hanoi Hilton" by our captured pilots. Only a small remnant remains, the rest of the compound has been developed into a high-rise office and condominium complex. The French, who built the prison in 1896, made no bones about who they tortured or how they did it. The original guillotine still looked ominous, as did the metal bucket ready to accept the heads of those still willing to fight on for freedom.

Seeing John McCain's flight suit and photos of his capture and treatment, gave me chills and definitely a lump in my throat. On the way back we were driven by the lake where McCain ditched after being shot down. Why was this amazingly patriotic man not elected president?

And speaking of presidents, perhaps our 45th. President can take a brief tour of this area and see how real people live, considering that the average farm worker or fisherman earns about $1,000 a year. Certainly not Mar-A-Lago, but a reality check is often good for the best of us.

 

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

March 2017

Over and Out

Our planet as we know it is encrusted with computers, smart phones and tablets. Communication is inshalicrafter radiotantaneous. Write a few words, push a button and your message travels around the world in milliseconds. That I-phone in your pocket is more powerful than all the computing power that put the first man on the moon. But not that many years ago communicating was much more complicated, using smoke signals, colored flags or rooms full of equipment attached to antennas of various sizes with complete dependence on atmospheric conditions.

…along with numeric codes used at the end of a conversation. It wasn't just "thank you and goodbye" but 73's, and 88 was used for "love and kisses" but the best one of all was 807 to describe a cold beer.”

licenseAs a teenager I got involved in Amateur Radio (known as Ham Radio). My grammar school graduation present was a Hallicrafter short wave radio receiver which was larger than the proverbial bread box. With that came many books and hours of studying while preparing for a Ham Radio license that would allow me to converse with other Ham Radio operators around the country and hopefully around the world. After taking the first test I received my Amateur Class license where I could finally be on the air, although the transmissions were limited to the use of Morse code and the frequencies allowed were highly restricted and very limited in power.

Sergio broadcastingI vividly remember my first contact, my call sign, WN6NLQ, the "N" designating my amateur status. I still have a crude recording of that first contact and what a thrill it was. I then had six months to prepare for my General License and the first requirement was being able to send and receive Morse code at a minimum of 15 words per minute, after which came the written exam, which were both given at the FCC office in downtown San Francisco.

With my General license I could now communicate with the spoken word and have access to a larger range of frequencies and with a lot more power. CQ, CQ, CQ, this is WB6NLQ. That was the standard protocol to request a response from anyone hearing my call. Hopefully someone would reply and the contact started. The conversations were usually very generic and a bit nerdy. What type of equipment are you using? How much power on your rig and what is the signal strength on both ends?

Q-cardThe biggest treat at the end of the contact was exchanging penny postcards known as QSL cards, with your call sign, location, date, and signal strength. We were also required to maintain a log book of all our contacts with the same information. My basic equipment gave me a good start but eventually I installed a huge antenna mounted on the side of our house that could be raised and lowered and rotated 180 degrees depending on the frequency used and again those atmospheric conditions that were so paramount to a successful contact. Sometimes you could "work" Alaska or Hawaii and within a few minutes you could hardly reach San Jose!!

In looking over my log book, my contacts were scattered all around the country and around the world. Once I had worked all 50 states I got a certificate from the American Radio Relay League confirming that I had "Worked All States" and eventually got a "Worked all Continents" certificate as well. Was Russia one of my contacts? I don't remember, but I doubt that Vladimir Putin would have been on the air at that time, he wasn't even born then!

Like countries around the world, Ham radio operators have a language of their own. There's an abbreviation for just about anything, and the jargon is paramount to learning a new language. QSL cards, CW for Morse code, DX for long distance, QTH for location, OT for an old man and YL for a young lady operator along with numeric codes used at the end of a conversation. It wasn't just "thank you and goodbye" but 73's, and 88 was used for "love and kisses" but the best one of all was 807 to describe a cold beer.

J38 telegraph keySo now here we are in the world of texts and twitter. Perhaps our newly elected President should consider a simpler method of reaching out to his minions. White smoke could be a solution, after all its good enough to elect a Pope and it should be good enough for a President. They have plenty of antennas on the White House roof that they can use. Perhaps he could tap into one of those and transmit in Morse code. He could vent all his frustrations and besides, 99% of the people wouldn't understand what he's saying anyway. Now the only issue remaining would be his call sign, after all President Obama has his own call sign, N0BMA. But just remember it can only be a combination of 5 or 6 letters and numbers and it better be good lest we get a tweet in the middle of the night.

73's and 88's from this OM in his QTH who's headed for a cold 807? Over and Out.

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

February 2017

A Scary Santa

Cathedral in Milan (Duomo)

It was December 1980, and our oldest son Bob was midway through his six- month stay in Florence as part of Stanford's "Overseas Study Program." It was also a perfect opportunity for a Christmas celebration in Tuscany.

Our adventure started in San Francisco and brought us to Milan by way of London. We met Bob in Milan, and after the usual greetings it was off to bed to burn off our jet lag. Having been to Milan before, we knew that one of our first stops was at the Duomo, Milan's spectacular Gothic cathedral which took over 600 years to build, and is the largest church in Italy other than St. Peter's Basilica, which is part of the Vatican State. Fortunately, there is an elevator that took us to the roof, bypassing hundreds of steps, and from there we could see the intricate details of the statues, towers, spiky spires and gargoyles. The weather happened to be clear enough so we could see not only the entire city, but the surrounding snow-covered mountains as well.

Our next stop was to admire Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper", painted on the wall of the refectory next to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, but not before stopping by Bob's recent find of a small deli known throughout the city for its amazing Panzerotti. Imagine a small pizza, folded in half, deep fried and served piping hot. With a bottle of Pellegrino water in one hand and the Panzerotti wrapped in foil in the other, we sat on the street curb, looking all the part of a real tourist.

La Scala, the famous theater, was also on our list, but having seen it before we settled for some of the more mundane sites and chores. Sadly, packing for our next stop, Florence, was one of them. Not being as familiar with the trains in Italy as we are now, we chose to drive, arriving in Florence in late afternoon. Arriving at the Augustus Hotel was like reuniting with old friends. We didn't need any recommendations for restaurants since Bob had been there for three months. After the first few choices I pleaded, "no more pizza restaurants, I want some real food." I got my wish and we finally returned to some of our old haunts and the food was delicious.

On Christmas eve we all attended mass at Santa Maria dei Fiore, Florence's main church, which is also known as the Duomo and surrounded by the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. With so much beauty and reverence one would think that the people would attend the service with respect and dignity rather than walk around, look around, and pay no attention to the priest preaching fire and brimstone.

Once back at our hotel we exchanged our modest Christmas gifts and said a silent prayer that our traditional Santa was a little more generous than the "Befana", the legendary Italian legend of a little old witch who delivers presents on the feast of the Epiphany which occurs on January 5th. She is reputed to look like an unkempt old lady, with straggly hair, patched-up skirt, raggedy shawl and a broom. If you've been good she leaves candy, fruit, nuts and small gifts, but if you've been bad it's a lump of coal in your stocking.

We obviously made the cut and got to celebrate with some nice sweaters, Fila sportswear and some delicious Florentine candy, Torrone and Panforte being our favorites. The following morning, we headed to Lucca where we celebrated Christmas day with a few of our remaining relatives, and then it was time to head back to Milan, celebrate the new year, and head for home the following day.

Bob continued his studies for the remaining three months in Florence. We returned to San Francisco eternally grateful for our two-week stay in Italy while enjoying the sites and holiday sounds of such a beautiful region, and especially thankful that we were spared the embarrassment of having to explain to the Customs officials why our suitcases were laden with chunks of coal.

In retrospect, after going through the last few weeks of election madness, we now have our choice of what to expect in our Christmas stockings. Is Santa going to leave us with a basket full of sweet candies or merely a box full of dusty coal? As the eternal optimist I hope it's going to be a nice box of See's candies. Merry Christmas and Happy Trump year to all. Here's to a happy and healthy 2017.

Sergio gets around—the world. Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

December 2016 / January 2017

Cathedral in Milan (Duomo)

Mission Accomplished

While driving south on 101 one of our favorite detours is peeling off at San Juan Bautista, which is a couple of miles east of the highway. In less than five minutes one leaves behind the madness of the road with its endless parade of semis and cars chasing each other recklessly down the road as if competing at Le Mans. Once there our first stop is always at Dona Esther, one of the oldest and best known Mexican restaurants in the area. If it's a warm day we'll sit in the patio, otherwise a window table is our next choice. A full menu is available but we always fall back on our favorite, "Chicken Enchilada for the Small Appetite" which is more than enough for us. The plates arrive scalding hot with the same warning, "don't touch the plate." The cheese is beautifully melted over the enchilada and the refried beans and the rice are delicious. The biggest treat for us is the home- made chips & salsa that is mostly devoured before our entree arrives.

Having been in the same location for over 34 years, the restaurant was originally started by Alfonso Castaneda, and is now managed by his daughter Tami and her cousin, Fredy Castaneda. Dona Esther has been recognized as one of the "Best Restaurants in the U.S." by Hispanic Magazine and voted "Best Mexican Restaurant in San Benito County." No wonder we enjoy it so much!!

And after that delicious meal, if we're really in the mood to pig out, we'll swing by Margot's Ice Cream Parlor, just down the street, or make our way to the San Juan Bakery at the end of the main street for a loaf of freshly baked bread, or possibly some nice sweet treats.

Understandably, after all that guilt we always feel the need to stop by Mission San Juan Bautista and make amends for our gluttonous ways. Hopefully those few coins in the collection box will buy us some time before our next visit to the ice cream store.

Mission San Juan Bautista was the fifteenth mission founded in 1797 by the Franciscan father, Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, who was the successor to Father Junipero Serra. The mission happens to be the largest of the mission churches and is still in excellent condition. In fact, it was Alfred Hitchcock who selected the mission as the setting for the 1957 production of the movie Vertigo, starring Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. Now that alone is worth a trip to check it out.

On our last visit we were told that every December 21st the light of the midwinter solstice illuminates the main altar tabernacle, with the sun's early morning light projecting through the church structure, creating a breathtaking spectacle.

I can certainly understand why the city has become so popular, with events scheduled every month of the year, like the annual Ghost Walk in October, Marathons, Arts and Crafts Festivals, Car Shows, performances at Il Teatro Compesino, a Dutch Oven Cooking Demonstration, and finally "Vertigo Day" at the San Juan Bautista Historic Park.

Once back on the highway you can head south towards Monterey or Los Angeles, or if heading back home to the Bay Area you can always stop off in Gilroy at the Premium Outlet Stores if you really want a smack of reality. But if you're really desperate, there is an In-N-Out Burger right there on Leavesley Road, but just remember one very important thing, it ain't no Dona Esther!!!

Sergio Nibbi gets around—the world! Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

November 2016

Saluting the Flag

The calendar is telling us that summer as we know it is slowly fading into Fall, but not before we get to enjoy the best part of the season, Indian Summer: warm, clear, fogless days to rival the best of our southern neighbors'. But as hot as it may get here it will never be as hot as the summers that I spent at Camp Roberts, outside of Paso Robles. For six years I was a member of the 91st Infantry Reserves, stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco where we attended training every Thursday night in preparation for our two week stay at Camp Roberts.

But the one thing that still stands out so vividly in my mind is waking up early, falling out to the sounds of the bugler playing Reveille, and standing tall and proudly saluting our flag. As I've said for all these years, "God Bless America.”

When I joined the reserves in 1955 we were required to spend two years on active duty after finishing college, but by being in the reserves we could take whatever rank we earned with us once we went active. As time went on, the rules kept changing and two years became six months and eventually the requirement was lifted entirely and I finished my obligation in the reserves.

The first year that I went to Camp Roberts we went through a form of basic training which started out with a 5 am wake up call, falling out for Reveille while our flag was raised, which signaled the start of another day of running up and down the hills, going to the rifle range, and running through rooms filled with tear gas while trying to recite our serial number after removing our gas masks. The tears left an indelible mark on my cheeks for days. Lunch was mostly served at the barracks, where we always ate a handful of salt tablets to replenish our body's normal supply; Gatorade had not yet been formulated.

After the first week's rigorous training we all got ready for Saturday morning's inspection and parade. Once again we got up early to the sounds of Reveille and yes, we saluted the flag. Shortly after we made up our bunks just a little bit nicer for the inspection and waited for the officers to walk up and down the aisle, avoiding our grungy fatigues but paying particular attention to our highly polished boots. After the inspection came the parade, with hundreds of men marching on the tarmac that by early morning had reached 120 degrees. The best part was listening for the command "dismissed" and at that point it was off to San Luis Obispo or Pismo Beach.

The overnight stay was the highlight of the two weeks as we sadly returned to the post after a brief stay amongst civilians, and with some luck an occasional girl or two.

By the second week we were in the groove and ready to take the enemy head on. More running, more target practice, and more sweat, but fortunately no more tear gas.

Camp Roberts was also the training ground for the tank crews, and you couldn't find a crazier bunch. They drove those tanks up and down the hills firing at whatever was out there in that scorching heat. It was bad enough on the ground, but just imagine the heat in those tin cans. I'm sure that at night they downed more than just a few salt pills.

Looking back, those were the good old days and a chance to meet some new and dear friends. Once back at the Presidio, we had the occasion to head to Fort Berry or Fort Cronkite where we went twice a year for target practice on the range. My most vivid recollection was running up and down the range screaming at the top of my lungs for all to hear, "I'm a dammed fool, I forgot to lock my piece." Some things you never forget. You could have earned your marksmen medal, but safety was paramount on the range.

So for the next five years we went back to the same post, the same parade grounds, the same heat and the same barracks, with the same toilets lined up neatly one next to the other. No partitions, no privacy. But the one thing that still stands out so vividly in my mind is waking up early, falling out to the sounds of the bugler playing Reveille, and standing tall and proudly saluting our flag. As I've said for all these years, "God Bless America."

Sergio gets around—the world.

October 2016

A Beautiful Day

When I called for reservations at Terry's Lounge in the Cypress Inn in Carmel, the first thing they asked me was "will you be bringing a dog with you to dinner?" My immediate response was to say, "No, just my wife" but then I realized that they must hear that at least a dozen times a day so I settled for just the date and time. I guess I could have said "No, I'll be ordering off the menu" but the click on the other end would have been deafening!

Doris DayOriginally built in 1929 what is now the Cypress Inn on Lincoln and 7th in Carmel was purchased in the mid 1980's by Carmel native Danny LeVett and Doris Day who has always been known for her love of animals which made the Cypress Inn one of the first pet-friendly boutique hotels in the country. The four legged guests are as welcome as their human counterparts and attending the "Yappy Hour" from 4 to 6 is a Carmel treat while enjoying a "muttini."

The ornate entrance to the hotel speaks of the Golden Age of Hollywood and somehow you would expect to see some of Tinseltown's great stars like Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra or James Cagney sitting at the bar enjoying one of the hand-crafted cocktails. Ronald Reagan, who starred with Doris Day in the 1952 movie, The Winning Team, always enjoyed his favorite gin-n-juice Orange Blossom, which is still served to this day with a side of jelly beans.

Having stared in 39 films and recording a series of memorable albums, Doris is still the quintessential all-American Girl and legendary Hollywood "girl next door" but now enjoys a quiet life at home in the Carmel Valley.

We've always gone to Terry's pooch-less, but have always enjoyed the casual atmosphere and the food, and the service is always top notch. One of our favorite dishes has always been the sand dabs, but the Braised Short Ribs and the Grilled Salmon are right up there with the signature Cypress Burger.

Terry's Lounge, which is named after Doris's son Terry Melcher, was elevated to a new level last week with a bevy of glamourous guests, accompanied by some of the most exotic and expensive cars in the world. Yes, once again it was car week on the Monterey Peninsula, with cars and drivers being welcomed from all over the world, and parties and parades running all day and all night. An endless stream of cars flowed from Pebble Beach through the streets of Carmel, and amazingly most found a parking spot on Ocean Avenue, a nearly impossible task on any given day. Anticipating yet another stunning sunset, and after droves of tourists and gawkers, the cars filed back to Pebble accompanied by local meter maids, police cars, TV crews and California Highway patrol cruisers. The outfits of the drivers and passengers would rival the best of Hollywood's costume designers and the snapshots were endless. There certainly is no mistaking the roar of the engines propelling those red Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Maseratis and this year's featured car, the BMW. One of the most popular attractions is the car auction, which would make anyone's hair stand on edge. and thankfully the money donated to local charities seems to set new records every year.

So car week is now history, the Concours d'Elegance packed away for another year, the cars shipped out for yet another show, but Terry's is still in town and for all of us to enjoy. So stop by any time and enjoy a Cypress Burger and a nice glass of Silvestri's pinot, and if by chance you should run into Doris Day, tell her how much you've enjoyed her movies and music and thank her for her love of animals. Finally, I hope that you were not too disappointed that yours wasn't the successful bid of 11.9 million for that 1933 Alfa Romeo Monza. See you next year in Monterey.

Sergio gets around—the world.

September 2016

Up in Smoke

What was once illegal and immoral is now front page news. Open any major newspaper or popular magazine and the pages are filled with endless articles about weed and the new weed economy. What was once known as Mary Jane is now, pure and simple, medical marijuana. You have an ailment? We have a cure. Dispensaries are now out in the open and available as a McDonald's.

And speaking of pot, some years ago we had the good fortune to have visited Amsterdam for the second time in a few years, and enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds of this bustling city. As the capital of the Netherlands it's a city of canals, great houses with gabled facades, years of history including the city's 17th century Golden Age, and a very tolerant "live and let live" attitude."

And speaking of pot, some years ago we had the good fortune to have visited Amsterdam for the second time in a few years, and enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds of this bustling city. As the capital of the Netherlands it's a city of canals, great houses with gabled facades, years of history including the city's 17th century Golden Age, and a very tolerant "live and let live" attitude. Having been there before, we planned well in advance and arrived with our e-tickets in hand which allowed us to use the "Fast Lane" to the Rijksmuseum to admire the rooms full of paintings by the Dutch masters. The most famous was Rembrandt's "Night Watch," a huge painting taking up an entire wall. Next was a brief visit at the Van Gogh Museum before moving on.

After an enjoyable visit at the museums and a brief walk down the street we made it to the canal boat landing, and within minutes we were aboard and under way. Amsterdam is a city built around miles of canals and with the canals, endless canal boats of all sizes and shapes. During our 75-minute canal boat tour we were treated to the real beauty of the city. We saw the location of Anne Frank's house, a must see for us, but on our return trip on foot we found the line wrapped around the block and too long a wait for our limited stay.

Our lunch at the Hard Rock Café capped off our tour, and taking off on foot, we headed for the Dam, a large monument in the center of the plaza that anchors the Old Church on one side and the Red Light District on the other. Running a little short on time, we decided on a Pedi-cycle tour, and for the next 30 minutes the young man peddled and pushed his way around these famous streets. As part of our tour we passed a variety of Coffee Shops, not stand-ins for Starbucks, but legitimate cannabis dispensaries where up to 5 grams of cannabis is available. No alcohol is served and smoking in the shop is not allowed.

The second of the two greatest tourist attractions in Amsterdam was De Wallen, a designated area forlegalized prostitution, and is Amsterdam's largest and most well-known red-light district. It consists of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. After the initial shock and awe we settled into reality and realized how sad the whole thing is. So many young, beautiful women who should be doing better things with their lives. As was proven once again, money is the root of all evil.

So there we were, pot and prostitution. Does that mean that if one passes this November the other is soon to follow? Fortunately we still had two weeks to enjoy our cruise as we headed through the Kiel Canal with a brief stop in Warnemunde, where a cadre of soft ice cream vendors spoiled us while watching a young man standing in front of a table full of water filled glasses playing operatic arias. Next was Copenhagen, Helsinki, Saint Petersburg for a two day stay, and finally Stockholm.

Looking back it was an enjoyable but eye opening experience. All those different cultures and lifestyles, but in the end we all strive for the same thing—a decent meal and a comfortable bed in which to sleep.

In retrospect, maybe we should have visited one of those Coffee Shops. With the jetlag that followed we could have used a good night's sleep.

Sergio Nibbi gets around—the world! Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

July 2016

Running a Marathon

The endless line around security wove around like a demonized serpent with its fiery head spitting out commands, "take off your belt", "remove your shoes", "raise your arms". Can there really be that many would-be terrorists on the loose? With pot bellies and baseball caps the most harm they could do is to burp in your face. Next stop was at United's over-crowded lounge where a Diet Coke soaked up 20 minutes before boarding our flight to Boston for our granddaughter's graduation from Boston University.

Boston is a beautiful city and often compared to San Francisco. So where are the homeless? Easy, they're all in San Francisco!! The most offensive thing we saw was a couple of guys sitting on a street bench holding out a paper cup.”

After the usual greetings at least half of the carry-on luggage was removed and placed below. So much for flying in a 737!! Airline food is, well, airline food. We obediently ate our kale and helped save the world one green leaf at a time. Maybe we should have accepted those complementary drinks after all, especially when the seat belt signs kept coming on with the pilot instructing the crew to go to their jump seats and buckle up….another broken promise for that smooth flight that had been previously announced. At least our ride to the Lenox hotel went smoothly, and while our driver Mohammed unloaded our suitcases I had the chance to check out the Dunkin Donuts across the street. At that point life was good.

Boston is a beautiful city and often compared to San Francisco. So where are the homeless? Easy, they're all in San Francisco!! The most offensive thing we saw was a couple of guys sitting on a street bench holding out a paper cup.

Our room, the Judy Garland suite, came with a red slipper and a white orchid, and from the picture window we could see Pizzeria Uno right next door to Dunkin Donuts; at that point life was really good.

First Church of Christ ScientistOn Thursday we walked along Newbury Street admiring all the beautiful shops, boutique's, restaurants, and a handful of old churches. For dinner we returned to Clink at the Liberty Hotel where we had stayed last time, and managed to finish our dinner before the fire alarms went off and emptied out the entire hotel and restaurants……never a dull moment.

By morning the rest of our group had arrived and we took advantage of the beautiful day and headed to the Mapparium, where we stood inside a huge 3-story glass dome while perched on a 30 foot glass bridge where we could see the entire planet in living color, all the continents created in stained glass dating back to 1935. Right next door is The First Church of Christ, Scientist, which was built after Mary Baker Eddy discovered and founded Christian Science. The church boasts one of the world's largest pipe organs and is often played by visiting organists. The music can be enjoyed on their website, www.christianscience.com. pipe organ

Dinner for our group of 11 was enjoyed at Lucca Restaurant on Hanover Street, a very nice, good-sized restaurant where the pasta and entrees were nicely presented and our four grandchildren were made to feel comfortable. Considering that it was graduation week we felt very fortunate to have found this very accommodating restaurant.

The next day we did a good deal of window shopping, and stopped in at the newly- opened Apple Store and just down the line, at a very glitzy Microsoft Store displaying a variety of competing laptops and tablets. The most exciting visit of all was at the new, shiny Tesla showroom, where most of the gawkers had never heard of a Tesla. The Falcon Wing model was certainly a major attraction, and not wanting to act snobbish we took it all in stride.

On Saturday we switched our allegiance from our granddaughter Katrina to our grandson Michael Strem, who is finishing his junior year at Boston College and is a star baseball player. The game was at BC and they handily won, pushing them closer to a college World Series playoff. Surprisingly, even without a reservation for the 11 of us we did find a nice restaurant in The Shops at Chestnut Hill named Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse. We all gathered around the steel cooktop as the chef flipped his forks and knives, lit the onion cone, squirted sake in our unsuspecting mouths while filling our dishes with delicious steak, chicken, rice and mushrooms. We ate dinner in a shopping center? Yes, and it was great. This was more than a lesson in humility; it was a chance to enjoy our family in less demanding circumstances. Once we get back home we're definitely going to Benihana to relive the adventure.

Sunday was graduation day and we all started with an early breakfast, a larger Uber sedan, and cameras to go all around. Katrina received her degree in Political Science and the group of about 200 young men and woman proudly found their way to the stage to receive that bright red diploma followed by hugs and handshakes from the administrators. With the playing of Pomp and Circumstance we all filed into the dining hall next door and feasted on cakes, cookies and beverages. The afternoon ceremony was held in the football stadium, where over 4,000 graduates listened to a variety of speakers as we all shivered in the 43 degree weather.

Dinner that evening was at Toscano at 47 Charles Street in Beacon Hill. Although we had never eaten there before, we knew from previous visits where it was, that it was a great choice, and certainly worthy of a return visit. We especially enjoyed eating in the Grotto, a private room on the lower level which gave us privacy and shielded us from the usual restaurant noise.

Dinner, dessert, fine wine and a lovely family, what else can one ask for? How about a nice smooth flight back to San Francisco?

After being dropped off at Logan International Airport we weaved our way through security, and it appeared that that the serpent had taken a break so we next headed to United's lounge. After scanning our boarding passes we were informed that this lounge is only for international customers. The place was empty! What's the worst we could do, eat a banana!!

The westward winds were with us and we did manage a smooth flight and even arrived 20 minutes early. On the way back I had 6 hours to think, I wonder if Amtrak goes to Boston. With one more graduate next year that's something that we'll definitely look into……

Sergio Nibbi gets around—the world! Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

June 2016

Shake Rattle and Roll

When heading to AT&T Park to join yet another sell out crowd, driving down 3rd Street to admire all those new sleek towers laden with young entrepreneurs and biotech geniuses, or being thankful for the new Benioff Children's Hospital, do we ever stop and realize that not all that long ago the entire area was an environmental wasteland? The area was laden with oil-soaked soil mixed with deadly toxins, rusting steel tracks, and creosote-soaked railroad ties, long abandoned.

1985 Locomotive at Ferry Bldg
PHoto 1985 by Drew Jacksich

 

… throughout the day we could hear and feel the trains rolling down 16th Street rattling our windows and shaking the floors, having started from the Embarcadero and fanning out through the area calling on the various businesses in Mission Bay.”

Diesel locomotiveFor years the industrial buildings that dotted the area were served by rail cars dropping off and picking up all sorts of products. Typical businesses were a who's who in the fuel and paint business: Richfield Oil, Chevron, Valvoline, Glidden Paint, L&H Paint, battery manufacturers, and building materials suppliers. To this day there are still huge steel pipes under 16th Street that carried fuel from barges that docked at China Basin to fuel depots owned by Chevron and Richfield Oil. Railroad tank cars were the Uber of the day.

For many years our offices were on the corner of 17th and Arkansas Streets, and throughout the day we could hear and feel the trains rolling down 16th Street rattling our windows and shaking the floors, having started from the Embarcadero and fanning out through the area calling on the various businesses in Mission Bay. Ft. Mason Tunnel

The San Francisco Belt Railroad started out as the State Belt Railroad in 1889, and was renamed when the city bought the Port of San Francisco in 1969. Eventually all operations ceased in 1993. The railroad connected the Port of San Francisco with many of the docks along the waterfront, serving the area for years. Eventually the 67 miles of track stretched from its roundhouse, which was eventually converted to modern offices on the Embarcadero, to a train/ferry slip at Pier 43, through Fisherman's Wharf, Aquatic Park, Fort Mason and terminating in the Presidio.

From its general offices in the Ferry Building, the company provided its services by switching cars from four major railroads to points throughout its system. Working with Southern Pacific, Northwestern Pacific, Western Pacific and my very favorite, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the system supplied the area for all those years, and additionally gave birth to a very popular song, Harry Warren & Johnny Mercer's "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", written for the 1946 film, The Harvey Girls.

At times I wonder how all that equipment would survive in today's environment with cars, pedestrians, bicycles and skate boards all competing for a spot to navigate. A few weeks ago, the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius wrote an interesting article about the horrific traffic in this same area. A viable solution is not easy. The tracks are gone, the locomotives are gone, the businesses are gone, but the people are not. Would a new train line work? Why not? It worked at Disneyland, at the airport and the fairly new "F" line along the Embarcadero. Who needs open air sightseeing buses or Red and White fleets? I propose that we rebuild the San Francisco Belt Railroad, load its cars with people and not products, and drop off all those happy fans at AT&T Park and the Warriors new stadium, and the tourists at the Wharf, and all those hi-rise dwellers going back home. No more parking lots, no designated drivers, free flowing beer and great music along the way. My first choice for a theme song? What better than Johnny Mercer's "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe?" Let's put it up for a vote.

Sergio gets around — the world!

May 2016

The Verdict

Bruno Magli shoes, a Ford Bronco, a pair of leather gloves and dueling attorneys. A perfect mix for a 10 part series on FX reliving the drama appropriately called "The People vs OJ Simpson." The trial was hyped as "the trial of the century" and it certainly grabbed everyone's attention, including ours. The verdict was read on October 3, 1995 around mid-morning, but for us it was dinner time in Vienna and we didn't dare leave our hotel room until the unanimous decision was read. The verdict? "Not guilty."

The adventure for us started in London, moved to Rome, Florence, Lucca, Venice, and finally ended in Vienna. September the 18th 1995 was my 60th birthday, and with a group of friends, family and relatives we celebrated the occasion in Lucca, Italy where I was born all those many years ago. It was an unforgettable celebration in the Tuscan hills where we had rented a villa named "Fattoria di Fubiano" situated in the small village of San Gennareo, about 30 minutes outside the walls of Lucca.

The celebration ran late into the night while the more than 100 guests enjoyed the delicious food, wine, and music sprinkled in with a few remarks, all under white canvas tents which shielded us from the unexpected rains that evening. After all these years, people still comment on the food and surroundings, truly an unforgettable evening.

A short distance from the villa is a village called Collodi where Pinocchio Park is located, perfect for a day trip with our young grandchildren. For the adults we ventured off to Montecatini Therme, where we drank some of the curative waters, and then made our way to Montecatini Alto on the 100 year old funicular for a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

The week's stay went by much too quickly, but it did give us the opportunity to relive some of the more pleasant moments of the past few days. After the usual tourist stops in London, we found our way to Rome where again, we were treated to the splendor of the Vatican where Michelangelo's Pieta is beautifully displayed just to the right of the entrance, carefully protected by a bulletproof acrylic glass panel. During our first visit to the Vatican in 1971 we did see this amazing piece of art while it was displayed out in the open in the main church before a mentally disturbed geologist from Austria walked into the church in 1972 and attacked the sculpture, doing great damage. A trip to the Colosseum and a stop at the Trevi Fountain to toss a coin and make a wish, then it was time to head to Florence for a visit with David, another one of Michelangelo's masterpieces.

After a stroll on the Ponte Vecchio and a visit to the Duomo, we drove to Lucca where we all settled in for the celebration. Venice came next, where a gondola ride was a must for all of us after an evening stroll through Saint Mark's Square, where the best entertainment of all was watching the pigeons that outnumber the tourists, who are the biggest pigeons of all.

Our train ride to Vienna was relaxing and prepared us for the last push before heading home. Our stay was at the Hotel InterContinental, and our three day Metro pass gave us access to all the sites and sounds of this beautiful city which is a mix of old and new. Our first stop was St. Stephen's Church, followed by a visit at the Schonbrunn Palace and its marvelous gardens, and of course a stop at the Kunsthistorisches Museum to admire the two rooms full of Rubens. The next day was spent at the Belvedere Palace, where we just had to see Gustav Klimt's painting of The Kiss, an oil painting with applied layers of gold leaf considered Klimt's most popular work. And what better way to wrap up our trip than with a boat ride down the Danube River, and a bumper car ride in Prater Park?

With hours on the plane we had the opportunity to discuss the trip, compare sites, and decide on what we enjoyed the most. Was it the Vatican, the Villa, Vienna or watching the grandchildren playing on the swings and slides? We took a vote, opened it up for discussion, polled the jury and patiently waited for a decision. The verdict? A hung jury! At that point we had no choice but to dismiss the jurors and start over. The simplest solution was to repeat the process, which we did a few years later, and relive the adventure, after which we took another vote. How did that go? I don't know yet…the jury is still out.

Sergio Nibbi gets around—the world.

April 2016

The Last Supper

Is there anything more enjoyable than watching the cooking shows on Saturday morning while preparing a special breakfast side by side with all those TV professionals? Sinfully good and certainly better than an Egg McMuffin. There's no doubt that today's chefs are all fun to watch but one of my favorites has always been Jacques Pepin with his simple but masterful style that always makes it look so easy. Sadly he's now wrapping up his career with his last televised series called "Jacques Pepin, Heart and Soul." Fortunately after years and years of pure joy in the kitchen his work has been recorded and published for all of us to enjoy.

Watching him on television is great but how about seeing him in person? It was almost 45 years ago when my wife and I decided to take some cooking classes and the one person that was highly recommended to us at the time was a gentleman by the name of Jack Lirio who had a modest home on Monterey Blvd, just up the street from where the Safeway store is now located. A basement room had been converted into a demonstration kitchen that held about 20 people as we watched Jack cooking while we followed his recipes, took notes and eventually enjoyed the fruits of all his hard work.

Jack Lirio was not a professional chef or restaurant owner, although he did study at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and truly enjoyed cooking and teaching. He eventually wrote two cook books called "Cooking with Jack Lirio" and "Fast Fabulous Desserts."

Jacques,Claudine and Shorey

His classes were held once a week and although the food was delicious the biggest attraction was the exposure to foods that we never would have tried on our own like Peking duck or fried cheeses with fennel sauce. On one particular evening he told us that there was a young French chef who would soon be teaching a few of his classes. His name, Jacque Pepin, a virtual unknown to most of us but it didn't take long to become mesmerized by his endless talent. Most cooking teachers would bring in food already cut, trimmed, boned or shaped but not with Jacque Pepin. Boning a squab or slicing and dicing was not done ahead of time but rather right there as he told stories and demonstrated his flawless techniques. I'll never forget watching him prepare a tart shell molded from a flat sheet of dough, no drawn circles, no pattern, no measuring, yet when it was finished it was a perfect circle, the same height all around and ready to fill and bake. Amazing!

At that time one of Jack Lirio's helpers was a woman by the name of Charlotte Coombs who eventually started her own cooking school in Redwood City and again we had the pleasure of sitting in on more classes taught by Jacques Pepin. The two of them seemed to have a special bond and it brought a new dimension to the evening. A couple of the students would even bring their own bottle of wine and enjoy both the wine and the demonstrations adding to the evening's pleasure.

In the ensuing years we've taken cooking classes in Lucca, Florence, Paris and even in Oakland from Linda Carucci, who was a chef instructor at the International Culinary School in San Francisco and who cooked a very special birthday meal for me years ago but somehow we always seem to associate with Jacque Pepin.

After all these years we still have two binders full of recipes from both Jack Lirio and Jacques Pepin so if you want to whip up a lobster soufflé or some braised squab accompanied with carrots vichy just let me know. JaquesPepin

So now Jacque Pepin has celebrated his 80th birthday blowing out all those candles with so many of his chef friends surrounding him but he still enjoys doing what he's done so well for all these years along with his daughter Claudine and now his granddaughter, Shorey, cooking and telling stories.

What an amazing, rewarding and successful career that has given so much pleasure to so many of us. So let's keep enjoying his great talent and never forget what he's always been so fond of saying at the end of each television program, "Happy Cooking."

Sergio Nibbi gets around—the world! Feedback: sergio@westsideobserver.com

March 2016

And the Winner is…

Half truths, exaggerations, deceit and deception! That seems to be the new norm for today’s election cycle and it appears that not much has changed in all these years. But was it always that way? After being welcomed home as a national hero, did Dwight D. Eisenhower insist on building a wall to separate our southern neighbors? Wasn’t it Ronald Regan that pleaded to “tear down that wall?” And would our affable peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, turn away millions of refugees during a time of need? I’m sure that George H. W. Bush, a one time director of the CIA, would not have taken on Valdimir Putin, a former senior officer in the KGB, over nukes and political nuts. And speaking of our 41st President, I remember taking a trip quite a few years ago that took us through Kennebunkport, Maine on our way to a 60th birthday party celebration for a very dear friend of ours in Maine.

Our trip started in New York, and after the usual few hectic days in the Big Apple we boarded an Amtrak train for our 5 hour ride to Boston, which was different, unusual and scenic. We arrived at the Westin Copley Place for a pleasant stay before driving off in our Hertz rental to the Spruce Point Inn, in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Stopping off in Kennebunkport was opportunistic and gave us a chance to visit the summer home of our newly-elected president. As I recall, we visited the Dock Square area, which was right on the Kennebunkport River and reputed to have the president’s speedboat docked nearby. After a pleasant lunch and a tour of the town, we did get a glimpse of the boat, but also found out that the boat was heavily guarded by the Secret Service on land and with Navy divers protecting the hull. Our reward for the day was a souvenir coffee mug that we still use on occasion. There’s also an interesting video on the internet showing the boat pulling away from its mooring and smashing back into the dock as people scrambled around in amazement. That happened years later and hopefully with someone else at the helm!

A clam bake started off the festivities at the Spruce Point Inn and gave us all the opportunity to meet and greet old friends as well as new. Then came the party, the speeches, great food, and cold drinks, and it was soon time to head home, but not before stopping off in Tamworth, New Hampshire for a night, and then a stay at the Tulip Tree Inn in Chittenden, Vermont, and finally our last night at the Gables Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts. Along the way we did get the opportunity to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge as well as the nearby home of Edith Wharton just up the road.

We then headed to Boston for our United flight back to the familiar surroundings of the San Francisco International Airport.

So now we’ll wait and see how this election unfurls. More stories, more struggles for the top spot, and eventually Election Day. In the meantime all we can say is “may the best man win.” OMG, did I really say “man?”

February 2016

More Real Travel for Real People (2013-2015) More Real Travel for Real People (2009-2012)