Up, up and not away to New York

As everyone, everywhere, knows covid19 has put a stop to all travel.

We must all be careful to stay safe by ‘Staying at Home’. In Australia we’ve been very good at staying at home and helping to ‘flatten the curve’ or as some are now saying ‘fatten the curve!’

There’s been lots of Instagram memes!

Today we should be flying out of Brisbane bound for New York. Off to see our precious new grandson, Leo. He was born in the midst of a pandemic that has devastated NY and many other places around the world. But out of the chaos came Leo. Born on April 11 – Easter Saturday in NYU Hospital. He’s beautiful.

Leo enjoying a walk
I can’t wait for a cuddle

We planned to spend 2 weeks in NY getting to know Leo. We’d booked an Airbnb in West Village, an area we were getting to know as we have spent the last two April’s visiting our son & his wife in NY.

One of the many little gardens in West Village

I’m imagining the spring flowers coming out as they do after the cold of winter.

What does their life look like now ? They have spent the past two years doing everything they could possible fit in, to really enjoy their life in this busy city. Restaurants, concerts, exercise, galleries, riding bikes, swimming, walking. Enjoying their jobs and getting out of the city on weekends & holidays to visit places like Boston, Charleston, Portland, Pittsburg, Austin, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, Miami, California, Mexico. ….now they are lucky to visit the nearby park. Photos of Leo on his daily walk show very happy new parents, not letting the Coronavirus stop them.

Going to the park on a Sunday is a must. Families out enjoying the open spaces – essential in big cities. Walking, listening to the buskers, or watching the tennis players or those rowing on the lake.

What would we be doing if we’d gone across to NY today? Walking with the pram along the village type streets of West Village and visiting the parks. Washington Square Park is nearby and so lovely. Of course Central Park is something I do on every visit.

Visiting the art galleries is another must do. Each visit I try to visit different galleries. This time it was to be back to the Met. And the Museum of Modern Art – MOMA which I haven’t been to in quite a few years.

We would be catching up with our swim trek friends from our Galapagos trip. Lynn and Lois live in New York, others were flying in to meet us. Betty from California, Lexie from Mexico, Barry from Canada and Bill from London. Our plan for a catch up ……gone. We had a great reunion in 2018. Maybe next year.

A concert at Carnegie Hall and we were to see La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. We had great seats and on returning them recently, actually made money as the value of our dollar has dropped – as we’d paid in US $!

We also got a full refund on our Airbnb which was great.

This time last year we were there visiting and playing with our friends Peter & Elizabeth McGregor. We had a lots of fun and the photos bring back so many happy memories.

Instead of preparing for our trip we have been in isolation at our beach place. Right on the beach we have been able to swim each day and go for long walks. Lots of reading. Some tv series, cooking, collecting shells, sketching,yoga. So not all bad!

Look back at my posts from last year in NY and see the things we did then. In my mind I’m travelling there again. That’s all we do at the moment.

Stay safe everyone. Especially as things start to reopen. Don’t forget the simple things like washing those hands well and social distance always. This virus hasn’t gone yet.

What have you been doing in isolation? Wherever you are in the world, let me know ( in comments) how you are and what you’ve been doing.

Last day : Lodi to San Francisco

Poppy has a sleep over last night so Jordan took her for a walk to get our coffee ! Great start to the last day.

Lisa went to work a little bit later to make the most of Poppy time and to farewell me.

Right on 10am John , Jordan and I set off for San Francisco. It’s a beautiful warm, blue day and they are taking me all the way to San Francisco. About 1.5 hrs with some great signs along the way.

It was an interesting drive past vineyards and into the delta area where we sang the song ‘ drove my chevi to the levy but the levy was dry ‘

There are a number of levy here which cater for the farms in the area. Many crops are grown here.

I could sing my way around America!

‘Are you going to San Francisco….’

‘Do you know the way to San Jose….’

Visiting any area of America produces the opportunity to sing about it!

We arrived via the rather beautiful Bay Bridge. It was replaced after an earthquake brought down part of the old bridge.

It has a great approach and is a rather lovely structure.

We arrived into SF and drove along the Embarcadero………

past all the rejuvenated piers until we reached pier 39.

We parked the car and walked out on pier to Scomos. It’s an old restaurant – like bring on a ship. I had a great shrimp salad. And a glass of Rose!

Last time I’ll see Jordan before baby M arrives!

The day was perfect so we walked along the water. I admired the people swimming! It would be just a little chilly!

Then John took me on a tour. Of course the famous zig zag Lombard St featured.

The views down Lombard St.

We arrived at Grove St at a rather small hotel, one block from the painted ladies of Alamo Park. John and Jordan helped me in and then it was goodbye. Next time I see my daughter in law will be with a baby in her arms.

As the weather was so lovely I headed straight out. Up the hill to Alamo Park and the infamous Painted Ladies. SF style houses painted different colours.

My hotel is just down the street to the left.

I then walked …… and walked……. past some great houses.

Past public buildings

City Hall
Love the circular rooms
Mosaics
Opera & Ballet Theatre
Great street art.

Until I had passed numerous homeless people to reach Union Square where I had stayed years ago.

By now I was quite exhausted so had a cup of tea! Watched the passing parade and caught an Uber back to the Grove Inn.

I refreshed in my little room and went to the Alamo Square Seafood Grill. What a find. It was a little FRENCH ! place and I had the best fish fish! Grilled blackened snapper with delicious veg. And a glass of Chardonnay.

In & Out in Lodi.

I’ve been told by many people to experience the taste sensations of the local burger place. Or is that palace?

Recently, Qantas, our Australian airline, wrote that when in LA one shouldn’t miss out on visiting an In & Out Burger.
Started in 1948 it is basically the same today. Read about it here :

https://www.in-n-out.com/mobile/history.aspx


I was told it was better than McDonalds!So today John , his mother Ann and I visited an In & Out. Jordan was working from home so passed. Perhaps avoiding a burger !

My first impressions. Bright, clean, with the feel of an American diner – what I think is a diner!

I went for the basic cheeseburger. And we shared the ‘animal fries’ what are these! No not fries in the shape of an animal. They are fries topped – or loaded with cheese and a chopped onion.

We helped ourselves to the drinks while waiting for our number to be called.

I checked out the kitchen where the staff, all looking very neat and tidy we busy freshly chopping potatoes for the fries and serving at the take away windows.

John collecting our order

We settled into booth. And checked out the food. Neatly wrapped burgers.

Well presented cheeseburger!

It wasn’t too big so I really enjoyed it.

We cruised around the big streets of Lodi past other drive in shopping areas and made another stop at My Yoghurt. Yum!

The owners are neighbours of John & Lisa. In fact they seem to know someone every time we go out. Lodi isn’t that big.

I stopped in at Ann’s place to look at her garden. She a keen potter- taking cuttings and successfully nurturing them ! She’s a loving grandma to Jordan as was reflected in the present from her grandchildren on her 80 birthday. Take a read of this ….

We picked up Poppy, John & Lisa’s 2 year old granddaughter, and went for a walk to the beach. I really love this community private park and river beach.

Poppy is gorgeous and much loved by all the Donati family. My grandson will be born into a loving family, so I couldn’t be happier.

Lisa cooked a lovely family meal for my last night. Thank you John & Lisa for making me part of your family.

Exploring Lodi

Today we were going to explore the local area. Both near and the not so near.

It started with a walk to the coffee shop with Jordan and her lovely friend Stephanie. We got halfway there and I tripped over! Skinned my hands and knee so headed back home for first aid.

When I’d recovered and the girls had delivered my coffee, we headed to ‘the beach’ . It’s an area of the river which belongs to a community of local house owners. 160 local owners can choose to become members of the cooperative. It’s a part of the river , some sand and parkland. The co operative look after it and get to use it for daily activities or family / friends parties.

Entrance to the private park / beach.

It’s so beautiful. Lots of parkland , a bbq area, picnic tables, a volleyball court, and a sandy beach leading into the river water . What a lovely community idea.

The volleyball court
John, Jordan & Stephanie in beautiful weather

We headed back to the house to meet Lisa, who had gone to work for a few hours ( it’s a public holiday here – Presidents Day).

And so, off to explore Lodi and the surrounding wine area. First stop

Wine & Roses. This winery/restaurant/hotel/spa /wedding venue and cafe is where Jordan worked just after university. She had met Rob in Barcelona , came home to complete her degree at Santa Barbara, worked in marketing at this lovely hotel winery before leaving to head back to Barcelona to be with Rob. The rest is history!

Entrance to Wine & 🌹 Roses

We explored the hotel and restaurant and had lunch in the cafe, stopping for a chat with the resident bird.

Rudy

We continued on and headed east out of town past many vineyards with some hundred year old vines.

We stopped at Bokisch. This is influenced by Spanish wine making techniques – the owner is Spanish. The wines are very good and the Tempranillo is quite delicious.

Rolling hills of vineyards

We met Alicia, the wine maker, a really lovely woman who has been making wines for about 12 year’s – winning lots of medals for her delicious wines.

I bought a bottle or two for you Steve! And then we headed towards Lodi town and stopping in at McCays for another tasting. John is a member of their wine club – just like the last winery. It gives a number of free wine tastings each year. Lucky me!

Cheers from McCays

The weather was still unseasonably warm so we strolled down School St – the Main Street of Lodi.

Such a lovely afternoon.

The evening finished at a Mexican restaurant. Beer and tacos. A great evening.

Baby Shower Fun

An early start for a fun set up.

Beautiful food

flowers ✔️ glasses ✔️napkins ✔️ plates✔️champagne chilled ✔️bibs, singlets, fabric pens✔️ balloons ✔️bundini✔️ quiche✔️

The girls arrived. The champagne popped and the chatter began.

Traditions in countries differ in the way people celebrate the mother to be.

Perhaps readers have some traditions they have ….. please share in the comments at the end of this post.

All the girls arrived. Neighbours popped by and beautifully wrapped presents gifted to Jordan for her baby.

Guests were invited to design a bib, singlet or little baby suit. The ideas were terrific.

Even little guests had a design in mind.
Mine said Surfer Dad, Surfer Boy.

The food was delicious and the few baby games we played were lots of fun.

A great gift from Claire in Australia
Absolutely glowing.
Surrounded by love and presents.
My beautiful daughter in law

Preparing for a baby shower. American style

Feeling refreshed after a lovely long sleep I heard chatter in the family area at around 6.30. Jordan and her parents were up drinking tea and catching up.

I went back to sleep!

By 8 am I was ready for a walk and coffee. We walked through the quiet streets of Lodi towards a cute little coffee shop.

The houses are mostly low ranch style with nice gardens and the occasional American flag.

The Donati’s have lived in their comfortable house for about 32years and it’s a lovely big family place with a beautiful pool out the back.

John & Lisa outside their house

We called into Jordan grandmas house after coffee. Everything is nice and close here and nice and flat for walking.

Lisa has a list of little jobs to do that would have me exploring Lodi and nearby Stockton as we prepared for the baby shower. Jordan was off to a bridal shower with her friends.

Jordan in her way to her friend’s bridal shower

First stop for us was The Hobby Lobby! A giant craft type place filled with everything needed for setting up your arts & crafts. We bought a selection of glass vases for the white flowers we got later at Costco ( along with a Speedo swimsuit!). We also got ribbons.

Then it was the party place for baby shower napkins, table decorations, a banner and other bits and pieces. As we queued up a lady commented on my lipstick colour! She was very impressed I had come all the way from Australia for a baby shower.

Little blue bundtinis

Then to Stockton for the bundtini – little decorated cakes. we couldn’t but look at Flair a ladies boutique owned by godmother. I bought a lovely shirt. Not there – at another store Lisa likes.

Back home for crab salad lunch , flower arrangements decorating and family gathering before heading to a family style brewery. It was perfect for pizza, beer and games for the kids.

Travel: has its ups and downs

Receiving the invitation to Jordan’s baby shower at the end of January started me thinking!

Why not surprise Jordan by arriving for her baby shower?

Rob and Jordan live in New York but the baby shower was to be in Lodi, north California.

I checked…… I could get a points flight. Done – booked.

Flight day arrived ( Lisa and John were in on the secret and ready to meet me in San Francisco)

Arriving at the airport nice and early I tried to check in. No!

Qantas had no record of my ESTA. ( Despite having seen it was valid until March)

So no check in!

I had to apply for a new ESTA and rebook on a flight the next day. Only problem. It was out of Sydney.

Long story short. I flew to Sydney and onto a 6pm flight. Luckily I still was able to get a whole row of seats to myself ( thank you Pat)

Jordan’s dad picked me up at and we drove to Lodi. It’s a small place about two hours east of San Fran. In a wine region.

Passing through Stockton we collected crabs for dinner and headed home to surprise Jordan.

The reaction was amazing. I walked into the house. Jordan was on the phone with Rob( who was back in NY) and screamed and started sobbing! I think it was a joyful sob!

Rob was just as surprised – but with out the sobbing. Then asked why I hadn’t told him, as he would have come across from NY!

We had a big, happy, family night with crab, salad and lovely local wine. From Ann ( Jordan’s grandma down to Poppy aged 2 ) it was a fun night. My jet lag was non existent. When surrounded by happiness it’s hard to be jet lagged.

But finally into bed

Our last day in Sri Lanka: Aywbowan.

Aywbowan is a greeting in Sri Lanka. It means a long life to you. Such a beautiful way to greet someone with hands joined together in prayer style.

A later start this morning. A smaller group. Holiday is almost over.

Our usual lovely breakfast was followed by a walk through the streets to our favourite coffee shop.

Then it was time to go. Our clever bus driver managed back down the narrow road to load the bags. And away we went.

The highway was clear, so we were hoping for a good fast trip. The group who left yesterday at around 3 pm took about 4.5hr to do 90 km. They were headed for Nagombo , north of Colombo where the airport is, but had to detour into Colombo to drop off Marcelle. They got caught up with the election traffic.

The elections are causing a lot of interest. No alcohol was served anywhere today because of the elections.

To pass the time on the bus we had a Q&A with Hema, our guide. He is such a gentleman and so knowledgeable about Sri Lanka. It was funny the questions asked. Everything from ‘Why is Buddhist robe colour orange ‘ to ‘what countries have you been to be ? ‘ to wages (for doctors 120,000 rupees teachers, 60,000 rupees) per annum!

Then we invited him to ask us questions. Hema was great fun and we enjoyed him so much.

We made good time on a very good highway. Lots of green on the way.

Then we hit the outskirts of Colombo. Past the Geoffrey Bawa designed Parliament House

Through busy streets.

Then on to the airport just north of Colombo. Carmel , our fearless tour organiser and Peter are off to the Maldives for a few days.

We waved goodbye after many hugs. We’ll miss them. Who will be our leader now? There are only 10 of us left and Pam and John leave later tonight.

We arrived at our hotel the rather grandly named Grandeeza which we immediately called The White House – for obvious reasons.

We were now officially starving so raced to the cafe nearby for a snack. It was 4pm and a long time since breakfast. No bus picnic today.

We were longing for a swim in the pool. The hotel had been described as having a big pool right by the beach.

How disappointing to find the pool closed as someone vomited in it and it had to be cleaned! And there is water our the front but no beach in front of the hotel (it is 6 km away!). Then it rained. Not the last evening we planned.

We discovered the hotel empty except for us! So we made our own fun in the big room Kath and Mark were given.

We played lots of games involving music from movies, tv and musicals! And drank some gin ( just to empty the bottles) I think we went downhill with out Carmel.

So our last night with just 8 was fun but quiet.

Tomorrow the airport.

Cooking up a Storm in Galle

Our usual delicious breakfast on the terrace. How will I cope when I get home?

Following breakfast we walked around the quiet streets of Galle Fort. It’s really suffering from a lack of tourists due to the bomb attacks in Colombo earlier in the year. It’s such a shame. They rely on tourists here. Please come back tourists!

By now it was super steamy and we were heading to the markets. Into tuk tuks and out into the traffic.

The markets weren’t that big but it was still hard to decide what we wanted.

We thought the hotel would send a guide with us but it was really us and a tuk tuk driver ! We decided to get vegetables we liked – all types. Little cauliflowers, eggplant, snake beans, pumpkins, okra, and assorted other greens.

 

Into the spice shop.

Back into our tuk tuk for a visit to the outdoor fish markets near the waterfront. We wished we knew what we were doing!

We thought of consulting with the fish stall cat……..

But in the end made a decision and bought fresh looking prawns and tuna.

Back into the tuk tuks to give our produce to chef Poorna and get ready for our cooking class.

It was great fun.

Chef was great – teaching us knife skills and explaining each step as we cooked up each vegetable into what ended up as a beautiful feast.

We stirred and watched and in the end found it wasn’t too difficult!

The tuna looked and tasted amazing. Chef cut it in strips and seasoned each side with Pepper, salt and lime pressing it in and standing for a minute before lightly pan frying it.

We sat and ate the food for lunch – voting on our favourites. I loved the eggplant curry and the snake bean salad.

Then it was time to say goodbye. To Helen & Mike heading off to Italy, Kay and Trevor to India.

And Marcelle back to Colombo.

That left 12 of us to explore Galle town and stop for a beautiful passionfruit Mojito at Tequila Mockingbird – a rather fun play on words!

Our last dinner in Galle was a celebration of marriages! It was our 44th wedding anniversary so everyone was asked to tell how they met and became engaged!

A special day near Galle : The Foundation of Goodness

Travelling in a country so different to mine, makes one realise how fortunate we are.

Sri Lanka has suffered so much over the years and the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami left the people of this beautiful country with even less than they had before.

My friend Carmel, who has organised this trip for us, came to this area about 8 years running. She brought students from the  childcare training company, Charlton Brown, where she worked.

They volunteered at the Foundation of Goodness which started up after the tsunami hit.

It’s based in Seenigama in the Hikkaduwa area. It started in a villa donated by a man called Kushil Gunasekera, who is now Chairman of the board.

After a beautiful breakfast on the terrace we headed for the bus for the drive up the coast.

It was Rob’s birthday, so we had organised a little surprise on the bus.

A petite cake and a card!

We arrived at the turn off and walked the 500 metres down the road.

It was hot!

Carmel was greeted by her old friends from over 8 visits and I was already tearing up as you could see the effect the place has on so many lives.

We were officially welcomed and Ludmila talked about the Foundation and how it impacts on the lives of people in surrounding villages.

Kushil now does fundraising and seems to be successful, as all the donors are honoured on the boards displayed in the entrance. It’s impressive.

This is Kushil.

They have many programs on offer to empower the people into education towards a better life. All the programs are offered free.

We visited the preschool, which Carmel and her students supported, and of course were charmed by the gorgeous little children. They put on a little dance show and made us a flower which acted as a fan, as it was now very hot and steamy.

They sang to Rob for his birthday which moved us to tears.

We joined them for a rousing version of the Hokey Pokey with everyone giving it their best!

Such a wonderful experience.

We moved on to the computer classes offered free to 16-35 years olds, who after completing the course move onto employment, often in tourism.

Ludmila was keen to show us everything but we were SO hot. We saw the Library, and the shop, with it’s hand made products from the sewing classes.

We visited the medical centre where people come for free consultations and the dental surgery, where the doctor and dentists are volunteers.

I was chatting to the dental nurse, as my daughter in law is also a dental nurse. The uniform here is slightly more formal.

Into the mini bus and down to the sports centre. They are very proud of the sports achievements. Sports stars from all over the world visit here and donate time and money.

Several of the students have gone on to careers in world teams.

There’s a swimming pool, an oval, a gym

Such a wonderful place. By now , more than hot and sweaty, we were keen to wave goodbye and head for a cooler spot.

We drove to a nearby restaurant right by the sea. A beer and lunch later we felt revived and headed back to Galle.

After a short rest we broke up the group. Some went on the history walk with Hema. Some went shopping. Carmel, Jill, Pam and myself went to the Geoffrey Bawa designed Jetwing Hotel. What a place.

The staircase tells a story.

Meeting a delightful young staff member really helped us have a great look at this amazing hotel. She took us around and explained about the design and showed us a room and a suite. Beautiful.

Simple, understated architecture producing beautiful comfortable spaces.

As we sat sharing a bottle of Rose on the terrace, we felt we’d made the right decision about our afternoon. Our guide was so much fun and the place was magnificent.

We returned to meet everyone for dinner at a lovely hotel in the old fort.

Another lovely day.