Pushing 100

Marilyn Monroe sculpture

The very first piece that I wrote for the Westside Observer was for the July/August 2009 issue, yes over 10 years ago and in the interim I’ve submitted close to 100 articles. Revisiting my first missive, I wrote about our visit to Chicago and although we stayed at the Drake Hotel I commented on the beauty of the newly built Trump Tower and commented on how clean the downtown area of Chicago was. 10 years later our world is upside down and I thought you might enjoy revisiting a few of my observations at the time.

 “If it takes a State House full of crooked politicians and a bunch of home grown gangsters to run a city then San Francisco should take notice and follow suit. It works great in Chicago and as I’ve said many times before Chicago is a beautiful city, clean, well maintained and full of very nice people and where pedestrians always have the right of way. Homelessness does not exist and graffiti is not to be seen.

quotes

If it takes a State House full of crooked politicians and a bunch of home grown gangsters to run a city then San Francisco should take notice and follow suit. It works great in Chicago and as I’ve said many times before Chicago is a beautiful city, clean, well maintained ...”

Entry: Trump Hotel

Chicago is well known for all its museums, aquarium, planetarium and city parks. Having seen most of them in the past we chose to visit Trump’s new International Hotel and Tower located just off Michigan Avenue and bordering on the Chicago River. After seeing a couple of the rooms and spa I had to tip my hat to Mr. Trump—it is spectacular. The hotel has been open for a year and unfortunately we found out too late but it’s definitely our choice for our next visit. Although we were not guests at the hotel we were welcomed to use the spa facilities so first thing the following morning we took advantage of the ultramodern facilities and cursed the fact that our one-hour massage went by much too quickly.”

Michigan Avenue

My, my, what a decade can do to a person or a nation. Let’s keep pushing forward and here’s to 10 more years or better yet, a hundred more. 

Sergio gets around—the world!

June 2020

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.)

quotes

...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.

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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

The Sadness of it All

Notre Dame Stained Glass windows

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.

Structurally, 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.”

votives at Notre DameJoan D Arc scuplture

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

 

Tipsy Towers

Regensburg Cathedral

Having recently spent two weeks in Eastern Europe visiting scores of churches, cathedrals, synagogues, fortresses and magnificent palaces, I always marvel at the size, height and beauty of these amazing structures. As a builder I always marvel at the talent and craftsmanship of those builders from so long ago. One of the first Cathedrals that we visited during our river cruise was the Regensburg Cathedral with its soaring spires. Who was the soils engineer? Who designed the foundations? Where did the material come from and how many men did it take to carve that magnificent exterior? The spires reach to the heavens but how did they get all that material to the very top? Today we have tower cranes and metal scaffolding, but how many trees did they need to cut down to get to the very top of those spires? And how many would-be Michelangelos did it take to carve all those sculptures?

The Cathedral in Florence known as the Duomo was started in 1296 with the realization that at the time, no one knew how to build the dome, and it would take over 100 years before Brunelleschi finally figured out how to construct what is still the largest brick dome ever created. And what about Giotto's Bell Tower next door? Still standing and not an inch out of plumb. Is there a lesson to be learned here?

St. Peter's Basilica

I questioned a structural engineer years ago about the construction of Saint Peter's in Rome, and why the building that huge didn't tilt or sink. His answer was very simple. They figured out the weight of the soil being excavated and figured the weight of the new structure and the solution was simple, the weight of the new building was equal to the weight of the soil being removed.

With all the construction going on in San Francisco at this time, one would think that a little research would be in order. I'm sure that with all the brilliant soils engineers in our area someone must have visited some of those magnificent old world structures and spent time doing research on the means and methods. Could it be that there were more workers than attorneys? And speaking of workers, was there a minimum wage, days off on your birthday, or two weeks paid vacation?

lighted dome

I've never given this a lot of serious thought, but maybe I had better start holding on to those cruise brochures that come in the mail daily. I still vividly remember the sun shining through the hole in the roof of the Pantheon, the grandeur of St. Peter's in Rome, the amazing mosaics that cover the walls and ceiling of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, and one of my favorites, Notre Dame in Paris.

Notre-Dame

With the holidays upon us, maybe Santa's sack might have just enough room for a pair of tickets to some exotic spot where we can study the construction of these magnificent structures, take some notes and bring back some ideas on how to build them right, build them straight and, well, you know what Shakespeare said about the attorneys!!

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

December 2018

A View of Budapest

Premature Evacuation

As we made our final approach into Paris from our early morning flight from Budapest,

I caught a glimpse of the Eifel Tower off in the distance enshrouded in the morning mist. At that point we reminisced about all the fond memories we've shared in this wonderful city, and the question that begged to be asked, "Why are we not spending a few extra days in Paris before heading home?" Fortunately, we had made arrangements through Air France to have someone meet us at our gate once on the ground and the "Meet and Greet" service worked like a dream. Had it not been for that beautiful young woman that met us at the plane's exit, we would still be walking around the airport asking for directions to the next terminal. The line in Passport Control was as at least an hour's wait but we went to the head of the line, crossed under the cloth barricades, and walked right through. In the bus, off the bus, up the stairs, down the stairs and into a private room in Air Frances's business lounge. Certainly worth it.

busses

For the next 12 hours on the way home, we had the time to relive our adventure from Prague to Budapest on Scenic's Jasper that turned out to be more of a nightmare than a sweet dream. Our 4-hour bus ride from Prague to Nuremburg was pleasant enough until we met in the lounge shortly after arriving on board and were told that there was not enough water upriver to allow passage to our final destination, Budapest. Our cruise director, Richard, suggested that we not unpack our suitcases until they knew more in a few days. Sure enough, on the 3rd day they loaded us on a bus, suitcases and all, and after a full day of riding on the bus we ended up in Melk where we toured the Abby and eventually had an overnight stay in Krems.

carraige

We eventually found out that the boat had in fact made it through the shallow water, and that we would eventually catch up with the boat. Another full day of bus riding that took us from Krems to Vienna that lasted from 11 am to midnight, before finally getting back to our room after another 3 hours' bus ride after the concert. As they say, "All's well that ends well," but that was not the case. The next day we cruised all day, never stopping in order to catch up to our final destination, Budapest. Unfortunately, we got to Budapest in the wee hours of the morning just in time for our disembarkation at 8:30 am.

downtown

Fortunately, we had made arrangements to extend our stay for an additional twodays. Otherwise our view of Budapest would have been from the window of our airplane heading home. Being the eternal optimist I tend to look at the bright side of life. The views from the bus window showed us what real roads should look like, newly paved, no potholes, no garbage strewn along the roadways, and absolutely no homeless. In Prague they wash down all the sidewalks every night and during the day workers with huge "Dust Busters" continually clean the streets and sidewalks. All the buses are brand spanking new and squeaky clean.

Madame Tussaud's
Madame Tussaud's

Are we doing something wrong in our State? Maybe it's time to treat our politicians to a river cruise and try to figure out what they are doing right and find a way to improve. It was truly an adventure but am I ready for another river cruise? Yes, but this time it's going to be on a Mississippi River paddle boat.

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

November 2018

Eighty-Three and Me

The view from the tail-mounted camera on "Big Bird" gave us great views of our approach and landing at Charles de Gaulle airport as we pondered what we enjoyed more, the amazing Air France A380 double decker flying machine that defies gravity or that delicious gourmet meal. After the usual cocktails we started with pickled quail's eggs and salmon, followed by a rack of lamb with all the trimmings, beautiful desserts and more drinks. Truly a delicious French meal, except this one was obviously prepared in San Francisco. I wonder if they cater.

quotes

...we made our way to the Documentation Center, where there were endless displays of the Nazi era from their rise to the end of World War Two. Extremely educational but so sad, with photos and video of the history of the Nazi Party and the Nuremberg trials... ”

St. Charles Bridge
St. Charles Bridge - Prague

After a two hour layover in Paris, we boarded another but smaller Air France plane for a 90 minute hop to Prague. Another easy flight. but a slight hiccup when we arrived. The driver that was scheduled to pick us up pulled a no-show, and moments later a text informed us that he had an accident and was not able to be there. Our tired eyes spotted a counter with a great big sign on it, and after a brief conversation with a very helpful young woman she told us to wait here and a driver would be here in a minute and sure enough Joseph appeared, wheeled our bags to his waiting car and away we went without the usual standing in line outside, fighting for a cab. As it turned out Joseph spoke perfect English and after asking him if he had time to give us a quick tour of Prague he spend the next hour driving by all the major tourist "must see" spots. It's amazing how much we saw in that little time and how nice he was.

Our hotel, the Art Deco Imperial Hotel, was in a perfect location, close to the main train station and an easy 15-minute walk to Old Town. After a two-night stay on our own, our "Gems of the Danube with Prague" cruise on Scenic's Amber started with the first three days being spent in Prague as part of the cruise package. With a total of five days to sightsee, we got a great feel for this beautiful ancient city, packed with wall to wall tourists at the time. We arrived on Saturday the 15th and coincidently the 18th happened to be my 83rd birthday. What a great way to check off another year. (Did I really say Czech?) In five days we saw every corner of the city and gave our Apple Watch a real workout on how many steps we did every day. In Old Town Hall we visited the Astronomical Clock, which was covered with tarps and under repair. But we did make our way to the 3rd floor and bought tickets to the small, round elevator that took us to the very top of the Town Hall's tower where we enjoyed the spectacular views of the entire city as well as the twin Gothic towers of the Tyn Church.

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral

An early morning taxi ride brought us to Prague Castle where we watched tourist after tourist stand next to the armed security guards taking one picture after another and yes, we took one also. Once inside the huge courtyard we made our way through security, which was tighter than going through SFO. We spent the morning visiting St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Place, Basilica of St. George and various other exhibits before crashing for lunch. The restaurant off the entrance to the square had great outside dining areas. After sitting down, drinks were ordered. When we asked for the menu we were asked to follow the waiter where he escorted us to the kitchen area and proceeded to lift the lids to the various pots showing us the specials of the day. A great meal followed, and certainly a first for us. Another must see was the Charles Bridge, and again there were hordes of tourists as we crossed, admired all the statutes on either side before heading back to our hotel.

vintage Lufthansa airplane

That evening was the birthday bash for this poor, tired old traveler. With the recommendation from one of the drivers we ended up at Portfolio Restaurant, a one-star Michelin restaurant that lived up to its rating. Thursday morning our bags were brought downstairs as we finished breakfast and prepared for our four-hour ride to Nuremberg. A pit stop along the way gave us enough time for a Big Mac and a chance to stretch our legs. Finally, we were on board, settled in and headed to the dining room, tired but eager to see this town, with so much history. Our bus tour the next day started with a drive around the main attractions in town, and finally a stop at the famous Zeppelin Field where Adolf Hitler spoke from that well-known balcony, and where that huge swastika was blown up by the Allies after the war. After a short walk we made our way to the Documentation Center, where there were endless displays of the Nazi era from their rise to the end of World War Two. Extremely educational but so sad, with photos and video of the history of the Nazi Party and the Nuremberg trials which were held in Court Room 600 in the Palace of Justice that concluded on November 20, 1945.

St. Peter's Cathedral - Regensburg
St. Peter's Cathedral - Regensburg.

Our bus brought us back to reality as we ate dinner that evening at Portobello, one of the specialty restaurants, and had a delicious Italian meal. Our overnight cruise brought us to Regensburg, and after arriving mid-morning we took an escorted walking tour of this beautiful old town. All good so far except the word is coming down that there may not be enough water in the river up ahead to float this boat. Worst case, we may have to be bussed to our next stop, Passau and then what? Is our 7-day river cruise turning into a bus trip? Hopefully not……

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





October 2018

Around the World in 80 Minutes

 

Prague

Russia, London, Paris, Madrid, Dublin and Athens. Ports of call on a magical around the world cruise? Fables from a great storyteller or a young person’s dream of travels to far off lands? Fortunately, none of the above, especially if you live in San Francisco where these locations are as easy to visit as a trip to the market. When I was a teenager, we moved to the Excelsior District where we lived on Edinburgh and Brazil. My grandmother lived on Madrid, we had friends that lived on Naples, Munich and Dublin, and the corner grocery store was on Vienna. Russia, Persia, Madrid and Edinburgh bound the Excelsior Playground. The long standing Italian American Social Club has been on Russia and London Streets for many years and still serves great food and drinks to the locals and outsiders as well.

Salzberg
Salzberg

After the 1906 earthquake Emanuel Lewis and his daughter Jeannette built over 200 homes in the area, and in the process proceeded to name the streets and avenues after the world’s capitals and countries. When I lived there, the Excelsior District was predominantly Italian, Irish, and Swiss, and today it is one of the most ethnically-diverse districts in San Francisco.

Although through the years we’ve had the pleasure of visiting many of these beautiful cities and countries, we’ve never visited Prague, not the street but the city. In a few weeks, we leave for a river cruise on Scenic Cruise Line’s Amber, leaving from Prague and ending up in Budapest for an 11-day adventure on the Danube River. Our Air France flight will take us to Paris on the gigantic Airbus A380, and then after a brief layover we settle in for a short hop to Prague. I’m amazed when speaking with friends about Prague, and how much they’ve all enjoyed the area, and I don’t even know what country it’s in.

Regensburg
Regensburg

Our trip starts with a three-day tour of Prague and the surrounding area. Some of the highlights will include a stop at the Astronomical Clock, a walk across the Charles Bridge and a guided tour of the City and its rich history. On the third day, a coach will take us to Nuremberg where our cruise begins and obviously some delicious food and drink to welcome us aboard. On the following day, we will have our choice of visiting the moving World War ll sites, or a more pleasant tour of the “Tastes of Nuremberg”, certainly a much happier way to end the day. Our cruise will take us to the old town of Regensburg, and then a ferry ride to the Weltenburg Abbey where we’ll be tasting beer from one of the oldest monastic breweries in the world. Another day, another Abbey, while we visit the 18th century Benedictine Abbey in Melk, and then on to Vienna where we can once again revisit the Schonbrunn Palace and the world-renowned Spanish Riding School. On the 10th day, we arrive in Budapest for a guided tour of the city, including a piano concert and a dip in the Thermal Baths and Spa. The following day we disembark the ship with two days to tour on our own another beautiful city before heading back home.

Rathaus Vienna
Rathaus Vienna

Hopefully before we leave I will have found the time to figure out what country we’re going to and what we’ll be seeing along the way. But most importantly, I need to find a pair of Lederehosen, an Alpine hat, and certainly a couple of German beer steins. I hope that after all this I don’t wake up in the middle of the night yodeling my way to the bathroom.

 

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

Sept 2018

Napa Valley

All that Jazz

Chef

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!

quotes

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.

poster

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

Windsor Street

A Royal Visit

crooked house

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. swan pond

standing with Guards

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.

boat landing

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.

Windsor Castle GuardThe 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. Gardens

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.

CastleThe 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
Cinque Terre, Italy

The Salt of the Earth

Schloss Fuschl, Saltzburg
Schloss Fuschl, Saltzburg

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.

CATHEDRAL poster

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.

ride poster

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.

brochure

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.

lift ticket

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 Olympic Flag

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."

rock drill on highway

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.

Lake Tahoe

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
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.

Butchart Gardens
Butchart 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
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
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

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