01 Aug 2019

San Francisco 2019

The first stop on this summer's trip was San Francisco. We came in a day early to have dinner with long time friends Terye and Jacob Levy.
And what a great dinner it was. They took us to Kokkari Estiatorio, a sensational Greek restaurant. You can't go wrong with either the lamb chops or the whole fish fish.
About 4:00 AM I remembered that I left some drops prescribed for my cataract surgery on my nightstand. What a dumbo! After a brief panic I got down to business of figuring things out.
I rejected the idea of trying to round trip going home and making it back in 10 hours. I tentatively ruled out having somebody from the office fly here, but knew that would work.
Then I learned that FedEx actually has a same day service. That was interesting although a $250 option.
Then it clicked. I jumped online and saw that Walgreens had a 24/7 pharmacy in Castro. What a cinch that was. I (Allyn) called them and in 5 minutes max they confirmed who I was, what my prescription was, and said the doctor had already approved two refills. He said it would be ready when we arrived.
And that is how we ended up in The Castro District in the morning.
When I was at Berkeley in college during the sixties this neighborhood was already the center of the universe for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Come to think of it, I don't recall transgender back then. Anyway its still there big time. 
After returning to The St Regis, our lovely home for a day in The Embarcadero, we strolled to and visited Salesforce Park. It is a beautiful 5.4 acre rooftop park above the Transit Center. Other urban areas should take a lesson.

06 Apr 2019

Barcelona, Spain 2019

Guest blogger - Allyn Shulman
Having visited beautiful Barcelona many times, I decided to join some good friends on a walking food tour, also known as Barcelona’s secret food tour.  What a magnificent and informative way to see the city!
We met at  “Plaça de l’Àngel” square where our guide Miguel introduced himself and then introduced the 12  guests to one another. Miguel explained that if we were spending the day together we might as well have a blast.  With all smiles, we knew this was the beginning of a great day.
Wasting no time, out first stop was La Colmena, one of the oldest cake shops in Barcelona located right in Plaça de l’Àngel.  The exact date it was founded is unknown, but it has been thriving since 1849.  Outside the restaurant lies a special plaque which commemorates valued iconic establishments that have appeared in the city over the centuries and now form a valuable part of its heritage. 
Our first treat was delicious.  And off we went!
Next we visited a bustling market full of fresh, bright, shiny veggies, beautiful cuts of meat, fish and cheeses that immediately made us hungry.  Our guide explained the Castilian way of cooking.  The old mamas didn’t use recipes but rather went to the market daily, in order to see what was fresh.  After the mama’s bought the fresh food, they prepared the meal and learned generation after generation how to cook with fresh ingredients no recipe, as opposed to going to the local store looking for items in a recipe.  
Our guide chose three different cheeses and two different pieces of Iberian ham, with one piece of ham being extremely expensive.  The fun part was having a blind taste test.  We all tried the different varieties of ham and of course, my friend Stanley and I were the only ones preferring the very expensive ham.
 We walked through small alleyways with each store being more charming than the next.
Our next stop was El Xampanyet,  one of the most popular tapas bars in Barcelona.  Our guide made sure we arrived just when it opened so we could get in.  He explained that when you go to a bar such as this one, you don’t expect to simply eat.  You order a drink, you speak with your neighbor and you order one item, just to make sure you will like the food.  It will be loud as everyone is speaking, drinking and laughing.  Without asking, the garlic bread arrives; a sliced tomato has been rubbed on a piece of toast with garlic and olive oil.  That begins the event.  
After three generations, El Xampanyet gets it right, which is why it was standing room only when we left.  That’s after enjoying their famous anchovies, sausage, potato omelet, garbanzo beans and eggplant and other delicacies.
As you can see from the honorary plaque outside, Casa Gispert, opened its doors in 1857 and was awarded the honor of being a valued iconic establishment in 1999.  We know this because when we see such a plaque, the date on the left is the founding date and the date on the right is the award date.
The wood fire oven you see is unique in Europe.  The nuts are being roasted and from time to time, a worker opens the oven, pulls out the round barrel and tastes the nuts to see if they’re done roasting.  We had a tasting and the dry roasted flavor was like none I have ever had!
Thanks to its high quality products, Casa Gispert has been recognized as one of Europe’s 10 best food artisans, and awarded by Les Gourmands Associés with the prestigious Coq d’Or prize (Paris, 1999).
No food tour in Barcelona would be complete without the famous paella!   Although we were already stuffed, that did not stop us from enjoying this traditional meal that has held a place of honor and practicality in Spanish homes for centuries.
Walking back to the ship from a long, wonderful but exhausting day, Stanley glanced at his Fitbit and informed us that we had walked 7.2 miles!

03 Apr 2019

Malaga, Spain 2019

We woke up this morning heading right into the beautiful sunrise with Africa just to the right (south) and the Rock of Gibraltar to our left (north). Less than 8 miles separates the African and European continent at its narrowest point here.
120,000 ships a year pass through here. 
It has been so important to shipping that hundreds of years ago in the local town, Tarifa, the concept of tariff was invented. They learned it was easier and more profitable to charge a fee to pass through than to be pirates. This way they kept their customers.
Malaga is surprisingly one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited. It is amazing how many people came back on board tonight and said they must come back. 
The entire city center area is brimming with cafes, shops, old lovely buildings, pedestrian malls, and beautiful squares.
The highlight was learning about and focusing on Picasso.
Picasso was born in Malaga and spent his first 10 years here and later returned for three more. The Malaga Picasso museum is quite unique in that it covers all eight decades of Picasso’s work and includes some of his final 1970s pieces. Many of his paintings here are unsigned as he produced them for himself and his family loans many of them to the museum for five years at a time.
Sorry; no photos allowed in the museum.

01 Apr 2019

Santa Cruz de La Palma, Canary Islands 2019

Santa Cruz de La Palma is the capital city of the island of La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands. 
We love the Canaries, spent time there last summer and will return this summer, However, that is a different season, different island, different experience and a different blog.
Geographically these islands are off the coast of Morocco in Africa, but politically and culturally are Spanish and have been for 500 years.
This city is known for its centuries-old architecture, cobbled streets and busy port. We took a trolley and walking tour to take it in.
Not too many of the city facts will stay with me but the quaint loveliness will for sure. In fact often I just hung around while Allyn got educated.
Some factoids:

*Canary Islands are not named after the bird. They are named after the Latin word for dog – canaria.

*It is the highest point in Spain and has the world’s largest telescope on top.

*The Spanish Civil War started here.

*Tex-Mex cuisine started here. Because of wind patterns, Spanish conquistadors came through the Canary Islands on their way to the New World. They brought with them and used peppers and chilies originally from African Berbers (Northwest African people) and infused the food with their flavors. Additionally, Canary sauces, such as mojo sauce, later became the basis of the Tex-Mex sauces. 

29 Mar 2019

Santo Antão, Cape Verde 2019

350 miles off the west coast of Africa about a third of the way down lies an island country called Cape Verde, officially the Republic of Cabo Verde. It was a Portuguese colony from 1463 to 1975, when it gained its independence. We visited its island of Santo Antão.

Its volcanic landscape makes for considerable beauty. We opted to do an island drive today to take in that natural beauty.

We were high; the clouds were low, and we were in them.
Miles and miles of roads were manmade with rock done piecemeal.
In the mountains were small farm communities. It is a very tough business. Terracing is required and difficult. Water for irrigation is nonexistent meaning only dryland farming is possible. A couple crops such as potatoes and corn are possible though. Unfortunately the soil is getting farmed out losing nutrients every season.
You can imagine our surprise when we came across a former synagogue, especially since we we had already learned there were no Jewish people living here. Over the centuries, Cape Verde became a harbor of Jews fleeing European persecution or in search of economic opportunities. 
By the late 20th century what remained of the Jewish community had either left Cape Verde for Israel or assimilated into the predominately Catholic nation. 
On a beautiful day the ocean is always pretty. That is where tourists tend to congregate.
 We said howdy to a cow at our final stop.