2B Peter Bay

“2B” is the oh-so-clever name of the villa we stayed at in the Caribbean.

We had a fabulous time at Peter Bay in St. John, USVI. Mom and Dad appreciated the cooking, clean-up, bartending, driving and errand services that the daughters, son and sons-in-laws provided. Actually, it was kind of fun being ‘in-charge’ of the kitchen especially since Kitty kept it clean. All I had to do was make snacks, sandwiches etc every now and then. We’ve decided that the five of us are available for hire to anyone who can afford to put us up in the style to which we’ve become accustomed and give us the same kind of work-play schedule provided by our first “employers”. Essentially, we disappear and reappear at will. At one point both bartenders and the driver disappeared at the same time and I actually had to fill in as ‘bartender’. It was really tough and complicated making drinks for my demanding parents. Coconut rum over ice and whiskey and coke were the most commonly requested drinks. Although I have to say we did have one or two batches of killer pain killers (as well as a few batches of not-so-killer painkillers).

The villa was spectacular. I loved our private outdoor shower, the huge shared deck (photo above) and the pool. The pool wasn’t huge but we hadn’t planned on any lap swimming and it had one of those great little ledges to sit on (under a shady tree) and plenty of floaty things. There was even a fun little frog that you could use to spit water at the lizards (geckos? iguanas?). There were also several pelicans and many seagulls to keep us entertained with their diving. The beach was just a few steps from the house and it was even possible to walk/swim to Cinnamon Bay from our beach (with the proper footwear). I barely left the villa, but the trip to Caneel Bay for the buffet was certainly worth the drive (lobster, lamb, shrimp, seared ahi, tuna sashimi, banana’s foster etc) and I wouldn’t have missed the blackened scallops and $1 beers as Woody’s http://woodysseafood.com/ even though the construction trucks driving by in the afternoon were a bit annoying. By the way, If you go to the Woody’s website, we are the subdued group. I’m not sure how we managed to miss all the drunken crazies that week.

The only bad part of the trip was that our electricity went out 3 times and the water went out twice. It wasn’t so bad when the electricity went out late at night and came on by about 9am (although the room got pretty hot when the fan stopped). But I panicked when the electricity didn’t come back on by about 10 one morning and I had to eat the tuna salad with nuts and fruit for breakfast (Kitty had made it as a dip a couple days prior). The trash situation was a bit grim toward the end, but then I suppose we created more trash than the average small village. The last couple of days became “bartenders choice” and “kitchen crew’s choice” which made for some interesting drinks (anything with Midori) and snacks.

Anyway… Fun Was Had by All in Paradise!

Baden-Baden

baden-copy.jpgBaden beacon in a shrouded land

Chance since takes what’s given

While your waters soothe the aching bones

Enrich these eyes worth living

Perched high to stem any rising tide

You lend your name while choosing

A daughter’s hand, or son’s pursuit

What mattered most was the unions

Still, you host the regal and welcome the famed

The attraction is most obvious

In stolen moments you hold me firm

I say you twice Baden-Baden

-ALDO

Grand Circle Tours

I highly recommend this travel company (GCT)  for well organized, inexpensive trips to Europe and elsewhere.  We had a fabulous time traveling down the Rhine from Switzerland to the Netherlands with abundant stops at Christmas Markets in France and Germany.  Much fun was had by all!  More posts to come.  I’m expecting Toby and Aldo to submit stories and Kitty got some great photos.

It’s great to be back in the good old US of A where I can pee for free in a well sanitized bathroom practically anywhere I want public and private.

Things I loved about Mallorca

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1. The weather. Gorgeous Spring weather even though apparently it had been raining pretty much constantly for the 2 weeks before we arrived.

2. The sheep. Well, not really the sheep in general, but one day when Kitty and I were walking around (outside of) the golf course we came upon a farmer driving a tractor with a flock of sheep following behind. Kitty found it a little hard to believe that he could train a flock of sheep to follow his tractor, but I was willing to accept the possibility until we noticed the dog following behind herding the stragglers. The dog was dying to stop and say hello to me and Kitty as they all passed by, but he was strongly reprimanded by his owner for even having the thought.

3. The ‘cordero’. I think I got that right. Apparently the dish that everyone must try when they go to Mallorca is the lamb shoulder. I didn’t know the word cordero, so I tried to order the ‘baa-baa’ and got a lot of grief from Don Aldo, Kitty and Kitty’s husband. I think the waiter found it somewhat humorous.

4. The paella. I’m turning into my mom. Whenever someone travels somewhere, her first question is what did you eat, not what did you do! I love paella and it had plenty of saffron. The restaurant had a fabulous view of a rock formation in the Mediterranean.

5. The ham. Huge variety, with entire legs hanging in the grocery store for about $80 euro. Don Aldo thought they were a bit salty, but I thought they were better than prosciutto and I love prosciutto.

6. The beaches. Kitty (the self described “Caribbean snob”) was critical of the beaches for not being ‘Caribbean-like’, but there were a variety of different ‘kinds’ of beaches and most of them were pretty empty since it was still low season there. There were rocky private coves, longer, sandy beaches for walking and the ‘party beach’ with the restaurants and tourist shops. We also had a nice lunch at the beach in Soller which was much quieter than the party beaches.

7. The wine. Again we were drinking cheap wine, but most of the local stuff was very good.

8. The cheese. I was a little surprised at the similarity between the dairy products here and in France. Actually, I loved the grocery stores both places, seems like a good way to learn something about a country (although I’m not entirely sure what). I wonder what ours say about us.

9. The ‘Thermal Pool’. This is what they called the heated indoor-outdoor pool at the Marriot where we stayed. Lots of jets in the pool and they kept the jacuzzi at about 90ºF compared to about 70 at the Paris resort. There was also a cold plunge for the masochists.

10. The people. The people at the Marriot were extremely friendly and most everyone on the island also seemed very friendly even though I think fewer people here spoke english than in France.

11. The hierba de Mallorca. It’s a sweet liquer (is that redundant) made from herbs. It tastes a lot like sambuca. It was especially nice that two of the restaurants we went to served it to us free of charge.valldemossa.jpg

12. Valldemossa (photo at right) and Soller (photo above). Adorable little towns. They were having an outdoor market the day we were in Soller, but I didn’t bring enough euros to buy anything.

13. The caves. I suppose they were pretty much like any other cavern with stalactites and stalagmites and a really big lake and maybe the rowboat, light show with the live classical music was a bit cheesy (queso grande, I believe, was how Don Aldo put it), but it was fun to wander through.

Things I loved about France

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  1. No Billboards. Seriously, almost zero, I think I saw one McDonalds sign somewhere. When we were driving through the countryside of champagne country to Epernay, it was like driving through countryside.
  2. The little towns. There were adorable little towns scattered across the countryside with buildings and castles that appeared to be hundreds of years old. None of those homogenous subdivisions with annoying cookie cutter mansions and teensy little yards.
  3. The traffic. Ok, maybe we weren’t driving in rush hour traffic, but they seemed to have traffic pretty well controlled. They use a lot of roundabouts instead of traffic lights. They’re a little difficult to navigate, but they seemed faster than corners with traffic lights and traffic lights are just an eyesore anyway. Actually, they have fewer street signs in general. You sometimes have to look at the buildings to find the street names.
  4. The Moet et Chandon champagne tour. It was a little pretentious the way she bragged about how a specific wine-growing region was superior to another, but the underground caves that housed zillions of bottles of champagne (I forget the exact number) was impressive and it was interesting to hear about the process of fermentation and expelling the condensed yeast pellet. I didn’t know they added a sugar mixture at the end of the process to make up the volume lost from expelling the yeast. The tasting was a bit rushed but the pink champagne was wonderful (we tasted vintage champagnes). I was surprised to learn that Moet is pronounced “MWET’. I always thought they didn’t pronounce the ‘t’.  The photo above is the street where the Moet tour was in Epernay.
  5. The architecture. We took a bus from the Latin quarter to the Eiffel tower one late afternoon and along the way we drove by dozens of beautiful, famous architectural landmarks. I just stared out the window with a dumb grin on my face, amazed at the view of such history. I’m sure the locals thought I looked like an idiot tourist with my mouth agape, but I was equally amazed that they could sit and stare blankly at nothing just because they’d already seen these sites millions of times before.
  6. The yogurts and cheeses. Wow, what a selection and some of the flavored yogurt-like desserts weren’t even really yogurt (some sort of sweet cream). There was this wonderful caramel dessert thing that I fell in love with. I thought my grocery store had a pretty good cheese selection, but the choices in France were totally different. I loved the goat cheeses and some of the stinky cheeses.
  7. The RER. Super convenient to get around once you figure it out.
  8. The Boulangerie/Patisseries, Delis (I don’t remember the French name) and crepes. I probably should have tried more of the tart thingies in the patisseries, they were beautiful to look at. I like the sweet crepes better than the savory ones, like crepe Suzette or the one with granulated sugar or nutella.
  9. Croque monsieur and escargot. What’s not to like about a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with extra cheese broiled on top? The appeal of the escargot is the garlic butter and they remembered to serve bread with it to get every last drop.
  10. The churches, museums and Versailles. We only went to one church, but I’ve been to the Lourve and Versaille and they were definitely worth the entrance fee.
  11. The language. I really hate to admit that French is a beautiful language when I barely understand a word. But they practically sing certain phrases (like bon jour) and even pardon. It’s hard to get annoyed at someone who’s trying to run you over with a luggage cart when they’re singing ‘pardon’ like it’s a children’s song or something.
  12. The wine. Maybe it’s just that we were in France and we expected the wine to be wonderful, but even the simple cheap red wines were pretty good.

Tipping, doggie bags and shoes at airports

I suppose my first post after the fabulous trip to Paris and Mallorca (Spain) should be about the wonderful drive through champagne country, the fabulous food, the wonderful red wine or the beautiful, empty beaches in Mallorca. But first, I’m dying to say a few words about some cultural differences that caught my attention. I’d like to start by saying that I live in the best country in the world. I know that this sounds like I am just an “arrogant” American but I won’t apologize for this opinion for two reasons. One. I firmly believe that it is true. And Two. I hope that most people would say the same of their own country and that someday everyone will say this of his own country. To paraphrase something that Tony Blair said not too long ago, the measure of the greatness of a country is in the number of people who want to get IN compared to those that want to get OUT.

 

So. What about tipping? When we first arrived in Paris and tried to get used to the idea of NOT tipping, we were very uncomfortable. We were constantly discussing the idea of not tipping among ourselves and we even tried to ask a few servers if they were REALLY ok not getting tips. We scrutinized the bill to see if something was listed that looked like a tip. Then, we decided to appreciate not leaving tips (since the dollar is so weak and the restaurant/bar prices were so outrageously high anyway). But then, I started to notice the attitudes of the servers. They weren’t all overtly rude, in fact, most weren’t rude at all. However, they were not nearly as attentive and intentionally pleasant as American servers are. When I was a waitress, I considered my customers my employers (which they were considering the puny, less than minimum wage salary I was earning). If I got an order wrong or if a customer wasn’t happy for any reason, I was that customer’s strongest advocate when I asked the manager what I could do to make it up to him. I was shocked when the bus driver for the hotel didn’t bother putting our luggage in the bus for us (or opening/closing doors). It just really made me appreciate the service we get in the “service industries” here in the good old U.S. of A. I think tipping is a big part of why service is better in this country. (Or maybe Americans are just naturally more polite). Oh! And WHY for God’s sake would I tip someone for cleaning the restroom! Can’t they PAY someone to do that! That person is certainly NOT working for me. Unless she escorts me into the stall and asks me if everything is to my satisfaction, I do not see why I need to tip her. I’ve been to high-end restaurants here in the ‘States’ where I can’t get a towel to dry my hands without tipping the person who hands it to me, but in restaurants like this, the bathroom is gorgeous and spotless, the towels are real and I can get a spritz of a fancy perfume or a shot of mouthwash for my $1. In conclusion, tipping a restroom worker has socialistic overtones whereas tipping in the service industries seems much more capitalistic. Hooray for capitalism.

 

Doggie bags. Why not? We could have had some fabulous meals back in our rooms. Where does all that food go? Maybe we can convince the europeans that doggie bags are another way of ‘going green’. They’re already stingy with their plastic bags at the grocery store. On an unrelated note… they bag their own groceries (too bad I couldn’t tip someone to do that for me).

 

Shoes at airports. I don’t remember taking my shoes off in most of the airports we traveled through, but in Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris on the way home, they looked at our passports and ONLY if we were American- we had to take our shoes off. No one else. What’s up with that? Are we more likely to wear explosives in our shoes than anyone else on the planet? Was the nutcase who did that here an American?

Don Aldo vs. Mr. Israel

The San Diego trip was fun. The weather improved by the last two days of the meeting and we spent time at the hotel pool, at Seaport Village and Horton Plaza. Plus, I got to see Haus Frau and the practically grown-up, pre-teen version of pumpkin, aka squash. What a nice young lady. But the highlight was the cab ride where we got ‘pulled over’? by a cop. Our bad tempered, notsa-bright, middle eastern cab driver (the name of his leased cab was “Israel” which seemed incredibly ironic to me) managed to get us lost. Don Aldo had taken two cab rides (to his mom’s house) previously and when he gave the previous cab drivers the major cross-streets and the city (Mission Hills), they had no problem getting there for a total fare of $11-$13. This cabbie however, had never heard of the cross street or the area (Mission Hills). So he got on the freeway (unnecessary and way out of the way) and proceeded to Washington street in the wrong area (he didn’t know where Mission Hills was and he knew that Hillcrest was ‘over there somewhere’, but he couldn’t tell us what area we were in and Don Aldo was disoriented by this time). Tempers flared and Don Aldo called Mr. Israel a F***ing idiot. Mr. Israel then called Don Aldo a F***ing idiot who clearly didn’t know where he was going. Don Aldo contended that “I’m not the cab driver, it’s not my job to know how to get there, that’s your job and if you didn’t know where you were going; you should have informed us so we could have taken another cab.” This inspired Mr. Israel to yell “You don’t disrespect me in my cab, do you want me to call the police?”. Which he did.

Meanwhile, the cab fare was already $17 and we weren’t much closer to where we were headed than when we first started. The good news is that a cop can find a cab driver in ‘distress’ VERY rapidly. We were impressed. The cop was also very calm and polite. Mr. Calm quietly listened to Mr. Israel’s rant for about 4-5 minutes after which he asked Mr. Israel, “So how would you get to Washington and Goldfinch in Mission Hills from the Hyatt downtown?” Mr. Israel was visibly flustered and tried to change the subject. “He disrespected me in my own cab”, he ranted. Mr. Calm replied something like, “If I got involved every time one person disrespected another I would be a very busy person”. Now that it was clear that Mr. Israel had NO idea where he was or where he was going Mr. Calm decided to ‘throw the book at him’. He asked for all the ‘usual documents’ and asked Mr. Israel to show him the map that he was required to carry (he didn’t have one). Mr. Calm also pointed out that if he really wanted to make a point he could ticket Mr. Israel for not wearing a shirt with a collar (apparently this is a law in San Diego). In the end, Mr. Calm told us that Mr. Israel had agreed to take us to our destination for no additional charge (I had already given him $10 in the hope that he would call us a cab and go away quietly). We declined. Mr. Calm said “Well the only other thing I can do would be to take Mr. Israel out of service for the rest of the day”. We said that we would appreciate that. The cab ride from Lost in the Middle of Nowhere to Mission Hills was $7. The African-AMERICAN cab driver was very knowledgable and polite and apologized for the few bad cab drivers out there.