Adobe Grand Villas in Sedona, Arizona

Grand they are indeed. The landscape is overwhelming, too, with the famous Bell Rock of Sedona quite literally at the end of the street we are staying on. We travelled through blizzard conditions across half the state of Arizona before arriving. Completely unexpected in April, though at these high altitudes…anything can happen!

Hozoni Avenue, where the Adobe Grand Villas are based, is a name that must be North American Indian in origin and there is an amazing Kachina shop full of Indian pottery and Kachina dolls right across the street. I am so taken with the Navajo Kachinas, which are considered to be only cheap souvenirs’ (I would not agree with that assessment) I buy one for my brother who lives in California.

The set-up is more like a condominium complex and, though we found the entrance quickly, it took us a few moments to figure out which was the door to the lobby. Everything, including the pavement and the gravel on the parking lot is the famous red rock. The lobby door is enormous and actually incorporates a water feature – in the door!

Our villa is enormous with very high ceilings and there are strategically placed nooks with large ornaments or floral decorations. There is a kitchenette and a loaf of freshly made bread waiting for us to scarf on. The mini-bar snacks, water and juices are all included in the price and you can have your breakfast delivered to your room and served on a small but adequate dining room table. If the weather is warm, then you can have your breakfast outside on the patio table. If you elect to have the gourmet breakfast, served in the dining room next to the lobby, you will be offered a delicious smoothie. But be aware. If they say they are making eggs over easy, they will be barely cooked.

The colours of the furniture are very dark, a Spanish Colonial style that I find a bit oppressive. The gardens are quite stunning with loads of pansies during the spring. There is an unheated swimming pool but also a Jacuzzi.

The staff here are just wonderful. Extremely friendly and they will do anything and everything they can to assist you.

In Brugge!

I cannot help but think of the wonderful movie with Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes, IN BRUGE, whenever I am going to visit this historic city. I don’t walk around looking for the film locations but the tour guides happily point most of them. I think Brugge, the town, and several of the inhabitants are the stars in this most dysfunctional of black comedies. The film is well worth seeing. I have decided today to take in the short veneration ceremony at the 11th century Basilica of the Holy Blood. They bring out the relic, a piece of cloth from Jesus’ robe, that supposedly turns to blood on certain feast days. I don’t really believe this occurs but I will put my hand on the glass cylinder and pretend to say a prayer. (And it is the funniest scene in the movie, by far!)
On this excursion, I decide to see if I can find some bargains as I really must quit buying souvenirs when I travel. It is all becoming too expensive. So I spot the normal high street where the locals are shopping near the market square and scoot into a HEMA shop. They have lovely Dutch biscuits for sale for only 1.20€. A bargain. I buy three boxes.
I do more shopping and photot taking, before stumbling upon a souvenir and brick-a-brac shop on Walstrass. I wander in and notice that the owner has some interesting older pieces. Not really antiques, just little bits that perhaps people had given away because they had not room for them. I am not usually a collector, so I pick up a tea cup set (which was actually English) for my sister.
In the back were two cats, one black and white and one ginger coloured. The ginger coloured one only had one eye and, apparently by all reports, had been having a fight with its sibling when it was a kitten and was scratched. It ended up having to have a complicated operation, too, the poor thing. But it certainly looked content sitting in the back room of this shop.
Interestingly, I mentioned to the shopkeeper that I had been to the Basilica of the Holy Blood where they venerate a relic. This was my excuse for being a few cents short on my purchase, as they ask for a contribution to keep the church running. This elicited a quick retort from this young woman, ‘Why would you give money to an organisation that condones paedophiles? Never give money to that church!’ Well, I was surprised she would talk to me about something that obviously bothering her greatly. We then had a chat about my church, the Church of England, a much more benign assembly of people which seems to have come up trumps in the child abuse situation. ‘Our Cathedral even has a gay canon – in an openly gay relationship!’ I crow. ‘At least your church lets priests get married…instead of fiddling with children’, she grumbled.
Not the conversation I would expect to have in Brugge. Didn’t have the heart to tell her I had put yet more pennies into the coffers so I could light candles for my cousin’s husband and my Uncle Cy who both died recently. OK, maybe it shouldn’t, but it makes me feel better.

Floridade and Azamara Journey

OK, I will simply have to put up pictures of Azamara Journey’s buffet on Facebook. It is amazing and would have something to appeal to everyone. Ate in the Aqualina on Sunday night and it was superb. Though the seafood platter was tasty, kudos go to the chef for the Orange Parfait dessert which was out of this world! Nice ambience on board. Finally heard some people letting out belly laughs last night and was heartened. Before that, it just seemed a bit too quiet!
Floriade on Sunday was excellent. Perhaps a bit commercially driven but, hey, isn’t horticulture in Holland big business? One has to take that into consideration. The Dome provided a 360 degree film experience that described just that…the importance of flowers to this country’s economy. 5 Belgian ladies in my cable car did say that the Kreukenhoff (spelling?) had far more flowers, as indeed, does the Chelsea Flower Show.
I loved the medieval fair that they organised. People were walking around in full medieval regalia with donkeys and horses, there were blacksmith demonstrations and far more. The World Pavillion/Area was well done but, again, it could have had more floral displays. But the outstanding exhibit was, surprisingly, about food. It was put together by the University of Tokyo and showed the Japanese perspective on food. This went right down to the five taste senses: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Umami refers to protein in a pure form such as mother’s milk. Fascinating stuff!

Dale Watson at the Sahara Lounge, Austin, Texas

They sure are proud of their music in Austin, the ‘Live Music Capitol of the World’. When I was driving into town from Galveston, in the pouring rain mind you, they announced a concert featuring Dale Watson, a well-known crooner from the area. I decided to see if I could organise tp go see him. I know I should have gone to the Broken Spoke (highly recommended) but then it would also be nice to see a recognised artist and hob nob with folks who appreciate his music.
Well, the Sahara Lounge is a right old-fashioned cowboy honky tonk (except now they have African –American artists, too) and was a much smaller venue than I imagined. It was in that never, never land of East Austin, outside of the nice suburbs and before the farms and ranches start up. Though a bit scruffy around the edges, with fairy lights and tinsel everywhere left over from Christmas, the bar had a very friendly clientele and everyone smiled at me. Anyway, I loved the atmosphere and soon saw the man himself. Dale is a petite kinda guy with a huge pale grey squiff (the type Johnny Cash had as a young man) which is what Rockabilly sorts prefer. He was dressed head to toe in black and with a silver decorated belt and spiffy cowboy boots as accessories. I know he performed a cover or two of other artistes, but I imagine most of these country, rock n’ roll numbers were his own. He had a very nice baritone and his backup band, particularly the bass player, looked like they could have played these numbers in their sleep. And I mean that in a good way.
It didn’t take long for the band to set up and start playing. The first set, almost everyone got up to dance. Proper close dancing –a two- step I believe. And every female had on smart cowboy boots. I tell you them young fellers and fillies danced just as well as their older counterparts. Everyone was havin’ a great time. There were quite a few cowboys in the Sahara Lounge but there were no red necks that I could spot and the evening progressed without any incident.

Laffite, Hotel Gálvez and the Pageant of Pulchritude

It seems Galveston has always been a bit of a racy place long before it became famous for pleasure beaches, pier amusements and as a hangout of celebrities, even Presidents.
If you visit the Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast attraction on the Strand you will find out about some unsavoury yet colourful characters that sailed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, pirates famously went in search of goods and treasure, often tyrannising other ships and coastal communities as they went. Jean Laffite was a privateer who became a pirate in the beginning of the 19th century. During the War of 1812, General Andrew Jackson decided to allow pirates such as Laffite to join the American side against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in exchange for allowing the pirates to be given amnesty. Not long after, Laffite built a fortress on what is now Galveston Island naming his encampment ‘Campeche’. The government of the United States did an about turn in regards to pirates and decided that the plundering, pillaging and general marauding along the Gulf Coast must be put to a stop. A warship was sent to track down to capture Lafitte and was stationed just off the coast of Campeche. But Laffite escaped, probably crossing to the mainland via a spit of land called Bolivar and burning down the fort and every dwelling in his encampment before he scampered off.
Galveston was later named after Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez (1746 -1786) in the years when Tejas was part of New Spain. He helped the colonies fight the British in the War of Independence and this island was named after him. The enormous, imposing Hotel Galvez, which was completed in 1911, is also named after the Viceroy. This amazing hotel became a statement to the world that Galveston Island had recovered from the Great Storm of 1900.
Many well-known ‘firsts’ are attributed to Galveston but perhaps one of the least known is that it hosted one of the very first Miss Universe pageants. Of course, in its infancy, this pageant would not look anything as glamorous as these events do in the modern age. In fact, it was called the Pageant of Pulchritude! No, I have no idea what it means either.
During the Prohibition and then Depression, gambling, consumption of alchohol and other illicit activities also thrived on the beach front of Galveston Island, with the Balinese Pier probably being the most popular. Opened by a Sicilian couple, the establishment did a roaring trade, evading the authorities for many years.
Many guests from the famous Hotel Gálvez frequented the Balinese Pier. The hotel was added to the National List of Historic places in 1970.

Galveston, Oh Galveston!

I have already sailed from Galveston Island on the Carnival Magic through its silt filled green Gulf coastal waters on a 7 night fun cruise. Now I am staying in the town properly and at the Tremont House Hotel no less. Located on the Strand and owned by the Mitchell family, the Galveston born oilman, George Mitchell, buys and restore historic properties, it is a gorgeous property as well as historic monument. A few families have become dominant in the scheme of things here in Galveston which I will report on later.
I have to admit, my only knowledge of Galveston is the Glen Campbell song from the 1960’s. What a surprise to find out that Galveston was one of the wealthiest U.S. cities in the 19th century, a centre of commerce for the Southern United States with many firsts like the first post office, first opera house, firsts of all kinds until it was almost completely destroyed by a Hurricane in September 1900. The loss of lives was horrendous, at least 6,000 souls were lost and the bodies never given conventional burials so the true number will never be known.
And the surviving magnificent Victorian homes and buildings are a testament to a bygone era before Houston took over as the new power house of the Gulf. I get to take a tour of the Bishop’s Palace which was the former home of the Gresham family. Mr Gresham was originally from Virginia but Mrs Gresham had been born in Corpus Cristi. She was an artist and gardener and both were very personally involved with the décor and furnishing of the house. The Calalily chandelier in the entrance way, which had been personally selected by Mrs Gresham, was delicate and in beautiful condition. The house was eventually sold to the Catholic Diocese of Galveston and became Bishop Byrne’s residence. An upstairs bedroom was converted into a small chapel. The stain glass windows made in Europe were unbelievable in their detail and striking colours. Throughout the house were the most unusual and striking stain glass windows.
But I really enjoyed touring the Pallister House as part of a once a year opportunity to see how modern owners live in these historic homes. It was originally built by a Yorkshire born Robert Pallister who was born in 1851 and it was owned by this family for many years. The décor was breath-taking and it was such a shame that I hadn’t brought my camera. The brightly decorated basement area was cheerful while the front parlour was the perfect balance of modern and historic pieces. The dining room was gracefully decorated as well. What a pleasure to see people taking such pride in their homes.
It was sad to then tour through the neighbourhoods to see the oak trees that have been destroyed by Hurricane Ike. The remaining trunks of these magnificent trees had been carved into beautiful sculptures. Once again, nature had made its mark on this quite unique island.

Carnival Magic and Carnival Cruises take muster drills seriously

Things have changed since the Costa Concordia, there is no doubt. I am sailing on the Carnival Magic out of Galveston and have settled nicely into my cabin and have been checking out the ship facilities. Soon after, about two hours into the voyage and instructions start coming over the tanoy to prepare passengers for the muster drill. As this is a Carnival cruise, we had been given a hilarious and wacky welcome on board, getting everyone in the mood for a party. This all changes when the emergency drill blasts start with everyone being moved on briskly to their various drill stations. Even a bride and groom in all their finery had to attend. I think most people were startled when absolute silence was demanded before the emergency instructions and the lifejacket demonstration would take place. And quite right that they wanted everyone’s attention! And even though we were sitting inside, it was easy to see which lifeboat you would need to use as they were all pretty much in view. Reassuring.
When I requested a bridge tour, which I frequently do when I am on a cruise, my request was not considered. Not that I mind; if this is a move toward more and better security on ships I am all for it. But me and my sister are able to meet Captain Giovanni Cutugno and several of his officers, including chief officer Giuseppe Seccia, when we are invited to dinner. The informal evening is informative, interesting and good fun. Hotel Manager Sam Ackrill joins us as well and we eat, appropriately, at the Cucina del Capitano. Our ‘Capitano’ completely relishes being the head of the table, dishing out appetizers to share, giving suggestions on the entrees and encouraging everyone to try out the tipple. Excellent food and service, as well as company, created an exceptional evening.

Kemah, Texas

Gulf Coast and all that Jazz
KEMAH, Texas

One of the first things you notice about Kemah is that doors are not only unlocked but even left open. With only 2000 residents, it is as safe as anywhere I have ever been. The second important thing I notice, along with the sweltering heat, is a massive cockroach lying belly up in a toilet. But that must come with the territory when you are in a sub-tropical climate near so much water.
My first glimpse of the bay, as I pass over the Kemah Bridge and just the other side of the marina, takes my breath away. Having travelled through miles of flat, wide open country, it is wonderful to get to the water’s edge and know I am not far from the Gulf of Mexico.
I am staying at the wonderful Clipper House Inn which is just a few minutes’ walk from the Kemah Boardwalk, the Texas version of Coney Island. The Inn is a B & B and is a little colony of older quaint boxy cottages surrounding ponds with water fountains and beautiful gardens. There is even a winery at the back of the premises with a fantastic restaurant, called Tabellas, that has just opened. I have dinner there with the local CVB rep, Rebeccah, enjoying a shrimp dish that is to die for. Bring on the Shrimp Gumbo Cook Off tomorrow! Yippee!
Places I plan to visit while here:
• Aquarium Restaurant, with a cylindrical aquarium on three floors (Can you imagine?) on the Boardwalk
• Nasa Space Centre (just 4 miles away)
• Keels and Wheels at the local yacht club, which happens once a year and highlights vintage cars and boats
• Crawfish and Cops which is a fundraiser at the community centre just around the corner.

See y’all later!