flying, Road Trip, The World A to Z, travel

The Sky and Stars Beckon

Editor’s Note: This post was written May 5, 2020

Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 (NASA Photo)

On this date in 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space when his Redstone rocket-powered Mercury capsule Freedom 7 blasted off from Cape Canaveral. My mother has told me on numerous occasions that she took me outside our home near Orlando to watch the lone astronaut rise toward the heavens, as history was made. 

I was six-months old to the day … too young to have remembered that moment. But I’ve always wondered whether that solitary act sparked my life-long passion for aviation and space travel. I remember my first commercial airplane trip a few years later — an Eastern Airlines trip from Atlanta to Orlando in a Lockheed Electra. I also remember when my best friend’s grandfather took me on my first flight in a small general aviation airplane — a short trip in a Piper Tri-Pacer when I was about 8 or so. That flight forever planted the seed to learn to fly, which actually happened some 25 years later. A few years later, I was sweating the moment when I finished my FAA-mandated check ride that would determine whether I’d be certified to fly on instruments (I passed). I remember being glued to the TV when Neil Armstrong planted the first steps on the moon … and the moment I heard on the radio about the Challenger disaster. 

Just today, someone on Facebook posted a video of a place nearby where I could get my seaplane rating … sparking the urge to, once again, combine my love of flying with water. These moments are like signposts along a seemingly never-ending road of aviation and space travel experiences that I hope, one day, might ultimately involve the ability for me and you to actually travel in space.

Greg and Judy take off from Charlottesville, VA airport in Sept. 2017

Long-time readers know my love for road trips, but also appreciate my continued love of air travel. To me, the journey is just as important as the destination. Despite all the hassles with commercial air travel today (Pre-COVID) — the lines, security, crowds, etc. — it’s still worth it to look out the window at the world below. I’d rather follow our route on my laptop using an aviation app, trying to identify cities, lakes, rivers and other landmarks, than watch a movie or read a book. Get work done?  Fuggedaboudit. 

Always a window seat for me!

All of us feed our wanderlust in different ways.  Some like cruises, some can’t stand boats. Some like to hike and climb, some like to sit on a beach where the only exercise involves lifting a cocktail from table to mouth. Some are in it for the sights, some for the tastes of fine food and wine. And that’s really the point … focus on whatever drives YOUR passion for travel and feed off that. Do what YOU want to do, don’t be led by what others think you should enjoy.

Me, I keep looking at those lone contrails in the sky and dream of the next flight … to wherever it may lead. Because there’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. I’ll be the one with the window seat, nose pressed to the glass, looking at the ground below, and to the stars above.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Food, Wine/Cocktails

Let’s Do Brunch … Virtually

Judy and I both grew up with brunch as a regular part of our lives … we went to church and, invariably, our parents would take us to brunch, often with friends. Not as formal as dinner, but a nice way to get together and share a repast with acquaintances and loved ones, made even better when the food is excellent, the wine to-die-for, and the weather brilliant.

So it was this Sunday morning when we joined Schlossadler International Wines and winemaker Michael Opitz – live from Austria – in a virtual tasting of Opitz’ fantastic wines. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away our ability to get out and be among friends, these virtual wine tastings using video conferencing capabilities are the next best thing … a great way to spend an hour (more if we keep the bottle open), share in a great experience, and taste some excellent wines. One simply signs-up, Schlossadler delivers the wine, and everyone joins-in the fun online.

Computer screen depicting participants in a virtual wine tasting.
The next best thing to being there…

This was our third tasting with Hans and Liza and one of the best … partly due to working-out some of the technology kinks, but also because this was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday midday. After a morning reading the paper, doing crossword puzzles, and taking an energizing walk in brilliant Arizona sunshine and 70 degree temps, we prepared a charcuterie board, opened the three bottles for this particular tasting, and fired up the computer. We joined Hans, Liza and Michael just as the latter was kissing his daughter good night (it was eight in the evening in Austria). The only thing that would have made the scene better would have been to move the whole kit and caboodle outdoors to do the tasting al fresco.

As wonderful as the wine and the flavors we paired with it were, so was the camaraderie of those from around the country taking part. There are both new and familiar faces … people with whom we share a passion for wine and who will likely become great friends when we get the chance to meet in person.

Seeing Michael share his passion for wine-making and the maps of the regions where his wines are produced brought both memories of our recent Danube River cruise and pangs of wanderlust. We’ve written often here that one of the great joys of our travels is to experience the tastes of the places we visit. We’ve already spoken with Liza about joining her on one of her winery excursions overseas … making that a reality is something Judy and I speak of almost daily.

Sign on a wall: "Winederlust - a strong desire to drink wines form around the world or just the wines from your neighborhood shop or even the ones you already have." Photo also shows a decorative card with wine glasses and wine shaped in the shape of a heart.
A sign of the times…

We have said before the pandemic is not something we take lightly … friends and family have and are effected, not just inconvenienced. But, we also know that many of us yearn for the days when this will be over, and are thankful there’s light at the end of that tunnel, bringing back our ability to travel and celebrate life with those we love. We know there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … it will still be there when this is all over. Until then, find joy wherever you can.

Empty wine glasses, a plate ready for the wash, a partially consumed bowl of olives and three partially consumed wine bottles.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Musings, Road Trip, The World A to Z, travel, Uncategorized

Ya Gotta Love Texas

Editor’s Note:  A year ago, Greg posted the following on his Facebook feed as we wrapped our cross-country trip to our new home in Arizona. When it popped-up as a memory yesterday, we were both struck by the humor and thought it would be fun to share here. CAUTION: Strong language.

Caution, rant ahead (but in a good way…sorta).

Will this road ever end? (Photo © 2020 Judy Romano)

Let’s talk about Texas. It’s a big f’in state. So big that we spent 9-1/2 hours getting from the CENTER of the state (Waco) to the western border (El Paso). We can see New Mexico (and frankly, Mexico) outside our hotel window, but we’re still in Texas. Shit (or as they say here, “Sheeee-it”). We went from tree-lined streets and roads through the vast nothingness of west Texas. We drove through a town that on its “welcome to” billboard praised its band. I guess their football time was such a west Texas embarrassment that the band got top billing. That’s not a bad thing…when I was in high school, people came to games to see MY award-winning, kick-ass, LA All City Champion, take-on-all-comers high school band. But I’m sure they don’t talk about it in the diner in this west Texas town. Heck, the Sheriff at the gas station didn’t even give me crap about my foreign sports car with the Virginia tags…probably out of embarrassment for their football team.

But I digress. Let’s talk about the bad things about Texas. From Beaumont to Waco, we collected more bugs on the front of the Spider than a fly strip in a dairy farm. We collected an equal amount between Waco and the aforementioned embarrassed by its football team west Texas town. There, the bugs were replaced by a hellacious wind straight on the nose that lowered our gas mileage into ’70s American muscle car territory (okay, that’s exaggeration but it was pretty sucky for us) and stirred up dust reminiscent of Los Angeles smog in the late 60s. We skirted a few dust devils that looked like they could suck up the Spider like Dorothy’s tornado sucked-up the wicked witch of the west on her bike.

Speaking of driving, the roads SUCK. They’re not smooth in any way. I think they lay down tar by pushing it through a potato peeler. When you drive a two-seat sports car, you feel every bump and the performance tires complain. When the road is no smoother than a cheese grater, you long for smooth interstates, but alas, even there the road surface was akin to the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. No wonder everyone there drives a big truck or SUV…lots of suspension to soak up the crappy roads.

But here’s the good thing about Texas roads…speed limits. In Texas, they assume you’re not a candy-assed driver. They have two-lane roads with speed limits set at 75 mph. You read that right. Seventy-five f’in miles per hour on a two lane rural road with driveways and tractors and animals of all kinds. I’ve heard that armadillos, in particular, can take out a suspension…of course, by the looks of it, a Ford F250 can take out an armadillo pretty well, too. In most states, brand new four-lane highways still have speed limits topping 55 mph. Texas says screw that! If you can’t handle driving that fast on a rural road or drive 80 on the Interstate, stay out of our state….pansy.

Home … and away from Texas. (Photo © 2020 Judy Romano)

Finally, there’s one other good thing about Texas…the people are creepily nice. I didn’t meet a soul who didn’t say good morning/afternoon/evening, offer a tip on a good restaurant, hold the door for you, or let in a driver into traffic (okay there were the two a-holes that cut in front of me thinking they could accelerate their POS Toyota pick-up to 75 in five seconds flat, but at least they weren’t pansies). They smile, say ma’am, sir and thank y’all and simply dare you to dislike them. But it’s just not possible.

So thank you, Texas, for being, well, Texas. You still need to remember that you are part of the U.S. of A. and not your own damned country. But we’re happy to have you — God knows, we don’t want you against us — and happy that you continue to show us that not giving a damn has its merits.

Rant over. That is all.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Road Trip, The World A to Z

The Great Outdoors as Therapy for Troubled Times

Social Distancing. Mandatory Telework. Who has toilet paper?

The Coronavirus has created a new vernacular; some fear this intrusion in our lives may become the “new normal.” But there is always something we can do to improve our own health and well-being … get outside.

After a week mostly cooped-up in the house — Judy running the business, me doing my day job —  Saturday dawned bright and sunny with temps forecast to rise to the mid-70s. Plans to do spring house-cleaning quickly vanished. We threw a picnic lunch together, hopped in the car, put the top down and headed out.

The plan was simple. After a stop in central Phoenix to pick up some wine we had ordered at a recent festival (see “Spring is Festival Season”), we’d head due south on Central Avenue to the point where South Mountain rises from the Valley of the Sun and enters the South Mountain Park and Preserve. The road twists and turns up the mountain to the TV antenna-filled summit. At 2,330 feet, the views of the valley from Dobbins Summit were spectacular with photo opportunities galore. Farther down the road was the Gila Valley overlook, with views to the south and east of town. The sky was so clear you could almost see Tucson! (not really, but you get the point.)

We ate our simple picnic of sandwiches and iced tea under the shade of a ramada (spanish for open porch), one of many throughout the park. We munched as hikers tightened the laces on their boots and grabbed bottles of water to take on some of the 51 miles of trails the park offers. We didn’t hike this day, but we’ll be back to do so, or to possibly let a horse do the work for us, available from the Ponderosa Stables at the park’s entrance.

On this gorgeous day, we weren’t the only ones enjoying this opportunity to be outside. For the most part, people kept up their physical distancing, but smiles abounded and talk was not about the difficulties but about how great life could be when you simply get outdoors.

Refreshed, we drove down the mountain and went home via side streets and roads, avoiding the highway to enjoy the sun in our faces and the breeze in our hair. All in all, the trip took us about four hours but it felt like we were days away from the daily (and new) routines of our lives. It was a great reminder there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go outside and see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Diversion, Walks

‘Tis the Season

I awoke Sunday morning to crisp, cool temperatures; the colors of the landscape full of burnt umber and orange, beckoning Judy and me out for a Fall morning walk.  ‘Tis the season.

As we tied our walking shoes and pulled-on some warmth, we also grabbed water and sunscreen, for this Autumn walk would not be among shady elms and maples losing their leaves, but among the red rocks cliffs of Sedona, Arizona. On this fall day, the sun shone bright on the multi-hued rock strata that makes Sedona such a magical place. During a weekend designed for relaxation, we were ready for a bit of adventure.

Sedona 10062019

When Judy and I met, I had lived one the east coast for nearly 10 years, having lived most of my life beforehand in Southern California. I joked with my west coast friends that California had only two seasons — brown and three weeks of green — as I welcomed the changing seasons. Judy took me on my first “leaf peeping” trip to Pennsylvania. A to Z trips to Krakow and Nuremberg were conducted in winter. In Venice, we experienced “Aqua Alta;” in Hawaii, torrential rains. We have never confined our trips to one season, because experiencing different seasons and weather around the world is part of the adventure!  

Since we’ve moved to Arizona, we’ve come to appreciate seasons even more, and this little weekend getaway to Sedona was a reminder that no matter where you are or go, there are great opportunities to get outside and experience the constant change that nature brings us.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored. Go see it, and enjoy whatever the weather brings you. ‘Tis the season!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Diversion, Route 66, Walks

Take a Walk!

As a recent convert to the principles espoused in Cal Newport’s breakthrough book Digital Minimalism, (http://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/), I’ve been taking long,  contemplative walks daily. They free my mind, focus my energy, and provide solitude in a noisy world. This week, such a walk yielded even more … a treasure trove of fun information just a few paces from my hotel room.

Judy was participating in a VIP event hosted by Brighton, the jewelry and collectibles retailer, at their headquarters just east of Los Angeles. While she was in handbag heaven, I spent my day eating lunch at one of my old aviation stomping grounds, then catching up on some work, hitting the gym, and enjoying the pool at our hotel in Arcadia, near Pasadena. With famed Huntington Drive (part of old Route 66) just a block away, I laced-up my runners and set out for a stroll to see what you can’t see through a car window.

I wasn’t disappointed! Within just a few blocks, I was at the heart of Arcadia’s early 20th Century Business District at the corner of First and Huntington, near where the Santa Fe railroad (now a right of way for the Los Angeles Metro “Gold” line) would drop off horse racing aficionados bound for the “first” Santa Anita racetrack. A historic storyboard at the intersection told the story of the first City Hall, a unique “Drive-In” market, and of course, the city’s horse racing legacy. 

Lining the sidewalks along Huntington were further tributes to that heritage … bronze plaques comprising the Thoroughbred Racing Walk of Champions. While I’m not a huge horse racing fan, I appreciated seeing names like “Seabiscuit” and “Laffit Pincay, Jr.” … names that are familiar even to the uninitiated.

All this was a reminder that there is so much to see and learn when you get off the beaten path, and this was on a 30-minute walk!  There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … often right at your doorstep. Talk a walk and go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

A roadrunner sits among various trees and plants in an Arizona neighborhood landscape.
Musings

The “Sounds” of Silence

Up at dawn, I lace-up my runners and grab my sunglasses as I head out the door. Even this early, the Arizona sun is blazing; the temperature already hovering around 80 degrees.

This early morning ritual, taking a long, contemplative walk before the world awakes, energizes me. It helps me clear my head so I can think big thoughts, plan my day, or contemplate the meaning of life. I leave the iPhone and the earbuds behind. This is not a time for music to intrude on my well-deserved solitude. I don’t need some app to tell me how far I walked, or the number of calories burned. This is a time for reflection; an opportunity to be outside and savor all the world has to offer.

Often, I encounter several others … neighbors out for their morning stroll, walking their dog, people running or biking, golfers heading to the club in their electric cards, construction workers and landscapers driving to the job in their pickups. Today that traffic, both literally and figuratively, is light.

A roadrunner sits among various trees and plants in an Arizona neighborhood landscape.
A roadrunner, one of the many types of birds in this part of Arizona, tries to hide among the neighbor’s plants. (J. Romano photo)

The man-made silence opens up the landscape to sounds … a variety of birds chirping and singing, bees buzzing, lizards skittering. It’s not unpleasant. In fact, it’s a happy chorus to my thoughts, reminding me that this is good; that nature is truly all around as and we are just a part.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … even right outside your front door. Go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Diversion, Uncategorized

Time Travel

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of time travel and love movies like “Back to the Future” and “The Final Countdown” that explore what would happen if someone were to go back in time and mess with the potential future.

But that’s not what this blog is all about.

No, this is about actual travel in the present day to explore a long-lost place, or to bring back memories from the past. This idea struck me a few nights ago when Judy and I watched “Xanadu” starring Olivia Newton John. While panned by critics and a box office flop, the roller disco fantasy movie also starred a place that brought back strong childhood memories … the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District.

Pan-Pacific_1956
The Pan-Pacific Auditorium in 1956

Built in 1935 in a Streamline Moderne architectural style, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium lived a long life hosting sports events like hockey and wrestling, radio shows, and political rallies. It pre-dated the much-larger Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. It was also the place that held the first sailboat show I ever went to with my father (we would attend later shows at the Long Beach Convention Center). My dad taught me how to sail and, along with building and flying model airplanes, this is where my dad and I “connected” at a time when his availability to spend time with me was limited. Going to the boat show was a special treat. As kids do, I dragged dad from model to model, firmly deciding that “this” boat was the one to buy so that we could race, cruise, or just hang out in the marina.

That first visit to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was also special because I was fascinated by the architecture. I still maintain a strong attraction to the Art Nouveau and Streamline Moderne styles of the 30s and 40s. So I wept when the evening news 30 years ago carried live aerial footage as the facility, long in disrepair, burned to the ground.

I want to go back to where the Auditorium once stood, now a park. I want to relive those moments in the past, explore the smaller re-creation of the auditorium built on the grounds as a reminder of its golden age. I want to eat at the famous Farmers Market across the street, bringing back the sights and smells of the food we ate after the show.

Judy and I have done this before, visiting places we’ve read about in history books, seen the old photographs and maps, or simply heard about … places like Gettysburg and Route 66. We’ve visited other places of my youth, like the site of Montreal’s Expo ’67. It was there as a lad of only six, I marveled at the unique cubist Habitat 67 apartments created for the show and which remain residences today. In each instance, I try to transport myself to the past in my mind, remembering what it once was, and what it has become.

They say you can’t go back, but with a healthy imagination, this time travel brings happy memories and a unique perspective, one that makes even day trips fascinating. So the next time you have a some time to kill, hit the road and go see something from the past.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it…and travel back in time.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Diversion, Food, Road Trip, travel

Analog Traveling in a Digital World

One of the advantages of getting off the beaten path is that views, togetherness, and even dining choices vastly improve. Such was the case on a bright and cool Monday in central Ohio.

The back story: When a June wedding just north of Cincinnati called us to Ohio, we booked our tickets to Columbus, which offered direct flights from our Phoenix home base, and lower prices for both the flights and our rental car. After celebrating the nuptials, catching up with old friends, and doing research for some other projects over a couple of days, we had a final, entire day to drive back to Columbus for an evening flight.

With plenty of time to kill, we avoided the Interstates. As regular readers of this blog know, it’s our preferred way to travel. We looked at the map (yes, a paper map) and planned our route northeast on U.S. Highways 42 and 40. We drove through farm fields and small towns enjoying the “middle” at its finest. We stopped to watch an old Aeronca Champ airplane take off from a grass runway at Red Stewart Airfield near Waynesville, an “olden days” reminder that Ohio is the birthplace of aviation.

U.S. 40 takes you right through the heart of Columbus. Crossing the Scioto River, we decided to stop and get lunch. We left the smartphones in the car and walked up Broad Street. Fast food and pizza signs touted lunch specials, but we wanted more. Feeling like we were headed in the right direction, we turned left on High Street, then a right turn onto Gay Street, which looked promising. A sign down the block read “Due Amici” (“Two Friends” in Italian) … Jackpot! Italian always works for us.

We were shown to a table — there were about five other parties in the restaurant on that quiet midday — and perused the cocktail and lunch menus. We ordered a fried ravioli appetizer and split a chicken parmigiana over linguine with a rosé sauce. Both were excellent!  Our only mistake was not ordering wine to go with the entree. It mattered little, as the lunch could not have been better and our server, Josh, swapped smiles and stories. We ate, we drank, we laughed. What could be better?

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored, especially when you leave the devices behind and trust your instincts. Go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019


Uncategorized

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Like a lot of travelers, I figured out a few years ago that the price of access to airport lounges is well worth the money. It shuts out some of the frustration and boredom with comfort and quiet and, often, a nice snack or drink to while away what could be a wait in uncomfortable chairs at your departure gate. So I was frustrated when Judy and I were denied entrance to a particular lounge because we were “too early.” Apparently, a new policy was instituted recently that prevented someone from entering more than three hours before their scheduled flight departure. Fortunately, we took that frustration elsewhere and ended up enjoying one of our more sublime airport experiences. When life gives you lemons…

wine flights

We made our way down the terminal to Vino Volo. Located in several major airports, these wine bar/shops are a respite from the usual fast food and brewhouse fair. The one in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport was no different. We sat down in comfy (if a bit worn) leather chairs in a relatively quiet environment with a wide variety of rock and jazz playing softly in the background. The menu offered more than a dozen red wine flights…three generous tasting-sized portions equaling about a 6-ounce pour.

I enjoyed three Rhone-style reds from Washington State, the “Rhone Wonders” flight, while Judy enjoyed the “Washington Wonders” (a Cabernet France, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend). We also ordered a perfectly flavored, melty prosciutto and brie sandwich. As we sipped and snacked, all the concerns about the lounge snub melted away. We were enjoying each others’ company and some really interesting local wines.

With time on our hands, we moved on to a couple of very high-end Washington Cabernets on the “Sommelier Series” and were blown away by the nose, texture and taste of these magnificent wines. We ordered some Burrata…one of our favorite noshes and continued to let the afternoon slip by.

Despite the buzz of the terminal just mere feet away, we were in our own cocoon, feeling a different kind of buzz, chatting about things important and not, and not really caring about the world outside. Deciding that we were staying put until boarding time, I ordered another glass of the Cabernet blend for Judy, and a “Daring and Different” flight of reds for me.

daring flight

It featured three decidedly unique wines from “across the pond.” One from Cote Roannaise, one from Jura, and one from Tenerife – the Canary Islands! – were placed in front of me. We were in awe. Our server, Julia, was a true font of knowledge about these magnificent wines. We dreamed and talked about doing wine-tasting excursions to France and Italy. And yet, in the span of a few hours, we had taken a wine tour of our own without leaving the airport.

This day reminded me, once again, of the ability of travel to take you places you never dreamed of. It also reminded that that success of any trip is your ability to find something positive when someone or something throws your plan out of whack. Merely stepping away from the usual and trying something new introduced us to a wonderfully positive experience.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … even if it’s just in the airport. Salud!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019