Friday, April 28, 2017

Northbound grey whales delight during day on the water

Dolphins are almost always a companion to the San Diego Whale Watch boats. Here, they followed us for a half hour.


The thrill of seeing a cow and calf was a highlight of our trip this week.


WE CAUGHT the southbound grey whales a few months ago -- thrilled to witness their migration to give birth and fatten up their calves before heading back to their home turn in the colder Alaskan waters.
Satisfied customers leave the boat after a fun outing.
This week, we caught the northbound migration, and it was thrilling to see a cow and her young .
Each year, more than 20,000 gray whales make an impressive 10,000 mile round-trip journey from Alaskan waters to the lagoons of Baja California, where the females give birth to their calves. We lucky San Diegans may watch the journey close-up, so this time of year, look for us on the water -- on the several delightful operations out of San Diego.  Sailor Keller has even piloted our own craft. But it's more fun for him to let someone else do the driving so he can take photos and enjoy the sea life.

 the grey whales twice -- coming and going -- because after spending time in warm Baja California waters so their young can grow strong, they make the journey north again later in spring. This remarkable trip represents the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis and for this Montana girl and my San Diego born partner, it is an extraordinary spectacle.
SD Whale Watch posts its daily sightings for visitors.
This year, we've been out a half-dozen times, exploring the 70 miles of coastline in the migration path.  We've seen whales every time -- now nearly 30 outings in the near decade I've been a grateful part-timer. San Diego Whale Watch offers a stellar whale watching experience here in Southern California. The cordial and experienced crew know exactly how to track down and share the bounty of whales and dolphins off our beautiful coast.
The Hyatt Regency Mission Bay casts a pretty reflection among the boats
as we set off from San Diego Whale Watch landing.
This week, we treated my visiting Montana brother to a trip on the Ohana, the Whale Watch's smaller boat while the larger Privateer is having work. San Diego Whale Watch offers whale watching year round, while the competition closes its schedule down after the bulk of the whales have come and gone. But as our naturalist Dani said, "There are always whales out there. We just have to find them."
We were lucky this week -- sighting a grey whale cow and calf heading back north. The boat is respectful of the mother's maternal instincts to protect her baby, so a safe distance of a minimum 100 yards was kept as we viewed.
The little snack bar makes a mean cuppa, and we had a spectacular day. As an incentive, if you don’t see a whale or a dolphin on your trip, you can join San Diego Whale Watch free on another tour. We've never had to collect that perk!

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Brilliant acting by a versatile quartet of gentlemen and fine direction
by David Ellenstein make "Travels with My Aunt" a theater lover's must.


A QUARTET of capable actors dons four jaunty bowler hats to take us on a lively and often touching journey in NorthCoast Repertory Theatre's "Travels with My Aunt."
Four talented actors perform 20-plus roles in North Coast
Repertory Theatre's production  of "Travels with my Aunt,"
extended through May 14. It features, from left, Benjamin Cole,
David McBean, James Saba, Richard Baird
. Photo by Aaron Rumley
Under the gifted direction of the theater's artistic director David Ellenstein, an engaging story unfolds. We travel the world with Aunt Augusta as she lures her stodgy nephew out of his staid ways and onto a path peopled with wonderful characters.

   THE FOUR actors are a delight -- changing roles, mannerisms and accents to interpret more than a dozen characters of both genders -- from a larger than life Caribbean man servant to a London cabbie, an aging lothario and long ago would-be lover.
THE JOURNEY is a global one -- from Turkey to South America.  The experience is an example of the hypnotic quality of fine theater, for the best productions take us out of ourselves, up up and away.  So it is with "Travels....."
Ellenstein's deft touches and adroit sensibilities bring the nimble actors' characters to life in delightful and sometimes surprising fashion. Without a single costume change, the four transform into more than 20 characters. We revel in rich language and perfectly delivered dialects as we explore each complex relationship -- auntie and nephew and a parade of eccentrics they encounter.
We sat with many Aunt Augustas at our matinee --  enhancing our viewing of a precisely rendered production.
Northcoast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, north of San Diego,
offers a pleasant afternoon  or evening of top quality theater.


THERE ARE NO costume changes and no fancy set. Instead, artfully rendered photos stage right and left suggest changes of season, city and venue.
The success of any production relies on a collaboration of actors, director and production crew.
 "Travels with My Aunt" is pure pleasure, a light-hearted romp which playwright Graham Greene would surely acknowledge with a tip of his bowler.

Cesar Manrique was a major force in Lanzarote's development.

UP NEXT:   The island of Lanzarote is a delight largely because of the efforts and vision of Cesar Manrique, who shaped  innovative planning regulations on this most unique of the Canary Islands. When Manrique recognized its tourist potential and lobbied to encourage eco-friendly tourism and artfully designed buildings, he changed the island's course: no high rise hotels and beautiful small hotels in keeping with the use of traditional colors and imaginative design. Read about this inspired -- and inspiring -- man, next at whereiscookie. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel approach to the arts and nature driven travel.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A jewel is Julian, California: Lovely dog-friendly country get-away gives small town welcome

The countryside around Julian, California, offers fine hiking, fun places to stay, bird watching -- and a peaceful get-away. 

Lilacs bloom and welcome to verdant
  countryside and Julian hospitality.


Spring flowers lead the way to a lovely late April and a pleasant May.

A VISIT TO Julian, California, is a journey back in time to a more innocent, leisurely day.
People still say "hello" and strangers with a map might find themselves guided to their destination -- "why it's just up the street and around the corner. I'll take you. I'm going that way."
Lake Cuyamaca Lodge is lovingly run by a husband-wife team
who take pleasure in providing scenery, comfort and individual attention.
My California squeeze and fellow traveler was born in San Diego and spent childhood time in Julian with his family, thus his fond memories.
Whispering Pines offers hospitality, privacy, attentive service
and a tranquil, rejuvenating retreat from the world's cares.
After a decade of visiting in spring and autumn, I'm gathering my own memories, too.
Bruce Keller and Christene (Cookie) Meyers, kick back
 at Romano's in Julian, a family-run enterprise with fine fare.

If you stop by Lake Cuyamaca
Restaurant for a meal, you may
 be lucky to catch David Dobler.
WE VISIT the bed and breakfasts and air bnb offerings, and there are plenty from which to choose here in this little mountain town about 90 minutes from the city.  San Diegans come for a weekend respite of peace and quiet in a natural setting. This spring, we admired a glorious patch of yellow and purples -- the first of the iris, the last of the daffodils, lupin and lilacs. Julian is also famous for its apples and the hills and valleys were a cloud of ivory and pink.
It's a splendid sight for this Montana kid, missing spring under the comforting cloak of the Big Sky. You feel your blood pressure dropping on the pretty drive northeast from San Diego.
WE STAYED this time in a charming cottage in Whispering Pines Retreat. We heard bird song -- finches, jays and red-winged blackbirds as I wrote -- enjoying a "cuppa" in a quaintly furnished cabin, while fixing supper and relishing the solitude. The Yorkies snoozed at my feet and all was right with the world -- for a few precious Julian hours.
The once historic gold mining town segued to a welcoming mountain village famous for apple pies, wine, ice cream, hiking and biking trails. We always dine one night at a great family run Italian bistro called Romano's. Julian is also famous for its festivals and holiday decorations and it always feels like a holiday at Romano's.
 THE APPLE CAPITAL of the world offers a get-away both soothing and exciting. There's plenty to do besides the famous fall apple fest. Think history.  The town was founded just
after the Civil War, and is nestled among oak and pine forests as old as Robert E. Lee. Surrounding the town are the
The view from Lake Cuyamaca Lodge is stellar and peaceful.
 Cuyamaca Range and the south slope of Volcan Mountain. We followed the road to Lake Cuyamaca for a night, for a delightful stay at Lake Cuyamaca Lodge and a fine meal with live music at nearby Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant. The place is famous for home cooking -- tasty American meals served in a rustic room with lake views. A tackle shop adjoins and it's your last chance for the famous Julian apple pie. Live music may be on tap on weekends. Check to see if the gifted David Dobler is playing.
JULIAN'S EAGLE  and High Peak Gold Mine lets you step back in time into a real gold mine dug out of a mountain with picks and your own pan. In many ways, the gold  mine
Julian has an annual October Apple Festival,
celebrating the fruit that keeps people coming back.
 is a metaphor for Julian itself -- a throw-back to the late 1800s.  Remove the autos and modern dress and imagine your great-grandparents strolling the streets of Julian.    Dogs are welcome, too, for us an essential.

Julian makes tourists welcome and
summer finds life centered around
the outdoors.
The whole township of Julian is a Designated Historical District. Its image as an early California frontier town with pioneer store fronts, historic sites and guided tours of the mines explains its continuing modern appeal.
We also heartily recommend Pheasant Hill Cabin and Julian Lodge, both popular and often booked. Tourism is Julian's largest industry. Enjoy yourselves. We always do.

A grey whale cow and her young calf are observed off the
waters of San Diego in a thrilling day on the ocean.
UP NEXT:    Nothing compares to the thrill for this pair of whale watching photographers and writers as observing a mother grey whale and her months-old baby, heading back from the Baja to Alaska for the season.  We delighted in a long look at these wondrous creatures this week with San Diego Whale Watch and its savvy naturalist and boat captain. We'll share the magic in the next whereiscookie. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel approach to the arts and nature driven travel.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Holy Week in Jerusalem: Pilgrims flock to renovated tomb of Jesus

Believer or not, it's easy to be moved by the religious history of the splendid city of Jerusalem. Here, Cookie pauses
enroute to the Church of the Holy Seprelcre to see the now complete and laborious restoration of the tomb of Jesus.


and courtesy Associated Press

JUST IN TIME for Passover and Easter, a crack Greek restoration team unveiled an elaborate, high-tech renovation of the Jerusalem shrine housing the tomb where tradition says Jesus was   buried and rose.
Restoration complete, the church's famous tomb shines with new luster.
Above left, the church may be approached through a colorful covered bazaar. 

The archaeologists, known for restoration work on historic Egyptian and Turkish sites, were laying the groundwork for the repairs on our last visit. The project has been on the boards since 1959. The shrine needed urgent attention after years of
exposure to moisture, humidity and candle smoke.
We spent two spring days in the city, known for its shrines, mosques and temples and the relics of a trio of major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
THE TOMB IS known as the Edicule, and rests within the Old City of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Seplulchre
Cookie lights a candle near the tomb, honoring her departed.
Above, the tomb shortly before our last visit.
What struck us was that until recently, the tomb was so dingy and blackened. When next we visit, we are excited to witness the results of the painstaking transformation. The original ivory sheen of the marble has emerged -- the tomb is no longer dark and dingy but looks much as it did centuries ago.
21ST CENTURY techniques -- including radar and thermography -- were used to examine the tomb's supporting structure tomb and ground beneath. The experts, from the National Technical University of Athens, stripped the stone slabs from the shrine’s fa├žade and patched internal masonry, injecting it with grout for reinforcement. Each stone was wiped clean of candle soot and pigeon droppings, then put back in place. Titanium bolts were added for reinforcement, and the shrine's frescos and painted dome were given a facelift.
Above and below left, painstaking removal of grime restored each stone slab.
Additional work is necessary to better stabilize the ground. The Greek conservators will be part of that effort, too, after it is approved by those who inhabit and use the church. It is still an active shrine -- and home to 50 monks, who insist that it be kept open for pilgrims.  Since the fourth Century AD, the church has been a cemetery. Romans had built a temple there to honor Aphrodite and for centuries it was also a quarry.
Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem is being renovated

NOW GONE IS THE unsightly iron cage built around the shrine by British authorities in 1947 to shore up the walls. Gone are layers of soot from decades of pilgrims' candles. Vastly improved is the stability of the old shrine, which hadn’t been restored in more than 200 years.

“If this repair hadn’t happened now, there could have been a collapse,” Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund said this week. “This is a complete transformation of the monument.”
A PRIVATE DONATION provided an initial $1.4 million for the $4 million restoration. That gift came from the widow of Atlantic Records founder. Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas each chipped in 150,000 euros -- totaling $320,000. Church donations and other private gifts raised the rest.
The limestone and marble Church of the Holy Sepulcher is among the world’s oldest churches — a 12th-century building on 4th-century remains. Three main Christian denominations jealously guard separate sections of the church, but put aside longstanding religious rivalries to approve the restoration. In 2015, Israeli police briefly shut down the building after Israel’s Antiquities Authority deemed it unsafe. Repairs finally began in earnest in June 2016.

UP NEXT: Julian, California, in the spring is a gorgeous bounty of blooms and fragrance. Come with us to visit this charming mountain town not far from San Diego. From homemade apple pie to art,  ice cream to friendly inns and B&Bs, Julian is a quaint, appealing town. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for the weekend.  

Right, daffodils are protected in Julian, California, where it is illegal to pick them. The town is famous for apples as well.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Spring fling offers theatrical gems on play-loving San Diego boards

Bryant Hernandez, Kenia Ramirez and Jennifer Paredes are modern-day muskateers in "Into the Beautiful North," at
San Diego Repertory Theatre.  The play's quest is inspired by the films "The Magnificent Seven" and "Seven Samurai." 
The Lyceum in Horton Plaza is home
to San Diego Repertory Theatre where

a provocative new play just opened.
From left, David McBean, Richard Baird, Benjamin Cole and James Saba
 playing multiple roles in NorthCoast Rep's "Travels with My Aunt." 

NorthCoast Repertory Theatre offers quality work in a
 small space with David Ellenstein's able artistic direction.


KEN JACQUES and courtesy theater marketing departments

WE ARE BINGING on an orgy of fabulous San Diego theater.
The cause of our bacchanal is a feast of fine productions -- three this week and three next.
Sean Murray, center, both directs and stars in "On the Twentieth Century"
at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. Murray's versatility has won him leading
roles in "Man of LaMancha," "Sweeney Todd" and "Little Shop of Horrors." 
From cutting edge drama set in our own southern California, to time honored chestnuts that still bring the house down, to fresh new comedy with an edge and original musicals, San Diego delivers. No other mid-sized city has birthed as many Broadway bound works -- "Memphis," "Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays," "Dracula, the Musical," "Jersey Boys," "The Who's Tommy," and more.
AS DEVOTEES of the boards, we're celebrating -- drinking it all in, if you will. We love our treks to Los Angeles -- to the Ahmanson and Mark Taper. Our Broadway forays in New York City are a favorite tradition. But San Diego is not only a city of eternal sunshine -- it offers quality theater year round. We see more than 100 plays a year -- at least a play a week. There's always a new production, and this column deals strictly with theater.
Add to the mix world class dance, symphony, opera and comedy.
Sam Woodhouse directs an entertaining, often touching new
play with San Diego connections at SD Repertory Theatre. 
 THIS MONTH, we are experiencing a rousing bounty of delights. Here's a selection of "can't miss" entrees from our theatrical feast:

Cygnet Theatre's variety is enhanced by Sean Murray's able
artistic direction and a charming Old Town space.
SAN DIEGO REPERTORY THEATRE: At once funny and touching, "Into the Beautiful North" takes a fresh look at the immigrant story.  Three Mexican friends decide to enter the U.S. in search of strong men who will rid their besieged village of drug bandidos. Luis Alberto Urrea wrote the novel from which Karen Zacarias adapted her finely tuned drama. Fine actors, beautifully cast and directed by Sam Woodhouse tell this engaging contemporary tale following the director's keen insight into what makes characters act, react, form loyalties and follow their passions. Through April 23.

*CYGNET THEATRE: "On the Twentieth Century." Cygnet's production of this gem is energetic and fun, an old-fashioned musical with fabulous performances, set on a train bound from Chicago to New York. Clever use is made of Cygnet's stage and space, with a delightful backdrop, inventive design and fun movie footage into which the "Twentieth Century" characters are cleverly dropped. As the hijinks unfold, we enjoy snappy choreography, perfect period costumes and gorgeous wigs as the train speeds toward its destination with a Bible toting proselytizer and plenty of goofy doings afoot.
La Jolla Playhouse is gearing up for a Jimmy Buffett musical.
 Sean Murray and Eileen Bowman in leading roles are hysterical as the one-time lovers. Flawless supporting players dance delightfully in and out. The entire cast is gangbusters -- the cream of the crop of Cygnet regulars. A vintage homage to the theatrical days of yore. Through April 30.

Singing and dancing their way through a blind date and beyond, a cleverly
staged meeting unfolds in "First Date" by San Diego Musical Theatre.
Giles Havergal adapted the Graham Greene novel about eccentric Aunt Augusta who swoops in to shake up the life of her staid bourgeois banker nephew.  Four actors play 20 roles in the journey with the Rep's imaginative artistic director David Ellenstein at the helm.  The plot involves CIA agents, Nazi collaborators, a Turkish general and a sojourn to Paraguay. Watch for our reaction soon. April 12 through May 7.

*SAN DIEGO MUSICAL THEATRE: "First Date" at Horton Grand Theatre is an energetic regional premiere, an inventively staged contemporary musical comedy.  The clever story references current digital technology and language placing Aaron and Casey on their first date in a bistro. There, restaurant patrons become the couples' "others" -- exes, parents, best friends. The music is delightful, the singers in top form, the head waiter a familiar face (recently the star of SDMT's "The Producers.") Aaron's and Casey’s inner critics transform other diners and themselves. Singing, dancing, scheming, wisecracking, soul searching lead to the discovery that they do have potential after all. Bravura performances all around. Through May 7.
Veteran actors and singers dress the stage in "The Geeze and Me" at
the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in downtown San Diego.

*RAG LADY PRODUCTIONS: "The Geeze and Me" is a world premier, a high-energy, moving and irreverent musical about the woes of aging. The original work features short, memorable songs -- lovely ballads to rock 'n' roll, blues and boogie -- expertly delivered by a well tuned ensemble including the aging counselor who elicits their stories. The eclectic blend of songs -- from bawdy to beautiful -- unfolds with fun choreography. The perils, challenges and perks of changing bodies, rearranged priorities, illness, loss, loneliness and growth spell an engaging evening at the theater, presented with chutzpah and a cutting, comic edge. The production is musically directed by B.J. Robinson. Hedges Capers and Nancy Locke Capers collaborated on this delightful work. Through April 29. 

Jimmy Buffett tunes are on tap at
La Jolla Playhouse in a world premiere.

LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE: "Escape to Margaritaville." Whether you're a Parrothead or not, this new world premiere musical sounds enticing as a shot of tequila and a shaker of salt on a scorching day . Original songs and favorite Jimmy Buffett classics tell the story directed by Christopher Ashley. The romantic tale features Tully, a part-time bartender who sings (of course he does!) and a career-minded tourist who steals his heart and forces a re-evaluation of his thinking. May 9 through June 18.

A classic of the American musical theater songbook
comes to Welk Resort for a long likely sold-out run.
WELK RESORT: "The Music Man." Fast-talking Harold Hill cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying musical instruments and uniforms and forming a band, although he knows not a note of music. Marian the librarian turns him into a respectable citizen in this classic of the American theater. Barbershop tunes, lovely ballads and the rousing "Trouble" and  "76 Trombones" on tap. (I know every lyric and so do thousands of you!) May 5 through July 23.
A Greek restoration team took care with each stone and slab
in a major restoration effort of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem.
UP NEXT: Holy Days in Jerusalem this year take on a special significance.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its sacred tomb, believed to be the burial place and resurrection scene of Jesus, have undergone an elaborate restoration and facelift. We visit the city and the church, and invite you to join us. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us here each weekend for a lively new take on the arts, travel and nature.