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San Francisco Pictorial

15 Sep

Reminiscing on some of my favorite travel spots. This one is about my last trip to San Francisco, and some of the interesting sights we experienced.

Top of the Mark (Mark Hopkins Hotel with panoramic view of the city) where I enjoyed swing dancing to Stompy Jones

Crazy candy store with gigantic treats and other entertaining items

One of the outdoor food stands, obviously this is the creme brulee cart

Interesting building from San Francisco’s China Town, the largest China town outside of China

Chinatown’s R & G Lounge. Authentic and delicious food. Been there several times, as did Anthony Bourdain, I later learned

Graffiti in China Town

Moon Pies and other bakery goods in China Town

Selection of Chinese teas in China Town

 

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Fun, Food and Music: Two Days in Javea

10 Dec

Altea

Travelling requires planning, and then when things go awry, flexibility. I love living here in Altea, on the Mediterranean, in Spain, but I also want to continue my life-long love of travelling to new places.

 

To that end, I have been looking to explore nearby destinations, and places further afield in Spain and beyond. However, from where I live, it is often not easily accessible to other areas of Spain, and beyond. The local tram, now over 100 years old, is a major way to travel from Altea to the north to Denia and to the south to Alicante, and destinations in between. It is about an hour by tram from Altea to Denia and two hours south to Alicante. However, the tram has been undergoing upgrades, and so now only runs to Calpe, three stops north of Altea, and then you need to transfer to a bus which substitutes for the tram. I was going to Javea, (aka Xàbia) a little less than an hour north of Altea. While dogs are allowed on the tram, when I went to the local tram station and asked if I could take my dog on the bus, (since it was a substitute for the tram), she called to ask her superiors. She told me it was not allowed.

Pepper (aka Pimienta)

So I had already made Pepper, (aka Pimienta) my small dog, a portable carrier/backpack incognito, by tacking on black scarfs inside on the netting, so I could “sneak” him onto bus public transport. But when I took the tram from Altea to Calpe, and tried to transfer to the bus for destinations north beyond, I was told I had to leave the backpack in the luggage hold in the bus, (which is the same as the animal transport policy for public buses in Spain.) I could not leave the dog in the soft backpack in the luggage hold.

 

So I had to regroup. I ended up taking a taxi to Javea, for 48 €. Originally I booked the Parador in Javea (paradors being historical buildings converted into hotels and restaurants), but the booking website incorrectly said they allowed dogs. Then I booked The Hotel Rodat, also a 4 star hotel.  It was a lovely hotel which reminded me much of hotels in the Santa Barbara area of California. Unfortunately for me, the dog-friendly rooms were down many stairs, (with no disabled access nor rails for the stairs) and no ability to eat in any of the hotel restaurants with your dog; in Spain, usually there is outdoor seating where pets are welcomed. I was planning to eat at their 1 Michelin star restaurant. The room service only had a limited menu, and did not include any dishes from the Michelin-starred restaurant and very few from the more casual dining restaurant. A dog-friendly hotel where you cannot eat at any of the restaurants? No bueno.

Thus I proceeded to the L’Arenal beachside region of Javea where I enjoyed some snacks of berberechos and lobster soup at Fontana Restaurant. The outdoor covered roof with gas heaters allowed a cozy view of the beach walkway and all of its activities. Afterwards, I walked about two miles to the port to Varadero restaurant and bar where Destry Spigner, a local blues and soul singer was performing. In addition to enjoying his performance, I had a tasty snack of Spanish cheese and hams.

berberechos-e1512931392598.jpg

berberechos

After a restful night’s sleep, I enjoyed the garden area outside my room while Pepper played fetch. I then returned to Los Remos, a restaurant which had an enticing menu that I had seen the previous day, but was unable to eat at as the kitchen was closed after 4:00 p.m. until the dinner service. I am glad I returned as I had one of the best meals I have had in Spain, (bogavante azul) and superb mixed sautéed vegetables. While dining, I watched the busy beach area, with youngsters getting surf lessons (although there was hardly any surf), families walking and playing, and dogs running on the beach (which is not allowed in the summer, but tolerated in the winter.) Happy and sated with my outing, I returned to Altea via taxi, for the same 48€ that it cost me to get to Javea from Calpe.

bluelobster.jpg

blue lobster (bogavante azul)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEST VACATIONS: SAN DIEGO

18 Nov

Recently, some of my favorite haunts in my hometown of San Diego have been mentioned by friends or in the news, so I am re-posting, (with a bit of editing) my article about The Hotel del Coronado and other fun activities in the San Diego area. The outside of the hotel, built in 1888, provided the background for the famous movie, Some Like It Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. The movie looped, playing continuously in our hotel room when we were there. The Crown Room was considered an architectural achievement spanning 160 feet by 60 feet, without any pillars to interrupt the view. The 33 foot high ceiling is paneled in beautiful Oregon sugar pine. Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum is credited for designing the famous crown chandeliers, which were installed c. 1911. In 1920, an enormous banquet was held here for England’s Prince of Wales, and in 1927 Charles Lindbergh was honored with his own celebration after his successful solo trans-Atlantic flight. Today, the Crown Room has a tradition of elegance and continues to play host to a spectacular Sunday Brunch, consistently rated as the best in the San Diego area.

Relaxing on the deck of your deck of my roomy villa, I sip my morning coffee while the cool mist clears, revealing the adjacent expansive sandy beach in Coronado, California. Then we proceed to the comfortable, beach side Windsor Cottage for complimentary continental-style breakfast. Concierge staff is available to help with restaurant and activity recommendations and reservations. Afterwards we either proceed to the reserved beach space for summer villa guests or the kids go to the children and teen activities. This is the way each day can start while staying at Beach Village at The Del. Staff at the beach will provide lounge chairs, towels, umbrellas, sand toys, food and beverages. This is pampering at its best. Coronado Beach is often rated as one of the best in the world, especially for families. It is a large un-crowded sandy beach with gentle waves good for kids or first time surfers.

Beach Village is among my top three favorite hotels in the world. The newer cottages and villas are adjacent to the historic Hotel Del Coronado, (called “The Del” by we San Diego natives), which dates back to 1888. Beach Village rooms have a casual, yet luxurious beach side vibe. Our family has stayed in the same corner room during our annual summer weekly visits, dating back to the first year it opened. We chose a two bedroom suite, which had one large bedroom with a king bed, and the other with two queens. Each of the bedrooms has its own fireplace and elegant bathroom. There is also a central living area with a gourmet kitchen, dining room and living room area; the couch in the living room has a fold out bed. All of the many activities, pools, dining and drink venues, and children/teen activities of the main hotel are available to those at the Beach Village, but not the reverse. Beach Village has many small private pools dotting the grounds, in addition to its community pool.  Beach Village is expensive, but less costly accommodations are available in the historic part of The Del, with many of the same perks.

Beach Village at The Del (Credit: Flickr)

Beach Village at The Del (Credit: Flickr)

Daytime fun is at hand with surfing, paddle boarding, boating, biking, and fitness classes. There are a variety of venues for drinks and music at The Del. Seasonal music, beverages and casual fare are available at the Sun Deck Bar and Grill which boasts a great view from its second story outdoor setting. Babcock & Story Bar, named after the founders of The Del, features a 46 foot hand-crafted Mahogany Bar which came to the hotel by way of Cape Horn in 1888. The Bar offers seasonal entertainment, snacks, light meals, beverages, and televisions for watching sporting events. I am still upset that they removed the grand piano where they had weekly jazz and R&B frequented by locals and guests; they replaced the area with a bakery case. At sunset, for a fee, Beach Village guests can get drinks and a snack at the Windsor Cottage while enjoying the table top built-in fire pits. S’mores on the beach after dark can be a memorable experience for families or couples. During the day, be prepared for the roar, and I do mean ear-piercing decibels, of the military jets coming into land over Coronado’s beach at the adjacent Naval Air Station. Some find it entertaining, and the rest of us annoying.

Allosaurus at the San Diego Natural History Museum

Allosaurus at the San Diego Natural History Museum

During our week stay, we eventually tear ourselves away from The Del to enjoy San Diego’s many other offerings. I always take my kids to at least one fun and one educational activity, which sometimes are both. One of our favorite activities is to go to historic Balboa Park where the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition and the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition were held. The Park has numerous museums, with the San Diego Natural History Museum (great dinosaur exhibit when we have been there), San Diego Air and Space Museum, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Museum of Art (small but quality 19th and 20th century art and interesting special exhibits), and the Sam Diego Model Railroad Museum. The park has many interesting plants and gardens, including the 1935 Old Cactus Garden, Botanical Garden (check for closed days), and California Native Plant Garden. There are five children’s play areas and three dog parks. Of course, there is the world famous San Diego Zoo, and for an experience with animals in a more natural environment, head a half hour north to the Wild Animal Park. Sea World is educational, interactive place for the kids to learn about sea life. They also offer a play structure in Sesame Street Bay of Play, in case the kids aren’t exhausted enough. Legoland, about 45 minutes north of Coronado, is great for younger kids. Wait to buy any of the Lego construction kits until you are ready to leave the park.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument

Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument is the place where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped onto the shore in 1542, becoming the first European to set foot on the West Coast of the United States. In addition to information about Cabrillo, the area hiking trails, tide pools, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and the military history of Fort Roscrans. The area that is now Presidio Park and Old Town was home to the first European settlement on the West Coast which started in 1769. There are no original structures left. It was the first in a series of presidios and Catholic missions in California which were used in Spanish colonization. The first mission was later moved a few miles away on the aptly-named Friars Road. The Junipero Serra Museum is in the park and is dedicated to the history of San Diego.

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp Quarter

Head back over the Coronado Bridge, or for more fun, take the ferry from Coronado Bay to the nearby historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego to sample the many restaurants and see historical buildings including the ornate former Oyster Bar run by Wyatt Earp after the shootout at the OK Corral. There are many great jazz and live music venues in the Gaslamp, but most do not allow kids. If you took the ferry to downtown, you can make the U.S.S. Midway Museum on the harbor your last stop before heading back to Coronado. Kids and military buffs enjoy touring the immense air craft carrier.

Del Mar Race Track

Del Mar Race Track

We love going to the Del Mar Race Track. I give each of my sons a set amount of money, an average of $2.00 for every race, and then let them decide how they want to bet it. When they were minors, I would place the bets for them. Our friend who previously owned race horses scoured the handicapping analyses to inform his bets, but my son who just went to look at the horses being paraded in the paddock just before they raced was far more successful. Last time all of the boys donned their 1940s suits and fedoras-they were a hit with the crowd. We like to sit trackside in one of the reserved dining areas which has table service. It can be quite sunny so sunscreen, and protective clothing and head attire are important. Afterwards, we stop for a snack or light dinner on the beach in Del Mar or La Jolla, and then back to our Coronado retreat.

Shells from the Del

Shells from Beach Village at the Del

If you want beach weather, the best time to visit the San Diego area is from the beginning of July, so you won’t be subject to the “May and June gloom,” to mid-October. This will be one of your most memorable, fun family vacations ever. Beach Village offers packages and seasonal discounts, or you can stay in the main building or one of the many other family-friendly San Diego hotels. If you can afford Beach Village, it is worth the splurge.   I love the assortment of shells they leave in the room each evening and have them displayed in my home so that I can be regularly reminded of those wonderful trips.

Is There Customer Service in Spain?

11 Nov

I love most things about living in Spain, but customer service is not one of them. I have even contended they should remove the Spanish words for customer service, “atención al cliente,” from the lexicon. I have previously recounted my problems in receiving packages with my personal belongings from California. When I first reported no monetary value for the old personal items mailed to me, the Spanish authorities returned the package to the U.S. I tried unsuccessfully twice more to have my belongings sent. The last time, I completed all the requirements within the mandated time period, paid nearly 100 Euros in customs fees, and they still returned my package to California. By this time, all the potentially breakable items had broken. I never received the refund I requested. One package I did eventually receive was gaping open and the contents from the top of the box were missing; the Spanish postal service was not even professional enough to tape it closed. Then the postal worker who “delivered” the box claimed it was heavy and asked me to help carry it into my apartment.

 

If I mail order something from the U.S., there are huge import taxes, but there are some things worth paying extra for that I cannot get here in Spain. I have also mail ordered items from Spanish companies, and more often than not, the couriers claim they tried to deliver my package, even when I had been home the whole day. When I call the number they provide for the supposed missed delivery, they argue with me, saying they did come to my place and ring my doorbell. They are never wrong, and never apologize. One agent insisted they had a photo of the courier at my door, but when I asked them to send it, I was told they could not.

 

My friends and I have had similar difficulties when using a taxi. Some drivers will ignore directions I provide to avoid traffic snarls. They may bark at you for having an inadequate command of Spanish. The other day, our cab driver from our town of Altea was unfamiliar with any of the streets or major landmarks in our village.

 

Most of the time the food here is great, but there are occasions when the restaurant serves sub-par food. If they ask how the food was, and you give an honest assessment, most of the time, I have received the blank “Bambi in headlights” look, with no offer of any reparations. Once, when I tried to return or exchange a podiatry device which broke after one use, the pharmacist looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said there is no guarantee on products they sell. WHAT?!

 

I recently learned of an even more ridiculous incident. A woman bought a pair of shoes, and when she got home and looked at them, she discovered they had given her two different sizes. When she went to correct the error, with receipt in hand, they insisted they had made no mistake, even suggesting she may have gone to another store to buy another pair to make a mismatched set. Her husband had no better success in attempting to rectify what should have been a simple exchange, accompanied by an apology.

And I won’t even start on confounding, changing requirements of the government bureaucracies in getting required documentation for a visa, registering your living address, getting a bank account and more. There is even a hilarious videos representative of many people’s  exasperating experiences, which I have previously viewed on YouTube, although it seemed to have been removed when I tried to find it.

My recommendation in Spain is to remember, The client is always wrong.

A Humorous Guide to Smoking in Spain

2 Nov
  1. img_1410Although smoking is not allowed indoors, it doesn’t count if you light up while heading for the door.
  2. Nor does is count if you stand in the doorway and smoke.
  3. You can stand at the outside window counter of a bar/restaurant designed for serving people outside, and while facing the inside, blow smoke inside.
  4. You can smoke in an outdoor restaurant patio, even if enclosed or babies/children are present.
  5. You can hold your baby or child while smoking.
  6. You can throw your lit cigarette into the street when finished, regardless of whether you are walking, driving, or are on your third or fourth floor home balcony.
  7. You can publicly smoke at your job.
  8. You would rather sit outdoors so you can smoke, even in inclement weather.
  9. Don’t worry if your smoking bothers anyone else.
  10. You can smoke outside the gym door before and after exercising, and if you need a smoke break during your workout.
  11. Buy household items that can be used both as vessels for serving food and as an ashtray.
    IMG_0398[1]

    Cups that can be used to serve food such as allioli (Spanish version of aioli) or can be an ashtray.  I’m not kidding. See the four protrusions on top designed for putting cigarettes when vessel is empty.

Multi-talented Musician and Composer: Danny Pelfrey

25 Jul
Danny Pelfrey playing with Tower of Power

Danny Pelfrey playing with Tower of Power

Local musician Danny Pelfrey sat in on saxophone with Tower of Power’s superlative horn section during a performance at Castoro Winery on the Central Coast of California in September 2013. Founded in 1968, Tower of Power is known for their upbeat “urban soul music.” Danny used to be a regular member of the band, and took this fortuitous local performance for a rare reunion. Even though he no longer is in the band, Danny still executed all the synchronized, choreographed horn section moves.

 

When meeting with Danny for this article, his friendly, humble demeanor belied his musical talents and many accomplishments, awards and accolades. While his achievements and honors are too many to mention, some of the highlights include his having won two Emmys, with a total of nine nominations. He has six BMI Awards and a Video Premiere Award for Best Video for the animated film: Joseph, King of Dreams.

 

Danny related that he got his start playing guitar at age nine in his home state of West Virginia. He cited Chet Atkins as his first musical hero. Wanting to play with other musicians in the high school band, he took up the trumpet, on which he excelled.

 

He wrote his first musical arrangement at age 13, and with the encouragement of teachers, he began conducting. While still in high school, he began playing with big bands and jazz groups at a local college.

 

Danny attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music, the world’s foremost institute for the study of jazz and American music. He honed his performance skills, while also focusing on composing and arranging. He found the vibrant Boston music scene very inspiring.

 

Danny with Tower of Power

Danny with Tower of Power

After accepting a teaching job in Canada, Danny started playing with local musicians. Always fascinated with different instruments, he took up tabla, a type of Indian percussion instrument, which he played during performances with a sitar player. He continued to expand the many instruments he played to include flute and alto saxophone. He was particularly drawn to sax as it had the flexibility of woodwinds and the power of brass. This is the instrument for which Danny would become best known.

 

Danny moved to Los Angeles where he began doing session work and began touring with many prominent artists including Diana Ross, Carole King, Eric Clapton, Melissa Manchester and many others. He especially relished the time playing sax and guitar while touring the world with Carole King, as well as doing recordings and television specials with her. When asked about a particularly memorable experience, he recounted that he performed with Diana Ross during the infamous 1983 deluge of Central Park in New York City. During the increasingly heavy downpour and lightning, the band members had to flee on foot to get back to their hotel.

 

Danny has recorded with such stellar musicians as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, and was a producer for Usher, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Rimes, Ashanti, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, and numerous others.

Danny said he was “extremely blessed to have a rich and varied musical career.” He played as a soloist on numerous television shows such as the Wonder Years, Arsenio Hall, David Letterman, The Tonight Show and Rosanne. In addition, he was the score composer for many popular television shows in the United States, wrote commercials for large companies such as Nissan, Toyota, Ford and California Lottery, and has composed a variety of music which can be heard in worldwide. He has also written music for more than 50 interactive games including a Star Trek series. His concert works have been performed by the Knoxville Symphony, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, and the National Symphony Orchestra. He has shared concert programs with John Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Igor Stravinsky, and Charles Ives. Danny shared that he particularly enjoyed writing “rich and soulful music.”

 

Moving to the Central Coast of California in 2009, Danny found the local music scene “very vibrant.” He noted that Cal Poly Performing Arts Center (PAC) brings in excellent quality entertainment. He was primarily spending his time composing, arranging and producing for various media. He was also playing sax with the BarFlyz, which consisted of Kenny Lee Lewis (guitarist for Steve Miller Band), Diane Steinberg Lewis (award-winning pianist and vocalist), Ken Hustad (bass), and Dean Giles (drums.) The Barflyz play pop-cabaret music including jazz, pop, Latin, Broadway and television tunes, and blues. Danny also played with the popular Central Coast band, Human Nature, which features world-inspired music, where he replace original band member, Dave Becker, who relocated to Florida. The band has a diverse repertoire including jazz, samba, funk, Americana, with some original songs written by group leader, Adam Levine, another graduate of the Berklee College of Music.

 

Danny relatively recently moved to music-centric Nashville where he continues his many musical projects. Current Music recently added Danny’s AMUSICOM to their playlist of quality, downloadable music.

 

WORLD’S TEN BEST BAR EXPERIENCES

7 May
Italy - Venice, Harry's Bar, San Marco

Harry’s Bar
Courtesy: Share Alike

HARRY’S BAR (VENICE, ITALY):  During my last trip to Venice, I became a “regular” at Harry’s Bar, albeit sadly only temporarily. By the second visit, the waiter inquired if I would again like a bellini, (Prosecco with rosy-hued peach puree.)  Thereafter, when I entered, he would give a nod and subtle smile. Whenever I am in Venice, I relish spending time at this iconic bar where I find the ambience enchanting and service impeccable. I think the patrons who complain about the prices, dress code, and service just don’t get it. This is an elegant, historical place which has maintained the tradition that has made it so loved. If one looks close, it will become apparent that Harry’s has a surprisingly simple approach to drinks, cuisine and atmosphere. Bellinis are served in the simple clear highball-type glass etched with the Harry’s Bar logo. They favor local, relatively inexpensive wines over high-priced wines. The food is simply but perfectly prepared, such as the popular French toasted cheese sandwich.  The upstairs dining room also serves fresh, simple, sumptuous food. I like to slide into the bar in the afternoon to relax and refresh myself in between exploring areas where tourists are seldom seen. My smile, polite salutations and attempts at speaking Italian have always been greeted with nothing but cordial attention and professional service. For me, Harry’s is worth every penny I’ve spent there.

Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho

CALLE OCHO (BORDEAUX, FRANCE):  Cuban music was blaring out onto the pedestrian-only street in Bordeaux. Ever a lover of music venues, and a huge fan of Cuban music, I ventured in. This was an atmospheric, dive bar with mojitos being mixed and served non-stop. Cuban cigars were plentiful in the din of the music and many languages being spoken. I made the mistake of saying a few friendly sentences to the enebriated woman beside me. That did it-she unleashed a torrent of words along with large plumes of smoke, telling me of  moving from Cuba to Bordeaux and then a series of unfortunate events that had befallen her with regard to love, work and where she lived. Shaking my head in a sympathetic manner apparently encouraged her, but in reality I only understood a portion of what she said. This loud, lively convivial Cuban bar was a surprising find in Bordeaux, although my new “friend” discreetly informed me of the abundance of ex-pat Cubans living there.

RIO SCENARIUM (RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL):  The exhilarating, pulsating rhythm of Brazilian samba greeted us as we exited our cab to the colorful three story beacon that is the Rio Scenarium located on an otherwise dark street. We were seated on the first floor where we primed ourselves with caipirinhas – Brazil’s national drink – and danced to the infectious music.  Samba was excellently executed, but all styles of dance were welcome. The crowd consisted of all ages; the younger crowd gravitated to the upper two floors for music more suited to their taste. We had friendly table neighbors, and talked when we could make ourselves heard. Rio Scenarium’s evocative atmosphere is an eclectic explosion of antiques, memorabilia, and kitsch.

Palapa Bar and Grill

Palapa Bar and Grill

PALAPA BAR & GRILL (AMBERGRIS CAYE, SAN PEDRO, BELIZE):  Sitting under the square palapa (palm grass) roof overlooking the crystal clear, vibrant blue of the Caribbean below is one of my favorite bar views. A half mile north of San Pedro town, is Palapa Bar & Grill. We stumbled on it, or more accurately, discovered it when our family was exploring the north end of Ambergris Caye while driving a golf cart (the standard mode of transportation on the island.)  The main bar is on the second floor which affords a panoramic vista of the water out to the barrier reef, the second longest in the world. We love the fresh fruit cocktails and “mocktails” for the kids. The other “bar” is in the water below where you can float on inflated tire inner tubes while buckets of icy cold local Belikin beer are dispatched to you by rope. Don’t forget to “leave your mark” by writing something on the bar.

 Swing Dancing to Stompy Jones at Top of the Mark


Swing Dancing to Stompy Jones at Top of the Mark

TOP OF THE MARK (INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL: SAN FRANCISCO): Swing dancing on the 19th floor rooftop bar with a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the San Francisco skyline is a rarified experience. Located on Nob Hill in the Intercontinental Hotel, the historic bar opened in 1939.  What made this locale particularly fun was the live entertainment. On several occasions, I had the chance to listen and dance to the Stompy Jones band, who play revved up “jump style” swing music.  The sextet was formed in 1998, and has since received numerous accolades and awards, even being featured in two movies. Donning characteristic short 1930’s-style ties, the band features bounce, piano, thumpin’ stand-up bass, double-shuffle drumming, trumpet sax, and vocals. I also enjoyed the talented pianist and vocalist, Ricardo Scales, who plays many musical styles; my favorite is Latin Jazz. Sample the ambitious “100 martinis” offered at Top of the Mark.  The last time I was there the service was extremely poor, even though the bar was not that crowded.

MOCAMBO BAR (TAORMINA, SICILY, ITALY):   After an Italian woman spontaneously stood up and danced an exactingly authentic tarantella to the live transient band at a panoramic restaurant in Taormina, we were eager for more music and dance. We headed down the street and in the main square found Mocambo Bar. Unaware of its storied past, opening in 1952 and hosting a number of celebrities, we settled in on the outdoor patio adorned with oleander and orange blossoms which had views of Mt. Etna and the sea. Not usually one for audience participation, when summoned, we reluctantly joined other enlisted audience members to play various percussion instruments with the keyboardist in the indoor part of the bar.  Our shared experience and musical ineptitude cemented an immediate bond between we newly recruited musicians; we sat together sharing travel stories, laughing, drinking and dancing. It was a magical night.

Hearst Castle's Neptune Pool

Hearst Castle’s Neptune Pool

HEARST CASTLE NEPTUNE POOL PATIO (SAN SIMEON, CALIFORNIA):  We sipped our sparkling wine by the Neptune Pool, against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the imposing Casa Grande (more commonly called Hearst Castle) on the other. Construction of the Neptune Pool with its Roman temple façade  began in 1924, and after several design changes was finally completed in 1936 with marble pavilions, serpentine tiles, fountains, and alabaster lanterns.  We dressed in period clothing, as did many other attendees at “Enchanted Evening,” the Castle’s annual gala.  We walked around the pool while sampling appetizers and listening to the chamber string orchestra in this mesmerizing location. As the fog rolled in, the lighting proffered an ethereal atmosphere. We reluctantly tore ourselves away and headed for the dinner and auction with hopes of winning the opportunity to swim in the Neptune Pool.

HEMINGWAY BAR (RITZ, PARIS, FRANCE):  Tucked in the back of the Ritz is the legendary Hemingway Bar. Renowned bars are often over-rated – the Hemingway is a noteworthy exception. The atmosphere is cozy and clubby with wood walls and comfortable leather chairs, tasty snacks and fantastic cocktails. Papa’s gun, bust, and mementos adorn the walls. Mixologist extraordinaire Colin Field made this the place to get the city’s best cocktails. The Ritz and the Hemingway Bar closed for major renovations not long after we stayed there in 2012, but plans are for the Bar to re-open after the improvements. I just hope they will retain the original atmosphere and convince Colin Field to return.

Gran Caffe Chioggia Courtesy: Creative Common

Gran Caffe Chioggia
Courtesy: Creative Common

GRAN CAFFE CHIOGGIA (VENICE, ITALY):  Located on Piazzetta di San Marco with views of St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s palace, the clock tower and the lagoon, Gran Caffe Chioggia is always my final stop for the evening. The band is phenomenal, the best on the Piazza or Piazetta, and I daresay some of the most talented, entertaining musicians. Led by the exceptional violinist, Joseph Martin Miotti, the band plays a dazzling array of musical styles including classical, gypsy, swing, rock, tango, movie themes and more with the other band members playing piano, stand-up bass, accordion.  The charismatic Joseph manages to communicate humor in some songs such as his quirky rendition of the theme from the Pink Panther movie (which can be seen on YouTube.). We found the tuxedo-clad waiters professional and polite; service can be slow and it is expensive, but there is not a cover charge to listen to the music as there are in other venues on the Piazza. Many people choose to stand outside of the seating area to enjoy the music, but I prefer a more experiential encounter by sitting in the thick of the action.  In inclement weather, the band plays under the historic portico. During my first visit many years ago, on a rainy evening we enjoyed swing dancing to the band’s big band sounds under the warm, amber-hued lighting under the portico.

Norman Vito at Petrossian Bar

Norman Vito at Petrossian Bar

PETROSSIAN BAR AND LOUNGE AT BACCARAT BAR (BELLAGIO, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA):   Located in plain sight, but under-appreciated, are two gems for live music.  The elegant Petrossian Bar, located just across from the Bellagio’s front desk and around the corner from the gorgeous flower conservatory and botanical gardens, prominently displays a one-of-kind Steinway grand.  The pianists are extremely talented; I spoke with several of them who all had interesting histories to share. For example, Norman Vito told me of growing up in the Philippines and his experiences with Imelda Marcos and Van Cliburn. The music starts at 10 a.m. and continues with a
series of pianists until closing at 12:45 a.m. The Petrosssian Bar has varied offerings including traditional afternoon tea service, Russian specialties such as caviar, smoked salmon, and vodka samples, and a nice selection of wine and specialty-infused cocktails. Only a few short steps away is the Lounge at the Baccarat Bar, which features classic jazz in a stylish, sleek environment. The rotating musicians typically include a pianist/vocalist and a stand-up bass. The Lounge affords of a view of the high-end Baccarat gaming. I was quite amused by the cast of characters playing Baccarat – those dressed to the nines, slouchy-dressed, nervous chain smokers, young hipsters, superstitious seat movers, and more.  The bar offers a good selection of wine and cocktails. Performances start at 4:15 p.m. and continue until 1:00 a.m.

Harry's Bellini: Hope to see you soon: Cheers!

Harry’s Bellini:
Hope to see you soon: Cheers!