Wednesday, December 30, 2015

we arrive in cuba!

After a quick trip through Miami with a dinner at Pascal's with Michele, Lauren and Larry and lunch at Garcia's with Larry and then a farewell dinner at Monty's with Michele and her mom Cathy and Larry and Lauren and her beau Charlie, we headed to the Sheraton at the airport for a very short night of "sleep"... wake up at 4:30 with a 5AM departure for the airport.

a lot of hurry up and wait- - - the flight was delayed for more than an hour... no explanation - just delayed.  Then when we arrived it was roughly an hour before the luggage arrived - mine was thoroughly ransacked but I wouldn't find out until later that my alarm clock and Oakley sunglasses were missing.  I always pack a back up pair, and of course can use the cell phone as an alarm so not earth shattering but crappy never-the-less...

we finally got out of Jose Marti airport and met our most amazingly terrific, incredibly intelligent guide, Raul.  Phil declared him the best guide he had ever had anywhere on any trip, private or group EVER.  I declared him a tie for the number one spot - which has long been held by the guide Jennifer and I had in Egypt, Ahmet an Egyptology professor with a sparkling personality and a great sense of humor, who discovered guiding was much more lucrative than teaching - and we were much the better for it. (Just in case anyone is reading closely- we no longer count Iryna as a guide - she passed into the friend category before we left her in Kiev back in 2006 and is in her own category "dear friends" and "sisters at heart" LOL.)

so finally on the bus and heading into Havana!

our first stop- in a "get it out of the way" kind of move- was Revolutionary Square- which Raul described as a parking lot- LOL and it was a very apt description.  Last time Leo saved it for a drive by on the last or second last day- he felt similarly about the place.  However, despite being less than enamoured about the faces on the buildings and the monument (from the Fulgencio Batista era) it is the first place most of the group get to lay eyes on the old cars that are now so treasured in Cuba. Many sit in a road-side turn off waiting for tourists to bargain for a short ride around the area in the mostly convertible cars.  Many of the models are now convertibles despite not being so in their original incarnations but tourists want rides in convertibles so Cubans create convertibles from cars that never had a convertible model.... creativity is every Cuban's middle name.

And just to show how old I am - I have in this first lot of photos one of our family cars - which always managed to be photographed - LOL - first the Cuban one - now pepto-bismol pink, and then ours in vintage photos of B&W - but the car was a gleaming white!

you can see my brother's car seat with the steering wheel - through the windshield LOL- back in the day when car seats were hung on the back of the front seat so the kid could have a view!

we probably also saw some of the type of the neighbors car with the two tone paint and the fins-

and here are a few more vintage photos including my sister and me in front of the car- LOL, my grandmother in front of the car at the cottage on Anna Maria Island- and the car in all its glory with me in the driver's seat (standing)  LOL

but time to move along... and get back to the future!

LOL- and oh for those of you interested in the Revolutionary Square- here are a few photos of that as well-

soon we are headed to lunch because our flight was so delayed we cannot complete the morning's itinerary but have to rearrange things a bit... we had a lovely lunch - fish as my main - pumpkin soup as a starter and then pineapple sorbet as dessert!

 more on the post lunch touring in the next post! stay tuned!

Monday, December 28, 2015

home again!

So our flight out of Jose Marti airport in Havana was delayed by nearly four hours putting us right in the teeth of the Miami rush hour - which we really didn't want to be in on December 23rd.... but at least we knew we would be home that night - some of our group had further flights heading to various parts of the U.S.

We got home by 9 PM and greeted our cats who had been well cared for with twice a day visits from Penny's Purrfect Petsitting... started laundry and were thrilled to be home to our own pillows and bedding and showers! (Travel is a great teacher of appreciation in many ways - not just what you see when traveling but also how you see your own country/city/home when you return)

The following day- which was Christmas Eve- we headed to the Feast of the Seven Fishes at one of our favorite restaurants (a good old fashioned Italian place in Sarasota called Cafe Baci).  Roberto, the owner had warned us away from it before but we were intrigued and insisted on going this year. Never again! He was right- we should have stayed away... the place was a zoo- serving over 500 dinners... the food was fine for a set menu and mass produced meal but the chef is capable of really great food - just not on this night...

here is the menu and a few photos of the food-

The flounder was the winner of the three fish entree. And the panna cotta (despite no photo) was very very good. The service (Henry) was excellent but the place was a zoo and our chairs got bumped every time a server went in or out of the tables behind us which had seatings of 10 and 12 people..

we did manage to drown our sorrows in the champagne we brought- LOL

so we finally got to find out about the feast of the seven fishes and once was enough...

we had a very nice meal last night on the roof terrace of the Beach Street Bistro- the photos are terrible because they have these yellow lights (bug repelling I guess) outside on the terrace but we had lobster fritters and ahi tuna apps and then grouper for me and seafood tower for Phil- a shared dessert of three mini creme brulees- which escaped the photo... the downtown traffic circle was festively lit for the holidays but the parking was over flowing with tourists here for the Christmas week and everywhere has been annoyingly overly full... alas that is a price you pay for living in paradise... everyone wants to have a piece of it...LOL

and soon classes begin for winter term-

I am signed up for one class and a lecture (as is Phil) and then for spring term I have two classes and a lecture---

here is the back to school detail- my class and the lecture we are attending at the local Museum along with local friends John & Barb, and my friend Maryanne, who is visiting that week!

The Cold War was not only America’s longest war, but it constituted the most dangerous period in modern world history. Exploring this essential part of our history can help us understand the world we live in today. Our guides will be the key players of those years, figures like Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Khrushchev, Reagan, and Gorbachev, among others. Through their policies and actions, we’ll examine many different aspects of this fateful era, from its guiding ideologies to programs like the Marshall Plan and iconic events like the Berlin blockade. We’ll also look at the Cold War’s bloodiest chapters, Korea and Vietnam.

“Life, the Universe, and Everything at the South Florida Museum” with Jeff Rodgers
you’ll take off on a journey to the edge of space using the Bishop Planetarium’s 3D map of the observable universe. Follow that up with a walking tour of the museum’s exhibitions, tracing the natural history of life and of Florida back to 500 million years ago. We promise that you’ll walk away with a new perspective of your place in the universe and a new sense of wonder for our beautiful state.

then my spring term looks like this-

An overseas war that divided the country. An economic depression that increased income inequality. Sound familiar? The 1890s are perhaps not as remote as we think. This decade also witnessed the rise of the Populists—a third party whose name is now synonymous with popular protest—and a bitter presidential election that pitted a silver-tongued Democratic congressman against a gold-plated Republican governor. Chicago hosted a shimmering world’s fair and a prolonged strike that closed down its Pullman car works. These are a few of the events we will cover in this course—events which contributed to the making of modern America.

The Middle Ages was a turbulent, formative time in the history of Europe. This class will explore the period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the dawning of the Age of Discovery. Looking at social structures and the everyday lives of the people, we’ll focus on the rise and fall of Central-, East-, and West Europe, England, and the Byzantine Empire. Much was lost during this period, but we’ll marvel at the new and inventive technologies that were gained. Our goal will be to shed some light on these “dark ages.”

and the lecture John & Barb and Phil & I signed up for- 

“Little Known Clever Creatures of Florida” with Florida Master Naturalist Alice Newlon 
We discover some of the good, the bad, and the clever creatures that make up Florida’s wildlife. You’ll learn to look at Florida’s unique birds, frogs, and turtles in a whole new light.

so we are back in the swing of things - planning on a NY Eve at home with stone crabs and foie and duck rillettes etc... and I - of course - have started to comb through my 2500 Cuba photos to bring you the best pictures and stories from our trip... so stay tuned because those posts start any day now...

here are a few photos of some of the members of the dance company we met with while in Cuba- 

we had people to people cultural exchanges one to three times daily, so there are many more photos to follow- stay tuned-  and find out who this mystery cowboy is and what he does --- and meanwhile you can be working on why the N is backward when used in KING and RANCH on his hat...LOL - 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

guess where we are going?

so I know I have already spilled the beans- but I thought I would post a couple of farewell photos - so you can think of us while we are away...

that - above is a selection of drinks Jennifer and I enjoyed on our last trip to Cuba - April 2012

below- cars we saw along the way in Cuba on the same trip-

like these? I will bring back more- I promise!

Monday, December 7, 2015


So I have finished our holiday greetings for 2015 and here it is -

LOL- if you follow the blog you already know all the minute details so nothing new here - but....

Season’s Greetings! 2015
We hope this holiday letter finds you well!  This is the time of year when we find out two things- plans are just plans… the reality often differs… and that January was either a long time ago or yesterday depending upon whether you are trying to actually remember it or having the feeling it was “just last month” LOL.  When we last wrote, we had ideas for both spring and fall destinations for extended travel, but our eventual trips were completely different.

2015 started off with us in residence at our home in the Sarasota/Bradenton area for the second winter.  We had fewer guests this year – perhaps the novelty wears off.  Our first time visitors included Kathy & John Delia and Ron & Mary Lewis. 

As we mentioned in last year’s letter, we do the same things in Florida that we do in Chicago, just in different seasons – so our entire year has included lots of theater- multiple plays at theaters including Lifeline, Time Line, Northlight, Asolo, Lookingglass, Steppenwolf, Remy Bumppo, Theater Wit, and Dead Writers.  Favorites included The Watson Intelligence (Wit); Ernie (Traverse City Playhouse); Funnyman (Northlight); and Bad Jews (Wit).  We attended a fabulous lecture on Pinter by Julian Sands and a closed circuit broadcast (a first for us) of the National Theater Live (from London) of Skylight- a terrific and timely play from the Thatcher era in the UK.  So many more that I don’t have space to mention – with more than two dozen plays and only one that got a “WTF?” review… Each play is reviewed on the blog, so feel free to delve into our two “seasons” of theater by reading further details there.

As for performances on film – we did the Sarasota Film Festival with seven films for Phil and twenty-one for Victoria. Georgia B made it down for the Finale and a lovely film starring Blythe Danner. This coming SFF will be an occasion for a visit from son Jeremy who is quite the film buff.

We also go to concerts in both locales – and this year was no different.  We found a new venue we really love for a variety of music at Fogartyville – a small local club. In between, Phil went to many concerts at WFMT studios and Barb & John West, friends made in one of Victoria’s Florida classes, joined him for many, since we share seasonal locales – winter in SRQ and summers in ORD… a happy coincidence! We heard Janiva Magness twice (Florida at the Blues Fest and Chicago at SPACE)and Itzhak Perlman, Full Set, Roy Book Binder, Tim Grimm at a house concert, and Jake Shimabukuro (Centre East)… among others…

We also spend a lot of time exploring the restaurant scenes in both of our home towns… therefore we can’t fail to mention several of the winners in that realm as well as a few “also ran” places.  Again, all the details made the blog, along with lots of food photos. In the number one slot again, we would have to put 42 grams (which got TWO Michelin stars again this year!) Chris & Nina Nugent’s goosefoot  is a very close second! We also had season tickets to the next menus of: France: Bistro, Tapas  and Terroir.  Our favorite this year was definitely Terroir but Tapas followed right behind.  For our out-of-town meals, among the highlights were Comme Chez Soi in Brussels, Bord’Eau and Vermeer in Amsterdam, Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, along with Juni in NYC, and we had an amazing meal at Thornton’s in Dublin as well.  As I mentioned, all the minute details are on the blog J along with tons of mouth-watering photos of the food!

So given that as context – let’s get back to our year – in which we did some traveling.  No change there, especially since both of us are fully retired!

We started off with the Forks & Corks wine weekend with CBGB – enjoying one of the wine dinners as well as the Grand Tasting (tickets sold out in less than 2 minutes- LOL- this is a BIG DEAL around these parts of the Gulf Coast.) We also met up in Miami, with daughter Angela & Lee (her partner) and dined with the two of them; our niece and nephew, Lauren & Jeffrey; brother, Larry; and our cousin Michele; making it quite the family weekend. Victoria took two interesting classes at the local college (the Sarasota Arts class where she met John & Barb West) and a maritime history class. Phil got tickets for two spring training games to start off his baseball season. And seven plays at our local theater helped keep us off the streets…LOL  We also did the annual Wine Walk to Ca’ d’Zan (the Ringling Mansion), which we had liked so much the last two years. 

When we returned north at the very end of April, we headed to St. Louis to visit Mother/Sue and again saw nephew Jeffrey, along with his dad Sandy, for a few nights while we caught up with Sue. Then it was off to Brussels and Amsterdam for a lot of terrific meals and great works of art…

We stopped in NYC on the way over and found the last leg of the Highline had opened – so that was a treat.  Our friend Laure made a wonderful dinner for us and we spent the evening catching up with her and our favorite little friend, her daughter, the beautiful and extremely smart Alix (now four!) The following night we had dinner at Racine’s NY so we could see her dad Arno, but that was about all we did – he was extremely busy with customers. (Racine’s is doing very well!)

In Amsterdam we had the good fortune to have a drink with an old school buddy from Victoria’s days at University of Santa Monica. Steve Kowalski and his partner, George, were also in Amsterdam the same week we were! It had been 25 years since “Tor” and “T.V.” had seen each other! And speaking of reunions – Phil’s Salzburg gang from 1970 also had a mini-reunion here in Florida when Barry & Ellen (STL), Liesi & Tim (NY state), Pam & Glenn (TPA) and the two of us (SRQ) spent a day together in St Pete Beach and had a lovely dinner before parting – with plans to do it again in February 2016!

When we returned to the states from the May Europe trip, June was here and so Phil joined Jeremy & Angela at the Clearwater Folk festival in Croton, NY.  In July, on 7/3 we went to friends Richard & Irene’s (a seven year tradition) and then we had a get together on 7/4 with wine buddies of many years at Mark & Laura & Livvie’s mansion in the sky overlooking the Lakefront and Grant Park.  Less than a week later, we headed off on a ROAD TRIP!  We had been talking for years about going to PNC Park and Fallingwater (the Wright masterpiece in southwestern Pennsylvania.) We combined that with a two night stop in Detroit where we did the Motown Museum and had Buddy’s Pizza with Fred Lee, and another night in Cleveland, where we made another stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then it was on to Pittsburgh for a Cardinals game, the tour of the Kaufman house (Fallingwater) and then a swing by Toledo Art Museum on the way back to Chicago….

It was a quick week and we had people to see and places to go- so we did laundry and packed for Ireland. But before we left we had a visit from Steve & Suzanne, Phil’s brother and his wonderful wife (yes, she IS our favorite sister-in-law!)  It was a fast weekend – spent in a food-coma-inducing whirlwind of high end eating- including 42 grams and Alinea…  Then it was off to Dublin, where we met up with our favorite boy cousin, Iddo (our favorite girl cousin being Michele, of course) and his mom Sarah.  We visited various historical sights – the most famous being the Kilmainham Gaol.  We also had a number of terrific meals. 

Finally back in Chicago for more than just a few days, we jumped into action and headed to visit CBGB in Traverse City area, where they spend their summers.  It was a really quick trip because soon Victoria was off on her annual DART road trip with friend Tom.  This year it was New Hampshire and trains… lots of photos on the DART website if you want to see them…

Or for that matter – if you want to see any of the other trips –they can be found here-

Then we took the last weeks of September through mid-October to head to Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Transdneistria (and Odessa.)  We had a terrific time learning about these countries and seeing many UNESCO World Heritage sites during our three weeks of travel. 

The highlight of the trip “hands-down” was our reunion with our dear friend Iryna from Lviv, Ukraine.  She traveled all the way to Odessa to meet up with us and we spent three days catching up on each other’s lives while touring one of the world’s loveliest cities.  It was a year of great moments and lots of making memories but seeing Iryna again after nine years had to be right at the top of our list of “heart-swelling” events.

When we returned to the U.S. we squeezed in a few more dinners with friends and got to try another new place in Chicago, Intro, with friends Mon & Beth. (We shared a lot of great meals with them last summer- Schwa, Duck Inn, and Claudia, to mention a few of many.) Then two nights before we headed south we made our final dinner out at goosefoot. We start and end our Chicago season there for a reason: the food of course, but also the welcome of friends… it makes it just the right place to bookend our northern summers.    

We are so lucky to have our winter retreat (and our cats Lucy & Penny LOVE getting away, for the warm weather  and geckos, as well!) Thanksgiving brought our first seasonal visitors; brother Larry, up from Miami, along with cousin Michele, and Angela & Lee down from North Carolina, where they have relocated for his transfer to a new Google office and project.  Since Thanksgiving we have been busy with concerts and friends. Our last concert of the year was a superb evening with John McCutcheon at Craftsman House.  

The end of this week we leave for Cuba returning just before Christmas. We already have a lot of plans for 2016…  Phil is going back to Ireland on a music tour. We are returning to Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltics in August. We hope to sell our Chicago house and buy a Chicago condo, facilitating the “lock and leave” lifestyle we have adopted. So we may have to take some time out of our travels to pack and move… but we’re sure we’ll catch up!  Tom and Tor will do a DART trip when Phil is in Ireland gallivanting pub to pub… and where that will take them has yet to be decided.  Life is so good – we are blessed by great friends, good health and especially by having each other to enjoy things together and to support each other when the challenges arrive.

If you have any desire, at all, for details that can’t fit in the holiday letter, you can visit the blog:

Somehow it is now again December, and we write each year at this time, hoping your year has gone well and that this finds you and your families happy and healthy.  As the year closes, we count our blessings and send to each of you our very best wishes for health, wealth, happiness, peace, prosperity, abundance, and good luck in 2016! 

OK- been busy

so to catch up- as you remember - or maybe not- we were having family for Thanksgiving - we spent most of the time cooking and eating and hanging out in the courtyard outside the kitchen (for easy access to food and drink- LOL)

We did go to Indigenous one night for dinner but mostly it was a relaxed holiday weekend where we just spent the time catching up with everyone and enjoying the company of family and friends.  Just after the weekend, we headed to John & Barb's for a fabulous dinner and some fun rummikub throw downs.  We loved getting to meet Barb's mom Barbara- who can certainly hold her own in the rummikub arena - this gal is as sharp as a tack (as they say) and looks easily 15 years younger than she is- we would say 20 but we know how old her daughter is! LOL

the below photo shows John & Barb's courtyard which they have decorated for the holidays - we have no decorations but we did have a very pretty (but the least successful) Thanksgiving dish to display- made by Angela and Michele and me...

the veggie roulade - stuck to the pan and the veggies cooked at different rates making it less than optimal- the recipe needs some tweaking but I think could be good. Maybe next time...

Later in the week we caught up with my former Chairman of the Board (who lives about 45 minutes from us in the winter time) and his wife - Lew & Ellie... we did some catching up with them but since we haven't seen them since early last spring - we still have plenty to cover in our next "date"- Lew and I worked with each other for two decades and so some of what we talked was "shop talk" but they are travelers like we are and so we frequently found ourselves talking of trips we have taken since last seeing each other... Aperol Spritzes anyone?? LOL

we had a few meals outside and inside - one at Blue Marlin and the others at Clancy's and Tide Tables (both of those last two were the first time we had made it to those venues this "winter")

photos below from Blue Marlin dinner

then two of the beautiful day we ate lunch at Clancy's -

Then as the week after the holiday was coming to a close we had two music events!

Saturday the Bradenton Blues Festival and Sunday a concert by John McCutcheon at the Craftsman House... the headliner for the blues fest was Janiva Magness (you may remember her from the post about her concert at SPACE from our Chicago summer time) you can read that one here:

anyway- she was again magnificent- what a voice! and she sang several favorites - including When We Were Lovers and I Won't Cry ---

here is some info from the Blues Festival-

we arrived mid afternoon in time for some of Mike Zito's set and stayed until the Janiva was finished singing... around 7:45 or so... a beautiful day -

and to almost catch up- last night we heard John McCutcheon- an amazing talent who can apparently play any instrument you put in front of him as well as tell you stories, sing songs he wrote and at the same time tell you incredible music history from his font of musicologist's knowledge -

guitar (of both twelve and six string variety LOL)
 auto harp-
 hammered dulcimer (he's a master!)

I hope this loads - I had a tiny video clip of his hammered dulcimer playing- 


we laughed - we cried - and we laughed while crying- he's that kind of artist... the venue is extremely intimate- kind of a semi house concert style- and is easily reached from our winter home so we will be back in the new year for other concerts!

so I think that catches you up on our last ten days or so... and soon (at the end of this week) we leave for Cuba-  so we will stop in Miami the night before and see Larry, and Michele and maybe my cousin Cathy (Michele's mother) if our schedules for visiting Miami coincide-

here is our trip on a map- and of course little Internet access in Cuba so we will be "radio silent" for the time we are there- back by Christmas- but don't expect much December posting -

look for a lot more details around the first of the year... Happy Holidays! - oh I sooo have to work on the letter and cards today!!!!  time is running out!