Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Girlfriend Getaway

Yesterday was an awesome day with great friends. We did the Girlfriend Getaway with Day Tripper Tours in San Diego, and it was fantastic. It was a day full of chatter and laughter, afternoon tea in Long Beach and a few hours at the Vintage Fashion Expo in Los Angeles. This expo is a huge event that takes place fives times yearly in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
If you've never done a Day Trippers Tour, it's a great way to get out of town for the day to explore museums, tourist attractions and special events throughout southern California. The cost of the day trip might seem high to you, but it includes your round-trip transportation from a pick-up point in San Diego, admission fee, meals depending on the tour, snacks and a very entertaining tour guide. What I love about these day trips is you don't have to drive. Just show up at your pick-up point and let the bus driver take you there.

We had a very comfortable bus ride in the rain.  It was a perfect day to anticipate our visit to have delicious hot tea in an elegant Victorian setting.  It brought back memories of Gerry and I walking through the heavy rain at Edinburgh Castle to have tea in The Queen Anne Tea Room. It was one of the highlights of our perfect day in Edinburgh. Upon arriving to the tea room, I was delighted to see how pretty the tea room looked from the street, so English-ly quaint!  I was more impressed with the wait staff who welcomed us as we made our way to the Grand Tea Room. I felt like I was back on a cruise ship.
Elise, owner of Elise's Team Room, has a business that has been thriving since 1996. Whatever she did, she did it right as tea rooms don't generally do well as a private business.
Contrary to what you see in the food photos, I left feeling absolutely stuffed. I forced myself to eat everything, and that's something I never, ever do, but I couldn't help myself. The lemon scone was one of the best scones I've ever tasted, and that's coming from my own experience enjoying scones in tea rooms throughout England and Scotland. First came the lemon scones with clotted cream, lemon custard and blackberry jam. Next came the tea sandwiches (cucumber and cream cheese, butter and raspberry jam, chicken salad and egg salad), then finally the piece de resistance. . . the chocolate biscuit cake that takes two days to make! This was Princess Diana's favorite chocolate dessert (she was a chocoholic), and hence the name of our event at the tea house was called the Princess Diana Tea. The teas were great, too.

On to Los Angeles, the Vintage Fashion Expo was very interesting. I've always admired retro fashions, and have even worn pieces that resemble styles from the 1950s and 1960s. This expo at The Reef, a creative urban habitat in South Los Angeles, was eye-candy for me. There were so many cool people walking around wearing retro styles, even children were participating!

Walking through the booths brought back lots of memories - clothes I wore as a child, as a teenager and especially, the lovely clothes my mom wore as a typical housewife caring for her children. I always admired my mom's clothes, shoes and her jewelry from the 1950s and 1960s. As a teenager, I used to sneak a peak in my mom's closet to look at her evening dresses and shoes and hope that she'd one day give them to me "when I was all grown up". Alas, I grew to have a completely different body type from my mom, body measurements and all. The good news is that my mom did give one of her cocktail dresses to my daughter, Lindsay, and it's a stunner. It's an espresso-colored, body-hugging number with spaghetti straps. The fabric shimmers in the light and you can't take your eyes off of it. I just texted her to tell her not to give that dress away as dresses of that type were selling at the expo for $450 on up. I didn't bring a lot of money with me to the expo because I thought I'd be bargain hunting. Well to shop vintage means you better come with lots of bucks, and maybe bring your credit card, too.
I came upon a non-designer alligator (gasp) handbag that I loved and it was priced at $450. Ugh. First of all, I know what you're thinking. A poor alligator was killed for its skin but that was decades ago and way before PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was founded in 1980. However, it is legal to have alligator skin in the state of California. Secondly, I would never, ever buy animal skin or fur these days. Times are different. We're now very concerned with protecting our wildlife from becoming extinct. I dismissed purchasing this bag because of its price, but found a similar 1940's handbag for $60, and it's in good condition. I was able to haggle the price down to $50.
Going through the vendor areas, I found three dresses that I adored. I couldn't stop looking at them, and I knew that I'd look great in them. In fact,Trini told me that this one particular shoulder-baring trapeze dress was totally me. It was my style but at $650? I couldn't do it. I can start saving for it, though, and maybe at next year's expo, that dress will still be there to become mine.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fantastic Fact About the Confetti Over Times Square on New Year's Eve

It's a half hour to midnight before this day turns into New Year's Eve, and it's raining.  That's awesome because rain is as close to saying that it's winter here in San Diego.  It's doesn't rain much here, and when it does, most of us celebrate it!

So to type this post as quickly as possible, I read a short and interesting article the other day about the secret of the confetti that's showered on the millions of revelers in Time Square on New Year's Eve at the strike of midnight.  Have you ever thought about those gazillions of confetti? 
Photo credit:

Well, the Times Square Visitor Center sponsors a Wishing Wall, where people will write their heartfelt wishes or whatever they wish to express on small sticky notes, then they place them on the wall.  As the wall fills up throughout the year, the notes are taken down by Visitor Center staff, placed in containers and tucked away to make room for more dreams and wishes on the wall.  This continues to New Year's Eve.  The colorful wishes are then peppered with plain white squares of paper.  If you haven't guessed it yet, all of these dreams and wishes make up the beautiful confetti that is showered upon the kissers and huggers who are freezing under the fireworks that are coloring the sky above them.  What a lovely, lovely thing to see!

Photo credit:  NYC
It's three minutes past midnight.  Have a wonderful celebration tonight and party safely!
Photo credit:  Kohei Kanno

Happy New Year 2017!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Faces of Italy - a Collection of Casual Photos

I took these photos during my trip to Italy last month.  They are of people I saw during my walks around Rome, and of old and new friends in Castiglion Fiorentino in Arezzo, Italy. Most of them were not aware I was taking their picture.  Some of them are expats, others are immigrants, but most are native Italians just going about their daily business.  A few of the photos are out of focus because I snapped as I walked, a very bad habit of mine. The photo of the model, though, she was twirling around her gold lame gown while I was walking by, and so that is totally out of focus, but it was too cool not to share. Also, the photos were taken with my iPhone 6, and I zoomed in some of the time.  Long gone are the days when I used to bring along my camera bag containing camera, lenses and filters.  Too cumbersome and painful for someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
I walked past this pizza joint, turned around to photograph the people down this stone path and right before I snapped this photo, the guy on the left turned his head to the right, straight in my direction.  The timing was perfect.  He was the most interesting to look at, so with some editing, I made Pizza Guy the center of attention.
I was taking a break at a public water fountain and watched this couple walk straight to the silver car.  For some reason, they didn't enter the car.  Perhaps they were deciding where to grab lunch? Her al-amira (head scarf) and teal shirt caught my attention.  I wondered which country she emigrated from, or maybe she didn't. Maybe she's Italian and then I wondered what her cultural identity or religion was.  But it was just a thought, then away I went to sightsee some more.

As I was leaving the Piazza della Rotonda, where the Pantheon and the Fontana del Pantheon sit, I looked up and around for pretty flowery windows to photograph.  No flowers but I found this guy looking intently at his cell phone.  He was so oblivious to all of the beautiful music and activity in the piazza.  His window looked out to the Pantheon.  How wonderful it must be to wake up to such a majestic sight every day, and to the sound of a constantly flowing fountain.
The cellist played music that was so ethereal, I almost changed my mind about roaming the Eternal City.  My ears and heart were telling me to have a seat at the fountain and to listen to the musician for a couple of hours.  We happened to come upon this guy when we exited our hotel, the Hotel Pantheon, turned the corner and there he was.
This is three generations of the Buccelletti family in Castiglione Fiorentino in Tuscany.  We are at their winery in the valley.  Renee, an American whom I met at Pappalecco's in San Diego, married the son of the co-proprietor, Lidia, of the Buccelletti Family Estate. The baby boy, Gianni, is a cutie!  We enjoyed a wonderful stay at one of their villas.  We also helped harvest grapes in the vinyard, and tasted a variety of their wines, and the food was so delicious. They spoiled us.  We drank and ate so much at lunch, our stomachs were still full at dinner time!  If you plan to visit Italy, please check out their website, Casali in Val di Chio, before you go and book a villa-stay.
Two nuns arriving at St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, to receive blessings from Pope Francis. The Pope receives audiences every Wednesday, weather permitting.  My group and I were fortunate to have seats along one of the corridors to see Pope Francis up close. It was very exciting to be in the presence of the Pope and Cardinals.
This is Orestes, proprietor of the Sagrestia Ristorante in the Piazza della Rotonda.  The restaurant has been there for 15 years, but the building itself was erected in the 1800's.  It housed many businesses and was home to many people, but it was for quite some time a monastery.  Orestes was very friendly, his English not so good but neither was our Italian.  We understood that his parents named him after the son of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, of Greek mythology.
Every Wednesday morning, the pope greets his audience in St. Peter's Square, weather permitting and unless he has an engagement with world leaders and the like. We arrived at the Vatican very early in the morning to get to our reserved seats.  We had a great spot, right along the barricade and where the popemobile would be passing by.  All through the morning, and before Pope Francis would make his appearance, wedding couples were coming in past the Vatican guards.  I wasn't counting, but maybe 12 to 15 couples were allowed to go to the front of the audience.  Curiosity got the best of me, and this is what I learned.  You can have a private audience with Pope Francis, in front of the extremely large crowd, if you were married within two months of your scheduled Papal Audience visit, you have a marriage certificate signed by a priest to show the Vatican guards before entering the restricted area, and you must arrive in your wedding attire.  Pope Francis spends a few precious moments with each couple for selfies, autograph-signing, gift-giving, and in return, the pope gives the couple a very special wedding rosary.  
We reached this quaint wooden toy shop, Pinocchietto, after spending time at the Fontana di Trevi.  It was fascinating to watch this toymaker at work.  He carves lots of toys, but his specialty is the wooden Pinocchios of all shapes, sizes and colors.  Quanto costa, Signor?
Like the wedding couples, others were vying for a seat at the front of the audience such as members of various religious orders and those with crippling medical conditions.  I was thoroughly entertained by the numbers of nuns, monks, brothers and sisters coming through. It was like watching a parade.  The soldier to the right wearing the Gala red, yellow and blue striped uniform is a Swiss Guard.  The soldier to the left is the Vatican police known as the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State.  The corps help augment the Pontifical Swiss Guard during the Pope's appearances, among other duties.
This is our tour guide cooling off at one of many fountains found throughout Rome.  She took us on a three-hour tour, and it was a very, very hot day.  While the fountain doesn't look clean, the water is cool, tasty, and very safe to drink.  I always tell my travelers to bring a water bottle to refill their drinking water.  Why pay for something when you can get it for free?  In Rome you can find around 2,500 public drinking fountains which are called nasoni (big noses).  The first nasone was created in 1874.
Oh, here's the cell phone guy again.  Looking at this photo brings to mind the damaged plaster walls, peeled paint, and all those wires and cables draped across the old buildings throughout the Eternal City.  I can honestly say that I didn't take notice of the wires and cables until I saw this photo.  There's just so much beauty in the architecture of the surrounding churches, statues and ruins.  People-watching sometimes tops even that!
These ladies caught my attention right away.  They were so animated, and their speech was expressive, which I guess is what the Italian language is - fast and passionate.  Also, this photo reminds me that European women love to wear dresses and are very trendy.  They do not wear jeans on a daily basis as we Americans generally do.  I love the black sneakers. I need to get me a pair.  White ones, too!
These guys might look pretty in their striped uniforms, but truth be told, they are members of a deadly army of elite warriors selected to protect the Pope, the Cardinals and Vatican City.  Here, they are walking to their posts in preparation for the arrival of Pope Francis. The Swiss Guard is the smallest army in the world with about 125 soldiers and officers serving at any given time.  There are many requirements to becoming a Swiss Guard, one of which is you must be a Swiss citizen.  Also, the sword or halberd (a two-handed pole weapon with an axe topped with a long, sharp blade, and a spike opposite the sharp end of the axe) is not for show.  The Swiss Guard are trained in the use of medieval and modern weaponry.
When we left the Piazza Navona after a lovely dinner one evening, we came upon a photo shoot happening nearby.  The model was a pretty, skinny thing and she swished her gold lame gown this way and that.  With the sun beginning to set, the light bouncing off the gown was sort of mesmerizing.  
Viva il Papa!  Everything Pope Francis says and does resonates with most people of all faiths, even atheists.  He leads by example. Humble. Peacemaker.  A servant of the servants of God.  Pope Francis is a rock star!  We must've waited a little over two hours under the hot, hot morning sun to see him in person - up close and personal.  It was such an amazing experience!  I would like to say everyone was orderly, but when it comes to people trying to push me out of my position at the barricade, you better watch out.  I will push you back, and I did.  Not a shove, but a very firm push. Notice the gentlemen in the dark suits.  They are also soldiers of the Swiss Guard.  Their other uniform, the striped red, blue and yellow, is referred to as the Gala Uniform.
During our last three days in Italy, we stayed in a rustic villa in the heart of Tuscany.  Owned by the Buccelletti family, the villa is one of four in the countryside.  We arrived in the late afternoon and soon after, Giuseppina (I think that's how she pronounced her name) came by to cook us dinner.  Oh my word, it was fantastico! For starters, she made Eggplant Parmesan followed by a first course of stuffed ravioli with a light butter, sage and Parmesan sauce. The second course consisted of peposo (spicy forequarter meat, beef cooked in a wine gravy).  The beef comes from the Chianina breed of cattle, the oldest and most prized.  It is noted for its porcelain-white coats, and for being the biggest and heaviest breed. Giuseppina is a very good friend of the Buccelletti family. She was a restaurant chef, then retired to raise her family.  She now cooks for the villa guests. I loved her smile and cheerfulness. 
Believe it or not, we paid to participate in a wine harvest.  Just those words "wine harvest" sounds so lovely and inviting, doesn't it?  It is until you get a kink in your neck, or your back aches.  It is hard work.  I heard the laborers were astonished to learn we paid to work alongside them for a couple of hours.  I don't regret one minute of it, though.  How many Americans can say they actually harvested grapes in a Tuscan vinyard?  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
This is Carla, an employee at the Casali in Val di Chio.  After the grape harvest, she graciously took us around the widespread farm which includes the wine tasting room, production rooms where the grapes and olives are made into fine wine and olive oil, the family chapel, the large garden of fruits and vegetables, formal gardens, wedding venue and the villas.  There are future plans to add a museum.
I'd already posted this photo on Instagram and Facebook.  This cracks me up.  This character is a fake.  Beneath the long coat and long head scarf is probably a robust young lady. maybe 25 years old.  The beggars and con artists come in all shapes and sizes.  This beggar was wearing expensive athletic shoes.  This reminds me of a prior trip to Venice, where I observed a crouched beggar in a deserted alley stand up straight to stretch her back.  No matter where you travel in the world, always beware of your surroundings.

Thanks for having a look!

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