Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Pinot Days in San Francisco CA

Pinot Days Brochure, San Francisco CA
Pinot Days Brochure

TRAVEL THERE: TASTING PINOT IN SAN FRAN

If you recall, this vacation went through a number of alterations before becoming a reality. In one of the original stages, a trip to Wine Country was penciled in, but by the time we went, Napa and Sonoma had been erased. Instead we enjoyed Pinot Days at City View At Metreon.

How We Got There

When you’re visiting your hip nephew in San Fran you do all kinds of cool things.  Take it from me, Uber is cool.  It’s like a taxi, but a lot more chic.

Since all I did was go along for the ride, I don’t claim to know all the details, but to quote Uber “request, ride, and pay via your mobile phone.”  That means you don’t call or hail a cab.  You request a ride at a certain time with the app and the car shows up.  If you wonder if you have time to go to the bathroom, the app tells you where the car is and how long before it will be to your pick-up point.  You don’t have to ride in a cab either.     A sleek black SUV picked us up and the driver was dressed very professionally.When we left the wine event my nephew punched a few buttons on the phone and by the time we got downstairs our car was waiting.

Uber’s website says they do have taxis, but that wasn’t our ride.  Nephew says it’s about the price of parking and since we were going to a wine tasting without a DD it was a lot cheaper than a DWI.  Dallas is an Uber city, but I haven’t Ubered here yet.  Let me know if you have.

Where It Was

Meteron is like nothing I know of in Dallas.  It’s like NorthPark‘s Food Court on steroids, but the anchor store is a Super Target and for kicks there’s an AMC Cinemark.  You got it?

Well, upstairs there’s something called City View which is a huge event space.  They do weddings, corporate events, whatever.  The “restaurant-centric mall with multiplex” is amid the Marscone Center and City View overlooks the Yerba Buena Gardens.  Yeah, it’s cool.

How It WaPinot Days, Meteron, San Francisco CA

I’m just going to be straight with you.  This wasn’t the most fun I ever had tasting wine.  I used to live on the Central Coast and spent Sunday afternoons at Castoro Cellars Tasting Room, Edna Valley Vineyard and other local wineries.  My first date with Bill was to a function called Art and Wine at the Dallas Museum of Art.  We’ve been to Dallas Opera Wine Tastings. We have also been to other wine festivals, like the Paso Robles Wine Festival.  We know from wine tastings.

The Metreon was cool and I loved looking out over Yerba Buena Park and San Francisco’s Financial District.  However, I got a little tired of Pinot and there was a crowd.

I love wine, but I’m no wine connoisseur.  Were I a wine connisseur, I’m sure the opportunity to compare so many Pinots in one afternoon of tasting was euphoric.  However, there were so many people crowding around the tables that there was really no way to have a decent conversation with the winemakers and that’s one of the things I like best about a tasting.

There was also nowhere to sit.  There were community baskets of crackers and cheese to give your palate a break, but no where to give your sore dogs a break.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes!  Would I do it again?  Probably not.

But come back next week, because we’re going to Golden Gate Park.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

The Pitfalls of Last Minute Packing

TRAVEL THERE: THE HEADACHES OF LAST MINUTE PACKING

My husband laughs at me, because I usually plan my vacation wardrobe weeks before a trip, but last minute packing can be dangerous to your travel.

The Primary Packer

My husband laughs at my packing procedures because he can pack minutes before we leave and do fine, but he’s a guy.  Guys can get by for days with nothing but jeans and a few shirts.  Add a nice pair of pants and a jacket, and they can travel the world.  It’s harder for us girls, but it’s more than mere wardrobe challenges.  At this house, I’m the primary packer.

The primary packer is the one who has to answer the “Why don’t we have…” questions throughout the duration of the trip – a tie for a swanky restaurant, a kite for a windy beach, even a gift for someone you didn’t know you’ll be seeing.  The primary packer has to weigh all these possibilities, as well as have clean underwear and a toothbrush.  If I wait until the last minute a million what-if’s assail me.

The Time Crunch

Truth be told, this is one trip I never thought we’d actually take.  Something always came up and I was reluctant to get too attached to the idea of going.  So I never actually thought about packing until a few days before we left and then I had so much going on that all I could do was think about it!  I didn’t even have time to go shopping for gifts until the night before we left – and if you’re visiting Egyptians the gifts are important.

The night before our departure, I ran out with my best friend in-tow and bought gifts for all the kids I’d be seeing.  I took my friend, because I’m clueless when it comes to kids and she’s had some.  After a power shopping trip that pleased my credit card company immensely, I drug my friend home with me and made her help me put together a bunch of possible outfits for the trip.  I pulled out all my favorite clothes, matched them together in a series of outfits and counted out the best eleven of the bunch – with a few extra in case I needed to dress for dinner.  Exhausted, I let my friend leave and promised myself I’d have time to pack the next day.

Less May Actually Be More

Less time planning what to pack, can turn into packing more – at least that’s what happened with me.  Or maybe I should say more planning time results in less stuff to pack.

For instance, the gifts I chose were great, but they took up almost half of one suitcase.  I thought about how much the gifts weighed, but didn’t think through their bulk.  If I’d planned better, I could have found things that would have been just as well received, but would have taken up less room in our bags.

Also, the more time I have to think about my clothes choices, the less of them I need.  I had at least three pairs of shoes that I never put on.  Two swimsuits and cover-ups, but no time for swimming.  I threw in a travel iron and travel blow-dryer, when all the hotels I booked provided them. My jewelry roll alone weighed two pounds.  (I know because I weighed it when I got home.)  If I’d really thought about my choices, I would have picked a single color to plan around and I’d have needed a lot less of everything.

Our $170 Hickey

So, as the time to leave neared and I couldn’t fit it all into two checked bags and the allotted carry-ons, I grabbed a tote-bag and filled it to the brim.  I figured the extra bag might rack up a $25 or $30 charge, but it was worth it to me to quit stressing.

NEWS FLASH!  

United Airlines charges EIGHT-FIVE DOLLARS for a second checked bag per person!!  Round trip that was ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY DOLLARS.  If I’d really known it would have cost $170 I would have planned things a lot better.  But then again, if I’d planned things a lot better, I would have already known that I needed to fit everything into the allotted baggage.

So, that’s one lesson I learned on this trip and I learned it before we got out of the Metroplex.  Come on back next week and see what other messes I can get myself into.

Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Travel There: Groovin’ in Gruene

DSC_0313Happy New Year!!

Most Austinites and pretty much the rest of Texas know about Gruene, but maybe you’re not from around here. First of all, forget how it’s spelled, it’s pronounced Green.

Now I’d always heard about Gruene, but I’d never been there.  Most of what I heard made me think you either had to be into tubing or antiques to enjoy it, so I wasn’t too worried about the fact that I hadn’t been there. However, since I was officially “rambling” to San Antonio, I thought it deserved at least a fly by.

A Chilly Comal
A Chilly Comal

I was traveling with my copy of the Texas State Highway Guide from http://www.traveltex.com, so I whipped it open and read the blurb about Gruene to Bill.  “I really just want to drive down the main street,” I told him.

Well, we found the quaint little town, drove through it and then ended up right by the Comal River where all the tubers jump in.  Not that there were any tubers on this chilly day, but there was some pretty scenery.  Bill parked right by the water’s edge, even though the signs all warned him that this was private property and hauled out the good camera.  Once that was in play, I knew we’d be there awhile.

Gruene Mansion Inn
Gruene Mansion Inn

After our time at the riverside, we wandered back into town and found a place to park.  The picturesque town begged to be photographed and Bill obliged.  He started with a nearby B&B, checked out the dancehall and just kept clicking away.

Now the dance hall is of some significance.  Gruene Hall has a lot of history tied to it.  When Gruene was a small rural town, rather than part of New Braunfels, the dancehall was an integral part of the community.  How else were farm girls going to meet farm boys and get together to make little farm children?DSC_0311

The tradition of the Saturday night dance is probably what kept the little town alive all these years, but nowadays, it’s more likely going to be frat boys and frat girls from nearby UTAustin getting together, rather than any one from a farm.  Anybody who’s anybody in Texas music has played there and I’m sorry we weren’t there when the toe tappin’ was a-happenin’.

Then we found The Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar.  Unfortunately, our hearty breakfast was still sticking to our ribs, but they let us come in and peek around.  I decided I’d be coming back to Gruene someday and when I did, I planned to be hungry.

After The Gristmill, we returned to the Gruene Mansion Inn and explored their backlot.  Lots of photo opportunities there, too.  In fact, I’m just going to shut up and share some more of the great shots Bill got, but come back next week, because after our quiet visit to Gruene, things got a lot more exciting.

Note to self:  Eat here!
Note to self: Eat here!
When I come back to The Gristmill, I think this would be a great place to sit.
When I come back to The Gristmill, I think this would be a great place to sit.
Vehicle Parking, Gruene Style
Vehicle Parking, Gruene Style
Another Eating Opportunity
Another Eating Opportunity
Down by the river
Down by the river
Oma's Secret (Beer) Garden
Oma’s Secret (Beer) Garden
A Shopping Opportunity
A Shopping Opportunity
I thought about The Blogress when I saw this.  What about you?
I thought about The Blogress when I saw this. What about you?
A Gruene Gecko?
A Gruene Gecko?
DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Local Flavor, Eureka Springs AR

Local Flavor Restaurant, Eureka Springs AR

TRAVEL THERE: LOCAL FLAVOR, SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

After the Eureka Springs trolley tour, we were finally hungry. That gooey apple pastry from breakfast kept hunger at bay for hours, but now it was time to eat.

The Innkeeper’s Suggestion

I’ve mentioned that our innkeepers were good at making suggestions for things to see, do and eat. Sometimes I’m as wary of these suggestions as I am of a hateful online rant, but once I’m sure the recommendations aren’t tied to some ulterior motive, I’m anxious to follow them.  One restaurant Zoie recommended several times was Local Flavor, so Deb and I decided to have our late lunch/early supper there.

I can’t say that Local Flavor was our absolute favorite thing on the trip, because we had too many wonderful experiences to pick out just one. Or even our favorite meal of the trip, because I’ve already told you about a couple of other amazing feasts.  However, it was easily the best meal we had in Eureka Springs.  Well, maybe the best meal besides breakfast, because that Strawberry Crepe was pretty remarkable.  Well, you get the idea, we thought it was pretty darned good!

Great Day & Better Restaurant

To begin with, we had a great table and it was a beautiful day.  That makes anything taste better.  Then we ordered a white sangria. OMG!! Nectar of the gods! It was made with peaches and tasted like heaven.  The sangria alone is worth making the trip to Eureka Springs.Baked Brie, Local Flavor, Eureka Springs AR

Then we shared an appetizer.  Oh yum!  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Just imagine the best baked brie you’ve ever had and turn up the volume.

For an entree, I had a vegetarian sandwich and Deb had a salad, but I forgot to take pictures of them.  I got tickled on this trip at the number of people who take pictures of their food when it is delivered.  All of them can’t be bloggers, so I’m not sure what’s up.

At the table next to us were three college-aged kids.  As soon as each course of their food was delivered, all three grabbed their cameras, bowed their heads and took pictures.  It appeared so ritualistic that I was reminded of people who take time to bow their heads and say grace formally.

2013-05-27 02.30.19
The Cathouse Lounge

I think we may even have found a dessert to share, but nothing beat the sangria and baked brie.  As I sat on the patio enjoying the last few hours of my vacation, I thought about where Eureka had been and where it might be going.

Checking Out the Surroundings

Right across from Local Flavor  was The Cathouse Lounge, another popular attraction, but take a look at the vehicles parked out front.  This was the primary difference I saw and heard between the Eureka Springs of today and the one my parents used to visit. I don’t recall hearing the throbbing beat of a Harley on my previous visits, but the purring of these hogs is now the soundtrack of Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs was first a sacred healing site for Native Americans.  Then it became a boomtown for Victorian Americans who wanted to “take the waters.”  It made it through a series of fires and The Great Depression.  It’s been a wonderful little tourist town for a long time.  For years The Great Passion Play was the big draw, but I bet these days the Crescent Ghost Tour sells more tickets.  Though I didn’t see it on this trip, Trip Advisor says that Turpentine Ridge, a wildlife refuge, is now the number one tourist attraction.

Booze Bros Liquor, Eureka Springs AR
A sign of the future? Too funny not to share.

What’s does the future hold for a cute little town perched between Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inns and motorcycle gangs? I hope your future holds a visit to Eureka Springs and maybe even a visit to some of the other places Deb and I visited on our Lemonade Tour.

Contributing to the Local Economy

After our meal at Local Flavor, Deb and I did a little shopping.  It would have almost been criminal not to.  My favorite shop was Two Dumb Dames.  It’s a fudge factory, but the guy who waited on me was no dumb dame.  He was the husband of one of the original dumb dames’ granddaughters.   I guess those dames weren’t so dumb after all, if a third generation is making a living out of the shop.

Do I look tired? Maybe it’s because Bill drug me out to see our jasmine as soon as I got home.

Shopping done we relaxed at the B&B, repacking our bags, catching up on our reading and checking on our social media. Then it was time to head home.  Ah, home!  I did save the best for last.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Shop Local on Cruises

DSC_0654
Buy it whenever or wherever you find it. don’t be disappointed later.

TRAVEL THERE:  HAVE MORE FUN CRUISING WHEN YOU SHOP LOCAL

So I’ve told you all about our be-jeweled shopping experiences, but when you’re in the islands, don’t forget the local markets.  We didn’t shop in any jewelry stores in St. Maarten.  Perhaps if we did, my Diamonds International bracelet would have another charm.  In Marigot, St. Martin, on the French side, we enjoyed a local arts and crafts market.

Shopping Local in Marigot

You’re always at a disadvantage at your first port of call.  Though we weren’t in jewelry stores, there was some lovely jewelry in Marigot.  The difference was that it was all handmade from natural materials, like shells, wood and natural beads.  Had I really known then what I know now, I would have picked out a trinket for my mother there, but I wasn’t as well educated then.  The prices were great.  We got a cap for Bill that said, “Bad to the bone,” for $5.  Debbie bought the first part of my birthday present, a sundress for $20 dollars.  The jewelry that I liked ran from $40 up to a whole lot.  We saw some beautiful wood carving, but we weren’t in the market for it.  All in all a pleasant and affordable shopping experience.

We didn’t get a chance to shop with the locals in St. Thomas, because we were too busy getting free jewelry, but there was what appeared to be a very active market near the main shopping district in Charlotte Amalie.  If we’d had more time there, I think we would have enjoyed it.

Nassau’s Straw Market

If you’re looking for something made out of straw, though, I’d say Nassau’s Straw Market is the place to go. We passed through it on our way to find a taxi to take us to Atlantis and were overwhelmed by the experience. That’s not my favorite kind of shopping.  The first thing that assails you as you enter the market is the sheer number of items for sale. The aisles are narrow and there is no degree of separation between the booths. What’s more, the goods are stacked up almost to the high roof. This is not a place for the claustrophobic.

After Atlantis, I came back to the Straw Market, because I was desperate.   I remembered fondly the natural handmade jewelry in Marigot, but that’s not what they have at the Straw Market.  They have straw.

My mom is not the sort that you can just give the first thing you happen upon. She has very discerning taste, and it’s complicated by her arthritis, her un-pierced ears and her indifference to scarves and shawls. She doesn’t wear hats either and purses have to be of just the right size.

The Bahamian natives are not bashful. If you so much as glance their way, they start trying to bargain with you for whatever they think might have caught your eye. If you don’t glance their way, then they’re going to say or do whatever they need to do to get it. Well, anything is a bit of an exaggeration. I have been places where they are more aggressive No one grabbed my arm to stop me or cursed me out for not shopping with them.

Local Bargaining

Still, I was was happy when I saw an attractive straw clutch offered by someone who seemed more interested in their phone call than my American dollars. Deb and I considered the pros and cons of her offerings and she eventually got off the phone.

“Twenty dollars,” she said.

“American?” I was getting good at this.

For you, yes.” I considered her offer while Deb and I compared similar clutches at her booth. People nearby started waving handbags of all sorts at us. “Seventeen fifty,” the lady said.

“Fifteen,” I countered. It was well worth the twenty, but I wasn’t about to pay the first price. I had the feeling I could have gotten her down even further by playing the walk-away game, but I felt sorry for her stuck in the loud crowded market all day and pulled out my money.

Success!  I’d found something for Mom.  It wasn’t really enough, but I corrected that problem with some costume clip earring that I found a few door down from the Straw Market.

When it comes to shopping local, first be sure to know what currency you’re bargaining in.  Then be sure to bargain.  Some prices are set, but usually you can get a little off, even if it’s just to get Euro prices for American dollars.  If you see something you like, buy it when you find it.  That goes for local shopping and jewelry shopping.  The boat was not going back to St. Maarten, so I couldn’t get Mom one of the cool bracelets I saw there.

There’s not much of the cruise left, but come back next week and hear about dinner at La Cucina.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

Jewelry Shopping – St. Thomas vs. Nassau

Nassau Bahamas
Shopping in crowded Nassau. Faces of innocent bystanders hidden. Perhaps their husbands didn’t realize they were shopping!

TRAVEL THERE: IS JEWELRY SHOPPING BETTER ON ST THOMAS OR NASSAU

I’ve already told you what a good time we had shopping in St. Thomas. Our tour dropped us off right at Charlotte Amalie’s Main Street and we had about an hour of blissful shopping. There were few shoppers and most of the stores we entered were absolutely gorgeous.  With just enough exceptions to prove the rule, all the clerks and shopkeepers were marvelously polite and eager to please.  It was like being in shopping heaven.  Too bad we really didn’t appreciate how lucky we were.

The Shopping Seminar

Having enjoyed our shopping in St. Thomas so much, we were eager to attend the shopping seminar on our third at-sea day on the Norwegian Epic.  We hadn’t planned on shopping at all in Nassau, but we’d caught the island shopping bug.  The seminar was interesting, not grippingly so, but a pleasant way to spend the morning.  I was hoping for more in the way of drawings and give-aways, but the idea was to get us to spend our money, not to give us anything.  I learned a little about a new diamond cut and the new vein of tanzanite.  The new tanzanite returned to the lighter colors of the first discovery, rather than retaining the dark colors that have been available most recently.

Our favorite discovery was Del Sol.  Everything in their shop changes color in the sun, including the fingernail polish.  Deb loved it so much she added it to her shopping list.  The most important information was a reminder the shops  close at five, a couple of hours before our departure time. We needed to shop in the morning.  Over lunch  we informed our husband what they should expect.

We arrived in port at noon on the fourth day of the cruise.  After our shopping, we planned to head over to Atlantis Resort for a peek and it’s skyline loomed large on the horizon.  As soon as the boat docked we dragged our husbands towards Bay Street.

Shopping in Nassau

Shopping Nassau was a whole ‘nother thing and it wasn’t a better thing.  The first thing we noticed was how crowded it was.  Nassau serves a lot more ships than St. Thomas.  Many of the cruises are just three day jaunts out of Miami, devoted primarily to the art of shopping. We’d been told that this larger audience meant a larger stock of merchandise to enjoy.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I enjoyed the quieter streets of Charlotte Amalie.

There weren’t as many freebies in Nassau either.  We anxiously looked forward to getting our shopping packet when we got off the boat, but all we found was an offer from Diamonds International and another from Effy.  We’d gotten a coupon in the seminar to complement the Effy coupon in the shopping packet.  In St. Thomas we’d had to pay a minimal amount for the earrings to match our necklace, but in Nassau, because of the shopping seminar we got earrings for free.

Perhaps because of the larger crowds, the salespeople aren’t as happy to distribute their free goodies as they had been in St. Thomas.  There was the same begrudging hesitancy I’d remembered from Cozumel, one that led to my happy surprise at the alacrity of the St. Thomas jewelers.  The good news was that for each island the big stores offer a different freebie.  In St. Thomas we’d gotten garnets at Effy, but in Nassau it was amethysts.  I was particularly happy about that, because I had an amethyst ring begging for some companions.  Diamonds International offers you a charm bracelet at your first port and then other charms at your other stops.  The fun of it for frequent cruisers is that you’re not getting the same old thing all the time.  You could start a collection of sorts.

We hoped to do some additional shopping in Nassau, but were stymied.  We looked for a Milano Jewelers, because Deb was beginning to regret that she hadn’t clued into what a great deal the sterling silver necklaces were.  We found the Milano stores, but when we asked about the necklaces all we got was a look that suggested we were crazy and some mumbled assurance the cheap sliver necklaces weren’t available on this island.

We also searched out a Little Switzerland store, because I still hadn’t found a gift for my mom and the bracelets I’d seen on St. Thomas seemed like the best bet.  Lest you think I was unwilling to share all the free goodies I’d gotten so far, my mom’s ears are not pierced and her advanced arthritis prohibited her from operating the clasps on necklaces.  So I had lots of goodies to share with folks at home, they just weren’t going to work for my mom.  Unfortunately, the Little Switzerland store we found had a very limited selection in their very tiny Impulse department.  I didn’t see anything that looked like Mom.

We took a break from shopping to visit the Atlantis Resort, but I’ll tell you about that in a couple of weeks.  I also shopped at the Nassau Straw Market on the way back to the ship, but I’ll compare that to the locals market in Marigot, St. Martin next week.  Until then, happy shopping.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

Mission Cruise Coupons Continues

Sunny Liston Tours, St Thomas VI
A Mission Coupon soldier next to the Sunny Liston tour bus. I think my hat is wilted!

TRAVEL THERE: USING CRUISE COUPONS FOR JEWELRY ON ST THOMAS

As Deb and I glided out of Bobby’s Jewelers in a haze of shopping euphoria, we spotted Milano Diamond Gallery, one of the coupon  stores.

At Milano Diamond Gallery

 

We walked in waving our special offers in the air, because we’d already bought everything we could afford to buy for ourselves.  A nice man took us to the back of the store to give us our free jewelry – a beautiful rhinestone pendant.  And if we bought the silver chain he was offering at a ridiculously low price, he’d throw in the earrings.

I know a good deal when I see one. I asked if I could buy additional chains.  As we’d collected up our free jewelry at other stores, many pieces had been a pendant of some sort, but no chains had been offered along with them.  I was going to need chains anyway and these looked like the kind I’d have to pay a whole lot more money for in Dallas.  Here’s the funny thing, though.  For every silver chain I bought, this guy gave me another pendant of some sort.  I ended up with another bunch of necklaces with pendants for a price I’d been happy to pay for the chains alone.  I still came home with pendants for which I had no chain, but I couldn’t get him to quit giving me free pendants.

On to Little Switzerland, Sort of

We rolled out of the store laughing at the haul we’d made.  Checking our watches, we realized it was time to head back to Sunny Liston’s bus, but instead of back-tracking, we popped through one of the shopping passages and strolled along the waterfront.  Sunny had parked right in front of a Little Switzerland and we were interested in looking at their Impulse Collection.  We’d seen the collection in a shopping guide and it had some really cute items for very affordable prices.  So we were moving along briskly to have plenty of time to shop there.

That’s when we were waylaid by our new best friend.  All along the shopping streets were barkers hired by the stores to get shoppers into their establishments.  We’d ignored most of them, especially after the ugly chotskie incident.  However, a very nice Rastafarian fellow approached us and he was so polite and soft spoken we didn’t even realize he was of the barker fraternity, at first.

Soon, we caught the drift of what he was offering.  The store he represented had the best quality stones at the best prices on the island, just like all his barker brothers were promising.  We listened to his schpiel and though we promised to consider his shop, we were focused on getting to Little Switzerland before the bus left.  As we walked away, he shouted, “Stay focused!” and warned us of other barkers who would try to take us off course.  That tickled our funny bone and we decided to stop by his store, just to let them know they had a sterling employee out there on the sidewalk.

Our Rastafarian friend directed us up Drake’s passage to Eden Jewelers.  After the glamorous shops we’d enjoyed on Dronnings Gade, Eden’s was a little less luxurious, but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting.   The shopkeeper was very nice and he did have lovely things for good prices in his shop.  In fact, he was offering us all kinds of deals that we wished we could buy, but we’d run out of money and were swiftly running out of time.

We felt sorry for the guy, we really did, but there was no way for him to draw blood out of our turnips.  He lamented that our Rastafarian friend had done his job, but that we weren’t allowing the jeweler himself to do his own.  I was impervious, but he finally found something Deb could buy as a gift for someone on her list.  It was all of $12.99, but it made the guy happy and he gave us some free earrings to boot.  I was thrilled with the earrings.  They were freshwater pearls which would match one of the pendants I’d gotten at Milano.

The clock was really running down now and we still had to stop in Little Switzerland.  On our way out of Drake’s Passage, we saw our Rastafarian friend.  I yelled, “We stayed focused AND we bought something.”  Our new best friend was filled with glee.  He ran up the street and hugged us.  That was well worth the $12.99 Deb spent.  She’d bought me two presents that day.

We did avail ourselves of Little Switzerland’s Impulse Collection and fell out into the street and onto Sunny’s bus.  We were those annoying tourists that show up at the last minute holding up everyone else on the tour, but I’m afraid we didn’t care.

Sunny headed up the mountain to continue the tour, but I’ll tell you about that next week.  The fun has only begun.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Our Jewelry Shopping Waterloo

TRAVEL THERE: WE FOUND WHAT WE WANTED AT BOBBY’S JEWELERS, ST THOMAS VI

Still giggling over the ugly chotskie a rude jeweler had shoved at us in Charlotte Amalie, Deb and I pulled out our shopping map and tried to locate the next place to redeem coupons. Out of the corner of her eye, Deb saw a huge poster for Belle Etoile jewelry, something she’d drooled over in one of the shopping guidebooks.  Like moths to the flame, we delivered ourselves to the slaughter.  Luckily, we’d chosen the right place to shop: Bobby’s Jewelers.  They’re not giving anything away, but we had a wonderful experience in their store.  Once Deb found the Belle Etoile counter, she was hooked, but it really wasn’t my cup of tea.  I wandered toward the next counter.

Aquamarine Earrings Set in Gold

The only thing I was even slightly interested in was aquamarine earrings and they were only on my wish list, not my shopping list.  Aquas are my birthstone and my sweet husband has given me both a ring and cross pendant of aquas set in yellow gold.  For several years we’ve been on the lookout for matching earrings when occasions like Christmas and anniversaries came around,  but for some reason, all we could find were aquas set in white gold.  Some jewelers tried to convince me to look at blue topazes set in yellow gold, but I was having none of that.  I know aquas when I see them.

Asking for aqua earrings in yellow gold is also a great way to make jewelers leave you alone and let you browse.  They figure out pretty quickly they don’t have what you came in for, so they move on to the next potential victim customer.  We’d been using the request in other shops on Mission Coupon and, except for the chotskie guy, it worked wonders.  But at Bobby’s they whipped out a selection of aquamarine earrings set in yellow gold.

The first pair they brought out made me laugh.  I’d need an invitation to the Academy Awards to justify wearing them.  “That’s not me AT ALL,” I told the sales lady.  Then she pulled out exactly what I was looking for, beautiful oval aquas on posts.  While Deb salivated over the Belle Etoile jewelry, I salivated over the aquas.

The first price was out of the ball park.  Well, my ballpark anyway, even though it was a fair price.  Since I’d been shopping aquas for a while, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect price-wise and they offered an amount that was right in line with what I’d seen for aquas set in white gold.  But it wasn’t an amount of money I’d spend without my husband’s approval.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I calculated whether there would be time after the shore excursion to come back to the shop with him, but I didn’t tell the saleslady that.

Then they knocked the price down about a hundred dollars.  My shopping arm was itching to grab my credit card, but Bill and I have an agreement.  If I’m going to spend over a certain dollar amount, I’m supposed to run it by him first.  He understands there are situations where it’s impractical to do this and with him somewhere below the ocean on another part of the island, I was beginning to speculate whether this was one of those situations.  Still he’s a pretty good guy and he’d dropped a sizable chunk of change to get me to this shopping opportunity, so I wanted to play fair.

Meanwhile, Deb’s love of Belle Etoile narrowed down to one particular ring and she was having a conversation similar to mine.  The buying urge circled my head and I was in a world of hurt.  That’s when they dropped the price to the floor.  I was in a quandary.  Had Bill been available, I would have called him.  I began to measure just how much trouble I’d be in if I bought the earrings. I was having a birthday in just a few days.  Certainly that justified the purchase.

That’s when Deb spoke up.  She’d share the purchase with me for my birthday and that would put my cost WAY below my personal shopping limit.  Still I hesitated.  The price was beyond right.  This was duty free shopping, so there were no taxes to worry about.  It was the US Virgin Islands, so there’d be no money exchange rate to confuse matters.  And the earrings were gorgeous.

The fear of commitment bug bit me.  What if we walked into the next store and found an even better deal or a pair of earrings I liked even better.  I edged towards the door, but Deb was still interested in her ring.  That’s when Bobby himself walked over and offered to take another $10 off each item if we’d go ahead and buy them.  From many years of shopping, I knew, when the manager shows up, you’ve pretty much found the sweet spot on price.  The aquas glowed on the counter and Deb’s face told me she really wanted to do this – so we did.

The joy I felt was way beyond the two digit investment I’d made.  Deb keeps reminding me that she only bought half the earrings, but without her contribution, I’d never have them at all – so I give her credit for the whole purchase.  We were both so happy our feet weren’t even touching the sidewalk.

However, Mission Coupon was still active and we had time to kill before we had to be back to Sunny’s bus.  Come back next week to shop with us some more.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

St. Thomas and Sunny Liston

The best day of the cruise!
The best day of the cruise! Thanks Sunny Liston.

TRAVEL THERE: SUNNY LISTON’S ST THOMAS TOUR

No – I didn’t misspell it, because it’s not that Liston.

After our Cruising Excursions.com tour in St. Maarten was such a flop, I was worried.  We’d booked another Cruising Excursions.com tour  for St. Thomas and I dreaded discovering another mistake.  Instead we got Sunny Liston!  If you click on over there, you’ll immediately get an idea of what to expect on his tour.  The music sets the mood.

Best Day of the Cruise

I think everybody should see St. Thomas with Sunny, but now that you’re in the know, book directly with Sunny and forget about Cruise Excursions.com.  They might stick you in another tour and that would be a crime!

Though we didn’t realize it, our fun started before we even stepped on the pier.  Someone was standing at the end of the gangway, handing out packets of brochures.  Glancing at the packet I realized it was COUPONS, so I tucked it in my tote bag and kept on moving.  Our first order of business was to deliver our guys to their scuba excursion, which we’d booked with NCL.  The official NCL shore excursions were on the pier next to the boat, so that was a no brainer, but then we had some time to kill before connecting with our tour.

We asked a couple of the guides if they knew where the Cruising Excursion.com tours met, but the NCL guides showed their disdain for anyone who dared not to book through the cruise line.  To tell the truth, after the experience of the day before we felt a little sheepish about it, too, but it was obvious we’d need to pass through security and leave the pier.

Once outside security we asked someone  who was directing the taxi traffic about the tour.  They weren’t very impressed with my sheet of paper from Cruising Excursions.com, until they saw Sunny Liston’s name on it.  Then they began to smile and pointed us to the very colorful bus you see in the picture above.  Sunny was standing close to the bus and when it became apparent we were headed his way his smile erupted.  I wish I could capture some of his smile in a bottle and drink it up when I need it.

We were among the first to board the open air bus and I tucked into the coupons.  I’d gotten other shopping coupons on other cruises, but the only one I’d tried to use was for a free bracelet that promptly turned less than shiny.  Still a coupon was a coupon and I wanted to see what I’d gotten.  Soon the bus was full and Sunny started the tour.  It took about three seconds to figure out that we’d gotten on the good-time bus.

Our first stop was Charlotte Amalie.  Sunny pointed out the good shopping, a nice place to rest if you weren’t interested in shopping and told us what time to get back.  For about the next hour we had a blast on Mission Coupon.  At the Effy store, they promptly handed us a garnet necklace and offered us matching earrings for some paltry amount like $5 or $10.  We couldn’t get our money out fast enough.  At Diamonds International we got a bracelet and a charm.

Then someone begged us to come into a store and get a gift, even though we didn’t have a coupon.  The salesman wasn’t as excited about us as his barker had been and when it was obvious we weren’t in the market for anything he had, then he rudely handed us some plastic chotskie.  We giggled as we threw the ugly foam hat into the nearest trashcan.

Mission Coupon had only begun and Sunny’s tour wasn’t over yet, but you’ll have to come back next week for the rest of the fun.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Nashville to Fairborn

Deb pulls into her hometown.
Deb pulls into her hometown.

TRAVEL THERE: DRIVING FROM NASHVILLE TO FAIRBORN

Driving past the exit for The Hermitage was hard.  Before I left Dallas, I knew the first few days of our trip weren’t about tourist attractions, but I particularly love to visit presidential destinations.  I couldn’t help but have regrets as we passed the exit for President Andrew Jackson’s home.  Oh well, onward and northward.  It wasn’t going to be my last regret of the day.  We were passing through Kentucky and for some reason, every time I go to Kentucky I’m just passing through.  Note to self – go to Kentucky!

On Down the Road

Because we changed time zones, we lost an hour before we’d even had lunch.  It was a shorter drive, so we didn’t make as many potty stops or driver changes.  We rolled into Dayton around two and were in sore need of sustenance.  We found a Chili’s and tucked into some nachos and margaritas.  I kept trying to think of something clever to say about two Dallas dames having nachos and margaritas in Dayton, but mostly I just missed the original Chili’s at Greenville and Meadow.  Do you remember when the whole menu fit on a half sheet of paper and focused on hamburgers? I do!

An Adequate Accomodation
An Adequate Accomodation

The next thing we did was get lost.  You’ve heard that you can’t go home again?  Well, Deb was home, but she didn’t know her way around.  We did eventually find the Ramada and it was adequate, but nothing to waste blog-space over.

Deb’s Home Twon

Fairborn is an interesting town.  There’s a huge airbase there, so parts of Fairborn are booming. Deb was amazed.  One of the roads she usually took to get from one place to another has been completely taken over by the base.  However, the Fairborn she grew up in isn’t there anymore.  Oh, it’s there in the form of a shuttered downtown and an empty movie theater, but the town she knew doesn’t exist.

Our first job was to find a florist.  With Dayton right around the corner, all the local florist Deb knew had closed down.  The only one left in the small town was Hollon Flowers – but what a florist.  If you EVER need to order flowers in the Dayton area PLEASE call them.

The shop was charming.  For many years, she’d had another shop out from town in a suburban setting, but had recently moved in town.  The shop is behind her very pretty Victorian home, just around the corner from a downtown that is striving very hard to come back. (Travel note – Fairborn is full of lovely Victorians!) The shop has more than flowers.  I saw many cute gift items and longed to linger in her garden, but we had things to do.

When we told her what we needed, she was dismayed.  Expecting a truck in the morning, she’d cleaned out her flower inventory of any iffy items, but we needed our arrangement before the truck would get there. She took us back into the refrigerator to see what she had.  We found some pretty purple roses and some white snapdragons.  That inspired her and she found some lovely spider mums and reached for some dark purple flowers to fill in the blanks.  She sent us on our way and told us we’d have something pretty the next morning.  She kept her promise, too.

Memory Lane

Who lives here now?
Who lives here now?

Then Deb made sure she remembered how to get to the cemetery and where her parent’s headstone was.  That out of the way, she wanted to travel down memory lane.  It was a bittersweet drive through her small town.  The new owners weren’t keeping up her old homes the way she wished they would.  The high school was a nursing home.  Nothing was quite what she wanted it to be.

After a while, we had to end the tour.  Deb had contacted an old friend and we were having dinner with her in Yellow Spring.  I can’t wait to tell you about the charming little town and the great restaurant we found there, but you’ll have to wait until next week!