Destination Wedding: The Other California Wine Country

In 2011 Carol and I trekked to Southern California to celebrate my brother, Pat’s retirement.  We spent a significant part of our trip pursuing our primary objective … several days of golf and touristy behavior within and about the Pebble Beach resort on the Monterey Peninsula.

That required a good bit of road travel between the Los Angeles area and Carmel/Monterey.  One of the impressions from that journey was the exponential growth in vineyards well south of Napa Valley – the commercial heart of California Wine Country – since our previous trip to the Left Coast about 12 years earlier.

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On past trips to The Golden State we never took the opportunity to enjoy California Wine Country.  Counterproductive it would be to enjoying a fine winely glow, when dragging one’s underage kids around with you …

Now our kids are grown … and as luck would have it one of our Shortall (West) nephews was taking the marital plunge with the festivities taking place in Temecula, California.  Sixty miles north of San Diego and ninety miles south of LA, Temecula touts itself as the center of California’s South Coast wine country.

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The vino was superb that day, my friend …

 

Temecula was untouched by the wild fires that hit parts of Napa prior to and during our December 2016 trip.  In early December the Thomas fire, one of the largest in California history, began in the hills near Ventura.  Smoke from those fires were clearly visible throughout our trip.

With both families established California locals, this was not much the “destination weddings” for them, but for us refugees from a rapidly winterizing region of the mid-Atlantic coast, it was Destination enough!

24312755_10102456606203576_5267595914899467934_nThe happy couple selected the Mount Palomar Winery as the site for their forever nuptials.  And frankly, it was quite the venue!  The scenery from atop the hills on which the main event took place was spectacular.  For a late afternoon ceremony followed by drinks and hors d’ourves set close to the ceremonial stage, one was treated to beautiful daylight vistas, a spectacular sunset, and as night fell, an immensely large and vivid moon rise over distant mountains!

This wedding venue rivaled the trip we took to the beaches of Nags Head, North Carolina for another family wedding.  Both venues were spectacular in their own right.  Comparisons are unfair due to the dramatic difference of each location; but no one can argue that each made their respective affairs indelibly memorable!

Mount Palomar provided a hilltop venue for the nuptials, which included a screen-saver background of a gorgeous Southern California day with the surrounding hills in the distance.  Afterwards, guests took the opportunity for scenic photos while snacking and imbibing the local vintage in salute of the happy couple.

The post-wedding reception was held in a spacious barrel room, the party surrounded by racked wine barrels (attempts to tap several failed).  A setting unlike any other wedding we have attended.

And yes, the food was as good as was the wine!

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Add in the opportunity to spend an extended vacation with close family and squeeze in a Philadelphia Eagles game (December 10) against a strong Los Angeles Rams team, and you have what was likely the BEST destination wedding I can remember!

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The play that could have cost Philly a SuperBowl! (Apologies for the gratuitous football reference …)

 

 

 

Impressions of Jamaica

Pano-view of the main Sandals South Coast pool

 

This was our second trip to the beautiful island of Jamaica.  Our first was full 32+ years ago, in October 1985, on our honeymoon.  For that memorable experience we luxuriated at a resort then known as EDEN II in Ocho Rios on the north shore of the island.  Unconfirmed rumor had EDEN II (which we honeymooners were told stood for Every Day Every Night Twice) destroyed during Hurricane Gilbert. Further research – however – showed it had been a Sandals resort (Dunns River), then was renovated and reopened as Jewel Dunns River Resort & Spa (Hilton Hotels and Resorts).

A return trip to Ocho Rios would have been nice, and maybe someday we will.  But for this trip, a birthday excursion for two women who are very close friends, the group decided on a Sandals resort in Whitehouse (Sandals South Coast).  It couldn’t have been a better choice … with the exception of a little weather.

The Jamaicans were all too willing to admit that their wet, rainy season runs roughly from mid-April to mid-June.  It was apparent that we skirted a potential washout of a vacation (Dates of stay: May 1- 8, 2018), but we lucked out.  We experienced only one washout day during our 7-night stay and one very wet evening.  Not bad really since the rest of our time there was sunny and humid with occasional dark clouds that did not always produce rain.  Truly minor inconveniences that gave us the opportunity to work on our bar tans!

We did everything we wanted to (or not), and received all the sun we could handle.

The Sandals South Coast resort is phenomenal, although I imagine during the height of tourism season it could feel a bit crowded.  Our stay was considered “off-season”.

The Sandals property is not big enough to require motor transit (as we experienced at Barceló’s Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic).  Small enough to walk comfortably anywhere, the South Coast was an exceptional experience.  Nine restaurants, seven full-service bars (one out over the ocean), two swim-up bars (always a Big Plus!), four pools, unlimited water sports, top-shelf liquor, on-site spa, and shopping plaza.

img_0226For me, a man of modest needs and even modest-er desires to spend a vacation being active and adventuresome, Sandals was a perfect environment!  Extremely relaxing, plenty of space (at least during off-season) to enjoy the sun (Recommend early as possible poolside lounge chair claims!), adequate bar capacity and locations, excellent food (only one meal of questionable quality … Make sure you hit The Jerk Shack for lunch!), wonderful and friendly hosts, excellent spa (Red Lane), and well-appointed rooms.

Downers:  One disappointment was that our “beachfront room” was a beach/pool view, which did not front on any beach.  Quality of evening entertainment (We were told new acts were being broken in.), although the Silver Birds steel drum band is an act you absolutely MUST SEE!  Room service is reserved for only the top-shelf (i.e. $$$$$) accommodations.  The quality of meal with the special beach-side romantic dinner was not worth the price, though the service was excellent.  Make sure that “beach front” room you reserve is an actual beach-front room.

We left Jamaica with varying impressions on our second trip to the island.

People:  Definitely my most favorite part of vacationing in Jamaica (besides the beauty and wealth of adult libations) were the Jamaicans themselves. It’s practically impossible to walk past a Jamaican without expecting some sort of genuine “I love Life” encounter or leaving their presence without a smile or a laugh.  Almost everyone seems happy, content, and more than willing to spread the cheer around!  Given that Tourism is a crucial column in the Jamaican economy and in the quality-of-life, so the people you encounter tend to grasp the importance of being welcoming and accommodating.  Yet the genuine reactions and positive attitudes gives one the impression that tropical living promotes a most agreeable mindset in those who live there.

 

Peaceful waters and verdant hills

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Beauty:  I imagine somewhere I have yet to visit rivals Jamaica for its verdant scenery and peaceful beaches.  I found that I can stare endlessly at the Jamaican countryside … the mountains, blue-green water, vegetation, people, beaches, etc. … in complete bliss.  The mountains in particular provide a rich colorful background to everything on the island.

chinese-jamaicaRoads:  Our trip over the mountains from Montego Bay to Whitehouse made the Spring roads in my little slice of eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania appear merely “blemished” in comparison.  Hard to believe that such a warm, welcoming climate can create so many potholes and road canyons!  However, it was an eye-opener to learn that the Chinese are making HUGE infrastructure investment in Jamaica.  The one major highway project we saw was being financed completely by China who apparently employed contractors from neighboring Korea to manage construction!

Economics:  Cursory observation indicates that Jamaicans are probably better off economically that say those in the Dominican Republic, which we visited in October 2016.  The DR seemed much more impoverished in larger swaths than those in the part of Jamaica we saw.  Certainly, you do see some blight and destitute conditions, but it doesn’t seem nearly as prevalent as I observed in the Punta Cana area of the DR.

Drug Wars:  On our first trip to Jamaica in 1985, one of the first things we noticed on our two-hour trip from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios were the presence of telephone poles planted at angles to the ground on any field of reasonable size.  We were told those poles were intended to prevent the landing of drug-smuggling planes, looking to load up before heading to destinations to the north.  Thirty years later, and I saw none anywhere.  In 2015 Jamaica legalized medical marijuana with a bill so vague it has resulted in de facto legalization.  Naturally, it also eliminated much of the criminal element – and the crime – from marijuana cultivation and distribution.

In the end, I enjoyed my second trip to Jamaica almost as much as the first.  Remember though, we were honeymooning the first time (*wink wink*)!  I would not hesitate to take another Jamaican vacation, and Sandals would certainly be a short-list option.  Between north coast Jamaica and south coast, I would have a very difficult time picking one over the other.

If you get the chance, enjoy Jamaica wherever you decide to go!

Our poolside room view was supposed to be “beachfront” (-10).

Couples Massage Redux, Mon!

Our first experience in the stately art of the Couples Massage was a happening just 18 months ago during a memorable trip to Punta Cana in the beautiful Dominican Republic.  We so thoroughly enjoyed that initial experience, we made a point of scheduling one for our most recent trip to Sandals South Coast at Whitehouse, Jamaica!

This trip intended to celebrate milestone birthdays for Carol and her BFF.  And no, I will not be revealing the specific milestone in the desire to preserve my physical and mental health!

For this Couples Experience we would be in the good … uh … hands of the fine people of Jamaica.  No problems, mon!

As with any comparison, there are obvious and subtle differences, which can render comparisons somewhat unfair.  The most obvious differences were as follows:

  • Sandals SC:  a verdant and fragrant bungalow-type structure in a quiet section of the resort ;  Barceló PC: a somewhat sterile looking storefront in a large retail and restaurant complex in the middle of the resort
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    Red Lane Spa at Sandals South Coast (Jamaica)

  • Sandals SC:  common area in a centralized court for post-massage libations and quiet time and communal Jacuzzi and shock pool available for use any time; Barceló PC:  secluded private personal courtyard with bottle champagne and shock pool (i.e. shock as in damn cold!) with communal Jacuzzi, shock pools, swim pool and shade pool available for use any time
  • Atmosphere:  Advantage Sandals SC; Post-massage amenities: Advantage Barceló PC

As for me, I took a significantly different approach to my second couples experience.  The first time, I opted for Modesty, keeping my bathing suit on for our massage.  I was glad I did since my male counterpart was politely requested to don a “banana hammock” when he went au naturel!

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Red Lane treatment room similar to ours

My curiosity in this regard would give any cat a case of the heebee-jeebees. And yet I decided to go the Full Monty, arriving in nothing but the simple, yet comfortable robe provided.  I was relieved when I was not asked to “hammock up”!  Relieved because I doubt the massage would have been as enjoyable with Carol’s hysterical laughing.

Carol was a bit surprised to see me sans all Decorative Trappings of Modest Society.  But at least she held her laughter.  On the other hand I was a bit perplexed by her decision to retain a strategic piece of undergarment.

My Jamaican masseuse – on the other hand – did not skip a beat, although she discreetly conducted a tactile “undies check” through the sheet that was thinly covering my caboose.  During the massage, she ensured continued discretion through the strategic use of sheeting whenever she asked me to reposition.

Too be honest, I was a bit surprised at how things progressed once my lack of drapery was noted. I was betting on the area just south of the equator being completely avoided.

Boy, was I wrong!

The Jamaicans are nothing if not prepared for anything.

Instead of the entire Equator being tactfully avoided, only the Bermuda Triangle and Death Valley ended up being “no fly zones”!

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The central courtyard where post-massage recovery is fragrance-filled.

Afterwards we were provided with privacy and the chance to use a rather large and roomy shower.  Then it was out to the central courtyard where fragrant flowers, muted sunlight, and comfortable benches awaited.  Adult libations were served in the form of fruit-blended champagne.  The environment was heavenly.

To say the entire experience was enjoyable and relaxing is a gross understatement.  Although the exfoliation of the feet and lower legs – included at Barceló PC – was not part of the Sandals SC treatment, our Jamaican couple’s massage was slightly more enjoyable. (This is my own personal opinion, likely the result of surface area covered by the Hands of Jamaica!)

Differences in facilities and the extent of treatments are to be expected.  The important constant is the pleasure and relaxing nature of enjoying a sensuous massage with your significant other.

Don’t miss out should you have the opportunity!

Home Sweet … OH C’MON!!

anger-management-1058x426Have I mentioned I don’t like to travel???

I enjoy the “being there” part and the “being back” part, although that depends on where the “being there” was.  Down the Shore is a good “being there”.  So are places like Punta Cana.  Certainly our latest “being there” in Southern California for two-plus glorious, temps-above-average weeks was way up on the Being There list!

My problem is the Coming and Going parts.  Let’s face it.  They are too stress-laden to be enjoyable.  I look at the comings and goings as akin to being forced to into temporary displacement with everything you own – minus all your normal creature comforts – strapped to your back.

The stress is magnified if you travel with a Type A spouse, where packing and the priority-laden questions resemble D-Day invasion planning, where the pace turns frenetic in the 4-5 days prior to H-Hour, and nerves are Type-A frayed.

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I warned you!

Add small children for Volcano Effect!

The “being back” part is almost always good …

Almost always …

Anyways … Our California trip was a blast.  Organized around the wedding of a West Coast nephew to a very lovely girl in the vineyard country of Temecula, California.  More on this in later posts …

Great time, incredible weather, quality family opportunities, plenty to see and do!  And then – inevitably – the Being There runs it course; and it’s time to be back.

More stress …

Our travel West went surprisingly well, including an LAX pickup one native described as, “The smoothest EVER!”  (Sorry about the “native” reference, Pat.  But I’m on a roll …)

No way the trip back East could go that well, right?

  • 0700  Airport commute in the Los Angeles area?  A little slow, but anticipated.
  • Check-in at LAX: Perfect (Southwest Airlines has excellent curbside check-in staff and get the TSA pre-check)
  • Gate Pushback:  On-time
  • Plane change at Midway Airport, Chicago:  Also on-time and smooth
  • Arrival at PHL:  Also on-time and COLD!
  • Parking Shuttle Pick-up:  Stunningly well-timed (like walking-out-of-the-terminal-and-here-we-are well-timed!)
  • Personal auto parked for two weeks outside a Sheraton?  Started like a champ!
  • Ride home:  Piece of cake
  • Walk into the House … IT’S FREEZING FREAKIN’ COLD!!  50° in-house temp!  Not a single burp out of the heater …

How is that possible?!?  Four-year old gas-heated, blown air unit with nary a problem.

Did I mention it was 80° when we left California??

Couple shivering with broken furnace

Ever get home from a Being There wanting to do nothing more than tossing your bags at the bottom of the steps and watching TV before going to bed??  Ever lived with a Type A personality, who was tired, stressed, AND COLD all at the same time?!?  Not fun …

Took me until 1600 hrs the next day to get professional help (the heater kind, not the mental kind) after spending the morning replacing the thermostat, which only partially worked.

And you wonder why I don’t like to travel.

 

The Irish Catholic Hajj Lived

The trek towards Middle America is daunting in an Econoline van, 700 miles and 11 hours long.  Yet the draw for a 17-strong contingent of Philadelphia area products from the Roman Catholic Church and school systems is irresistible, as witnessed by a core group that has made the South Bend trek to University of Notre Dame football games 17 times now.  

The underside of an obscure card table, inscribed with the names of past participants documents the participants from year-to-year.  Those making the Hajj for the first time dutifully add (R) to their names to signify their rookie status.  We also made habit of marveling at the precision organization, courtesy of Major General (Honarary) Edward Brady (Father Judge ’74), and execution.  Staying out of the way – unless called upon – for fear of ruining the mojo.

The group was not nearly as rowdy as might have been – and probably was – years ago.  Then again most of use are on the downhill side of 50 or below sea-level of 60!  It does seem to mute the wackiness.  The one exception being the call to “Huddle up!!” by Staff Sargeant (Hon) Lenny, a call to imbibe shots of intestinal fortitude.

You learn to celebrate Life more managably as you grow older.

Friday was for a tour of the Notre Dame campus, steeped in history not limited to football.  As a Philly guy, never quite bitten as badly by the ND bug, hearing the story of John Cardinal O’Hara (former Philadelphia Cardinal of the Archdiocese and President of Notre Dame) next to his marble crypt is one example.  The Battle of Gettysburg story of Reverend William Corey, steadying New York’s Irish Brigade in the hours before their date with Destiny at Little Round Top and the wheat field, is quite another.

As for the football experience, the pageantry and loyal following the Fighting Irish inspire is evident at every venue.  For me, the excitement generated by the Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish, on Friday particularly with the horn section warming up the crowd inside The Rotunda was simply spectacular!


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Saturday, the focus was FOOTBALL … not to be overshadowed by perhaps the nicest stretch of weather shining down on the Best Tailgating Experience ever!  (OK … Honestly the guy with the satellite dish and 40+ inch screen might have an edge here.)  It’s difficult to imagine a better day.

The Miami of Ohio – Notre Dame game was anticlimactic, given the obvious talent gap and the Irish’s ability to step on Miami’ s throat in the 1st Quarter (Final: ND 52 – Miami 17).  But the highlight truly is that there’s much, much more to enjoy at the Notre Dame Football experience than just a lopsided victory!

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View of our rental’s backyard in the vicinity of the University of Notre Dame

The Irish American Hajj

Sixteen men, one determined young lady, two Econoline vans (bench seats), 700 miles, 11 hours … A journey meant for the die-hard fans of The Golden Dome, The Fighting Irish, Knute Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and other Legends of the Gridiron ….

An American Hajj (Commitment)

A two-decade tradition expanded to include wannabes and hangers-on.  The planning intricate, resourceful, learned … Leadership the envy of military staffers ….

We depart at zero-dark-thirty for the University of Notre Dame with kisses from the women folk left behind. (Admittedly some of which are not all that worried about more spacious beds, cooking for one, and quiet evenings curled up with Netflix.)  The assault vehicles are loaded; GPS devices homed in; coffeed up and leisurely fed by one weekend widow, we are Oscar Mike!

The Summer of Orange Discontent

Description=ab23638.jpg AB23638 (RM) Traffic cones along side of road Taxi

Official Flora of Orange Summer

Many have heard the lame joke, made at times like these … “What’s the State flower of (fill in your favorite State/Commonwealth in dysfunction)?”  The punch line is pictured to the right.

It’s been one of those Summers in my little slice of Heaven on Earth.  Seems every week I am running into large rectangular announcements that “This road will be closed beginning on (month-date.)”  The amount of road work going on is enough to set commuters’ neck hairs a quivering!

My guess is that the Silver Lining in all this traffic disruption this Summer is a good sign for The Economy as a whole; but it truly wreaks havoc with the rate-of-productive-effort vs. travel time ratio.  And for some reason this Summer has seen much more infrastructure investment than any other Summer I can remember.

img_0036Summer’s tend to be most beneficial to blooming orange cones; but this one might set a record, not just for orange cones but also for orange detour signs (announced weeks in advance) and the deployment of the Flagger Forces of Evil.  I have joked recently that any hostile power, looking to pose damage and mayhem to American society would – as their first step in subversion – invest heavily in Flagger Force franchises.

Those guys are EVERYWHERE.  And even though they might seem innocuous, they control the smooth flow of American auto society.  Too perfect a cover for a nefarious force looking to nonchalantly position themselves at numerous strategic venues and choke points.  Reminds me of German efforts to sabatage the Allied response to the Nazis’ World War II offensive in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge).  They sent commandos to infiltrate behind Allied lines, disrupting communications and responses by – among other things – changing routing and destination signage!

img_0035It’s getting to the point where I am recognizing Flagger Force operatives moving from one choke point to another.  That cannot be a good thing!

My work commute is generally a non-invasive, relaxing commune with Nature along the secondary and back roads of eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (Hatboro, Upper Moreland, Abington, Cheltenham).  No stress, relaxing scenery, manageable traffic …

Until this Summer anyway …

On any given morning, I can find two or three of my favored secondary roads impassable due to construction or repair work.  From the all too obviously needed bridge rework to road re-paving to power-line tree trimming to sewage and water line installations to God only knows what, it has been a particularly active Season of Infrastructure!

Terwood Road (closed since July 5) has been a real kick in the commute, a direct route slicing east-southeast through bucolic settings guaranteed to settle the most nervous commuter.  Worse yet, the popular route’s closure in an area not exactly brimming with non-invasive alternative routes, throws other east-west secondary routes in the area into complete disarray, forcing me to use primary routes (e.g. Route 611) where the driving is closer to Mad Max: Fury Road than psyche-settling leisure.

UPDATE:  Just days after posting this, Welsh Road (Route 63), another rather vital East-West commuter link, particularly for PA Turnpike access in eastern Montgomery County, had two sections narrowed to one lane (one for bridge work crossing over the Turnpike); had another stretch east of Washington Lane completely closed for God-only-knows-what, and is being resurfaced!!

It’s both maddening and reassuring in the “Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure” way of thinking.

  1. Roads – and the utilities running along and below them – are essential.
  2. Roads take a beating.
  3. Roads require maintenance and semi-regular investment to maintain long-term utility.
  4. Maintenance and Investment Time sucks when moving from Point A to Point B!

There’s NEVER a good time to do it.  And when it’s being done, it’s never a good time for anyone … other than the good people (so far as we know) of Flagger Force!

Just shoot me already … (That was sarcasm, FF!)