Thursday, March 16, 2023

Lovely Lone Pine: Australia's the place to cuddle koalas, feed 'roos

It's "kangaroo communion" as Bruce Keller feeds two hungry critters at Lone Pine near 
Brisbane, Australia.  We flew 7,513 miles to commune with these curious creatures in one of the world's largest and best run animal preserves, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.




Plus a delightful, informative boat ride to get you there in sight-seeing comfort

Brisbane's Mirimar II offers the best, most scenic way
to get to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. It leaves from
downtown Brisbane, making its way through the city
and into beautiful woodlands

I would converse in polar bear and python
I would curse in fluent kangaroo
If people asked me, can you speak rhinoceros?
I'd say, of courserous, can't you?"

--from "Talk to the Animals." 1964 Academy Award best song Oscar, from "Dr. Doolittle" with Rex Harrison    



 of a relaxing boat trip to a place where we could feed active kangaroos and contented koalas. People remembered their time on the river to a world famous sanctuary in the suburbs of Brisbane.
Those stories don't do justice to this marvelous place where critters are protected, loved and cared for as if they were royalty in a penthouse.
One has to see it to believe it.
The Koala and River Cruise and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary deliver.
We booked the five-hour Koala Cruise excursion not knowing what to expect, but we'd read
rave reviews and other travel writers endorsed it.
The wildlife shows at Lone Pine are extraordinary.
Here, a bird of prey has his eyes us as he flies close overhead
WE CLIMBED aboard the sleek and comfy Mirimar II. The Skipper was glad to see us as the boat had seen little activity since COVID and was just beginning to recover from the lapse of bookings and temporary curtailment.
We settled in to perfect seats on the top deck for a fascinating narrated boat journey to the Koala sanctuary. 
Both Lone Pine and the boat that takes you there are treasures. While Lone Pine's title implies a focus on that sleepy resident of Australia's thousands of eucalyptus trees, the premier attraction is also home to dozens of contented kangaroos, shy dingos, saltwater crocodiles and a bounty of beautiful birds. Beautifully trained sheep dogs are in residence, too, along with stealthy birds of prey, who perform with skilled trainers in a breathtaking show.
A mother kangaroo and her large joey seem
happy to be among Lone Pine animal lovers.
ONCE COMFORTABLY on board, with coffee from the snack bar, we traveled up the river a leisurely 20 miles to Lone Pine. There we disembarked and walked a brisk uphill trail from the jetty, up a tree-lined path to the sanctuary entrance.
The Mirimar Koala and River cruise has been taking visitors to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for over 70 years and is a "must do" experience while in Brisbane. We cruised through Brisbane's historic landscapes, iconic attractions, pastoral scenery home to mansions,  and interesting wildlife habitats. We were happy to listen to the entertaining recorded commentary, with occasional asides from the knowledgeable captain.
We entered the sanctuary for nearly three hours to explore.  Some people stopped for lunch at the cafe, but we'd brought our own snacks, so took off to study the trails and decide where to go first.
WE HEADED for the kangaroos and weren't sorry.
Lone Pine is the world's first and largest koala sanctuary. But first, we passed by 130 koalas, most of them snoozing with a few brought out for photos.  We learned that the koalas have a light schedule, working only a few days a week and then for a couple hours at a time. They lead a pampered, well tended life.
For under $20, visitors can hold a koala
under the watchful eye of a trainer. The
pretty creatures "work" on a revolving,
pampering schedule are are not over-taxed.

The kangaroo feeding was joyful.  The pellets we purchased look like dog kibble and were nibbled gratefully up by the 'roos right from our hands as we stroked and talked to them. We walked among them, petting, smiling, watching them nurse their young.
We enjoyed several shows, including a lively birds of prey show -- dramatic as two trainers coached the birds to fly back and forth, over our heads.
The Australian sheep dog and sheep shearing shows were fast-paced and fun. 
Views from Mirimar are great
with not a bad seat for gazing.

We missed the platypus swimming but admired a giant alligator, complete with his trainer's affectionate allegory. Then lorikeet feeding -- more fun!
The animal haven boasts 70 species of Australian native animals in a spacious natural bush setting befitting the world's first and largest koala sanctuary.  The boat stays long enough to allow time for the changing shows and  naturalist talks.  Activities are spaced so that one has time to wander leisurely.
LONE PINE is thoughtfully designed. Signs point to various trails and shows so if you're interested in the sheep dog or birds, you can be on time and find a good seat.  Its 44 acres allow animal lovers to explore and find places of individual interest. Families, couples, student groups and singles looking for a nature-driven diversion are comfortable at Lone Pine.
Cookie is thrilled
to feed the 'roos.

The unique restaurant and food service area are lined with koala cages so one can munch lunch and watch the sleepy critters at the same time. Occasionally, we saw one rouse himself slightly to snack, dreamlike, on a eucalyptus branch.  One youngster remarked, "Look, mum, they poop in their sleep."  

ON THE RETURN voyage, our Mirimar companions savored 
Lone Pine has excellent signs and marks to guide
you to exhibits, shows and place to place.

 our time in a magical place. The bar was open for beverages and snacks, as we motored past those stately homes with a capsulized commentary. Prices for both the boat ride and sanctuary entry range from $55 to a family ticket for $250 Aussie dollars. The handsome boat also does charters.

Accomplished actors Richard Baird and Amanda
Evans, among a gifted cast in "The Cherry Orchard.
BEST BETS: Anton Chekhov's masterpiece, with its elegant prose and stirring story, meets David Ellenstein's stylish direction of a dream ensemble in Northcoast Repertory Theater's thoughtful production of one of theater's great plays, "The Cherry Orchard." The story of an aristocratic Russian landowner returning to her family estate just before it is auctioned touches the heart and tickles the funnybone.
The moving story of class struggle and life changes shines with both humor and poignant momentsThe San Diego production is getting raves for its timely appeal. Although written 120 years ago, the timeless tale grips and stays, a complex study of social change and the intricacies of relationships. It runs through April 2 in this intimate, appealing venue.  858 481-1055

With the city skyline as a backdrop, Christene "Cookie" Meyers
and Bruce Keller travel the waterfront of Brisbane, Australia.
UP NEXT: We're off to fun, bustling Brisbane, then on to natural wonders in Katoomba, a gorgeous mountain town near Sydney where we feature a delightful hotel, Mountain Heritage Inn, to enhance your visit with spectacular scenery and first-class ambiance. First, the busy capital of Queensland, Australia, on the meandering Brisbane River. It's  deeply connected to water sport, culture, nature and life on the river. This hip, modern-day city pays homage to its past in stately homes, parks and country estates. From free ferry rides to an animal preserve, rock climbing, botanical gardens, art galleries and kayaking, it's a town of many faces, moods and pursuits. Come with us, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more, at:

Thursday, March 9, 2023

New Zealand trains offer spectacular scenery, nostalgia, history

All aboard! Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers took a pair of memorable train trips on
their recent visit to New Zealand. Trains allow prime viewing of the country's spectacular scenery.



Passengers have time to admire scenery and take photos.

My great-grandfather was a telegrapher on the Northern Pacific Railroad and his daughter, my gran Olive, grew up on trains. She passed that affection down the generations and I felt her presence as we hopped on the Marlborough Flyer for a step back in time to the days of World War I and steam locomotives. It was the first of two memorable train rides.
We were in Picton, New Zealand, for a trip on this lovely heritage steam train from a majestic bygone era.
The Flyer's carriages boast meticulous interiors.
Our journey took us from Picton and Blenheim in Marlborough, New Zealand, to the picturesque village of
Seddon, where we were greeted by a Johnny Cash impersonator, homemade pastries, wine tastings, friendly people and a gaggle of sheep.
AS WE chugged along in the Flyer, we heard fascinating commentary about the historic WWI “Passchendaele.” It is named after a great battle and pays tribute to soldiers who worked for the railway and fell in that "Great War."
Built in 1915 in Christchurch, a major "redo" of the locomotive was engineered by Steam Incorporated in 2014. The locomotive's noble history  complements its reputation as one of the country's most successful of "AB Pacifics." Royals have boarded her and our group spanned the globe.
New Zealand's trains offer close-up views of the track with
  winding curves, tunnels and time to admire the engineering.
My train-loving partner and ever curious photographer, Bruce Keller, loves trains of all kinds and is particularly fond of steam trains. He enjoys "the sound -- the hiss of the steam, the feeling of nostalgia, the fun of being part of something that no longer exists in much of the world."
THEN, IF YOU'RE planning a Dunedin stop, don't miss a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway, one of the world's great train trips and Dunedin's top attraction. It departs  from downtown Dunedin's stately train station, to travel deep into the Taieri Gorge for eye-popping scenery: brilliant golden fields, grand old trees and gorgeous foliage cloaking the mountainsides.
Cookie is front and center on a viewing station between
carriages on a colorful New Zealand train trip.
BOTH JOURNEYS offer stunning
landscape -- gorges, lush vegetation, tunnels, twisting roads, valleys and meadows. The quaint town of Picton is heritage-listed and has a welcoming charm while Dunedin's train station is a dazzling architectural wonder. Built in 1906, a magnificent Flemish Renaissance-style edifice features white Oamaru limestone facings on black basalt. Its dramatic "Gingerbread House" look is worth a visit, even if you're not boarding the train. We've taken the train journey three times and never tire of it.
WHILE THE Marlborough train ride has a leisurely classic look, a ride on the Taieri Gorge train has a sleeker, more contemporary feel. We walked out of the carriage into a small, open-air balcony, to admire passing scenery and take photos -- without the intrusion of windows.
Dunedin's stately train station is an attraction in
itself, but do book a Taieri train trip while there. 
Perfect weather (end of summer now in New Zealand) showcased dramatic scenery: Otago's hills, sweeping viaducts and verdant landscape. We appreciated two distinctive, different trains, each with class and character.
Scenery of New Zealand's South Island is remarkably varied. 
BECAUSE IT is vintage and lovingly restored to its century-old look, the Flyer takes pride in its classic, older rail car appeal. 
Comfy seats are a rich burgundy leather and the wood is nicely cared for. One hears the soothing clickety-clack, but it's not bumpy. 
The vintage car continues its "step back in time" with several photo stops. At the longer pause in Seddon, passengers stretch, shop and nibble. Seddon, named after a New Zealand prime minister, is 25 kilometers south of larger Blenheim, known for fine wine. The journey follows the banks of two rivers, the Awatere and Blind, home to choice grape growing regions. Their sauvignon blanc put New Zealand wines on the map. Many of our fellow passengers returned with bottles.  
THE TAIERI trip offers another kind of spectacle -- equally engaging. The scenery is more rugged, and its history unfolds before the eyes. Wrought iron viaducts and hand-carved tunnels conjure images of hardship during this impressive endeavor 100 years ago.
Train lovers should make a double-header of these two colorful, narrated trips offering history, waterfalls, streams, flora, livestock and more. They reveal how people live, work and build:;;;

A lovely new play, "High Table," at San Diego's
Diversionary Theatre features a gay marriage
and unfolding complexities when a Nigerian
family faces their confusion. It's an imaginative,
 thought-provoking production, beautifully acted and.
directed. Stay tuned for another inventive work:
"Monsters of the American Cinema" by an exciting
San Diego playwright. 619 220-0097

BEST BET: San Diego theater is booming, with memorable March productions in a month dedicated to the lively arts. San Diego's Diversionary Theater's new play, "High Table," is a beautifully rendered love story told by a talented ensemble, directed with  skill, perception and emotion. The complex story unfolds with an evocative accompaniment of classical African chants and drumming. The cast's deft portrayals of departed ancestors parallels "real time" family, with accomplished actors playing multiple roles. The story unfolds with imagination and restraint. It's a touching, intricate work, exploring the myriad cliches facing the gay world, as well as complications of a gay relationship. What emerges is an enchanting, enduring love story.   

Bruce Keller feeds a grateful kangaroo, communing with
the graceful Australian figures, a national treasure. Up next

UP NEXT: Wonders abound at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a magical place located near Brisbane. You'll walk and talk with famous Australian animals in an 18-hectare koala sanctuary in the Brisbane suburb of Fig Tree Pocket in Queensland, Australia, the largest such sanctuary in the world. We're thrilled to have mingled with and fed the kangaroos and cuddled a sleepy koala. Come with us, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more: Please share the link.


Thursday, March 2, 2023

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb delivers: steel, scenery, spectacle


Above: Once at the top, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller pause for a victory pose.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is world famous for its challenge and spectacle.
Dwarfed by massive steel, climbers at far right make their way
up the side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Directly in front of the
first climber are the steep ladders one climbs to the top


"It's like climbing a majestic erector set assembled by dozens of three-man rivet teams...."

-- Bruce Keller


ONCE YOU'VE climbed the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, you'll feel as if you've won an Olympic medal.

Ascending the world-renowned bridge (spelled Harbor to us Yanks) is a test of one's will, determination and courage. 

Our group prepares for the climb, having passed the breath test,
climbed the practice ladders, filled out mounds of paperwork.
Daring the fates, we climbed it a second time a couple weeks ago.
Scared of heights and a lifelong sports neophyte, I had extreme  trepidations. Why bother when I could safely sit on my, er, laurels? Because I simply had to.
I've suffered from vertigo since childhood. I quiver and tremble on high-floor hotel balconies. I have a chart-topping fear of balconies or viewing platforms. 
So climbing it not once, but twice, was an accomplishment  I'm proud of. Forgive my hubris.

SURE I HAVE other talents.  I play piano, sing, conduct an orchestra, arrange a medley, jam on my saxophone and offer up a passable second violin in a string quartet.  But climbing a bridge! "who, me?" I'd never considered it. Not until my partner and travel mate Keller suggested it eight years ago.

From the bridge at night, the city's splendors unfold far below.
"OK. You're afraid of heights, fine," he said. "I get that.  But why not challenge yourself? You're so confident about other things, time to expand your horizons."

In 2015, we were planning a return to Australia, a country we both love, had visited several times before, but never together.  It would be a special time on so many counts, so I surprised him one day with a booking. No turning back.

THE DAY of the climb, I gazed at the imposing bridge as our walk brought us closer.  I was fascinated and terrified by the ant-size figures climbing over its top. That would be us in a few hours. (Pulse acceleration. Slight dizziness.)

The famous Sydney Opera House is far below happy climbers.

Soon we were filling out papers and taking a breath test. Every climber must have a blood-alcohol reading below 0.05. Otherwise, you're rejected from the climb and forfeit your fee.
The "Climb" staff of 100-plus is knowledgeable, amiable and accommodating. Media and marketing director Brock put us at ease when our taxi from the hotel took three times longer than anticipated. He and the able staff kindly rebooked us, thanks to a cancellation.
The protocol included safety videos, then trading our clothes for special light-weight climbing suits, stepping into our harnesses and straps and heading out the door and up, up and away. Emphasis on "up." Earlier, we'd proved we could climb by going up two practice ladders in the preparation room.

WE HAD ALSO learned how to fasten and use our lanyards, sliding them along a practice cable. So once on the bridge, we felt secure because we were literally hooked to it. And, as patient, daring Keller reminded me, "You've already done this once, Cookster. Piece of cake." 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is bathed in the colors of the
rainbow.  Special lighting celebrates Gay Pride.

The tours are kept small to encourage a congenial feeling. We introduced ourselves with a brief "who and where from" to encourage conversation and camaraderie.  Our group included a couple from Manchester, England, a father-son from New Zealand, a honeymooning couple from Japan and two enthusiastic Swiss travelers who -- like the two of us --  had tackled the bridge before.  Our pleasant and encouraging guide, April, offered commentary and pep talks as we climbed --stories about the bridge, previous climbers and Sydney's grand history. 
The enterprise offers various packages: romance packages are popular as is a first-nations people tour with Aboriginal landmarks and native history told by indigenous storytellers. There are climbs geared to photographers, and others for students. There's a sunset-night time climb and the famous “Coathanger” which traverses the bridge from South to North, and back again and is considered the most challenging.
I STILL TREMBLE when I think about it. But I'm so grateful to have summoned the courage again. The main draws for me were twofold: conquering my fear, and being part of a famous and historic enterprise.We learned that the bridge was built in 1932 in the height of the great worldwide depression, providing work for hundreds and boosting national pride. It cost 10 million to build --1.5 billion Aussie dollars today. The architect lived in a home below where he monitored progress. Unnerving to me during the steep 8-ladder climb was the roar and rumble of trains and cars. They shake the steel as they pass by the thousands (160,000 cars per day and dozens of trains.) One thinks of this bridge as solid and steady. It moves! I am still recovering.

Safely grounded after nearly four hours together,
our excellent guide April presented us with
certificates congratulating us on our climb.
YES, IT WAS a spectacular day. Keller is ready for a third climb. We joined 5,000 couples who have proposed on her, 40 wedding couples and more than 4 million of us slightly crazy climbers.
1,400 helped build her and a remarkably low number -- 16 -- died during the 8-year construction. One worker fell the 462 feet when his drill kicked back. He was an experienced diver and survived by going in feet first. He suffered shattered legs and broke every rib but he survived to return to his job!

I recommend this to fellow cowards, and all of you who wish to do something you've never done. Why not challenge a cliche about yourself? Carpe diem.

For the time of your life:

Dunedin Railways cars take train lovers and nature buffs
deep into a corner of southern New Zealand that most
folks never see. We highly recommend this Taieri Gorge trip
UP NEXT: While we're Down Under, we're exploring the wonders of both Australia and New Zealand. Come aboard two distinctive Kiwi trains, one out of Picton, the other from Dunedin. Come with us aboard the Marlborough Flyer and Taieri Gorge Railway, both show-stopping train excursions. Let these two distinctive trains whisk you away to beautiful farm land, sheep pastures, mountains, ravines, canyons and more in handsomely maintained  cars. Enjoy the beauty aboard a pair of trains, then visit a koala sanctuary and rest in the spectacular mountain town of Katoomba. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more. Do share the link:

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Guitar museum offers spectacular music from Portugal's heart, soul

The art of "fado" or music of the soul is a time honored, intricate and emotional rendering of
Portuguese songs with a melancholy theme, sometimes of lost life or love gone wrong.


Photographs and beautifully displayed musical instruments
highlight the museum's extensive walls of exhibits.

IF YOU LOVE the guitar, you may want to travel to a northern Portuguese city for an inside look at this time honored instrument.
It will be worth your time and money if you long to immerse yourself in the history, beauty and versatility of the guitar.
Nowhere can one find a more extensive representation than at Porto's "Casa da Guitarra." You'll hear the familiar sounds of the instrument as you climb a polished stairway to this little gem of a museum. 
It's small and tucked away, but not far from other landmarks of Porto.  Everyone knows where it is and can proudly direct you.
Located in a two-story building near the city's famed Clerigos Tower, the museum attracts people from all over the world, of all ages and many backgrounds. All share a love of music and this graceful instrument which dates back to Portugal and Spain as early as the 13th Century.

Viewers or patrons of a concert in the small, intimate hall are in for
a treat with traditional Portuguese guitar accompaniment to fado singing.

THE CASA da Guitarra was designed by Alfredo Teixeira, who created his masterpiece in 2012. He intended to create a space to promote the construction and dissemination of traditional Portuguese instruments and musical history.
He did so with elegance.
His masterpiece is part museum, part concert hall and part musical instrument store. It  supplies wood and other materials for building the guitar and other musical instruments.
TO OUR delight, we happened on a concert. One of its missions is to promote concerts and provide a forum for musicians.  It also promotes exhibitions, offers music classes and sponsors workshops. Our concert was thrilling with the traditional accompaniment integral to fado. Two expert musicians played Portuguese guitar and fado viola, much like our mandolin.
WE FELT so much life in this lovely place.
Fado singers are deeply involved in the
story they're telling, always accompanied
in formal circles by two guitars.

Our guide told us, "The exchange of experiences between musicians, guitarists and music lovers contributes to the preservation of our heritage." 
She stressed that the museum also provides a forum for new musical ideas "which makes our heritage alive and interesting for new generations to explore."
SO PORTUGAL'S "second city" has become the country's "guitar capital" -- known for its guitar teachers, performers and splendid guitar craftsmen.
The casa, known to American visitors as "The Guitar House," has a magical feel to it.  Portuguese musical guitars have a noble heritage, dating to to Medieval times when troubadours and minstrels entertained the wealthy. But middle-class people and peasants found ways to enjoy the instrument because it could be carried fairly easily, often with a strap over a shoulder. It was also usually passed down from generation to generation.
It's fitting that the museum's next door neighbor is Porto's splendid cathedral where noblemen and working class folks mingled centuries ago. A mix of people of all incomes and backgrounds continues to visit the museum.
Dozens of beautifully crafted guitars are carefully displayed.

WE TIMED our visit to the museum with tours of Clerigos Tower and Porto Cathedral, those illustrious guitar museum neighbors. We happened onto a  beautiful organ concert and had also booked "Spiritus," a multi-media immersive show.
WE RECOMMEND the museum for an authentic encounter with Portuguese culture and its unique values ​​and traditions.
Our afternoon included fado music, gorgeous Portuguese guitar music, time to browse vintage photos and inspect dozens of guitars, and a glass of port wine during intermission.
The memory of the emotional voice of the resident fado singer, in the company of two splendid instrumentalists on Portuguese guitar and fado viola, lingers today.
GUITAR AND FADO trivia: This centuries old tradition is on the rise in popular urban neighborhoods. Fado and Portuguese guitar have become Portugal's primary cultural expression. Our guide described the art form as "the manifestation of the soul of the people." Fado is deeply imbedded in the culture. We booked several fado concerts besides the one at the museum -- mostly in restaurants. But we heard young people in bars late at night singing impromptu fado with their friends. At formal concerts, it's not unusual for professionals to share the stage with amateurs who are moved to contribute a favorite song.
The museum features a history of the instrument,
with photos of famous guitarists through the
years, and close-up looks at the instrument.
The Portuguese guitar has 12 steel strings strung in six pairs. Portuguese guitars are smaller and have a softer, more mellow sound than Spanish guitars. They are used in traditional music throughout the world. We've seen them in Rio on visits to Brazilian cafes and bars. Spanish guitars are typically larger and have a brighter, more forceful sound.
Museum admission includes those wonderful daily concerts. It's 16 Euros or about the same in dollars. Don't miss an opportunity for a visit.
and other helpful Porto contacts:

Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller climb Sydney
Harbour Bridge a second time and share its wonders.
UP NEXT: Climb every mountain? Well, not yet, but we've climbed a few spectacular bridges. Days ago, we climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a second time. The massive iconic structure is the symbol of Australia. Along with the magnificent Sydney Opera House, it attracts scores of visitors each year. We braved it on a warm but thrilling afternoon. It's a challenge well worth the ladders, ropes, straps, and work-out.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family, road tripping, offbeat restaurants and more: 
Please share the link. 


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Santa Barbara's Maritime Museum: highlight of a Ventura County visit


A fine collection of seafaring artifacts combines with beautifully curated changing exhibits to show off Santa Barbara's proud maritime tradition and encourage preservation of the oceans. All ages welcome.

School children enjoy the interactive
aspect of the education oriented museum.


IF THE MENTION of a maritime museum conjures thoughts of yellowing, ragged sails, salty old sea captains and outdated maps of long ago sailing days, think again.
And head for the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
It's a jewel of a museum with a lively, contemporary spin on nautical life and an environmentalist's take on that precious, endangered commodity -- vital to our life -- the sea. Its beauty and importance are colorfully celebrated in this wondrous place, where all ages are educated about the sea's history and its critical contributions to our daily life.
Christene "Cookie" Meyers pauses at the reception
 desk during a visit exploring the sea's wonders.
one of the country's longest and most colorful maritime collections and the staff at this lively museum knows this fact as it proudly shares the museum with tourists from all over the world.
Says Rita Serotkin, director of marketing and public relations at the museum, "We provide a forum for  education and enlightenment" -- both of which we found to be true as she guided us through two stories of fascinating sea lore and lessons.
We found the museum a joy to visit because it really has personality. It is warm, welcoming and friendly.  While many museums are a bit cold, austere and "stand-offish," the Santa Barbara  facility has an inviting aura. 
Photographer Bruce Keller becomes the subject briefly
on Santa Barbara's picturesque oceanfront by the museum.

On our visit, we observed a lively mix of children, families, touring couples, sportsmen, "a fun mix of seafaring adventurers," as my sailor partner and photographer Bruce Keller observed.
THE RANGE of programs includes presentations by native people whose connection to the sea goes back centuries.  Chumash Elder Puchuk Ya’ia’c (Alan Salazar) visited the museum in November to discuss “Chumash Maritime History—Past, Present, & Future” and encored recently with fellow writer and historian, Mona Lewis, to read from their new book, "Coyote Rescues Hawk." As with man of the museum's events, the presentation encouraged
Right outside the door of the museum, boats of every kind await.

audience participation.  This time, participants created their own traditional seaweed rattles for a reasonable $25, including all materials for the artful project.
Another presentation sets the record straight on who was first to complete a trans-Pacific voyage. (Hint:  it was not Magellan! It was a little known Afro-Portuguese pilot, Lope Martín.)
As Serotkin explains, the museum's mission covers a wide range of ambitious goals -- involving children, entertaining adults and curious visitors, keeping its volunteer corps engaged and active, raising awareness, applying for grants, courting authors, getting the word out on upcoming programs and exhibits and beating the drum for important funding.
WE URGE visitors to make a pilgrimage to both floors where we learned about early Santa Barbara explorers -- Juan Cabrillo, who also explored our San Diego area.
A Fresnel lighthouse lens offers beautiful shapes and colors.

The Chumash people are celebrated, along with whaling, the town's waterfront, and the birthplace of deep sea commercial diving. We also enjoyed elegantly crafted ship models by Dwight Brooks and learned about famous local shipwrecks.
Oil spills, commercial fishing and Channel Islands ranching are also highlighted.
THE MUSEUM has garnered awards for its fun, interactive maritime exhibits for kids as well as adults. 
The interactive visits include hands on and multi-media
exhibits with an array of fine displays including photos.

Families are encouraged to visit.  During our afternoon sojourn, we observed happy three generation groups, students and couples.
We also wandered the wharf, had a delightful lunch at one of the great seafood restaurants, rented a boat for an afternoon jaunt and bought reasonably priced souvenirs at two of the shops.
We recommend making a day outing to explore this important and artful museum -- nestled in the fascinating and historic Santa Barbara Harbor.

805 962-8404

A fado singer in Porto appears to be in a trance as she performs,
surrounded by the two classic guitar accompanists.  On the left is the
Portuguese guitar playing the melody and intricate counterpoints.
On the right is the bass and rhythm guitarist providing those elements.


UP NEXT: Porto's fabulous Casa de Guitarra is a fascinating Museum of the Guitar, focusing on the instrument which is integral to Portuguese music. Fado singers must have the two guitars -- the traditional Portuguese guitar, left, and the rhythm and bass guitar, right.  Many clubs and bistros feature a fado singer or two on the program and we highly recommend guests take in a fado show while in Portugal.  Both Lisbon and Porto offer many options.  We'll explore several of the clubs and talk about the art form next week.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on music, theater, nature, family, travel and more.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Paramount Pictures: Get ready for your close up at Hollywood studio


The famous gate to Paramount Pictures has been used in many films, including "Sunset
Boulevard" which tells the story of a fading star and her struggle to endure in the pictures.


Ready for their close-up, "Keller and
Cookie" share an Oscar moment.



WE HAD so much fun playing tourist at Paramount Pictures.  

We sat on Forest Gump's famous bench, admired a larger than life and ever endearing Shrek, watched an intriguing film clip on the studio's history and drove past sets of a dozen huge box office hits.

The studio is Hollywood's most famous, home to eccentric directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, who had a lavish apartment on the lot and blocked the window with a bookcase so he couldn't be spied upon.  Paramount also was home to scores of stars from film's golden age and remains home for many of today's stars.

Bruce Keller rests on Forest Gump's bench. "Where's my
box of chocolates?" he wondered. The tour stops at
several iconic movie sets and a large house of props.

George Burns and Gracie Allen called Paramount home and dozens of other greats did, too. Lucy sold Desilu to Paramount for $17 million and is known on the lot for developing a school for young actors there, including her own children.
WE KNEW the references to Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Groucho Marx, Marlene Dietrich and Frederic March, while the younger members of our 10-person tour looked puzzled at the mention of those cinematic heroes.
They knew Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise of course, and famous Paramount box office smashes: "The Godfather" (both the original and part two), "Titanic," the "Shrek" and "Transformers" films, "Grease," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and the controversial "Romeo and Juliet," whose now aging stars have recently launched law suits claiming they didn't consent to the nearly-nude scenes.
Takers of the Paramount tour can see what's on the lot each day.

PARAMOUNT is known for riding the talkie boom to unprecedented heights, reaping industry-record profits of $18.4 million in 1930 (and out-earning all of the other majors), only to suffer financial collapse a year later under the weight of oversized budgets, the costly conversion to sound, and the massive debt service associated with its huge theater chain. After net losses of $21 million in 1932—another industry record—Paramount declared bankruptcy in early 1933. The financial turmoil led to a massive executive shake-up but Paramount survived and made a come back in the WWII years.

A New York City set gets a lot of use, with its familiar
yellow taxis.  Here, tour takers are allowed to pose.

The "Transformer" films were a huge hit for
Paramount. Here, Cookie stops at one of the
transformers. The $25 billion success story includes
15 films, video games, sound tracks and more.
WHAT IMPRESSES the tourist first is the enormity of Paramount.  The original studio was 26 acres and four stages.  Paramount has grown to 65 acres over the years with 30 sound stages range from 5,500 to 18,775 square feet and capable of handling large projects.

"Beam us up, Scotty," say Cookie
 and Keller in the "Star Trek" set.

Nickelodeon and Miramax have ties to Paramount,, and you'll see posters of celebrated films, popular TV shows and commercials.

Today, Paramount partners with projects large and small in a ceaseless effort to create celebrated movies, television shows, and commercials. The studio lot is hallowed ground for "Star Trek" fans, and posters abound of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. "Dr. Phil" is recorded on Paramount's Stage 29 and is the longest running regularly scheduled TV show in Hollywood.
Paramount's net worth as of January of this year is $1.27 billion, so the studio is looking good financially.
Tours are $63 for two hours, and $199 for a special VIP "Insider" look with a gourmet meal on location.
323 956-1777.

Santa Barbara's Maritime Museum earns its stellar
reputation with a wealth of attractive, informative exhibits. 
NEXT UP:  The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is a treasure trove of maritime history with colorful, beautifully curated exhibits, rare artifacts and a lively calendar of events welcoming sea loving guests and members.  Take a look at the museum which weaves a thoughtful collection of displays to illustrate man's connection to the sea. Set your sails with us for a memorable visit, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, family, the arts and more. Please share the