Sergio NibbiReal Travel for Real People

By Sergio Nibbi

Arrivederci

Man in the sunset with roller cartYou may be familiar with Lao Tzu’s well known phrase, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For me It all started with a casual lunch with Tony Hall, where I mentioned to him how much I enjoyed his column in the Westside Observer and casually mentioned that I too enjoyed writing about our occasional travels to our family and close friends. Tony mentioned that the paper was looking for a travel writer and asked me to send him a sample of my missives.

Never expecting to hear back, the very next day he wrote and said the paper wants to publish the missive that I had sent him. I have never taken any writing classes so obviously I felt honored to be in the company of so many talented writers, and so the adventure began. That simple step was over 10 years ago and approaching 100 issues!!! (And I still have every copy of the paper since I started with my column.)

...borrowing another famous quote from Les Guêpes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” So, a new adventure begins with the realization that endless trees are saved in the process while our electronic gadgets take over.

It’s been a great ride but like everything else in life, things happen, and like all our contributors I was deeply saddened when I learned that the Westside Observer would no longer appear in print. Again, borrowing another famous quote from Les Guêpes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” So, a new adventure begins with the realization that endless trees are saved in the process while our electronic gadgets take over.

You keep reading and we’ll keep writing……it’s been a great ride and our deepest thanks for your continued support.

Sergio gets around—the world!

February 2020

20/20

After leaving Costco’s checkout area, I never fail to take a quick glance at the eye chart in front of the Optometrist’s office to make sure I can still pass the next driving test. So far so good as far as looking forward but what about looking back? Is there a special set of glasses to handle that? 2019 is teetering towards the history books but what great adventures have we lived in the last 12 months that are worth reviewing? We recently returned from a very enjoyable cruise to Mexico and a few months before that we visited our relatives in Chicago. All very pleasant adventures but what about all the political madness that we’re facing every day? Our State almost became a roasted marshmallow with all the wildfires and may soon be known as the “State of S’mores”.

The New Year started out rather innocently with good cheers and high hopes. A few birthday parties, some joyful anniversaries, new children welcomed into loving arms and sadly, a few departed souls. Not all that unusual starting with a few business gatherings, fund raising events, ribbon cuttings, and an occasional doctor’s appointment. The Napa Valley had another successful harvest and the world-famous vineyards were spared complete annihilation while Pebble Beach showed its true elegance while hosting the Concours d’ Elegance.

On Ground Hog’s Day, we looked for that shadow hoping for warmer, clearer days. The happiest of all events were Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and certainly, the ugliest day of all was April 15, the day that income taxes were due. Being the eternal optimist, I always see the bright side, the glass is always, half full. Three of our grandchildren are finishing college; the other four are well on their way to successful careers.

Looking back, it was not so painful but now it’s time to put on those forward-looking spectacles once again. Here’s to everyone’s good health, happiness and to a peaceful world so let’s raise our glasses to a brand new year, 2020 here we come.

Sergio gets around—the world!

December 2019

In Mazatlan

On the Fun Side of the Wall

leaving San Francisco

With more than 100 T-Shirts hanging in the open-air kiosk, one said it all. “KEEP CALM, You’re on the Fun Side of Trump’s Wall.” And fun it was on our 10 day cruise to Mexico from San Francisco back to San Francisco on the Grand Princess. The best part, no 10 hour flights, long security lines, exchanging money and learning a new language. This was not our first Mexican “rodeo” and at best, it was just a boat ride. An hour after leaving our home we were settled in our room and from the deck we enjoyed the beautiful views of the Salesforce Tower, the Transamerica Building, Coit Tower, and a peek of Fisherman’s Wharf. At that point, it was almost a shame to let go of the lines and get under way.

t-shirts in MexicoWhy can’t we just stay put for 4 or 5 days and enjoy our surroundings? Certainly better than a long weekend at the Ritz. However, if we never left we would miss crossing under the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoying the spectacular views of Alcatraz, the Marin Headlands, and the Farallon Islands while watching the setting sun as we headed west.

With the two armed Coast Guard patrol boats escorting us out, one almost felt like a dignitary being driven in bulletproof limos with American flags attached to the fenders. In fact, after the boats turned around and headed back to the City, we almost felt abandoned.

After 5 days at sea our first stop was in Puerto Vallarta, where again from our veranda we had a gorgeous view of a huge shopping center anchored by a monster of a Walmart. As we made our way down the gangplank, the first thing that greeted us was an outdoor massage tent. With it sides open and flapping in the wind there was no need to worry about being busted, truly a happy beginning instead of the latter. Taylor-Burton statue

We have always taken our chances and innocently stepped inside the first taxi that was available, and for $40 dollars an hour we were driven to the beach area and walked along the boardwalk enjoying the endless array of drug stores, jewelry shops, and street vendors. All the main tourist stops now have beautifully painted huge signs along the waterfront with the name of the city. A great photo op along with some cleaver artwork, and that cardboard box always waiting for a few dinaro. On the way back we stopped by the former home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton highlighted by beautiful bronze statues of the two of them.

Another day, another stop, this time at Manzanillo with more of the same stores, shops, and beautifully painted signs. A magazine rack with literature from the Jehovah’s Witnesses flanked an ice-cream store, which was our destination of choice.

Mazatlán provided us with another opportunity to jump in a cab, but this one was an open-air relic of days gone by. Another ride along the beachfront, which had, yes, another large painted sign with the name of the city. The beachfront was home to a large group of bronze sculptures with a real life McDonalds across the street. 5 days of cruising for a big Mac? I wonder if they serve Tequila instead of Diet Coke.

Senor Frog'sOur final stop was in Cabo San Lucas, and as we tendered in we were greeted by a familiar sight, Senor Frog’s and the 50-foot tall metal sculpture of a flying fish. The Souvenir store was our last stop where we purchased a few trinkets to remind us of yet another trip to this happy land. As we strolled through more shops and bars, I could have sworn that I saw a variety of workers all wearing T-Shirts with the Mar-a-Lago emblem emblazoned on them. Is it possible that they crossed over and ended up on the fun side of Trump’s wall?

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

November 2019

Keeping My Powder Dry

The first time I saw Hamilton was in San Francisco and after yawing my way through it, I quietly asked the question, “What’s all the fuss about? You could buy a round trip ticket to Europe for the price of admission and the wait for a ticket is endless. I’m not much of a theater goer but I’ve certainly seen a few of the well-known productions. Phantom of the Opera, Fiddler on the Roof, and my all-time favorite, Les Miserables to name a few. So in all fairness I thought I would give Hamilton one more try and what better opportunity than during our recent visit to Chicago. Manet's Luncheon on the grass

The theater was not as crowded, the ticket prices were a bit more manageable and guess what? I actually enjoyed it except for the fact that for the next 3 days that one line kept jumping in my head and would not let go, “I am not throwing away my shot”, “I am not throwing away my shot”. After sitting through it one more time I saw it in a new light and I must admit it was a much better cast than the San Francisco production but equally as enjoyable was our visit to the Art Institute of Chicago located in Grant Park where we enjoyed the exhibit of Edouard Manet’s paintings. The Art Institute was founded in 1879 and is one of the oldest and largest museums in the United States. The exhibits were beautifully displayed and I managed to take endless photos but one of his most famous paintings and most scandalous “Lunch on the Grass”, was to be admired only in book form.

On Monet's bridge

The museum has an endless display of world-renowned artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Grant Wood, Edward Hopper, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet. Claude Monet? Didn’t we see him recently at the de Young museum in San Francisco? The paintings were from his later years and again it brought back so many fond memories of our visit to his home and gardens in Giverny where we got a chance to take a few photos standing on his Japanese Bridge spanning his infamous water lily pond and then followed the arbor-covered pathway to the main entrance of his house. From Hamilton to Manet to Monet. Quite a range of talent as we went from bullets to bulbs, from lasting impressions to impressionists. So much fun but that song still rings in my ears.

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

October 2019

All Tied Up ≈

My tie rack

Sixty years! It may seem like a long time but to quote that old cliché “it seems like yesterday.” We went to Carmel in 1960 for our honeymoon and continued to go a couple times a year. We eventually bought a modest home of our own in town.

One of our favorite spots has always been Talbott Ties, and through the years I managed to accumulate a nice collection of ties when people still wore ties. My collection grew from knit ties, to narrow ones, to holiday ties, and ordinary every day varieties. Eventually, Talbott’s started selling shirts, jackets, bow ties, and vests, and even went into the wine business. Looking thru my closet I still have a nice assortment of knit ties that were very popular at the time. Somehow I just can’t work up the courage to donate them to charity, but if you see a homeless person wearing one on Market Street or the Tenderloin you’ll know where it came from. Some of the Christmas ties are real gems with sparkling Christmas trees, decorated ornaments and brightly colored stripes.

During our last visit to Carmel I happened to be driving down Ocean Avenue and I couldn’t believe my eyes, Talbott Ties is gone, closed, a “For Lease” sign sadly displayed in the window. A notice on line mentioned that the company had laid off most of their employees and was auctioning off all its equipment.”

But all my ties didn’t come from Talbotts. One of my favorites was purchased in Danang, Viet Nam, with its red and white diagonal strips, highlighted with silver threads. While there we visited a silk worm farm. We watched in awe as the worms spun their magic tirelessly, working so hard to create a tie for me, a pair of stockings for the women, or a parachute for a hang glider.

empty storefrontJust as unusual is a solid black tie that I purchased in Rome many years ago that has a symbol of a fasces on it, the original symbol of fascism that came from ancient Imperial Rome as a symbol of power and was adopted by Mussolini’s Fascists. It was eventually referred to as Fascio, a bundle of sticks featuring an axe as a symbol of strength through unity.

Still hanging on my tie rack is another tie from Barney’s in New York with Martini olives all over, and one with a full length figure of James Dean. I don’t remember where that one came from, but what a gem to wear at a movie night. Rebel Without a Cause was released in 1955, and how can one forget that great scene with James Dean drag racing his car as Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo watch in terror as the car careens over the cliff and into the ocean. Sadly, James Dean died one month before the release of the film.

So many fond memories, but wait, James Dean’s demise is not the only sad ending to this story. During our last visit to Carmel I happened to be driving down Ocean Avenue and I couldn’t believe my eyes, Talbott Ties is gone, closed, a “For Lease” sign sadly displayed in the window. A notice on line mentioned that the company had laid off most of their employees and was auctioning off all its equipment. And to make matters worse I saw that the Talbott wine division had been sold to E & J Gallo in 2015. One of my favorite Pinots born in the same barrel as Carlo Rossi?

On the brighter side I saw that Talbott ties are still available on Amazon. $175.00 for a Talbott tie, and I thought that 15 or 20 bucks was ridiculous at the time. Having known that I would have bought a ton of them. Considering the return I would have done better than buying Apple stock 20 years ago. At least I still have the ties to console me, and perhaps at the next dress up function I can tie a bottle of Talbott’s wine around my neck out of respect to Robb Talbott.

So if you’ll excuse me now I’m headed to Total Wines and More to pick up a $17.00 bottle of a 92 point Kali Hart Pinot Noir to drown my sorrow…...and I may even put on one of my knit ties out of respect for the last 60 years.

Sergio gets around—the world!

September 2019

Notre Dame Stained Glass windowsThe Sadness of it All

We stood innocently by a three-foot concrete pad known as “Point Zero” that is recognized as the center of Paris. The marker is always covered with small coins and surrounded by hundreds of tourists, like us, taking endless photos before turning the camera on the façade of Norte Dame Cathedral. The Plaza in front of the Cathedral is always crowded but not to the point where the people are obnoxious. To me the beauty of this marvelous structure is best seen from the side were one can marvel at the flying buttresses that seem to embrace the entire building like a mother caressing a child.

votives at Notre DameJoan D Arc scupltureStructurally, they hold up the building, esthetically, especially at night, they represent what Paris is all about. Yes, there is the Eifel Tower with its rotating beacon and the bridges, buildings, monuments and riverboats but this marvelous structure is what truly makes Paris “The City of Light.”

We’ve been fortunate to have visited Paris a couple of times in the last few years and will always cherish the sights and sounds of this beautiful city, so you can well imagine the shock and sadness when we heard about this devastating fire.

On our last visit, we stayed at the Hotel Brighton on rue de Rivoli, where our corner room was directly across from the Tuileries Gardens and provided us with a postcard view that stretched from the towers of Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower and beyond.

Notre Dame facade

So many fond memories and so much sadness that this grand cathedral has been sadly wounded, but it appears that not only the French but the entire world is set on rebuilding this glorious structure to its original grandeur. In the mean-time, we’ll hope and pray for its full and speedy recovery while we hold on to all those fond memories of visiting Notre Dame, admiring all the artifacts, listening to the priests’ sermons in French, not understanding a word, while never forgetting to light a candle on the way out. May that light shine forever.

Sergio gets around—the world.

MAY 2019

A New Baby

A very dear friend of mine called me the other day and wanted to know if I would be home for a while, he wanted to stop by and show me his new baby. Now, knowing his age and disposition I figured that this one would probably show up in Depends.

Fortunately, that was not the case and to my surprise, this one was in fact a new baby and absolutely gorgeous. “Wow, that’s really nice, what’s its name?” “Well, we don’t have a name yet but we’re considering Nikola, does that sound too Italian?” “Actually, we like the nickname, “T” but we’ll know better when the license plates arrive.” “Nikola? “T” like in Tesla I asked?”

licenst plate-outagas

Obviously, the next step was to sit inside and enjoy the smell of a new car. Beautifully crafted and silent as a church mouse. The power as we took off was indescribable. “So, what else can it do, I asked? And what happens when it runs out of juice?” In an instant a button on the gigantic screen was pushed and immediately the map showed all the charging stations within a 250-mile radius. And the best part is that the charging is free! Truly amazing and the best part is that you can now say “Goodbye” to those nasty gas pumps.

“So where can we go in that distance?” I drew a 250-mile radius on an old fashioned map and I was amazed at how much I could revisit. I hadn’t been to Camp Roberts since my days in the 91st Infantry Reserves, and what about San Louis Obispo, where we would spend our weekends away from the blistering heat. Santa Barbara was another spot I hadn’t seen in many years and what about those beautiful rides along Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay with a stop along the way at Duarte’s Tavern. We were there just a few months ago for an 80th birthday party and the views of the ocean were stunning. Going further south we could barely make it to San Simeon on a single charge but once there we could revisit the magnificence of Julia Morgan’s Hearst Castle.

map of charging locations

Going north there is the Napa Valley region and with plenty of charge left over we could revisit Healdsburg with all its great restaurants. Tahoe might be a stretch but after all there are plenty of charging stations along the way. The beauty of Lake Tahoe in the spring and early summer is beyond description. The smell of those pine trees coupled with the amazing sunsets over the lake are truly one of nature’s greatest gifts.

fireplace screen

At that point my imagination went into overdrive as I imagined all those wonderful stops that appeared on that gigantic screen. “Navigate to Novato” and there it is, the road, the traffic conditions and of course all the charging stations along the way showing how many at each stop and how many are available, but what else does this beauty do? You can tune to radio stations all over the world, you can put it on auto-pilot and watch the car start driving itself, speeding up, and slowing down as the conditions change, and finally I had to ask my friend, “So, show me something really cool.” Well, apparently, with the latest software update they have a new gadget that absolutely blew me away. Press the Tesla icon, hit the photo of the Whoopi Cushion and pick “Fart on Demand” and so help me, all you do is hit the radio volume wheel and be prepared to have the biggest laugh that you’ve enjoyed in a long, long time. You can even set it for either of the rear seats and watch the look on your friends’ faces when you make a left or right turn. Just make sure that you have a box of tissue with you, I laughed so hard that tears were streaming down my face.

The Tesla automobile is truly a revolutionary piece of engineering, but how would Mr. Nikola Tesla react to this latest feature? Hopefully with a true sense of humor of course. After all, this is Silicon Valley and not Austria where he was born.

Sergio gets around—the world!

March 2019

Out in the Cold Negri's Italian Dinners

With our country in a death spiral and our loyal Federal employees working for no pay and with no money to buy food, what is one to do? Our President suggested surviving on a Big Mac but will the landlord accept that in rent payment? What happens if he’s a vegetarian? And what happens if you want to visit a National Park, or Alcatraz or Muir Woods? I guess I could bring along a trash bag but what happens when nature calls? Maybe a box of Depends the next time I’m at Costco.

In my younger days we never had those problems. On most weekends we would pile in a car and drive to Fairfax and spend the day sitting by the pool at Marin Town and Country Club. I don’t remember the entrance fee but the grounds were beautiful. Green lawns, padded chairs, a beautiful pool and background music. You could bring a picnic lunch and always be assured of clean garbage cans long before the days of re-cycling and composting. By late afternoon our backs were beet red with the sun leaving strange marks on our back, face and chest. No bikinis in those days so the area between natural skin and burned was quite obvious. We used baby oil as lotion and who knew about SPF ratings. If you came back looking like lobster it was a badge of honor. Today people go to tanning salons, we just sat there and burned!

If you were looking for some real adventure you might travel as far as the Russian River and stop off in Rio Nido, Guerneville or Occidental and spend the day canoeing on the River. We always looked forward to a stop at the Union Hotel, which opened in 1879, or one of my favorites, Negri’s, where they were famous for their Italian meals since their opening in 1943. I can still vividly remember being in a canoe with a bunch of friends paddling down the river when someone jumped off the side — overturning the canoe, and dumping me in the river. Fortunately, they knew that I couldn’t swim, and through the panic you could hear “save Nibbi, save Nibbi.” Thankfully they were able to pull me towards the shore until my feet touched the muddy bottom. From then on I always wore a life preserver.

Mendocino Coast bluffs

As time wore on we made our way as far as Mendocino and beyond while enjoying the beautiful ocean views. We stayed a few times at Heritage House and loved it. Eventually we ended up with a boat of our own, still not knowing how to swim. We had many adventures on the Bay, going from the Marina to Angel Island, Sausalito, Tiburon, and eventually to the Delta. So many great times, but like anything mechanical, boats do break down, and on more than one occasion we had to call the Coast Guard for assistance. At the time there were no cell phones, but our trusty two-way radio was always set on channel 16 where we could get patched in to the Coast Guard. No charge, no hassle, they just showed up.

opening day

The biggest thrill was Opening Day, where hundreds of boats are decorated, loaded with friends, food, and booze, and headed out in the bay to parade around after passing by the anchored Coast Guard cutter where all the boats were blessed, and then to a sheltered anchorage were the music was loud and the liquor strong. Knowing the lurking dangers on the water my steadfast rule was no drinks for the captain until I was safely back in our berth.

our boat

And speaking of safety, what would happen now if all of a sudden we were in need of assistance? Can’t call the Coast Guard, they’re grounded. Maybe I should call Trump, but being from California I’m sure he won’t even pick up my call. I guess the best bet is to stay home and enjoy a Big Mac, but considering that I still have a job I may chase down a furloughed Coast Guard family and go all out and treat them to an In-N-Out burger.

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

February 2019

 

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