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Category Archives: Sept 2019 – The West Coast

Mixed Emotions

It’s Saturday and we fly home tomorrow.  This past week has pretty much flown by as most vacations do.  And that in itself is perhaps the wrong term.  A ‘vacation’ is usually a term used in the context of a break from work.  For us, that’s not so much the case.  It has really been a chance to return to a place that we have not really paid a visit to in over 40 years.  And we’ve been able to do it in a much more relaxed state.

Leaving Sunday morning gives those same feelings that always materialize on ‘the last day’.  A thirst to go back home plus the craving to stay are almost like conjoined twins.  Mixed emotions fight internally, yet the home-front yearning always wins.

The original plan was to drop by Kendall Jackson then cruise down the highway to swing by Heitz Cellars.  But the reality of the time to do so and still keep our (now extended) return time for the car simply wasn’t going to work.  So, Kendall won out.

A long time ago the Grand Reserve Merlot from KJ was favorably discovered by my nose and palate.  It’s never been forgotten but it is so rarely available at home that opportunities for enjoyment are slim and very far between.  It just seemed apropos to make an appearance at the home of that most delightful beverage.  It did not disappoint.

The entrance and the surrounding grounds are stellar and immaculately kept.  The tasting room large, well staffed and replete with not only their wine but requisite souvenirs that beckon all that frequent.  Our tasting host, Chris, provided not only good pours of the wines but displayed a full and proper knowledge of just WHAT he was pouring.  While sharing with him our story of why we were here, and how long it’s been since our first visit to the SF area, he felt it would be proper to do his own sharing.  He very willingly offered to extend us an additional pour of something not on the list, but of a more refined selection.  It would have been very rude indeed to decline. 🙂  As it turns out, that 2017 Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Chardonnay found its way into our car to join our flight home tomorrow.

Our next stop (now NOT at Heitz Cellars) was the Petaluma Premium Outlet Mall.  Save your time should you have the opportunity.  There was no joy for us.  As a for instance….Tommy Hilfiger had a huge number of items outside the store on sale at various reduction levels.  I found a very nice shirt that was marked 70% off and the marked price was $60 USD.  Ok…that should work out to about $18.  Good Deal!  No, no no…the $60 already was the marked down price.  REALLY?  Somehow they feel they can justify a short sleeve shirt for $200 simply because it has that brand name on it.  Even when I DO win the lottery that just makes No Sense.

Out of there in a hurry and on to our hotel to drop off the luggage then on to Costco to fill up the car before its return.  And might I add, at a price that was 90 cents a gallon cheaper than I had paid previously at a different store a few days before.  Even more luck, the Costco gas station was minutes away from the Hertz drop off which was also minutes away from our hotel.  That all worked out well.

A street-car was now on the menu for a trip to Pier 39, the heart of the wharf area of SF.  Again, decades since we have wandered about down here.  The hustle and bustle has become more intense, traffic around the immediate area is nuts, and the sheer volume of everything has been turned up many notches.  More and more of this and that.  Some constants exist though.  Ghirardelli chocolate is still easily available and just as fabulous (and non-caloric! 😉  )  Food is as plentiful and certainly some choices remain outstanding.  And, of course, the Harbour Seals still laze around, taking in the sun.  Continuity is a good thing.

Now sufficiently fed (probably good til Tuesday) we Uber back to the hotel.  We asked a readily available cab driver for an approximate price and he quoted about $50.  Uber cost us $28.  ‘Nuff said.

We had checked our luggage, as mentioned, because we really were too early for our room, and we knew that.  Fortunately they were happy to set our stuff aside in a locked room (with many others) to await our return.  As we checked in at the reception area, the wonderful lady behind the counter felt sorry for us because our room wasn’t ready when we arrived.  Before I could explain it was simply due to our own early arrival, she said she would upgrade us to a suite because of the inconvenience.  How could I disappoint her by turning her down?  This trip has truly been one of many surprises, almost all of which extraordinarily good.

Think we can get a free upgrade on the flight tomorrow???  (HIGHLY unlikely – it’s Air Canada)

This will be the last post for this journey.  I hope everyone that has dropped by got a kick out of our exploits and will return when the next adventure begins.  BTW…I will post more pics in the next day or 2.  The other thing I manged to forget to pack was the proper cable to download pictures from the cameras to the laptop.  YES there will be better accouterments management next time.

Dasvidaniya (now THERE’S a hint…)

A Delectable Wine Tour

Friday begins pretty much exactly like Thursday…clear skies above and all around warmed by a golden orb we haven’t seen very often back home this year.  Another light breakfast, coffee and OJ, back to the room to get cameras etc and we settle in to wait for our ride.

Yes…our ride.  A wine tour loses a lot of its desired appeal for someone that can’t drink due to driving restrictions.  Those are in place for numerous good reasons and no arguments here.  But TODAY there will be no driving…at least not by yours truly.  Prior to leaving home, I contacted Platypus Tours and arranged for the both of us to go on one of their selected visitations.

Thursday was spent stopping at a number of wineries that we were familiar with either because their wine was currently resting in our cellar or the local liquor store carries some of their products.  Saturday will be another 2 of those.  Today, though, will highlight 4 that are very local to the region with names totally unknown.

Our tour guide, Kelly, did more than expected with respect to making the day one to not only remember, but be happy to do again (albeit to different wineries – further investigation is certainly required!).

Travelling around in a very comfortable van, not having to drive, on a perfect day (from a weather perspective), doing what we came to do (taste wine!), sounds like it should be as good as it could be.

Be that as it may there is always the potential for a ‘but’.  As mentioned this was booked some time ago and it would be impossible to control who our travelling companions would be.  Once again our luck held.  Brook (from Sonoma county), her friend Deena (from Chicago), Amanda and her husband Brett (from Atlanta), were all splendid accomplices to this guilty pleasure.

Kelly first took us through a little town called Healdsburg.  It has a local reputation of being a little hoity-toity and has been referred to (upon occasion) as Beverly Healdsburg.  There was no stopover for us today so I cannot say from first-hand experience.  But I will say that the drive through was visually enjoyable.

Wineries visited were assuredly ones unrecognized by us.  The first was De La Montanya.  The grapes are being harvested, that process having been started last month in some areas.  Here there were a number of rows of Zinfandel grapes hanging from the vine waiting for their pickers.  Allowances were made to enjoy one (or two) from the vine, just being careful when picking.  The grapes hung as if the bunches had been purposefully created to represent what the mind’s eye had only imagined.  As impeccable as they were to look at, the explosion of sweet flavor was really the only proper final touch.  No disappointment there.

A pouring of 1 white, 1 rose’, and 5 reds, if I’m being totally honest, did not meet my own hopes for the wines.  They ranged in price from $30 to $60 USD, which in Alberta would be pushing $100 at the top end.  I understand the rationale.  They are an estate winery growing almost all their own grapes.  They are bonded for 10,000 cases which doesn’t really allow for international inclusion as there is simply not enough to go around.  Having said all that, I am confident their wine will grow in complexity and provide better and better results over time.

Our next stop was Mill Creek.  They, too, are a small estate winery in business since 1969.  It is now being operated by the 2nd and 3rd generations with the 4th happily running around the vineyards filling her little bucket.  They produce about 6,000 cases per year.

They poured us 4 whites and 2 reds ranging in price from $25 (for the estate Gewurztraminer which we bought) up to $70 (which we enjoyed over lunch graciously spread out for us by our Fabulous guide, Kelly).  Again, from a personal perspective only, these were far more enjoyable.

Harvest Moon now welcomed us for our next tasting.  Pourings of 1 white, 6 reds, 1 late harvest Zin and 1 estate ice-wine style Gewurtz.  These ranged from $22 to $42.  There were 2, I thought, worthy of specific note.  The first was named Verdelho which was blended with some very fine Portuguese grapes by the same name.  The second (which was another that made our ‘purchased’ list) was the estate ice-wine style Gewurtz.  VERY yummy indeed (and Yes, that IS the technical term).

Vizlay vineyards was our last stop of the day.  Again a smaller estate winery, family run, complete with a 5 bedroom guest house they rent out.  A pouring of 1 white and 4 reds completed our day of tasting.

Was the day well spent?  Absolutely.  Would we do it again?  In a heartbeat. Do yourSELF a favor and visit California Wine Country.  A wine tour is, without doubt, the way to do it and I happen to know a very reputable company.  😉  Hopefully your group will be as fun and entertaining as ours.

Top Down And Wind In The Hair

Thursday…up at the crack of dawn and off we go.  Ok…maybe dawn has broken some time ago and I’m taking journalistic license.  Sue me.  🙂

Dressed and out for a quick breakfast as provided by the hotel and it’s finally time to change the car’s appearance.  Now there is nothing hindering proper, nothing broken, automatic, roof retraction.  First the one-button press to drop all the windows (including the little side vent type I didn’t even realize were there).  Then a press of another button and the magic begins.  This is very cool indeed.

In the early 70’s I had my one and only experience in a convertible.  And I wasn’t driving but sitting in the back seat. It was a formidable muscle car of those years, a Pontiac Bonneville with a very large engine.

This Mercedes is Much shorter and probably doesn’t have a roof line much higher than the Bonneville’s hood.  AND a significantly smaller engine.  Pretty sure I could beat that Bonneville now though.  This car is faster than any I have had the pleasure of driving.  From a standing start or from pretty much any speed after that.  Very impressive indeed.  Not like a Ferrari or a Lambo (let’s be serious here) but beyond normal requirements by a large margin.

Driving all day with the top down, the sun very much up and the wind making a mess of the hair, was the most delightful experience.  Not without some drawbacks however, noise being the most noticeable.  Carrying on a conversation above 50 mph was pretty much using your vocal chords for nothing.  Another annoyance was the sun-visors did nothing when the sun was just above the roof line and in your eyeballs.  They don’t tilt upwards.  Getting out of the car was markedly improved however.  No roof to bang your head against (it’s really quite low).  In addition, let’s be honest…driving a Mercedes convertible in the California sun is simply life as it should be.  Home, with a wonderful summer of approximately 5.5 days, just doesn’t provide enough time to enjoy.

One rather interesting tidbit.  The owners manual says the convertible roof should not be operated in temperatures less than 5 F.  That’s -15 C back home.  Who, in their RIGHT MIND, would even Consider driving with the roof Down at -15 C?  I wouldn’t even take that car out of the heated garage at that temperature.

A few winery stops were made today because, as mentioned before, it’s all about the wine.  The driver (me) behaved himself, albeit a little grudgingly.  It’s harvest season so the vines were still mostly full (although picking was happening) and some other grapes were becoming more like raisins.  On purpose I suspect.  Wines not easily (if at all) available back home were tried, the majority being of sound body and ranking quite high on the enjoyability profile.  One was purchased and will likely…evaporate…before the flight home.  After all, tomorrow is a totally different wine tasting day that should bring nothing but uncommon juice of the grape.  And 4 of those should find their way back home.

Finished the day a short distance from our hotel at a positively excellent Japanese restaurant.  Crab Sunomono salad (pickled cucumber, seaweed and crab), Cruncy Calamari Salad (mango, very lightly Tempura coated Calamari, Arugula), Jalapeno Bomb (deep fried Jalapeno, cream cheese, spicy tuna and tobiko), Shrimp Sumai (steamed shrimp dumpling). All paired with a terrific Daiginjo Sake.

Perfect end to a beautiful day.

A Much Better Day

It’s now Wednesday and having woke from a fairly good sleep, the day brightened our window with nothing but sunshine.  Right behind our hotel was an excellent home cookin’ restaurant which helped shape a most satisfying start to our drive north.

Looking forward to dropping the top on this new mode of transportation, disappointment soon reared its ugly head.  Our big suitcase would actually fit with room to spare.  However, given there is NO back seat area at all, the small suitcase and my laptop bag would have to also go in the trunk.  The laptop alone would still have been a good fit.  The small suitcase would only go in one way…on its side.  No matter what configuration was tried, everything would fit, but there would be insufficient clearance for the top to go down.  Bummer!

Ok…that problem won’t go away until tomorrow so on the road we go.  The goal is our next hotel, north of San Francisco in an area called Rohnert Park, CA.  San Fran is about 4.5 hours and then another better part of an hour past that.  With an almost 6 hour trip in front, but no real rush either, we set out on Highway 1 to take in a more scenic, rather than direct, route.  It’s just past 9 AM.

There were photo ops aplenty along the way, one allowing for a very impressive viewing of a colony of elephant seals.  Apparently it was ‘lay down in the sand and cover ourselves with it’ time rather than ‘gambol about in the water’ time.  A few did, but most just lazed around, taking full advantage of being permanently unemployed.

Driving along the coastline also gave us the more enhanced experience of driving in California in general.  Leaving L.A. central was what we had expected, more or less.  Yes it was rush hour but there were tens of thousands more commuters heading back Into L.A. than actually leaving.  So, while our 8 lanes of traffic were moving, the sea of vehicles on the other side of the median was crawling much like my granddaughter not that long ago.

One would think the coastline drive (well out of LA. and area) would be somewhat better.  Not so much.  The sight-lines were absolutely improved.  The ocean views, changes of foliage and the general bouquet in the air (I love the smell of the ocean) all provided some relief from the road conditions. Those didn’t do that tour any justice.  It’s hard to understand why the roads are so badly pockmarked.  Not potholes, like back home, but for major rural roads, they left a lot to be desired.

When on a divided highway in California the speed limit is (mostly) 65 mph (about 104 kph for us Canucks).  If not divided, then 55 mph (88 kph) is the limit.  Aside from going through towns, what else might affect this?  Yep…that wonderful season known as road-construction season!  Now it becomes 45 mph (72 kph) and more often than we wanted, also down to one lane.  Which meant stop…wait (In Line Again!!)…then go when permitted by workers.  And there are many spots where 45 mph is a luxury.

BUT…we’re not in a rush, right?  Here to enjoy, not to hurry.

Another sideline that I wanted to make was in Carmel CA that offered the famed 17 Mile Drive.  I had done this once before, in 1992, and ‘had a yen to see it again’.  (Yes…my new career shall be…POET!  no…I’m kidding.)  Back in those olden days I remember a lot of green grass and some of the most spectacular homes I have ever seen.  Plenty had that magnificent view of the ocean that one can only get by living with it right out your front door.  Too much can change in 27 years.

Those homes are still there, but it now costs $10.50 USD, to take that drive. I guess Someone has to help pay for the surroundings. After all, the people that live there have all those OTHER costs. You know…the golf cart upkeep, the club memberships, thier landscapers (after all their yards don’t take care of themselves!), the pool guy…it’s Tough living here.

As the drive meanders around, it’s blatantly obvious that there are a multitude more homes here than so long ago.  A stop at Spyglass Golf Course and Poppy Hills Golf Course because my golf ball display at home still has a few holes to fill. 🙂  Again, more photo ops came about and at the very end of the drive was the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course.  This has also changed dramatically over the years.

Where once there was, of course, the amazing golf course itself and a merchandise shop or two, there is now an entire community.  A shopping center type mall, a visitor center showing the resort’s amenities, a row of stores dedicated to golfing attire and mementos.  The list goes on.  Say what I will, however, it remains an exceptional place to take in.  In 1992 golf fees were $200 USD if you did NOT live on 17 mile drive.  It is now $550 USD.

Still waiting for that lottery win…

On we continue to our hotel.  I guess we’re luckier this time.  We got there by about 8 PM.  WHY?  It was Only about a 5.5 hour drive and yes we made a number of stops.  But the reason on Top of construction was the always present ‘let’s slow down for no apparent reason, clog traffic, then move on’ syndrome.  There is no doubt that this affliction exists in other first world countries, but it’s just seems so much more noteworthy on an 8-lane each way divided highway.  And it doesn’t disappear just because you’re on a one-lane each way out of the way secondary road.

Into the room, unload, and go find a restaurant for a little bite before bed.  Tomorrow WILL BE a top-down day.

An Eventful Day

Our last day on the ship should have been relatively uneventful.  We knew we were going to be even later than we thought (arriving at around 2 PM instead of our original 6 AM, which was later adjusted to noon).  As we had cleared US Customs in Vancouver before we even got on board, getting off should have been very easy.

The first challenge was actually getting off the ship.  The staff had categorized everyone that was leaving into varying groups depending on urgency and whether one was walking off with luggage in tow (us) or having their luggage moved for them from their room to a waiting area off the ship.  Those who were walking off were able to do so first.  Great, except we were certainly not alone.  Not even part of a small select group.  Nope, a few hundred was likely a more accurate head-count.  Ok…better than the couple of thousand doing it the other way.

It really didn’t take all that long.  Probably about 20 minutes by the time we were physically off the ship.  I can handle that.  We had (once again) called Hertz (our rental car agency) to warn of our delay.  They assured us a car would be available.

Off the ship, through the port building, out the door, across the street to wait for a cab to take us to Hertz.  This now becomes the next challenge.  We got our name on a list (as there were only a few hundred people waiting), and sort of close to the top.  I think we were about 40th.  However…the guy making the list advised us that, at one point, there were about 34 cabs waiting for the ship.  Because it was so delayed, they all left.  Now we have to wait for return visits.  Oh Joy, Oh Joy.  When they finally started to show there were, at best, only 2 at a time.  About an hour after we got off the ship we made it to Hertz.  Can this day get any worse?

CERTAINLY!  When we got in another line at Hertz I was amazingly in 5th spot.  I had rented a smallish car (along the Ford Focus line) as it was sizable enough and not overly expensive.  Now, my Only choice was a Suburban!  That thing is bigger than my Venza was!  In L.A. traffic, and now being forced to drive (4 hours), in darkness for the last half of the trip, and it being careless about using gas.  This was NOT an acceptable choice.  Why was there no other selection?  Well, as it turns out, the multitude of cars that were supposed to be delivered that morning to their office, didn’t show up.  Now we’re all waiting for some to be returned.  At this point there are more people behind me than when I first got here.

I informed the attendant that I just couldn’t take the Suburban…it was simply way too big.  Ok…no problem, you can wait for something else (once again going on a list – now I’m 6th cuz others in front of me didn’t want it either. Is there a pattern here??).  A little while later I was again offered the Suburban…no thank you.  Then a full-size mini-van came up…no thank you, I will wait.

Now we have been here for an hour.  He once more calls me up and asks me to sit down as he has something for me.  GREAT.  We get all the paper work done, and he asks me to follow him so he can show me where the elevator is to the 6th floor of the parking garage.  This is where I’ll get my car.  Ok…by the way, what kind of car is it?  “Please follow me” he says. “I don’t want to say it out loud in the office” he sort of whispers.  As we head to the elevator he hands me the Key Fob. While walking I turn it over.  Hmmmm…isn’t this interesting.  I said to him “I understand now”.

I shake his hand, thanking him profusely.  He tells me I’m very welcome and sometimes its worth it to be patient.

So…for my original cost of the Ford Focus with NO additional upcharge, my dear wife and I try to figure out how we’re going to fit our luggage in the trunk of a 2019 Mercedes SLC 300 (hardtop convertible!).  Surprisingly both suitcases fit but with zero room to spare.  Tomorrow we’ll try dropping the roof (which slides under the trunk lid).  Apparently it is supposed to work as long as the trunk is not filled past a certain point.  We’ll be close, I’m sure.  Yes there will be pictures…tomorrow.

After an almost 5 hour drive (not including a quick stop at a Wonderful Italian restaurant in Santa Barbara) we show up at our hotel.  As with Hertz, we had phoned ahead to inform them of our much-later arrival.  No problem, if we’re past 10 PM the key will be under the mat right in front of the office door.

What will make this day complete?  You guessed it…No Key when we arrived (around 10:30 PM).  But, it turns out to be not a major issue.  We called the office (that we’re standing right outside of and could see there was no-one there), and the manager answered.  He let us in saying he didn’t leave the key as he was going to be up for a while.

Now up in the room (Finally) and unpacked just enough to make take-off tomorrow easier.  The bed is not nearly as nice as the one on the ship, but it is calling my name.

I have to listen.  Goodnight everyone…more to follow after (we hope) a much more enjoyable day tomorrow.

Pamper Yourself

The everyday world we all live in can have special moments if we’re willing to do something different.  This cruise, an opportunity presented itself that was not something I would have considered, initially.  Sitting at the Art Auction (cuz I like to watch and drink their free sparkling wine), I managed to do something not very common (for me, at least).  I won a prize!

Not a highly unaffordable painting or sculpture (my luck is not THAT good), rather a $50 coupon for the Spa.  Being of sound mind I offered it my dear wife.  As it turns out there was nothing that really appealed to her this time out so she suggested maybe I should use it.

A little while back I had mentioned how, after carefully checking everything before we left the house, I still managed to forget something.  It was a razor.  Not sure how I did that given I had used it that same morning and set it aside to bring along.  Oh well…I thought I would either get a cheap one along the way or just ‘rough it’ for the week.

By now it’s Monday and my face is looking somewhat scruffy.  But I have this coupon (now Officially mine) that I could use against a Spa treatment referred to as The Royal Shave.  Regularly $99 but now $49 (for me).  What the heck?  How often in life am I likely to get someone to give me a shave?  You only live but one time, so why not pamper yourself?  Done!

Entering the Spa I was guided to a change room where I would slip out of my clothes (underwear not part of the deal, it’s not THAT kind of Spa) and wear a really nice bathrobe and slippers.  The clothes were kept in my own personal locked compartment and soon I was met by Mandy, my attendant.

After sitting down in a barber chair, she reclined it almost fully and proceeded to lay a very warm towel around my neck, cheeks and forehead.  Ok…GREAT beginnings.  The rest of my hour was spent simply relaxing under her hands.  Getting my face ready for the oil she used (rather than typical shaving creme which dries out the skin), another hot towel replaced the first (which had cooled a bit).  While this rested against my skin, my scalp was then treated to a wonderful massage.  It always feels SOOO much better when someone else does this.  An explanation I had received once, from my hair stylist at home, was that because it was someone else’s fingers rather than your own, you only felt the sensation on your scalp rather than also on your own fingers.

This was followed by the first application of that oil and the first actual shave.  All the way around my face, another hot towel, reapply the oil and shave again.  Baby’s bum smooth!  Now a cold towel to close all the pores.

While that towel was on, it was time for my hands and arms to get their own massage.  Another first and this too was fabulous.  It is no wonder why people with too much money have this done often.  I really need to win that lottery!

One last warm towel to wash my face and neck and we’re done.  Mandy….Thank YOU for the excellent experience.  If any of my dear readers are going on the Royal Princess and are considering any of the Spa services, please do yourself a favor and ask for Mandy.

Next…a final post about the ship and then onwards. 🙂

 

Presentation Is The Key

Ok…I promise to keep this post less wine-forward than its predecessor.  However, I also mentioned there was another observation which (as it turns out) involves wine.

Princess has long been our favored cruise line for a variety of reasons.  They have recently instituted a major enhancement to the Princess Cruise experience.  This would be their Medallion Class (powered by their Medallion.Net).  While there are too many ways to use this facility than can easily be explained here, suffice it to say not only do you NOT need to carry around a ‘cruise card’ (replaced now with a ‘medallion’) you can also plan activities, find friends and family, chat with same, and order drinks and food (delivered to your current location) all by using your cell phone, tablet, or laptop.  AND not use Any of your precious data limits/internet minutes.  This is simplified, but for my purpose today it will be sufficient.  (Oh yeah…it automatically unlocks your door a few steps before you actually GET to your door.  How handy is THAT?)

As mentioned, one of the things you can do is plan your daily activities on-board the ship.  We had already booked a wine event (Maitre D’ Wine Club) which we like to do every cruise.  Yeah…it’s $25 per person and there is a less expensive version (Grapevine Wine Tasting, $9.50) but let’s be honest…you get what your pay for.  If I really want to drink less expensive wine….no…wait…I NEVER want to drink less expensive wine.  I’m simply getting to old to “settle”.

When using Journey View (that portion of Medallion Class that gives Ship Activities) to look over daily activities, it shows you where that activity is, what time it is, what it costs etc.  And you can ‘bookmark’ it so it is in ‘your events’ filtering out only those daily events that you’re either signed up for or wish to attend (rather that looking at ALL the events which, on some days, can be rather extensive).

So…I looked at ‘my events’ for the day and saw the Maitre D’ Wine club (good), at 2:45 (good), in the Concerto Dining Lounge (good), price $9.50 (WHAT??)  As mentioned before, I KNOW there are (typically) 2 of these type of events, and I know the prices for each.  Clearly there was a mistake.  Off to the Customer Service Desk to have a conversation.

I explained to the desk person that we had signed up for the Maitre D’ Wine Club, pre-paid and were successfully booked in.  I then brought up Journey View on my cell phone and showed him that event clearly at $9.50 rather than $25.  He, in turn, checked with someone else and they came to the conclusion that the posting on Journey View was incorrect.  Without putting up a fuss or expecting some kind of compensation for the price differential (I knew my price was correct and it was their posting that was wrong…to THEIR detriment) I simply wanted them to understand the problem.  They had the price adjusted before that day was out.

AND…gave us a FULL refund for helping them avoid a LOT of other problems.  Again, presentation is the key. 🙂

Finally…just to end this story, yes the wine tasting was superb.  In fact, the table I was at all agreed (unanimously) the Pinot Noir we tasted was not only the best over-all, but, by FAR the Best Pinot Noir any of us had enjoyed previously.  2017 Belle Glos Pinot Noir, Las Alturas, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County.

More on ship activities to follow.  AND…tomorrow we leave for our drive up the coast.

One last thing…the ship has been further delayed (due to distance and available speed) so we won’t arrive until 2 PM in L.A.  Grab the car (by 3 if we’re lucky) and manage a 4 hour drive before we get to our first hotel.

Fun times!! 🙂

It’s All About The Wine

As much as the Original intent of this cruise was just a simple, short, get-away-from-it-all, it seems to have manifested itself into more of a wine excursion.  Certainly onboard it has gone that way and I now look at it as being a pre-cursor of what is yet to come.

When we (finally) dock in L.A. on Tuesday we find our rental car and leave immediately for the northern California wine country of Sonoma (where we will be staying) with a side trip to Napa Valley and, if I’m real lucky, Lodi.

More on that later (which only makes sense as we haven’t got there yet).  For now the juice of the grape can be found in numerous places throughout this ship.  My dear wife decided to wander, explore and relax in other areas so it was left to me to make a judgement call as to what to do with MY time.  Vines, the splendid wine bar in all the Royal class Princess ships, always beckons and I rarely turn down the invitation.  Today was no exception.

My personal favorite tasting at Vines has always been their 3 wine flight.  Essentially a selection of three 2 ounce pours of wine all with something in common.  Having a weakness for Italian wines made it all but mandatory that I choose the Italian Treat.  At this point some of you may find the next few paragraphs a bit boring and perhaps a little self-serving.  Others may find it (hopefully) a little insightful and perhaps somewhat informative.  I hope for the latter but will certainly understand the former.  Also bear in mind these notes are of my own personal observations…your own may be quite different.  Like art, that’s the beauty of wine; it’s all so very personal.

Wine number 1 … Bianco Blend, Planeta La Sagreta
Served nicely chilled, as it should be.  Light golden color, very well-defined meniscus.  Lots of citrus on the nose.  Almost zero acidity on the tongue and the citrus remains throughout the taste.  The finish is relatively short but still enjoyable.  Should go very well with salads, pasta and fish, but is quite capable of standing on its own.

Wine number 2 … Nero d’Avola, Donnafugata Sherazade
Served room temperature which works out just perfect for this particular wine.  Medium to dark red in color with minimal meniscus.  Cherries all over the place on the nose.  Semi-dry, some acidity but very well balanced.  Good tannins.  The taste retains the cherries but also adds a bit of smokiness.  The finish lasts a reasonable time and that same smokiness remains throughout.  Could go well with smoked salmon or a rich-sauced spaghetti.

Wine number 3 … Brunello, Prunotto
Again, served room temperature.  Miniscus well defined going from crystal clear to a wonderful medium red.  I want to choose my words carefully here.  The initial nose presented something almost, dare I say, medicinal which I found to be very surprising for a Barollo.  Now I have to inquire as to when it was opened.  The bartender in Vines (Gideon) tells me “yesterday”.  That may explain my initial reaction because as I sit, writing this, the nose evolves back to closer resemble what I thought it should have been.  A pleasant oakiness has returned!  Slightly more dry than the Donnafugata (above), very well balanced acidity and tannins.  The finish lasts without being cloying.  This is a wine for that perfectly done Rib Eye or Filet Mignon.

Having catered to the needs of John Q Public for some 20 years before entering the tech field, I am all too familiar with complaints that can be raised.  Sometimes those would be justified, many times not so much.  For those justifiable complaints, how they are presented can have a huge impact on how they are resolved.  I mentioned the problem I had with the Barolo to Gideon (who had been watching me take notes all through my tasting), and we both agreed that the wine had suffered.  I also told him of the improvement over the relatively short time that it was in my glass and assured him that my notes would not be a bad reflection on him or the wine.  As I was leaving, he called me back and said that, should I come back later, he would open a new bottle and pour me another glass…on his dime.  Most interesting about this offer was that, first of all, I had asked for nothing and had no problem signing for the tasting charge (in this case, $10).  Secondly, when I did return (cuz momma didn’t raise a dummy!) I was presented with a full pour of that freshly opened bottle.  The big deal?  A full pour is 6 ounces not 2 and costs $15 all by itself.

Although fresh out of the bottle with no real time to breathe and open up, it was significantly better.  Both the nose and the palate were much happier and welcomed noticeably improved results.  The “medicinal” bouquet was gone replaced with increased plum, hint of spice and very faint leather.  The tongue relished the heavier tannins, refined acidity and the balance reflective of a good Barolo.  The finish was lingering and enjoyable to its end.  Many thanks to Gideon at Vines!

There is one more tale of an observation that had unexpected results, but it is late and shall be further explained tomorrow.

Blog Success – Ship Not So Much

Once again my blog seems to be working as it should.  The stress was not needed as this is Supposed to be a relaxing, no ports-of-call, trip.  Which it is and will likely continue to be.  However…the Ship’s Captain may have a slightly different view on the matter.

When we first booked this trip the idea was we would leave Vancouver around 5 PM on Saturday (today) and arrive in L.A. around 6 AM on Tuesday.  Great.  We booked our flight to Vancouver with an arrival time of 11 AM.  That would give us ample time to get to the ship.  With a little luck, our preferential status would afford us a faster boarding time.  (If I’m being totally upfront, our ‘preferential status’ is enjoyed by a LOT of people on this cruise, so the term ‘preferential’ might be a tad generous.)

Two weeks ago we received a letter advising us that “due to newly updated speed restrictions to safeguard the marine life in the area, we must allow more time for the passage to Los Angeles from Vancouver”.  This now means we leave Vancouver at 3:30 PM (earlier) and arrive in L.A. at 8:30 AM (later).  Hmmm…well now…that might put a bit of a dent in our projected arrival time in L.A. to pick up our rental car which we had scheduled for 9 AM.  Ok…fine…no big deal.  We’ll contact them (email should work) and advise them we’re going to be late.

Our flight arrival time had no impact on us.  However there were a LOT of other people that had their times moved up considerably.  Guess what that did to our ‘faster boarding time’ idea.  Now we’re in line with WAY more people than we had thought would be here.  Couple that with the fact there are 2 other cruise ships in the Vancouver port also boarding passengers.  At some points, lava would move faster than we did.

However, once again, no big deal right?  We’re getting on a cruise ship with NOTHING but R & R ahead of us for the next 3 days.  Living with a little inconvenience is acceptable.

Fast forward a little more through the day.  Wait…what time is it?  It’s 3:30 and muster should be almost over never mind that it has not yet started.  (Muster is like listening to the flight crew telling you about buckling up for safety and how to put on your oxygen mask except geared for life jackets and life boats – unavoidable and boring yet mandatory before departure.)

Now it’s 4 PM…muster has began and over in about 20 minutes…ish.  But we’re still not moving.  Ah…now the captain is on the intercom.

To paraphrase a lot, the gist of the problem is the oil tanker that had been loading the ship with oil, managed to accidentally spill enough oil into the water to cause concern.  As it was right beside the ship when it was doing so, not only does the water have to be cleaned up, but the ship’s hull does as well.  The oil has contaminated it sufficiently that the Canadian Transportation Agency will not allow the ship to leave until and unless it is cleaned properly.

Now we’re sitting down for supper (joined by another 2 couples who turn out to be welcome conversationalists) and it’s closing in on 6 PM.  Nope…we haven’t left yet.  Once more the Captain comes over the intercom to tell us that yes, the hull and the water have been cleaned and the ship cleared for departure.  However…there is a very small window of time when the water levels in the port area are low enough for the ship to get under the Lion’s Gate Bridge.  We’ve managed to Miss that window.  Now we won’t be leaving port until about 9:30 PM (which is right now as I’m typing this).

Guess what impact this now has on our L.A. arrival time.  You’re guess of ‘it makes it a lot later’ is correct.  We just won’t know HOW late until some time tomorrow.

And you wanna know something else?

I just don’t care. 🙂  I’m not driving this rig,  I have no commitments on board yet I get to enjoy it a little longer.  I see no problem from my perspective.

Now…back to what the Captain might be feeling…

Anxiety Averted

Writing my blog has always been something I have enjoyed.  Yes it takes a certain amount of time and yes it requires me to either take copious notes during the day or rely on an aging memory, but it still brings a certain level of satisfaction.

Until I started to prep for this adventure.

It all began with the simplest of tasks; create the first page of our latest adventure.  I’ve done this a number of times so it SHOULD be a nap-time accomplishment.  Nope.

Typically it starts a day or three ahead of our departure which allows me to get the first page in place giving insightful tidbits of the journey ahead.  And that much I was able to put in place.  The addition of a little map of our campaign is when my troubles began to manifest themselves.  No matter what I tried to do, in the fashion I had done so MANY times before, nothing would work.  To add salt to the wound, I quickly discovered that adding any additional pages had also become an impossible task.

It’s Wednesday, we’re leaving on Saturday, it’s after hours (from a website support perspective) and I’m scrambling.  Ok…slow down…take a breath and talk with someone tomorrow.

Well…after 2 more days of email tech-support (online chat service was out of commission) I was still struggling.  I like to think of myself as being at least a little tech-savvy, but I was missing something either very fundamental or Way above my pay-grade.  No success.

Our day of departure has now arrived and we’re going through everything at home making sure we don’t forget anything (which I STILL managed to do) and I looked at my email one last time.  Another email from tech-support was there and YES they have fixed everything.  At least so they lead me to believe.

The first gallery (simply a small map of our trip) is now updated (successfully!!)  We shall see what happens with this post.  If all goes well then perhaps anxiety will have been averted.