The Tour discovers “real-deal” Greek food, found and eaten in a small MD town where the Army tested the bullets that killed JFK.

After experiencing hellacious traffic getting through Atlanta, we had a quiet night’s stay in Norcross, GA (The Peach State)The Tour continued through South Carolina (Home of The Gamecocks) on our way to Durham, NC (The Tarheel State), where we stopped to see our daughter Sara and meet the newest member of the family.

Say “hi” to our new grand dog, rescued Lady Jane, LJ for short, who Sara (right) recently adopted.

15350438_10101237739666719_1719149169719592598_n

Sara made us THE BEST EVER slow cooked pork loin dinner. Her recipe was from a web site called Gonna Want Seconds. Bart wanted (and had) thirds. OMG. Here’s a link to the recipe. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE: http://bit.ly/2gufusr

screenshot-2016-12-12-21-50-38

The next morning we made tracks through VA (Virginia is for Lovers), the Nation’s Capital and on to the small town of Aberdeen, MD (Maryland is for Crabs). The town is home to baseball legends Billy and Cal Ripken, and former resident and musician Frank Zappa. 

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. holds the record for consecutive games played (2,632), surpassing Lou Gehrig’s 56 year run of 2,130 that many believed was unbreakable.

CAL RIPKEN

Aberdeen (pop. 15,130) is also notable for the presence of the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, where Bart’s career Army Uncle Joe Harrington was stationed for several years. It’s also where ballistics tests were carried out on the bullets that killed President Kennedy.

screenshot-2016-12-12-22-00-24

Our hotel for the night was located in a most unusual – and cool – location…attached to Ripken Stadium. The Stadium is home to the Aberdeen IronBirds, Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The team has sold out every home game since it began playing there in 2002.

This is the view from our room.

wp-1481586800632.jpg

After checking into our hotel, we dropped our luggage and then immediately headed out again to explore the nearby town of Havre De Grace, MD (pop. 12,952). Positioned on the Susquehanna River and at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, the city was named one of America’s 20 best small towns to visit in 2014 by Smithsonian Magazine. If Smithsonian says to visit…we go.

wp-1481585993843.jpg

There is so much history here, ranging from the British invasion during the War of 1812 to the town’s role as a primary stop for escaped slaves on the Eastern Route of the Underground Railroad.

Walking along the waterfront boardwalk (or as they call it…a promenade) we passed what was once the stately brick Bayou Hotel, now condos.

wp-1481590121071.jpg

Continuing on, we passed the Decoy Museum, (duck hunting and artisan carved decoys are still big business here) and the historic Concord Point Lighthouse, which marks the mouth of the river.

wp-1481590527601.jpg

The Chesapeake Bay views along the Promenade Walkway were spectacular. It was dusk, there was nearly a full moon and this kayaker had “the joint” all to himself. Very serene.

wp-1481586332665.jpg

What a great spot to sit and take a load off.

wp-1481586641155.jpg

We can’t think of single boat lover who wouldn’t want this gig – Havre de Grace Harbor Patrol.

wp-1481591237148.jpg

Driving out of the waterfront downtown area, we passed gracious inns decked out for Christmas, and restaurants and shops overlooking the bay. Havre De Grace is a very cool, old-fashioned town where the surrounding river and bay draw folks to enjoy coastal living.

The Vandiver Inn, a charming Victorian-style B&B near the banks of the Susquehanna River.

wp-1481590241574.jpg

After our waterfront walk in the brisk (okay cold) air, we definitely worked up an appetite and knew just the place to go…Georgia’s Carry Out, a local mom and pop Greek restaurant we read about.

wp-1481585434161.jpg

The minute we walked in we knew we made a great choice. Nick, who owns the restaurant with his beautiful wife, greeted us, asked us if we’ve had his home made soups, and when we said no, he immediately brought each of us 3 samples of the best soup ever.

wp-1481585526718.jpg

A couple at a neighboring table, Tim and Sandy Brooks, really helped us decide what to order. Thanks for the great suggestions.

wp-1481585505013.jpg

This is a small Greek Salad which could have fed at least 3 people. The stuffed grape leaf melted in our mouths. The feta cheese was fresh and creamy, and all the veggies were perfectly ripe and crisp. But wait, there’s more.

wp-1481585449635.jpg

Owner Nick ladled our “sample” soups. Bart loved the homemade pea soup so much he ordered what they call “a bowl”. Had to be a quart of that liquid deliciousness in his “trough”.

wp-1481585567919.jpg

Rorie got a gyro (pronounced “YEE-roh” Nick insisted). As the old saying goes, “It takes two hands to handle a whopper”. This was a whopper and it was delicious!

screenshot-2016-12-12-20-54-50

Tim and Sandy told us about another small town eatery they thought we should take a look at, even if only for the kitschy decorations. It’s called Mamie’s Cafe (http://www.mamiescafewithlove.com). This is what ABC News had to say about the place: “The hand written sign spells out Mamie’s…and underneath you see, ‘With Love.’ When you go inside, its like your family album came to life…While waiting for your pot roast, shrimp salad, or free desert, take a look up on the wall and you will see a history of East Baltimore.” Did someone say free dessert?

wp-1481590307488.jpg

Mamie’s walls are covered with old pots, pans, washboards and nostalgic photos from years gone by…

wp-1481585382016.jpg

Full beyond words, we headed back to our place of rest for what we hoped would be a great night’s sleep.

This was the reading on our odometer when we left Georgia. We’ve put quite a few miles on our buggy, under our belts and on our buns, with 2,000 more to go.

20161211_212636.jpg

The next stop on the second to last leg of our coast-to-coast, round trip Tour: Connecticut. Time to bundle up.

The Tour takes on small town TX, Loo-zee-an-uh and Miss-iss-i-ppi

NOTE: Some may think the Tour is too focused on food, but we’ve found that the townies we meet love to “tell us where to go”. Plus, discovering great local eateries brings us to cool parts of the towns we’re visiting AND introduces us to hometown folks with great inside info and stories to tell. Read on…


After a long, grueling ride from Abilene, TX, through towns like Clyde (pop. 3,734 – Bart’s Dad’s middle name), Cisco (pop. 3,899 – birthplace of  Darrell “Dash” Crofts of the music duo Seals and Crofts), Terrell (pop. 15,816 – where actor and musician Jamie Foxx lived and graduated from school), we crossed through small Louisiana communities like Rustin (featured by Jack Kerouac in his book On the Road), site of the annual Rustin Peach Festival.

b9322670387z-1_20160622120948_000_g5iep1qh9-1-0

We continued on over the Mississippi Bridge to our final stop of the day – Vicksburg, MS (pop. 23,856).

5a64452a-4c14-4761-a915-f3bedf8df575_d

Vicksburg has an interesting history as a strategic Confederate site that was practically impenetrable because of it’s location on a high bluff and on the Mississippi River. General U.S. Grant was ordered to capture the City, and during the Winter of 1863, he put his Army aboard transports and moved downriver from Memphis. Floodwaters prevented Grant from marching over the land from the river against Vicksburg, and Confederate cannons on Vicksburg’s bluffs made it impossible to move the army by boat past the city to attack from below.

100_8450

Eventually, Vicksburg surrendered during the 47 day Siege of Vicksburg. The surrender of the City by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, marked the turning point in the Civil War in the Union’s favor.

Vicksburg’s historic architecture is stunning. Cedar Grove, built in 1852, is one example.

a6a6db2ccdc44c29a72a2b021c786e70

During the War, Cedar Grove was struck by a cannon ball, which is still lodged in the parlor wall. The house is one of many in town that’s said to be haunted.

The Beck House is another example of Vicksburg architecture from the Antebellum period.

beck-house-vicksburg-ms-mdah-hri

The Old Vicksburg Courthouse is now a Civil War museum.

vfiles13643

After checking out the gracious old buildings, it was getting late and finding some good “Vicksburg Vittles” was foremost on our mind.

Rusty’s Waterfront Grill is a great southern comfort and seafood restaurant right by the Mississippi River at the end of the historic section of downtown Vicksburg. Another example of a wonderful recommendation by a local.

wp-1481333893129.jpg

All that was left of a bowl of jalapeño hush puppies and chipotle mayo dipping sauce. We were trying to make sure we achieved the RDA for the “grain” and “dairy” groups on the food pyramid.

wp-1481333917654.jpg

You can’t be in MS and not try some gumbo loaded with sausage and local seafood. Well, you could pass on it but why would you want to?

20161209_193921.jpg

Rorie opted for this behemoth Gulf shrimp po’ boy. She would like it to be clear that she did not eat the roll…like that really matters!

20161209_193530.jpg

Bart went the healthy and safe root with fresh grilled Grouper accompanied by sides of mayo-laden dipping sauces. Yes, it came with fries (not pictured).

20161209_193611.jpg

Dry-docked Mississippi River boat across from Rusty’s.

20161209_193727.jpg

The downtown historic section of Vicksburg is really beautiful and all decked out for Christmas. Loaded with museums, historic homes, brick paved streets and oozing Southern charm, it’s definitely a wonderful place to stroll.

20161209_193437.jpg

Tomorrow: Leaving cool Vicksburg for Hotlanta…

From AZ to El Paso to Abilene…a whole lot of nuthin’ going on, except ghosts and snakes

We left the comfortable surroundings of our beautiful Scottsdale, AZ digs for the last 2 days with some uncertainty and trepidation about today’s journey, and ultimate destination – El Paso, TX.

The drive through AZ was uneventful, but we stumbled onto a way off-the-beaten path (we’re talking dirt road) place that was really cool…Shakespeare Ghost Town in Lourdsburg, NM (pop. 2,665). The Tour-mobile took gravel roads to get to the place where the “streets” were trod by Billy The Kid, John Ringo, Curley Bill, The Clantons and other famous gunslingers.

wp-1481335537285.jpg

This remote outpost isn’t a tourist destination. There was no one to be seen for miles…

wp-1481335570935.jpg

We read a little about this spooky place with the interesting past, and hightailed it out of there before we got rounded up by a sheriff’s posse. Can’t even fathom how these outlaws found this place to begin with.

The route between Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX is  called Dairy Row and for good reason.

wp-1481413243499.jpg

More than 30,000 cows live in 11 farms located one after the other and trust us, we smelled them long before we even saw them.

wp-1481413382208.jpg

Our next stop was Deming, NM (pop. 14,090), where Rorie continued to calm her nerves and satisfy her dairy needs with some medicinal sweets…

20161207_134847001.jpg

 

Fully reenergized, we completed the last segment of the day’s itinerary and arrived in the border town of El Paso, TX. El Paso is a pretty prosperous city, so it was really startling to see the shacks and crumbling “houses” perched along the bank of the Rio Grand River 50 yards across the small bridge in Juárez, Mexico. It was sad for us to see how simply being born on the wrong side of a bridge sentences someone to a different quality of life.

borderjuarez

We freshened up at out hacienda for the night, and headed out in search of some good local BBQ. Oh boy, did we ever find it at the Rib Hut.

20161208_133205.jpg

Wednesday is “rib night” at the Rib Hut ($2.25 apiece for humungous beef ribs) and lucky for us, it was Wednesday. We were excited to try real Texas BBQ. The vibe in the place was great, the food even better. Bart KNEW it was gonna be his kind of place when he walked in and saw paper towels, Tabasco and jalapeños. Rorie KNEW it was her kind of place because there was a sale on ribs.

People were seated family style and we got a primo space near the fireplace and this wonderful couple, Richard and Leticia.

wp-1481335772947.jpg

They were fun and informative about the area, and told us what to order at this joint, which they go to once a week. We enjoyed meeting them as much as we did feasting on our fabulous, heart-healthy meal of ribs, brisket, sidewinder fries and coleslaw.

With full bellies, we went “home” and called it a night. The next morning we were greeted by plummeting temps. Time to put away the flip flops, t-shirts and shorts. Ugh!

20161209_194139.jpg

After packing the car – again – we started what we knew was going to be a long journey to Abilene… and immediately ran into snow.

wp-1481335144231.jpg

Bart was nervous because the route we were taking required us to go over some steep mountains and the last thing we needed to hit were icy roads. About 20 miles out of El Paso, in the mountains, we were surprised to come to a Border Patrol Station in the Town of Clint (pop. 941). We rolled to a stop and a member of the border patrol approached the Tour-mobile. He was menacing in his full face ski mask that looked like this…

atf-agent

Bart asked the agent where we were and he said “You’re in hell, and it just froze over”. Hard to know if he was kidding or not but we didn’t hang around long enough to figure it out. After asking if we were U.S. citizens and of course answering “yes”, we moved right along. Glad to know that one little question keeps us safe from terrorists and aliens!

Bart used to work with a guy in DC who was from West Texas (San Angelo) and he always said it was a God forsaken place, where in many places there’s nothing but tumbleweed. Well, Bill Bivens, having spent a week one afternoon driving through the region and actually having a huge tumbleweed blow across the road and get stuck under our car, I think you understated the desolation that is West Texas…

screenshot-2016-12-10-19-54-26

Further ahead we came to Fort Hancock, TX (pop. 1,713), which is a classic example of a place “where there’s no there there”.  We did stop at this place, happily not to eat but for a quick fill up at the adjacent gas station. There was a sign on the the station (which we forgot to take a picture of) that said it all, “Open 25/7“. You do the math!

wp-1481334151161.jpg

The town of Ft. Hancock is really struggling.

screenshot-2016-12-09-20-27-48

“Outpost” says it all…

wp-1481334164018.jpg

With our tank filled, we continued today’s journey. Rorie was quite relaxed…

wp-1481334137025.jpg

We passed by, not through, the Texas towns of Van Horn (pop 2,063), Torah (pop. 92) and Pecos (pop. 8,903), Big Spring (pop. 27,291) and Colorado City (pop 4,821) before arriving in Sweetwater, TX (pop. 11,415).

c18e1725321046-5604c009b304b

Sweetwater is the home of the annual (and world’s largest) rattlesnake roundup. Rorie wouldn’t get out of the car. You’ll understand why when you notice what’s hanging around the top left side of the sign.

rattlesnakeroundup

The event began in 1958 and is run by the Sweetwater Jaycees.

55038002b9617-image

Rorie and I thought of our neighbors the Lakes who are involved with the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club, and wondered whether they might want to organize a snake roundup in their/our Gulf Coast community. We hear it’s a great fundraiser.

World Poker Tour legend Doyle Brunson is from Sweetwater…Bart is a big fan.

wp-1481413490212.jpg

John Wayne was in the 1932 movie King of the Pecos, in which Sweetwater was the home town.

wp-1481413545394.jpg

Enough with our Sweetwater fascination. Onward to Abilene, where we settled in our room and grabbed a bite to eat. During dinner we met an interesting woman from Blanket, TX (pop. 342) with a great life story to tell.

wp-1481419061015.jpg

Chyrl Bradfield was raised by her “Mamaw”(Grandmother), who had 11 kids of her own. All the kids in town went to K-12 in the same little schoolhouse. She is part of the McClain Family which holds awesome family reunions each year. As the Welcome to Downtown Blanket sign says, she was what they call “friendly folks”.

blankettxwelcomesign0415bg

Tomorrow’s destination…Vicksburg, MS. Join us!

Frank Lloyd Wright had the right stuff… Scottsdale’s public art, food “to die for”

When we’re on the road we prefer to support small town, locally owned businesses, including Airbnbs, etc. If none are available we like to stay at Marriott properties. This Scottsdale hotel may have been THE best Courtyard Marriott Hotel we’ve ever experienced. Here’s what we posted on TripAdvisor…http://bit.ly/2hc6nOP. Not only was the facility amazing, but the staff, particularly Kristy and Desiree, were the epitome of customer service…stellar! This is the first Marriott-branded hotel on U.S. tribal land, and they’ve done a great job of preserving the culture and history of the local Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community.

16966970

Hot times on a cool night but sadly…no marshmallows.

images

Courtyard hosts this amazing 14 year old singer, Lelea Fonua,  who was accompanied on bongos by his dad laying “live chill music”. What a voice. In addition to singing solo and playing guitar and a uke, he’s in a band called 3 Nations (http://lelea.org/3-nations.html).

unnamed-5

These feet are made for walking, and walk we did. Can’t miss us.

wp-1481134860858.jpg

We saw this concrete sidewalk imbedded with glass and other materials outside of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and thought it would be a great idea for either inside or outside our house too. Rorie sees a reno project ahead…again.

wp-1481133227228.jpg

Bart wanted to give a shout out to his colleague Dale Rogers, who’s a public art champion and who himself has designed some amazing large-scale pieces, including his Big Dog sculptures seen around the Country (http://www.bartonrussell.com/dale-rogers). Scottsdale would make him proud…

hp10-new

The Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, which is actually a magnificent park, is filled with public art including this famous sculpture by Robert Indiana. We spent a few hours meandering through the gardens, art, fountains, shops and restaurants. A wonderful space to spend a beautiful afternoon.

20161207_112020.jpg

A war hero/Minister and his suffragette wife.

20161207_110303.jpg

No clue what this art represents (Teepee maybe?) but we loved it anyway.

wp-1481133032013.jpg

What a cool little merry-go-round made of fabric strips for kids and adults alike.

wp-1481133650356.jpg

Hotels, restaurants and shops in buildings saturated with color line the park.

wp-1481133725405.jpg

Wild horses couldn’t drag Rorie away from this huge Christmas tree in the park, even though she thought it was missing just one thing…tinsel.

20161207_110516.jpg

Bischoffs Gallery near the park has beautiful Southwestern art both inside and out.

20161207_112352.jpg

Bart was in his Clint Eastwood persona. “Stay away from my warrior buddy and no one gets hurt”.

20161207_112656.jpg

Continue reading

The Tour heads East, but first: coyotes, cakes and cookies…

Before leaving sunny CA to make our way 3,oo0 miles plus to New England (the next BIG leg of the Tour), we got up bright and early for a power walk in a nearby Pasadena neighborhood. This “dog”  was running across the street in traffic, so Bart took several steps toward the critter to see if it was wearing an ID on its collar. The “dog” it turned out was a coyote. Stunned, and a little freaked out, we decided to step up our pace and head in another direction – pronto!

Coyote, canus latrans

After returning to the hotel and cooling down, Rorie decided the only way to settle her nerves after our encounter with this wild beast was to go in search of some medicinal sweets. Using Yelp, we were led to the 5 star rated Eagle Rock Italian Bakery on Colorado Boulevard in LA.

Joined by Rorie’s sister Darcy, we parked and walked – no trotted – to this dessert mecca. If you know Rorie and her sisters and brother, you know nobody messes with them in the presence of cannolis, Italian cookies and other sweet pastries. Body language tells it all. For them, this selection process is serious business.

wp-1480808916325.jpg

The possibilities were endless, the choices overwhelming, the decisions agonizing.

Thank goodness they had their wonderful and amazingly patient guide Desiree to help them through the decision-making process (otherwise we’d be there all day). In reality, “the girls” decided on taking practically one of everything!

unnamed-3.jpg

Success…$70 later…pounds and pounds of goodies; pounds and pounds of weight gain!

20161207_115546.jpg

We left Pasadena after a quick breakfast and got on our way to Scottsdale, AZ. Our route took us to the iconic town of Palm Springs (pop. 44,321), which has a reputation as the 50’s home and playground of the rich and famous from that era. Think Frank Sinatra, Loretta Young, Liberace, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood hot shots.

greetings_from_palm_springs_-_palm_canyon_drive_postcard_1950s

Unfortunately, their mid modern digs are now privately owned and we  couldn’t get near them. Luckily we were able to experience the outdoor shopping and dining  attractions of La Plaza, a quaint historic setting in town.

8-familyfriendly-attractions-in-palm-springs-2b2cf0b856a64fb6be5a8c9b6de1306b

Leaving Palm Springs we passed the Town of Indio, home to the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, and Leonard Cohen are among the many headliners who’ve performed there.

metd_na_2004_pg11_prtagh_niklasalbakri_1

Continuing on we passed miles and miles of places where there’s no there there. Take the Town of Desert Center (pop. 204), for example. Years ago, it was a busy stopping point between Los Angeles and Arizona. Today it feels almost like a ghost town. The downtown has some old buildings, a cafe and a post office which also serves as a community center. That’s all folks.

41188256001_3532105650001_video-still-for-video-3531971588001.jpg

Nearby Blythe, CA (pop. 19,832) has a little more going for it, but don’t pick up hitchhikers there.

20161205_214231.jpg

We could get you a really good deal on land in this barren region in the middle of nowhere…

wp-1481166604157.jpg

We think you get the picture. The landscape between LA and Scottsdale is pretty desolate. Nevertheless, after several days of fun and sun in the big city, we actually enjoyed the peacefulness of the open road. Rolling into Scottsdale, we began planning what discoveries we could make during our explorations there. Stay tuned.

 

Bart & Rorie are on the road again – from Cambria to Old Town Pasadena. Join us!

Small town America road trippers need fuel to power not only their vehicles, but also their bodies. We found ours at Sandy’s in Cambria before heading out for our next round of discoveries…

wp-1480914314768.jpg

Deciding to eat light for a change, we split this healthy, overstuffed sourdough sandwich…for breakfast.

wp-1480914694439.jpg

It was time to say goodbye to the coast and head inland. Not far out of Cambria Village is the cool VERY SMALL TOWN of Harmony (population 18).

wp-1480548745901.jpg

Considering there’s only 18 people living here, we wondered who attended this beautiful old chapel and…

00b721c5aa8db32d3b5afb8042c250d4

Harmony Cellars Vineyard is yet another beautiful wine tasting venue.

20161207_160723.jpg

Its wines, according to Bart, are really tasty.

screenshot-2016-12-07-16-16-26

Who else besides us, buys the infamous jars of “Frog Balls”. They’re hot selling pickled brussels sprouts we bought for a particular friend. Susan, you know who you are and why these are for you!

crw_0376

After heading out of Harmony, feeling full of harmony ourselves, we continue on. Well, looky loo…we did it!

The Tour-mobile and its occupants hit another milestone: 5,ooo miles.

wp-1480524317943.jpg

Continuing the Tour, we hopped on State Route 46, which is a major crossing of the Coast Ranges. It wasn’t long before we hit a breathtaking view of even more CA mountains. Rorie and Bart agreed that, while they’re nice to look at, the roads through these steep inclines can be really intimidating.

20161204_212359.jpg

Cruising on to and through Paso Robles, we stumbled onto another outrageously gorgeous vineyard and winery. We had to stop and investigate Heart Hill Vineyard, one of 3 vineyards of the family-owned, small-lot bottler Niner Wine Estates. See how this vineyard got it’s name?

139458433-u094dtfw

The tasting room and restaurant are housed in a stunning stone building and Matt, a wonderfully friendly staff member, shared the story of the vineyard and the wines they produce.

winery2

Matt was a great source of information on the Niners commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability, and its passion for excellence in its products. Although we didn’t buy any wine, Bart couldn’t leave without a bag of salt and pepper pistachio nuts. No red dye on these shells, just pure natural flavors. Sooo good.

screenshot-2016-12-07-15-43-20-2

Leaving the vineyards behind, and entering the San Joaquin Valley, we passed through the Lost Hills Oil Field. Discovered by accident in 1910 while drilling for water, 2 drillers struck oil…literally. With huge reserves of oil and natural gas still in the ground, this oil field has already produced over 458 million barrels of oil. It was shocking to go from green mountains dotted with vineyards to flat desert-like grounds dotted with oil rigs.

frackingtop

Continuing on, we jumped on the brakes when we saw this awesome view…Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet, CA.  This man-made reservoir is one of the largest in Southern CA.

20161207_155330.jpg

Our final destination of today’s drive is Old Town Pasadena, home of the iconic Rose Bowl football game and parade. Our brother (brother-in-law) Jeff was involved with the parade committee for years.

33264_03499_2015

Here’s the 2015 FSU float from our new hometown state. Where are the palm trees, white sand beaches and Speedo clad men?

3f6d6cf3211be32e0415c52ca2afcdd2

Old Town Pasadena is the city’s original commercial district. With endless options for shopping and dining, museums and turn-of-the-century architecture, we spent a lot of hours strolling along the streets and ducking into restaurants. Our first stop was a wonderful diner-type restaurant with a real catchy name – Russell’s.

wp-1481154856277.jpg

After a long afternoon exploring the town with family, we were all in need of a little something sweet and knew just the place to go…Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on Rte.66 in Old Town Pasadena.

user671_pic2113_1286382653

Opened in 1915, this turn-of-the-century landmark is a mecca for anyone who loves ice cream, malts, shakes, phosphates, egg creams, sundaes, cones, banana splits or The Kitchen Sink...a $35, over the top concoction of pure heaven. Just sit and watch the specially trained soda-jerks make your dessert dreams come true. Then hope you can still fit into the dress you brought to wear to your niece’s wedding.

wp-1480919871997.jpg

And talk about wedding venues, we have never been to a more spectacular setting than the one where our niece Sami got married. The wedding was held on the penthouse rooftop of the historic Oviatt Building which is smack in the middle of downtown LA. The art-deco high rise building is surrounded by towering buildings and their lights, in concert with the moon, North Star and a passing blimp created a magical glow to the outdoor festivities.

Rorie’s niece Sami and brother Jeff. Spencer, the groom is waiting his turn for a dance.

wp-1481151780581.jpg

Having recovered from the wedding, indulging in a final goodbye lunch with family and packing up the car, it was time to head back across the country for our return trip East. Time to say “see ya” to CA and “hi ya” once again to AZ…this time Scottsdale.

Rorie & Bart discover CA’s central coast towns. Say “hi” to Cambria’s liar, San Simeon’s seals and Morro Beach’s shark

“Bart the Navigator” mapped out today’s journey. Given the beauty of our surroundings, he didn’t have to work too hard on our itinerary.

wp-1480522020301.jpg

First stop, Cambria (pop. 6,032), a seaside village halfway between San Francisco and LA along CA Highway 1. We checked into our new digs  – the Moonstone Landing Inn -overlooking the spectacular Pacific Ocean beach by the same name.

partial_large

The views at Moonstone Beach made Bart speechless (well, not actually speechless, since he made this little video for Tour followers).

We decided to take what turned out to be a 5 mile power walk into the Village of Cambria, which is the Latin name for Wales. Besides the spectacular scenic coastal views, we took in the abundance of Monterey Pines, wild turkeys, and historic homes and buildings.

Rorie seemed a little confused by the directional signs on our way into town.

20161130_124242.jpg

We had the good fortune to stop in the Chamber of Commerce and were warmly greeted by Lesley, who gave us an “armchair” tour of Cambria, great recommendations about places to go and information on upcoming events – including the Cambria Christmas Market light display…You can tell she loves this village.

20161130_124129.jpg

The light display is colorful…As Lesley said, “you’ve never seen anything like it”.

cambriachristmasmarket-21

Continuing on our walk, we were startled by the local amphibian life. The shop behind this giant frog is full of other amazing art glass pieces.

wp-1480538397980.jpg

After all that exercise we needed breakfast and we needed it bad, but this guy had no recommendations for us.

20161130_123917.jpg

Luckily, we found the best place in town…the Cambria Cafe, which has 4 plus stars on TripAdvisor. Everything here is made from scratch and delivers down home goodness.

cambria-cafe-2

We loved the Cafe’s prices. Sadly…this menu was just a reminder of days gone by. Even so, the restaurant has great food (and service) at very reasonable prices.

20161130_163417.jpg

Rorie ordered a super sized breakfast burrito jam packed with eggs, cheese, ham and potatoes. Just a little something to start her day. Bart got his favorite kind of breakfast sandwich, called the Mac Copy. Crisp bacon, eggs cooked to perfection, fresh lettuce and tomato on a lightly toasted english muffin. The hot sauce was a great compliment!

20161130_123333.jpg

Say “hi” to Tom Weaver, a member of Cambria’s Last Liars Club which meets regularly at the cafe. This is the local hangout and we were delighted to get a chance to talk with one of Cambria’s most friendly and interesting residents…no lie. To our good friend David, formerly from the small town of Avon, CT, this place is Cambria’s version of Luke’s.

wp-1480537591256.jpg

After breakfast we headed back to Moonstone Beach to plan the rest of the day. On our way, we stumbled onto this place. Can you say “Holy Cannoli”?

20161130_123136.jpg

Meet Brooklyn transplant Bob Simeone who owns the bakery with his wife Phyllis. The specialty here is Taralli which are Italian gourmet pretzels. The pastries were amazing too.

wp-1480537842971.jpg

The historic East and West Villages are packed with neat boutiques, art shops, and restaurants housed in an eclectic mix of buildings.

20161130_122946.jpg

wp-1480913725633.jpg

But without a doubt, the most interesting place we saw was a house called Nitt Witt Ridge. Built entirely out of recycled materials by artist/recluse Arthur “Art” Harold Beal, he spent almost 50 years creating this “masterpiece”.

wp-1480913566211.jpg

Having fully explored the Village, we decided to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon (pop. 462), home to the majestic Hearst Castle. The mansion, which sits high on a hillside, took over 3 decades for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst to build. His estate includes 3 guest cottages and is filled with the “best things he could find”.

800px-hearst_castle_casa_grande_september_2012_panorama_2

Driving by the grounds of the retreat Hearst called “La Cuesta Encantada”, Spanish for The Enchanted Hill, we were shocked to see a herd of zebras roaming along side the cattle. Only in CA!

zebras-cow-0

Continuing down the road, we discovered another startling sight in a cove near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse – huge elephant seals lounging all over the beach. Every year over 17,000  of these blubbery guys and gals migrate thousands of miles to what is called the Piedras Blancas rookery.

20161130_153849.jpg

After taking in these amazing sights, we turned around and headed South to another waterfront town…Morro Bay (pop. 10,234). Tourism and commercial fishing are the big industries here and even off season, the place was bustling.

The most striking sight in town is this hulking 576 ft volcanic rock (or plug), in the entrance of the harbor. Gulls, sea otters and peregrine falcons are common sights in the bay and around the rock. Truly an awesome sight.

wp-1480722943515.jpg

Strolling along the waterfront enjoying the shops and sights, we stopped in Giovanni’s Fish Market, a family owned seafood shop.

20161130_173045.jpg

Can’t get much fresher than this. We’d rather run into a shark here than out there.

wp-1480548640153.jpg

 Rorie couldn’t resist getting a piece of mahogany colored smoked salmon to go.

20161130_172916.jpg

After a day full of exploring and the discovery of unexpected sights, it was time to settle down to a good meal at a local joint. Family-owned Medusa’s Taqueria in Cambria was just the place. Casual and unassuming with friendly service, there was nothing low-key about their food. Bursting with flavor and freshness, this was one of the best Mexican meals we’ve had.

Medusas.jpg

Taste buds and bellies satisfied, we went back to our beachside retreat to sit by the fire and, hopefully, get a restful night’s sleep. Ahh…