Wednesday, October 4, 2017

SEAPORT VILLAGE - FROM VINTAGE TO WORLD-CLASS


     Seaport Village opened in 1980 with quaint wooden buildings in a setting that resembles a small fishing town. With its more than 70 shops, galleries, and eateries, it became one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Diego. The one-and two-story buildings are surrounded by towering fig trees, meandering walkways, plazas with colorful mosaic tiles and sitting areas. This is anchored by an 1895-vintage carousel that replaced the original carousel in 2004. The plaza is designed so that concerts and entertainment can be held there. Many of the restaurants offer spectacular views of San Diego Bay and the Coronado Bridge.

     The village is built on the original site of the San Diego—Coronado car ferry landing that was demolished when the Coronado Bridge opened in 1969. In the late 70s, there were only two developers bidding on the Seaport Village project that was to cover 17 acres. For the most part Seaport Village still resembles the original plan with the same buildings and even some of the original businesses. The Village Hat Shop, Harbor House, Greek Islands Cafe, and Pier Cafe are still going strong.
    
     I recall coming to Seaport Village for the first time in 1987. Our children enjoyed the carousel and the small pond with ducks. It was the beginning of December and there was a large decorated Christmas tree. Carolers walked around making the crisp December day even more special. It was always a favorite place to visit whenever we were in San Diego.



    
Seaport Village is part of the 70 acres that the Port commissioners consider the most valuable land on the waterfront—it is about to be transformed into a world-class destination. Protea Waterfront Development has already been chosen from a competitive field of six developers. Their $1.2 billion proposal encompasses 70 acres of land and water between the USS Midway Museum and the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Envisioned in the plans are three hotels, retail shops and restaurants, office space, a 480-foot observation tower, a sea aquarium, charter school, and much more.

    The changes are significant, and it will be interesting to see what the future brings. However, if it was totally left up to this vintage lady, I would leave it just the way it is.

      If Seaport San Diego's master plan is approved by the California Coastal Commission in 2018, construction will begin in 2019, and the redevelopment will be completed in 2021.

                                               * * *

    
   Just recently I decided to walk around Seaport Village. I was thinking about the future and all of the changes in the air including the destruction of these quaint little wooden buildings that currently house the shops and restaurants. Suddenly I heard sirens and noticed black billowing smoke floating across the bay. Someone said that a fishing vessel was on fire, so I headed over to get a first hand view of a burning 120-foot fishing and research vessel.
     I had walked by the fishing boat about 10 minutes before, and now it was the sight of a major fire. The Norton Sound, built in 1944, had been docked at the Tuna Harbor Pier (598 W. Harbor Drive) for the past few months. Investigation is still underway. Fortunately, the ship did not appear to be occupied at the time of the fire. There were at least 20 fire and rescue trucks in the area and about a 100 firefighters and service personnel. After careful inspection, the decision was made to let it burn and spray the exterior with water to cool the hull. It was still burning 24 hours later.
NORTON SOUND FISHING VESSEL FIRE


Wall Painting - Seaport Village


Monday, August 28, 2017

VENICE--THE CHARMING CITY OF CANALS AND BRIDGES

GRAND CANAL VENICE



     We decided to forget the crowds and visit anyway—spending our last few nights in the ancient city of Venice. It had been over thirty years since our last visit, and the beauty of its historical setting, architecture, music, and artwork was calling us back. Situated on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges, it is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
VENICE CAFE

     This unique place has become a tourist mecca, causing the locals to leave the historic center and move to the suburbs at a rate of 5% a year. The local population in the old city has declined from 175,000 in 1951 to 55,000 in 2016. The center is now pretty much left to the estimated 60,000 daily visitors and those in the business of tourism like restauranteurs, hoteliers, shop keepers, and trinket sellers. The local community and soul of the old city is diminishing. However, as long as this lovely place keeps floating, and the world population keeps growing, the tourists will come.
Venice is one of the most romantic places in the world, but it's even better when there is no one around.” --Woody Allen
RIALTO BRIDGE

     The first morning, I rose early and headed out to explore the old city center before the crowds showed up. I carefully followed the signs because I knew that I could easily get lost in the most maze-like city I've ever visited. After navigating the many passage-ways, alleys, and winding streets, I arrived at the Rialto Bridge, home to the original merchants of Venice. Built of stone, it was designed by Antonio da Ponte and completed in 1591. On either side of the center portico there are covered ramps with rows of shops. This early morning I was the only one around. I strolled slowly over the bridge and back again, enjoying the view and perhaps feeling a little smug because I avoided the crowds.
SAINT MARK'S CATHEDRAL

     I continued walking another ten minutes to the Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square), the principal public square of Venice that had its beginnings in the 800s. The huge ancient Piazza is surrounded by incredible architecture, monuments, and views of the Adriatic Sea. I took my time to enjoy it and to photograph it from different perspectives. The oldest known mosaic in the world (1260-70) is located above the doors to the Basilica San Marco (Saint Mark's Cathedral). It depicts the 9th century merchants smuggling relics out of Egypt for the Venice cathedral. There were just a few people wandering around at 7 am.—the museums, restaurants, and cafes were all closed.

     Venice is Europe's largest car-free city. The only way to get around is by foot or boat. There are no cars or bicycles, and at one time, they even considered banning wheeled suitcases. Push carts are used for deliveries, construction projects, and garbage collection.

     Next on the agenda was hooking up with my husband, who enjoyed a relaxing morning in our apartment. We felt fortunate to have a spacious first-floor apartment for three nights in the old city (125 euro) booked on Airbnb, where it was referred to as "sweet home with garden."
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VAPORETTO/ WATER BUS ON GRAND CANAL
We found a nearby cafe for an omelet and cappuccino (8 euros) and then headed to the bus terminal to purchase a two-day travelcard (30 euros) for unlimited rides on the vaporetto, also known as the water bus. We jumped on the first vaporetto to come along and spent the rest of the morning enjoying the palace-lined Grand Canal at our leisure.
BURANO
     Another benefit of the pass is that it allows for rides on the sea to visit the outlying islands. I loved our excursion to Burano which is considered one of the most colorful places in Europe. The multicolored homes are situated along a peaceful channel that is lined with fishing boats. We walked around mesmerized by the beauty of the place and fascinated by the two-three story attached houses with shutters on the windows and curtains hanging over the doors. In the background looms the leaning bell tower of San Martino—the only church on the island. It is also home to the original Burano lace. Visitors can enter the shops, and observe the friendly, elderly ladies doing their embroidering.
     We flew back to the US from the Venice Marco Polo airport which is an easy thirty-minute bus ride from the city. We left behind a charming city surrounded by water that has been sinking for centuries. The low-lying salt marsh that it is built on is dissolving. The sea levels are rising. High tides are at an extreme level. There is heavy boat traffic speeding on the canals and the cruise ships keep coming. Despite the problems, some progress is being made. The MOSE Project, to keep high waters away from the city, is near completion. Pollution and sewage projects are underway. A ban was recently passed to eliminate cruise ships from the lagoon.
     Next time I return to Venice, I'll probably need a ticket and advance reservations to enter. Italy has already imposed visitor limitations on Cinque Terre with a tourist ticket system. I just hope that this spectacular city, with its incredible history, will be around for future generations to enjoy.



DOGES' PALACE SAINT MARK'S SQUARE



SAINT MARK'S SQUARE 
PALACE ON THE GRAND CANAL




 DOGES' PALACE AND THE ADRIATIC SEA















Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT - SAN DIEGO

OLD POINT LOMA LIGHTHOUSE

     One of the most popular tourist attractions in San Diego is Cabrillo NationalMonument, located about 13 miles from downtown at the tip of Point Loma peninsula. It offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Bay, Coronado, and the downtown skyline. On a sunny day, it's the perfect place to enjoy a walk, appreciate the beauty of the area, and get a little history lesson at the same time. It's also a short drive from the San Diego International Airport making it a great place to take visitors for a spectacular view of the city and Pacific Ocean.
BAYSIDE TRAIL

     Juan RodriguezCabrillo was the commander of three vessels that departed from Navidad, Mexico, heading north with a mission to “discover the coast of New Spain.” On September 28,1542, Cabrillo's fleet entered what is today San Diego Bay, their first landfall along the western coast of what is now the United States. Cabrillo called this inviting harbor “San Miguel” in honor of the saint whose feast was the next day. The area was officially renamed San Diego in 1602. To commemorate his life and explorations, the national monument was established by the Park Service in 1913.

     There is an impressive limestone statue of Cabrillo on a point near the visitors center. It is a replica of the original sandstone statue that was donated to the US by the Portuguese government in 1939. It suffered severe weather damage and was replaced in 1949.
     I arrived on an April day with plenty of sunshine when acres of wild yellow encelia flowers were blooming throughout the grounds. I took my time meandering around the visitor center, enjoying the lovely views before heading over to the Bayside Trail. This is one of the most beautiful hikes in San Diego, and I try to stop by to enjoy it whenever I'm nearby. It follows an old US Army roadway and winds past several military bunkers that were part of the defense system used to protect San Diego Bay during World Wars I and II.

BAYSIDE TRAIL
CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT 
    It's a 1.86 mile round trip hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with views that stretch to Mexico and the Cuyamaca Mountains. The first half is an easy downhill walk, mostly on gravel. The return is a gentle uphill climb with a 340 foot elevation gain. The walk offers a chance to observe the sandstone cliffs and coastal sage scrub ecosystem that is becoming increasingly rare in southern California. There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the trail highlighting common plants, birds, animals, and other facts about the area.

     Perched at the highest point of the park is the picturesque Old Point LomaLighthouse that was built in 1855. Unfortunately, high fog at this level obscured the beacon light, causing its closure as an active lighthouse in 1891. It was replaced by the current lighthouse that is located at a lower elevation, in a beautiful setting, closer to the point. The old lighthouse and keepers house are now open to the public as museums and include the original occupants living quarters. The tower of the lighthouse is open to visitors three days a year.
   The tide pools are another popular attraction of this 160 acre park that should not be missed. It is an easy drive down with convenient parking. This area is considered one of the best protected and easily accessible intertidal areas in southern California. With careful exploration and low tide, you should be able to observe crabs, starfish, anemones, snails and many other treasures of the sea.

     Cabrillo is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. There is an entrance fee of $10 per car. Restrooms are near the visitors center and the lighthouse. Food service is not available so if you plan to linger, be sure to bring some snacks along.
                                                * * *
    Note for those over age 62, the $10 lifetime national parks senior pass will be increasing to $80 on August 28, 2017. Be prepared for extra long waits at the entrance gates because many are just getting around to purchasing them.

Related Posts: "Best Place in California" - August 2, 2014
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

VALLE DE FASSA - THE DOLOMITES



THE DOLOMITES

"The most beautiful architecture on earth."  --Le Corbusier, Swiss Architect
    
     The Dolomites, with their impressive peaks, jagged ridges, rock pinnacles, deep gorges, and steep rock faces, lie in the eastern section of the northern Italian Alps. The highest point is Punta Penia (10,968 feet) in the Marmolada range—often referred to as the “Queen of the Dolomites.” We recently spent a few days in May in the Val di Fassa—home to this spectacular range.

    
VALLE DI FASSA
Our base was the village of Vigo di Fassa (pop. 1,256)—one of the smallest of the seven municipalities in the valley. We arrived by bus from Bolzano—a two-hour ride providing spectacular scenery and dozens of hairpin turns as we rose 4,000 feet in elevation. We were dropped off about four blocks from the Mason La Zondra, our apartment for the next few nights. Although an uphill walk, the location was convenient to the bus stop for our daily excursions.

     We chose to stay in Vigo because it was recommended by friends who especially liked the cable car up to the Ciampedie Valley. It departs from the town center. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to enjoy the gentle hikes on top because the cable car was closed until June 1. As a matter of fact, most of the town of Vigo was closed in May; we were lucky to even find a restaurant open. It seems that the locals like to take vacation between the busy winter and summer seasons.

    
AVISIO RIVER
It was still beautiful, and we could easily ride buses to the larger and more active villages in the valley. We also loved the walks along the Avisio River that flows through the valley. I enjoyed an early morning hike to the historic Santa Giuliana church that is perched on a hill overlooking Vigo. 

    
CANAZEI 
The ski and summer resort of Canazei (pop. 2,000) is located at one end of the 20-mile long valley, easily accessible by bus and bike. The village, with its colorfully decorated houses and old wooden barns, is surrounded by the majestic Dolomites. It is home to the largest ski area in Europe. Cable cars take you to the top and were operating on the day we were there. It was well worth the ride up because it provided one of the most spectacular and unforgettable mountain views I've ever seen.

    
GIRO D' ITALIA
We didn't realize, until arriving in Italy, that the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) was passing through Val di Fassa while were were there. In Europe, this 21-day bike race is second only to the Tour de France in popularity, and it was celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

     We decided to head over to Canazei to see what takes place in a
DECORATED PINK BICYCLES
100TH ANNIVERSARY GIRO D' ITALIA
small village that is honored with the Giros' Stage 17 finish line. When we arrived, there were already four bands setting up and playing music on this sun-filled morning. Flowers and decorated pink bicycles, honoring the pink jerseys worn by the daily winners, adorned the town. Vendors with food, beverages, and t-shirts lined the streets. The “people watching” kept getting better as hundreds of people descended upon the town to see the best bikers in the world roll in. They began arriving about 4 p.m. after the completion of another challenging day of pedaling 160 miles through the peaks and valleys of the Italian Alps. They still had four days remaining before the finish line in Milan.

Related Posts: Castelrotto, Italy South Tyrol - July 2015
                        Haybaths, Dolomites, Northern Italy - July 2015
                        Merano, South Tyrol Italy - June 2017


RACERS DEPARTING CANZEI

Thursday, June 22, 2017

MERANO, SOUTH TYROL ITALY - A HIKER'S PARADISE



PASSER RIVER- MERANO ITALY

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
                                                                                                             -Dr. Seuss

     We just returned from Italy, and I've been thinking about some of my favorite places. I remember the charming old city of Merano--a health resort that's located in a lush valley, surrounded by the Italian Alps, in northern Italy. 



There are a lot of things I love about this place, but what really stands out are the lovely walks. This “city of flowers,” located on the roaring Passer River, is full of promenades and gentle paths. They offer incredible views of the river and nearby mountain ranges and have interesting names like: Passer Promenade, Gif Promenade, Summer Promenade,Tappeinerweg Trail, and Prince's Castle.
SAN LEONARDO, SOUTH TYROL


     When a person tires of the nearby walks (if that's possible), they can take advantage of the extensive transport system to access more trails and bikeways. We purchased the seven day pass called the Mobilcard (28 euros) that grants unlimited access to all public transport in South Tyrol—one of the best deals anywhere. Hundreds of trails were available to us, and the best part is that we could return by bus or train when tired.


     The old city of Merano has 900 year old porticoes, medieval walls, arches, and a 19th century Kurhaus. There are sculptures, flowers, museums, and mature cypress trees to enjoy. It's also home to the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff, one of Italy's most beautiful gardens.

     A visit would not be complete without experiencing the Merano Thermal Baths—a modern oasis in the heart of the city that has 15 indoor and outdoor pools, eight saunas. mountain views, a park, fitness center, and more. The health benefits of this area were discovered by European nobility in the early 1800s. In addition, the Austrian Empress Sissi arrived for the first time in 1870 with her imperial household of over a hundred. She spent nine months here recuperating from tuberculosis. After that time, she made repeated visits to Merano. One of the many trails to enjoy is Sissi's Path that highlights some of her favorite spots. 

      Merano is one of those special places that I could linger for a month or longer and the month of May would be perfect. The weather is cool, the days are long and the flowers are blooming. 
                                                                 * * * 
   
     Meran/Merano (pop. 40,000) is located in the Trentino-South Tyrol region of northern Italy. From the eighth century until 1918, it was part of Austria-Hungary. It was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. Public signs are in two languages: German and Italian. Meran is German and Merano is Italian. More than half of the population speaks German. The Dolomite mountains cover most of the area. South Tyrol is also among the wealthiest regions in Italy.

Related Posts: Castelrotto, Italy South Tyrol, July 2015

                        Hay Baths, Dolomites, Northern Italy, July 2015
                     

STONE BRIDGE 
BUILT IN 1616 BY ROMANS



CITY GATES 
MERANO'S OLD TOWN



THE KURHAUS





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

RED BULL AIR RACES - SAN DIEGO 2017


RACETRACK PYLONS IN SAN DIEGO BAY 


     When I heard that the Red Bull Air Races were coming to San Diego, I really did not know what to expect. I only knew that the Red Bull beverage was way over-caffeinated for me. I had never heard of the air race. However, since they were held in San Diego from 2007 to 2009, many seemed to know about them. I heard mixed reviews. For people who lived near the bay it was generally negative. There were complaints about noise, crowds, possible plane crashes, and the fact that it was being held on Easter weekend. Others looked forward to the entertainment and, of course, returning to the quiet of their homes in the suburbs when the show ended.

      When the time came, tens of thousands of spectators came from all over to view one of the most amazing aerial events in the world. Some compare it to NASCAR races in the air. I have to agree that it was a spectacular show.


     San Diego is the second stop on the Red Bull World Tour schedule that began in Abu Dhabi in February and goes on to Japan, Hungary, and Portugal from here. It ends in Indianapolis on October 15 when the 2017 Red Bull Race Champion will be decided. The competing 14 masterclass pilots are considered the best in the world, with numerous flying achievements in their backgrounds. Their planes are streamlined to perfection and at the forefront of light aviation technology.

      The races were launched in 2003 and have been held annually, except for 2011-2013. During that time they were they were stopped for safety improvements following a fatal crash in 2010.

     The conversion of quiet San Diego Bay into an air racetrack started many days before the official event began on April 15-16. Large platforms were installed on the bay to mark the track, and to hold the pylons so that the pilots could swoop down and fly between them. The course covered the area between the San Diego Convention Center and the North Island Naval Air Station.

     The official viewing area was at the Embarcadero Marina Park with tickets starting at $20. A perfect place to be if you wanted to know who was racing, what their backgrounds were, and how the competition was scored. However, the visual spectacle of high speed, low altitude, and extreme maneuverability could be observed free from just about anywhere along the bay.

     The planes were based at Brown Field Municipal Airport and approached the track by flying over the Coronado Bridge.

      The free practice sessions began at noon on the Friday before, and continued, almost nonstop, until 7 p.m. They stopped a couple of times to allow for the military ships that needed to pass by. Otherwise, no luck if you were hoping to enjoy some boating on the bay, ride the Coronado Ferry, or even enjoy a conversation. It was the loudest day without much time in between the practice flights. I was beginning to understand the nay sayers.

     The event included a large black helicopter that was used for taking photos and videos for the news media. It was televised all over the world. Some said the helicopter was louder than the planes, and I think they were correct.

     Not surprisingly, San Diego provided near perfect 70 degree days, sunshine, and a mild breeze for the event. It was spectacular to see these small planes, flying at speeds up 230 mph, quickly changing directions, spinning around in the sky, and then swooping low through the pylons, circling again and repeating the maneuvers, all in a record speeds of 1-2 minutes. It was impressive. The downtown skyline in the background made it even more so. The planes were colorful. Some of the wings had stripes and other interesting designs which you could see as they flipped over and flew sideways.

    
      About 3 p.m. on Sunday we decided to walk down to the
Coronado Ferry Landing to observe the round of eight/final four races. There were thousands of spectators gathered in both directions along the water from the landing as well as many standing on the dock. I heard estimates that there were 40,000 spectators enjoying this event over the weekend. The winner of this event was Yoshihide “Yoshi” Muroya from Japan.

     One of interesting sideshows that took place on both days was the Red Bull helicopter stunt show. I didn't know they could fly upside down and flip around just like the small planes. Also, I used my binoculars to view parachuters drifting down from overhead and landing in a precise spot on the Embarcadero amongst the crowds.

                                                * * *

      It's the day after the Red Bull Air Race in San Diego and there's an incredible crew out there that is busy handling the logistics of moving the entire infrastructure of the race track, the planes, the pilots and their teams, race crews, and tons of materials to the next stop which is Japan. 

     I appreciated my peaceful walk along the bay more than usual and secretly hoped that the races don't return anytime soon.
RACETRACK MOVES ON TO JAPAN







Tuesday, April 4, 2017

NOMADIC MATT FOR TRAVEL INSPIRATION





      For anyone that wishes to travel the world on a budget, following Nomadic Matt on his blog, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is a must. Matt Kepnes  (aka Nomadic Matt) has been traveling and writing for over 10 years and is always up to something new. Currently, he is hosting meetups in 11 cities across the country, as part of The Nomadic Network Tour, and promoting his latest book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.

      Just recently, in San Diego, Ron and I decided to meet up with this talented young man at the Brew Project Bar and Restaurant, where we were joined by at least another 50 interested travelers.

      Nomadic Matt is what I call a hardcore traveler, although he claims to be slowing down some. About 10 years ago, he quit his job in a cubicle, sold everything, and began to travel full time. He quickly realized how much he didn't need all of that stuff he left behind. He has been writing and helping others travel on a shoestring ever since.


     He spoke to the group for about 20 minutes and then answered dozens of questions. He recommended planning a trip one step at a time, which is usually good advice for most things. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the multitude of websites, books and blogs available to everyone these days. The first step might be to look at your budget and figure out a way to set a specific amount of money aside. He also said that he doesn't worry much about planning. because he never follows the plans anyway.
    
Another step he mentioned, which always works for me, is getting the flights booked—it's kind of like the point of no return.
     Matt develops travel community more than most writers do. For example, he organized a travel book club on his website that anyone can join. An avid reader himself, he found that the club motivates him to read a book a week. A favorite: Walking the Nile by Levison Wood.
   Matt's favorite place is Thailand, where he lived for two years.


    
BELGIUM
Some of his recommended websites: Couch Surfing (stay with locals & meet new people), Warm Showers (hospitality exchange for touring cyclists), and Camp in My Garden (private gardens for camping).

     After the presentation, he encouraged everyone to introduce themselves and learn from each other. Ron and I had a good time walking around visiting and were impressed with the diversity of people attending. We met a man who had couch surfed over 80 times. We visited with a woman who was going to spend six months on an Oceania cruise, traveling around the world in 180 days.

     Others were on their way to Greece, Peru and Italy—some with reservations and some without. One young photographer had lived in Africa for a year and was anxious to return. A recent retiree was about to begin traveling while writing two blogs (Matt offers online courses on travel writing and blogs). Some were even talking about their favorite travel shoes. You name it, and it was probably being discussed somewhere in that room.

     I think I went home with a case of travel overload--I had a nightmarish dream that night that all my stuff would not fit into a suitcase and it caused me to miss a plane to Sweden.

PORTUGAL