Thursday, February 25, 2021

Home sweet home -- how about a "Staycation" while we transcend Covid's woes?


The beautiful Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel offers splendid digs, immaculate hygiene standards, wonderful room service offerings, gorgeous views, proximity to attractions in America's finest city.


The famous Hotel Del Coronado is a San Diego
landmark, much loved by locals and tourists.
Staycation: (Also called a holistay.) A period in which an individual or family stays near home and participates in leisure activities and R&R within easy driving distance.


IF YOU'RE tired of being shut in and cut off, afraid to fly and yet eager for a change of environment, consider a "staycation." 
No matter where you live in the world, there's likely an interesting hotel, B&B or some kind of unusual place to stay within a few minutes or an hour's drive from your home.
Montana friends -- stir crazy from the winter's blasts -- took a drive south to a hot springs get-away in Wyoming recently, and returned refreshed.
Friends in England took a trip across the border to Wales to a boutique inn, and found it was a sanity-saving sojourn.
WE BOOKED three different hotels all within minutes of our home then treated ourselves to three long "staycation" weekends.
Stately grounds and architecture of Mar Brisa
Carlsbad Resort welcome strolling and biking.

It felt as if we were doing a grand tour of Europe. Since we've logged almost an entire year without international travel, we were looking for places that would make us feel as if we were in another world -- places away from the bustle and worries of life with the constraints of COVID-19, and yet places that would make us feel safe, with masking, distancing and the important hygiene and safety protocol -- including "sealed rooms" -- all of
which we believe to be life-saving.
Splendid views await at Hilton's Bayfront
as water life below unfolds and captivates.
We also wanted places where we could safely order take-away food or room service, with the assurance that our meals were prepared with the highest possible cleanliness and caution.
WE WANTED to be surrounded by beauty and difference, with unique opportunities for photography.
We wanted a connection to nature, interesting architecture and newness -- something with which we weren't previously familiar.
And we wanted places where we could store and use our bicycles, keeping to our daily fitness regime.
We also wanted proximity from home -- no more than 45 minutes from our door.
 At Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 
enjoy a bike ride along the
 scenic Embarcadero.
WITH A LITTLE homework, we found three unique properties, all within an easy drive. Put your own spin on the concept, and check out nearby get-away hotels, spas, thermal baths, hot springs, cozy inns or B&Bs. You'll be surprised what you might find with a simple Google request: vacation spots near me. Here's what we discovered:
A delightful 15-minute ferry ride awaits nearby
to take you to or from Coronado Island with easy
access from  either Hotel Del or Hilton Bayfront.
* Hilton San Diego Bayfront: Sleek, contemporary property with bird's eye views of San Diego Bay and the city's artful skyline.  
Walking distance to Petco Park, Convention Center and the Gaslamp Quarter. A beautiful new shell at South Embarcadero Park awaits concerts  postponed because of the pandemic. We plan to return and make a weekend of it once San Diego
Symphony announces its schedule for the virus-derailed outdoor concert season.
Room service Bayfront brunch
includes this tasty avocado
 garnish on whole grain bread.
Mar Brisa in Carlsbad, Calif., offers beautiful landscaping
and "family friendly" options, including biking and water slides.

THE HOTEL boasts comfy quiet corners to relax, especially around the heated saltwater bayside pool. Our suite had a telescope for watching the gorgeous water  life -- pleasure crafts, fishing boats,  cargo ships and soon -- the return of cruise ships to the city's state of the art terminal. Excellent room service dining is offered. We enjoyed several beautifully plated meals, including tasty brunch specials.
The Hotel Del Coronado offers pampering, fine dining,
history, splendid ocean views and gorgeous sunsets.

  *MarBrisa Carlsbad Resort: Beautifully designed on 43 acres, the property boasts three swimming pools, hot tubs galore, a relaxing spa, and proximity to San Diego's splendid outdoor offerings. The San Diego Zoo's famed Safari Park is just minutes away and for golfers, a championship golf course is adjacent. The architecture is classic Spanish Mediterranean-style and the villas offer kitchens, spacious balconies and pretty views.
If you've a sportsman in your midst, the golfing is internationally regarded and a beautiful green awaits -- whether you've brought your clubs or are simply admiring. Once Legoland reopens, Mar Brisa guests enjoy a private entrance. And you can drink the water because Carlsbad's alkaline water, discovered in 1882, ranks among the country's finest. 
An elegant suite offers ocean
views at Hotel  Del Coronado,
built in 1888 near San Diego
*Hotel del Coronado:  Since 1888, this distinguished Victorian era property has been a favorite of locals and west-coast tourists.  It is also beloved by an international clientele and by my partner, who remembers visiting for elaborate afternoon teas with his grandmother. Royalty, presidents, jet setters, movie stars and famous directors have
sipped, supped, slept and lounged at "The Del," as it is affectionately called. Marilyn Monroe stayed here during the filming of "Some Like It Hot," and the property has a proud heritage as an architectural masterpiece and historic register gem.
 "Hotel Del" offers a charming seaside boardwalk.

 Its builders, Babcock and Story, are immortalized in plaques and hotel literature, and in a wonderful bar bearing their name.  We strolled the lovely boardwalk to try tasty small bite specials and watch skilled bartenders make specialty cocktails. Golf, yoga and the ferry to the "mainland" are all at your disposal with a variety of superior class rooms including beach cabanas.  

The Palms at Indian Head takes its name from the various
types of stately palm trees surrounding the property,
and the silhouette of a sleeping Indian behind, left.

UP NEXT: It's "bloom time" in the desert and Borrego Springs beckons, with an opportunity to base yourself at a charming small inn with history, character, beauty and a Hollywood connection. Consider an outing to view the spring flowers while headquartered at the Palms at Indian Head, a historic boutique inn with a long link to Hollywood and legendary show biz folks. Expect gourmet dining, gorgeous weather, rabbits out the window, terrific sunsets, all in a nature lover's paradise. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh look at travel, nature, the arts, family and more:


Thursday, February 18, 2021

New yacht in town -- book a dreamy boat trip to sail San Diego Bay






 Up, up, up goes the main sail, above, as  the Triton crew readies the yacht for a fun afternoon on San Diego Bay.  At right, on deck, the
impressive Coronado Bridge
attracts the attention of passengers as they sip reasonably priced beverages, move about the boat for ringside views of the bridge and the city 
skyline, and relax to the sound of the water and the ambiance of a beautiful vessel.


Comfy, moveable chairs and nicely arranged
benches and tables offer a range of seating.

A GREEK MYTH inspired the story of  Triton, god of the sea.
He possessed  magical powers and became a revered messenger, protecting sailors and promoting safety in ocean crossings.
SO SAN DIEGO'S newest catamaran, the beautiful Triton, is aptly named.
She's a messenger for good times.
We spent a glorious afternoon aboard Triton, which can be rented for private parties or booked by families, couples, singles, groups -- for a delightful sail around San Diego Bay.
 Our fellow sailors were a pleasant mix of business and professional people,  students, couples looking for a lively but relaxing outing and young at heart retirees and vacationers escaping colder climes. 
Happy, relaxed sailors enjoy views, chat, drinks.
THE YACHT is downtown San Diego's new kid on the pleasure cruising block. In the boat rental business, there are numerous competitors for the leisure time dollar.  Triton won't disappoint if you're looking for a pleasant, fairly priced diversion to surprise a date, or an enjoyable outing to treat out-of-town guests. Great family reunion or birthday option.
Once aboard the boat -- based on Shelter Island, near the mid-road sign -- you'll be pampered by an attentive crew, and can wander about or just plunk yourself down to enjoy the impressive sights that make San Diego "America's finest city," as she is often called.
We circled around Seaport Village, Shelter Island, under the beautiful Coronado Bridge and past the city's array of monuments, high rises, boutiques, galleries, parks, bike paths and sculpture.
San Diego born Bruce Keller
enjoys a bird's eye view of the Bay.

It's fun to be on the water and observe other sea life, from the Coronado Ferry to whale watching vessels and pleasure crafts of all manner, shape, size and origin. We saw yachts from as far away as Rhode Island and the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Alaska and Seattle, as well as dozens who call San Diego home. We even spotted a couple playful dolphin.
OUR 2.5 HOUR cruise went by in a flash, as we made a leisurely loop under the bridge, catching a glimpse of the legendary Hotel Del Coronado across the isthmus.
 The sleek, comfortable Triton has an  impressive history.  She came thousands of miles from Texas, through the Gulf of Mexico, down the east coast to transit the Panama Canal, then up the west coast to San Diego.
The circuitous 38-day journey took place after she was rebuilt and remodeled to contemporary perfection, and she's been a focal point of southern California yachting life since she splashed into the Bay in August of 2020.
It's fun to watch the able and highly
trained crew work the sails.
 OUR PLEASANT companions mingled, made new friends, pointed out sights to newcomers and enjoyed beverages at an attractive and comfortably located bar.  The boat is thoughtfully arranged so people can be alone or join a casual chat with other small groups. Welcoming seating on the level deck includes bean bag chairs which can be easily moved or used anywhere on board. There's always an unobstructed bird's eye view.
One of the most welcome pleasures of a boat trip around the Bay with Triton is the ability to do whatever you like -- simply relax with a beverage, meditate to the sound of the sail and the swish of the water, chat with friends, be alone or enjoy a romantic time with a favorite person.
The views are gorgeous and the pace is leisurely and relaxed.
Cookie and Keller aboard Triton, a new, comfy
and contemporary catamaran offering fun outings
THERE ARE other charters in San Diego and we've sampled many.  Triton is roomy and new, so she is spit-and-polish clean and can carry up to 105 passengers. The Triton staff are honoring Covid precautions, though, so one-fourth and one-third capacity are standard. This enhances the comfortable, safe feeling.
She's 75-feet long and the helpful and polite crew treat passengers as if they're clients on a private yacht.  Masks are worn onto the boat, and can be shed to sip a beverage or if you're with your own small group.
Triton, true to the legacy of the god for which
she was named, offers safety and pleasant seas.
WE FELT quite pampered and relaxed after our afternoon, and made a couple new friends to boot.  The colors are soothing -- aquas, greys, light relaxing shades. Pillows and comfy touches encourage relaxation with a sophisticated touch.
The 13-seat bar was popular on our journey, and  parties can book the water slide option which looks like fun, as the weather warms.
A large dance floor and advanced sound system invite partying, celebrations and groups of friends.
Adults are $55 and children $15. Two sailings are offered each afternoon, at 1 p.m. and 4:30. It's easy to book on line. Or email; 844 587-4866.

Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego is our "Staycation" choice.

UP NEXT: Consider a "Staycation." This made-up word means you can drive within a day from home, and feel like you're far away. Different environment. New scenery. Change of pace. For nearly a year, we travel lovers have all been in a state of deprivation. So we are looking for change from our own winter home, San Diego, and have found splendid, relaxing, inviting, pleasurable digs nearby. Wherever you live, consider a B&B, cozy boutique, hot springs resort, spa, or nearby hotel where you might enjoy time away from the home routine, and the chance to feel you're doing something a bit different for yourself. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh look at travel, nature, the arts and more:

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Whale watching is at its best with San Diego Flagship's Marietta

A grey whale's breech brought gasps and cheers this weeks aboard Flagship's Marietta in San Diego. The family owned company offers a rewarding whale watching experience, with distanced seating and one-fourth capacity, lively commentary and a theme of environmental respect and protection.

Charles navigated, with expert narration by Dale, who
explained the whales' migratory patterns and enhanced our
experience with detailed and lively insights into their life.


GORGEOUS WEATHER, expert narration, smooth seas and the sighting of five grey whales made for a thrilling day on the water this week.
Our outing was aboard Flagship fleet's comfy Marietta, departing San Diego Bay at 9:30 a.m. for a four-hour search for migrating grey whales.
This is "prime whale time," according to my native California partner Keller, an avid, informed, lifelong watcher of whales. 
THE GENTLE giants are heading south now from a feasting orgy in chilly Alaskan waters.  They'll give birth in Baja and tend their young in its secluded lagoons,
Danielle is one of Flagship's attentive naturalist
guides, with helpful brochures and whale
artifacts, including these killer whale teeth.
Check out Ocean 

their territory for centuries. 
Our skilled Flagship team included Charles, Dale, Danielle and Hannah, all expert "spotters," ever respectful of giving the whales breathing room.  They soon found a flisky pair when we were barely into the ocean, past Point Loma, then another pair, and a single playful whale.  We saw breeching, "spy hopping," and the longed for fluke, which appears  before the whale dives deeply beneath the surface.
"Spy hopping" occurs
Seeing the whale's fluke is
a wondrous experience.

when the whales take a look around to get their bearings and see what's out there.
With so few of us on the ship, and strict distancing and masking in force, Flagship offered a splendid five-star tour. The bar was open for early-riser bloody marys and soft drinks, coffee and light snacks.
INTERESTING literature, brochures and whale artifacts are passed around by the naturalist-guides to keep passengers entertained between sightings.
Docents share information and models between
sightings, to keep the action lively.

 When the whales come into view, there's a feeling of charged excitement as we hurry to the railings. One whale might be the width of a basketball court.
Well informed guides point out other sea life
along the way, here this sunbathing seal. 

Our twin sightings may have been mating pairs, but whether they were "romantic" or not, our experts weren't certain.  They were obviously friendly and traveling together. Greys often mate in a trio, so the single whale near journey's end could hook up with one of the pair.
Passengers enjoy plenty of space aboard
Marietta, with room to be safe and enjoy.
 We've seen babies with their mothers in April, heading north. But since the gestation period is 12 months, the ones we see mating these year won't give birth until next year.
Keller took this mother and calf photo
in April, a thrill for both of us. We'll
soon watch the northbound whales.  

EACH WINTER, these beautiful southbound gray whales usually travel in pods of two or three and each year, more than 20,000 gray whales make an impressive 10,000 mile round-trip journey to the southern lagoons.
We lucky San Diegans may watch the journey close-up, so this time of year, look for us on the water -- often on Flagship. Sailor Keller has even piloted our own craft. But it's more fun for him to let someone else do the driving so he play photographer.
We'll be looking again in April for the mothers and calves.
A quintet of a larger pod of dolphin ride the bow wave of our boat
as it pushes through the water in the ocean miles off Point Loma.

Dolphins are also a delight on our whale watching expeditions. They frolic, jump and dive for us, enjoying their captive audience.
The whales know we're nearby and don't seem to mind. Some experts speculate that they are naturally curious and trusting, which could explain their near demise at the hands of ruthless and greedy whalers of yore. These beautiful creatures travel at about five knots (about six miles per hour), so when a boat captain or passenger spots one, we slow down -- usually from five or six miles out, although we've seen them at closer range.
Keller's painterly eye caught this moody reflection as we
pulled out of the harbor, with San Diego's cityscape behind.
We smile, below left, as we motor past the cruise terminal.
Flagship's family owned operation includes  a versatile fleet offering many options including private charters. We've been on the Marietta many times, once for a wedding, and for several celebrations and parties. Her roomy sundeck affords fabulous sightseeing of one of America's prettiest port cities. The indoor reception area is closed now because of COVID-19, but as vaccinations increase and health returns, she'll be open again for indoor receptions, cocktail parties, dancing and romancing.  
THE COMPANY was founded in 1915 and is known for its whale watching as well as harbor cruises and a jet boat thrill ride for the adventurous. The line's popular dinner 

cruise operation is gearing back up soon after a hiatus during COVID-19. Special holiday and, holiday and dinner cruises, and a jet boat thrill ride. Beginning Feb. 18, you can upgrade your next Harbor Tour to a Sunset Cocktail Cruise. The "Sunset Cocktail Package for Two" will be available Thursdays through Sundays on Flagship's 4:15 p.m. full bay harbor tour. Sounds like fun and includes a reserved table, champagne and hors d'oeuvres for two, with a full no-host bar.

As the sail is hoisted, passengers are in for a treat at Triton-Charters,
with a wonderful new yacht and many options for fun on San Diego Bay.

UP NEXT: While we're exploring the high seas, we've found a new yacht in town. It's fun, it's sleek, it's Triton, a spacious, luxurious, sparkling catamaran is the newest yacht in southern California. She's making a big splash cruising San Diego Bay with masking and distancing, and treating lovers of water to a beautiful afternoon. You can rent the yacht for a private party, or join other sailors to cruise in comfort, with a lovely bar, music, a dance floor, and plenty of open-air space to visit, soak up the sights and sun, see San Diego landmarks and cruise yourself into relaxation. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh spin on travel, water driven activities, cruising, nature, the arts, family and more:


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Long running soap opera, "General Hospital," features Montana actors


Veteran actors Jeff Kober, left, and Wally Kurth, have both been in the profession for decades.
They have more in common than that, though. Both are native Montanans and now share billing
on one of the daytime TV's most enduring and popular dramas,"General Hospital."   


In 1994, actors Wally Kurth and Rena Sofer
were married in real life. Sofer played the
lively character of Lois, from Bensonhurst.
FANS OF daytime soaps have long known that Billings, Montana, native Wally Kurth plays a compelling character named Ned Ashton  Quartermaine on the enduring daytime TV drama, "General Hospital." The long-running show has remained hugely popular, since its 1963 debut, thanks to fine writing, trending storylines and sound acting. 
With dozens of interweaving stories, plot twists and complex characters, it spins together melodramatic tales, radiating from the hospital into the characters' homes and private lives.
RECENTLY, a second native Montanan signed on to the engaging soap. Enter Billings born Jeff Kober as villain Cyrus Renault. His character -- like Kurth's -- intrigued fans so his role was quickly expanded.
Masking between takes, actors
Jeff Kober and Wally Kurth.
Generations of devoted GH followers have watched avidly as characters marry, divorce, conduct affairs. They've seen them through accidents, illness, missteps, addiction and triumphs. The early stories were set mainly on the seventh floor of General Hospital, in an unnamed midsized Eastern city (the town was called Port Charles in the late 1970s).  "The concept was of a big wagon wheel – the spokes as the characters and the hub as the hospital," says Kurth, 62, who -- except for a few years' hiatus -- has been with the show for decades as the head of a complicated, well known family. Both actors are praised for their authenticity before the camera. Kober, 67, as the nefarious Renault, 

Wally Kurth is in the unique position of appearing
in two daytime soaps -- "that's just fine with me,"
he says, but it's a lot of work and many lines.
found his antagonistic role expanded both because of his talent and fan interest. Soap production is an evolving proposition, demanding many pages of memorization from the actors, backed by timely, quick and creative writing.
INITIALLY, THE TWO Montanans played their parts in separate scenes, and GH veteran Kurth "knew" his fellow actor only through his home TV screen, and his body of work. "He is a fine, solid actor," Kurth says, noting Kober's impressive resume. Besides logging a string of memorable movie roles, Kober, who also lived in Park City, won acclaim for his TV roles.  Fans remember his Dodger in "China Beach," Jacob Hale Jr. in "Sons of Anarchy," and Joe in "The Walking Dead."

Jeff Kober joined the soap with an impressive
dossier of movies and TV shows and guest spots.
Both actors have been praised for their genuine quality, critical in making a show work.
Says Kurth, "At first, I didn't realize Jeff was a fellow Montanan. Because of the Covid shutdown, it took a while for us to meet." After the quarantine, months went by before the show resumed shooting. Ironically, Kurth's first scene back was with Kober. "We were both wearing masks -- so it  was a little odd. It's nice when the masks come off."
LIKE MOST talented people, each man has other interests. Kurth is a talented musician who does benefits for special causes. Kober, who played trumpet in high school band, teaches meditation and yogic philosophy, signing his emails with a friendly "peace." 
While Kober was establishing a successful film career in the 1980s, Kurth was becoming a soap star, a distinction he's held since 1987, as the only actor featured simultaneously in two soaps. He plays Justin Kiriakas on "Days of Our Lives" as well as "General  Hospital's" Quartermaine.  Kurth holds dear a real-life hospital, internationally known Shriner's Children's Hospital, a favorite charity.

Kober's character has startling connections to the town, here
 with Donnell Turner, who plays detective Curtis Ashford. 
OCCASIONALLY, LIFE IMITATES art -- in Hollywood and at "General Hospital." Kurth and GH actor Rena Sofer were love interests on and off the set in 1994. Their brief marriage produced a much loved daughter, Rosabel, who is pursuing her MFA in Fine Art at Carnegie Mellon. Says Kurth, "She is an amazing artist. I'm so proud of her."
"General Hospital" is filmed in Prospect Studios.
What accounts for the show's enduring appeal? A devotee from Menifee, California, GH aficionado Melody Cogsdill, follows the show's intersecting storylines and credits its popularity with sound acting, compelling storylines and inventive writing. "I think they have the best writers and actors in the business," she reflects. Kober's character Renault "was introduced as an unredeemable villain," says Cogsdill. "He is a wonderful actor, so I couldn't stand his character! Now I am fascinated by Renault -- and Kober's acting skills." Giving viewers a glimpse into Renault's past, she adds, "lets us see how his upbringing affected his moral compass. I look forward to more scenes with him."
About Kurth's character, the longtime fan says, "He’s adorable. I really miss him when he isn’t on the show. I can never tell if he is underhanded and charming, or just plain charming. He is perfect as the head of the Quartermaine clan."
Jeff Kober with Linda Hunt in an NCIS: Los Angeles episode.
FINE WRITERS, Kurth says, continue the intention of GH creators Frank and Doris Hursley, offering a captivating series of vignettes reflecting the panoply of life and the human condition: loyalty and devotion, adultery, drug and alcohol addiction, betrayal, car wrecks, theft, death, marital affairs, con artists, manipulators, idealists. There's plenty of tragedy and surprise, but also celebration -- with memorable characters, continually evolving.
The story of one famous pair, Luke and Laura, broke viewing records in 1981 when 30 million Americans tuned in for their wedding. The  episode featured famed actor Elizabeth Taylor,  a GH fan,  cast in a cameo at the wedding as the widow of Mikkos Cassadine. She bestowed a curse on Luke and Laura, believing they'd killed her husband.
Elizabeth Taylor made a cameo
appearance at Luke and Laura's
wedding, watched by 30 million

 COGSDILL BELIEVES both Kurth's suave Quartermaine and Kober's villainous Renault are intriguing to viewers.  She hopes they both endure. Kurth speculates that Kober's character will stick around, noting that his colleague's 40 years in the business include memorable guest spots with acclaimed actors such as Linda Hunt, on "NCIS: Los Angeles."
Actors Anthony Geary and Genie Francis had a torrid
love affair as Luke and Laura on "General Hospital."

Jeff Kober 's Cyrus Renault spars in a scene
with Alexis Davis, played by Nancy Lee Grahn

 (Check your TV guide and ABC for airing times.
We recommend this tour, too, once the Covid
restrictions ease

On set, masking and safety protocols make the work even more challenging, the men agree. Says Kurth, "We are required to wear our masks as soon as we leave our cars in the parking lot. The only time we take them off is for make up and while the cameras are rolling. It’s a little daunting running our lines at rehearsal with a mask."
It's a nice surprise, the men say, to see actual faces for the first time when the cameras roll! Perhaps, says Kurth, "It adds to our “fresh” performances!"
LEARNING huge numbers of pages in a day could tax lesser actors, but the two Montanans and the seasoned cast keep up with the pace which, says Kober, "can get crazy." He adds, "I’ve been incredibly fortunate. It’s a gift to be employed in this business at any time, but particularly in the middle of the pandemic. I couldn’t be happier."
Says Kurth, "It's challenging, going back and forth between the two shows. But I wouldn't have it any other way."  
Keller and Cookie set off on Flagship's comfy
Marietta, to be rewarded with the sighting of five
grey whales on one of their best whale watching
 watching adventures (they'velogged more than 50
whale watching trips worldwide.) 


 Perfect weather, a beautiful ship and gifted narration by
an experienced guide result in perfect whale watching this time of year in San Diego. Come with us aboard Flagship's Marietta, to explore the migratory patterns of the graceful grey whale. You'll learn about the life of this remarkable animal, nearly driven to extinction. We were pleased with the distancing, masking, safety aboard with one-quarter capacity and a helpful, informed crew. Flagship offers quality time and prime, leisurely viewing of the greys. Meanwhile,  remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh look at travel, nature, the arts, family and more. Please tell your friends and share the link: