Thursday, June 24, 2021

Road trip as Covid is conquered: vaccinated and hitting the road again

At a California vaccination center, masking is required to enter. More than 60 per cent of Californians are vaccinated now -- over 23 million people -- so people are feeling more confident to stop masking and distancing. The CDC recommends continued masking and safety protocol for the non-vaccinated.


All across California and into Nevada, we found hand-made signs for
vaccine centers.  Masking, we noted, is still happening in some areas,
but in more rural areas and small towns, masking is disappearing.

long road trip as the world  recovers from months of pandemic and isolation, we found mixed reactions and a clear division of thinking on masking, distancing and the Covid vaccine itself.
In cities with high-end hotels and shops, people are still masking. At the Monterey Aquarium, for instance, masking is essential to enter and masks must be worn throughout the visit.  A couple places still took temperature checks. 
BUT IN RURAL areas and less populated places -- where people don't travel much -- masking has all but disappeared.
At a small cafe near Rexburg, Idaho, a waitress told us, "We don't much go for that vaccine business here."
This upscale Asian restaurant in the Bay Area still
honors safety cubicles and masking for servers.
IN A POST-Covid nutshell, we found a marked division between believers and skeptics regarding the vaccines.  As we approach 700,000 people dead in the U.S. and nearly four million casualties worldwide, Covid is still very much on many peoples' minds while others seem to have forgotten about it and are blissfully moving on.
We're gratefully "double Pfizered." We awaited the vaccine eagerly. Because of Keller's severely compromised post-transplant immune system, our doctors got us in the first wave of vaccinated people. We masked all the way to Montana.  
IN TRAVELING through five states, we found fewer and fewer people are masking. Yet only about half of the U.S. population has been vaccinated (only 22 per cent worldwide and less than one percent in low-income countries.) We noticed that foreign visitors tended to be masked in hotels, shops and when entering restaurants. 
But a computer repairman we met told us he is not yet vaccinated but intends to be. "I'm not worried," he said, when I told him we were fully vaccinated.
The Cody, Wyoming, gunfight participants were
not masked, nor were most of the onlookers
In a northern California eatery, both entering customers and servers were masked and distancing and safety-conscious cubicles were still in place.
AT OUR HOTELS in Lake Tahoe, California, and Elko, Nevada, the ladies who checked us in wore masks, and masking signs were still posted on the hotel doors. But about half of the people we encountered were maskless. (There's no way to tell, of course, who is vaccinated and who is not.) 
Hilton brand properties continue
excellent hygiene policies, here a
 "clean stay" sealer on a pristine room. 
In our hotel in Pocatello, Idaho,  our receptionist was not masked, and the breakfast buffet had been restored and was packed. Most hotels did away with buffets early on in the pandemic, going instead with "grab and go" pre-prepared breakfast packages. Two of our six hotels still offered the bagged breakfast, but slowly the popular breakfast buffets are being restored.
WE ARE loyal to the Hilton brand, and were happy to see that the hygiene practices Hilton pioneered are still in place: safety stickers on the doors -- to be broken only by the guest -- alcohol rubs around "high use" areas such as door handles, TV controls, etc. Cups and glasses in the bathroom and beside coffee machines are still wrapped in plastic. 
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, masks are 
mandatory. (Cookie cheated for a few seconds,
 and Keller kept his mask half-on for the selfie.)

If you need towels, call housekeeping, which is still by request only. Room service orders are carefully wrapped and left outside the door so there is no human contact.
ACCORDING to new guidance from the CDC, fully vaccinated people can now participate in indoor and outdoor activities without a mask and without physical distancing.
However, for people who are not fully vaccinated, the CDC continues to recommend mask wearing and other preventive measures in outdoor settings and in most indoor settings. All a work in progress.

Here in Stockholm, some residents believe Sweden should
have taken a more serious stance on the pandemic in the
early stages. The country had one of Europe's highest 
infection rates and is still struggling to contain Covid.
As the delta variant raises new concerns about the spread of the virus, we're checking with our friends in Sweden, Israel, Australia and the UK, to see how they're coping with the new threat.  The pandemic is far from controlled and countries are clamping down and revising rules, imposing new testing procedures and requirements. We take a look at recent changes and interview our friends around the globe. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a fresh look at travel, health, the arts, nature, family and more: 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

National Parks, Europe beckon as the veil of Covid slowly lifts

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park is the park's largest lake and, many believe,
the most beautiful in the park. Record numbers of tourists are expected in national parks
as the veil of the pandemic slowly lifts and people seek solace in nature . 



Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers in Grand Teton.


AS THE VEIL of the pandemic slowly lifts, record numbers of travelers are taking to parks and open spaces worldwide.
After months of lock down, the outdoors offers inspiration and relief.
In the U.S., tourists are flocking to revel in the landscapes of Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon and Grand Teton national parks. 
In Europe, outdoor parks and mountain trails are welcoming record numbers of enthusiasts, joyous to be outdoors again. Nature and its varied landscapes offer a calming coda to months of isolation caused by the spread of COVID-19.
The world famous Vigeland Park in Norway
is welcoming thousands to its outdoor sculpture.
THROUGHOUT the world, where citizens are vaccinated, outdoor venues, concert spaces and parks are welcoming record numbers of guests. 
Norway's Vigeland Park, featuring the intriguing sculpture of Gustav Vigeland, is a wonderful, family-friendly outdoor arena. Remarkably, it's free, honoring the sculptor's wishes and a substantial endowment.
The fascinating venue is really a park within a park, located in Frognerparken (Frogner Park), the largest public park in Oslo.  A popular spot in all weather, this lovely park also boasts an open-air pool, restaurants, a museum and much more.
A natural backdrop provides a stunning setting for The Domo,
one of many intriguing sculptures on view at Tippet Rise.
Vigeland was a conservationist and hiker and wanted his sculpture to be showcased in a venue offering the compliment of nature's healing  balm. This life-saving pairing -- art and the outdoors --  is a magical elixir, a sanity saver and health booster for millions of us now more than ever.
TIPPET RISE Art Center in my native Montana is open. This unique venue in the spectacular plains and hills of south-central Montana is open for hiking and biking on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June 25 through Sept. Although there is no concert season again this year, outdoor enthusiasts are welcome to bring a mountain bike or hiking shoes and tour the remarkable collection of huge sculptures and soak up the gorgeous Montana landscape. Hiking and bicycling tours are free of charge, but require reservations. Call 406 328-7820.
Montana's and Wyoming's Rocky Mountains
are drawing tourists, here near Cody, Wyo.
We need all the open space we can find, so we turn to nature for relief and inspiration.
of isolation, people -- including the two of us travel writers -- are anxious to travel again.   
National parks predict tourist numbers will more than double this year, as families, hikers, bikers, campers and cyclists hit the roads.
Whether in search of geysers, sand dunes, beaches or wildlife refuges, folks are heading to the parks by the tens of thousands.
 As travel restrictions start to lift in Europe and beyond, and talks of a UK-US travel corridor heat up, travel is returning, slowly becoming possible.
The the European Union, a Covid travel pass is being rolled out across the bloc so travelers are again moving about within Europe.
The canals of Venice are expected to draw record numbers
of tourists, as Europe opens up slowly to post-Covid travel.
In several European countries, international tourists have been welcome since the start of June, with most visitors needing only to present a negative Covid test or vaccination card upon arrival.
Visitors from some countries, like the U.S., may still need to follow a 10-day quarantine. Restrictions are lifting country by country, however. So check with individual tourist bureaus.
HAPPY NEWS is that many European countries, including Italy, are expected to be classed as "low risk" by the end of June.
Cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels and
In Ashland, Oregon, the renowned Oregon
Shakespeare Festival is opening its famous
Allen Elizabethan Theater after a long lock-down

theaters have partially reopened to the public in many European countries, and parks. In Ashland, Oregon, for instance, after 16 months of lock-down, the world famous Allen Elizabethan Theater is staging its first show.
Outdoor dining worldwide is more popular than it has ever been. Many restaurants have opened patio areas, and will likely keep them even after the virus is quelled.
Keller and Cookie hold Nick on a road trip.
They're awaiting room service at a hotel pool

Masks were removed for the photo and eating.

can increase a person’s risk of getting and spreading the virus, so it is still wise to take precautions. Remember that we're in close contact with one another, sometimes for prolonged periods. We are also exposed to more frequently touched surfaces. Air or train travel requires spending time in security lines and busy airport terminals. 
So even though the CDC has loosened its requirements for masking, we recommend it. We're also devoted "hand-sanitizers." We also distance whenever possible. We ask for outdoor dining seating whenever possible.  At a recent play, we were seated six feet from others. On a flight to Hawaii, a middle seat was empty, but that is soon ending, making masking even more important. 
So be shrewd, be cautious, be protected. And with these careful conditions, we can once again travel.
Happy, safe trails!

In Salinas and Monterey, at Cannery Row in the old part
of Monterey, most people were masked and thoughtful.
   Vaccinated and grateful, we hit the deck running -- "double Pfizered" and happy to travel again.  On the road, we're taking note of trends.  We weighed the pros and cons and decided in favor of traveling.  So as we cross several states, we continue to mask as we observe without judgment. We inquire about vaccinating and we remain vigilant sanitizers. We're surprised that many are not vaccinated and do not believe in masking. A post-Covid post-mortem awaits. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, food, family, cruising and more:

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Hilton Hawaiian Village offers the best of Waikiki relaxation

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Resort evolved from simple beginnings nearly a century ago,
as the Niumalu Hotel.  Now five towers on prime Waikiki real estate compose the famous resort.

Bruce Keller's helicopter view shows the village in all its
spacious splendor, and its sheltered lagoon and beachfront.


two vintage photos courtesy Hilton

A rare vintage photo of the property's 1928 grounds.
IN 1928, A SMALL, charming inn opened on the beach of Honolulu.
The Niumalu Hotel stood on the site where Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort now resides. The beloved Niumalu Hotel on Kalia Road became the nucleus of entrepreneur-industrialist Henry J. Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village Hotel which opened in 1955. Its new buildings replaced quaint clusters of 1900s hales, or cottages, built in the style of the Polynesian people who pointed their boats toward Hawaii. As they settled, they introduced grass huts with thatched roofs, new spices, music, dance and much more. These early cottages were known as Cressaty’s Court and Hummel’s Court at Kalia in the gorgeous, historic Kalia section of Waikiki. A smaller hotel, named the Old Waikiki, was developed in 1900, even before the Niumalu. The later property must have been a treat to guests in post-World War I times. It boasted 70 guest rooms -- compared to today's 3,386 rooms, after several name changes, owners and upgrades.
The Ali'i is booked for its privacy, attentive
concierge and a pool overlooking the Pacific.
By 1955, pampered guests enjoyed the Tapa Room, garden paths and and three swimming pools six years later, in 1961, Hilton Hotels came into the picture when founder Conrad Hilton purchased half of the Hawaiian Village Hotel from Henry J. Kaiser.
THAT SAME year Elvis Presley filmed his movie, "Blue Hawaii" at the resort. Elvis and his entourage stayed on the 14th floor of the Ocean Tower (Ali'i Tower) in the Mahele Suite. The Ali'i Tower remains the   elite choice at the Hawaiian Hilton Village. The accommodations offer pampered service, access to the Ali'i private pool and fitness center. Guests praise its laid-back yet elegant standard, and prime beach views and access.

Elvis Presley based at Hilton Hawaiian Village
in the prestigious Ali'i Tower during the
filming of  "Blue Hawaii" in 1961.

WE HAVE paid several visits to the resort, including the Ali'i (once named Ocean Tower), our favorite Lagoon Tower, and the Grand Waikikian, the latter two offering spacious time-share accommodations with full kitchens. The Lagoon, and as its name suggests, boasts a view of the resort's unique protected pond, named Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, with a pretty central island.  We snorkeled there with our niece's two youngsters and found it a delightful protected "safe haven." There, 
All hands on deck, for a fun afternoon sail on the resort's
private Spirit of Aloha catamaran. "Thumbs up" for
Hawaiian Nautical sailings with many choices.
youngsters can enjoy themselves and have a sense of freedom.  Meanwhile, adults can relax  on the beach, keeping an eye on their kids' activities in the calm waters without worrying about ocean tides. My partner, Bruce, known by the youngsters as "Uncle KK," spent time with them teaching them snorkeling, paddle boarding and safety in the lagoon, while my niece and I visited.
WE ALL enjoyed our time on Hawaiian Nautical's sleek and comfy Spirit of Aloha catamaran, which zips around the island, offering sunset cruises, nature outings and more. It's convenient and safe and perfect for families, couples or singles looking to meet fellow "boat buffs." On several outings, the crew was friendly and efficient and the outings rated 12 thumbs up from the six of us. 
WHILE WE rented a car during our stay, aside from some shopping, we probably wouldn't have needed it. The resort's Hawaiian Nautical boating activities are right on the beach and easily booked, plus there are many restaurants.  
We strolled twice to the sleek, accommodating Spirit of Aloha, for an afternoon snorkeling cruise and an evening sunset-dinner cruise. The boat is beautifully designed and perfect for convenient family outings, couples or anyone looking for a fun time on the water. If the dock is not at the hotel, the Hawaiian Nautical bus picks up right there and everything is close.
Amarylla and Penelope Ganner
pose with pet parrots at the resort.
AT THE RESORT, five lovely and unique towers are spread out in the artfully designed complex.  It boasts boutiques, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, quick-stop food options, and service desks for foreign customers, including a Japanese and a Korean help desk.  Shuttles, tours, taxi service and a variety of cruise options are available, and a children's day care, Camp Penguin, will entertain your youngsters while you head out on Oahu.
IF YOU'RE feeling flush, you can purchase a special piece of jewelry, purse or shoes for yourself or a friend.  If you're more budget minded, you can shop for basic groceries to cook in your time share, or stock up on Hawaiian cookies to go with your own coffee.  You can also pick up pastries made with local delicacies including the islands' famed macadamia nuts or pose with pet parrots if you like birds. Want to buy a colorful Hawaiian shirt, shop for an extra suitcase, pick up souvenirs to take home? No problem. It's all at the resort.  
Activities are planned daily, including ukulele lessons which we enjoyed, and lei making, ditto.  We even stepped in for a hula class, swaying with the balmy island winds to the "Hukilau Song" made famous by Bing Crosby.

Grand Teton National Park offers a serene get-away
as people recover from the anxiety and isolation of the virus.

 NEXT:  With the veil of COVID-19 slowly lifting, millions of anxious travelers are taking to national parks for relief and inspiration.  Record numbers of tourists are expected in our U.S. parks, with hikers, cyclists and families on holiday heading for stress relief in our varied and welcoming national parks. We visit some of our favorites -- Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Teton and Glacier, with a look at what not to miss. Meanwhile, explore, learn and live and please share the link for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature and family:

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Tony Bennett's career: success, setbacks, Alzheimer's in Covid times

Singer Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga, on their "Cheek to Cheek" world tour, photographed during a New Year's Eve concert in 2014. Bennett's memory had not yet begun to fail him and when it did a year later, his concerts kept him sharp and engaged. He continues to rehearse twice weekly despite Alzheimer's. --Bruce Keller photo


Some day, when I'm awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga jazz it up on stage in "The Lady
Is a Tramp," in a 2015 concert. The singer still rehearses.

And the way you look tonight...
Jerome Kern


WE'VE HAD MANY magical nights in our life. Those "pinch yourself" times when we float through the evening in a fog of hold-handing contentment. A play. A concert. Celebration. To life!
New Year's Eve, 2014, goes to the top of our "hit parade" list.
Tony and wife Susan
stroll each day.
We were in Las Vegas to see  Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Securing the tickets -- the most we've ever paid for any performance anywhere -- was like participating in a feeding frenzy. I was poised at the computer when the show went on sale one fall morning at 6 a.m. The concert sold out in 11 minutes and my shaky hands were rewarded with a pair of second-row orchestra center seats.
THE SHOW was spectacular, 90 minutes of non-stop, first-rate wonder.
Tony Bennett at his last concert before Covid
 cancelled the rest of his tour, March 2020.
Only years later did we learn he began to experience memory lapses the next year. We saw him several times since that memorable New Year's Eve. His shows were flawless, introductions of his band precise and unhesitating. That's because he works at his memory, despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He rehearses twice a week, takes daily walks with wife Susan and has not ruled out another concert when the pandemic eases. 
His family, Gaga, his band and others in his circle knew about the diagnosis and a few weeks ago the public knew, through his sharing of his condition with the national AARP magazine. 
 WE NOTICED Gaga's loving touches on stage, in the three concerts with the two of them. She was spirited but careful in their dance sequences. Their affection for one another showed as they twirled about the stage.  
Tony Bennett began painting decades ago, and
still paints in his Manhattan studio. This photo
is a decade-plus old, but the lower one is current.
He was in top form, riding high on the success of the pair's "Cheek to Cheek" album.  The two met ten years ago in 2011 when Gaga was still in her 20s, a 60-year age spread. Now Bennett is 94 and Gaga turned 35 in March. Their meeting was at a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation, and Bennett approached Gaga after her performance, to compliment her jazzy, bluesy style. He compares her to the great female vocalists of his early career -- Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney and considers her a natural born jazz singer.
Famous for collaborations, he asked if she wanted to record a jazz duet album and the rest is history. Their Grammy winning "Cheek to Cheek" launched a world tour and their friendship remains solid. Gaga says she's still "getting over" Bennett's compliments, and his seeking her out as a partner.
WE FOLLOWED the tour to two other cities and still listen to our "Cheek to Cheek" CD and its delightful tunes, all of which they sang in concert. "I Won't Dance," "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "It Don't Mean a Thing" are our favorites, besides the title song.
A recent photo of Tony Bennett in his New York
home.  He paints and sings to combat his illness.
FRIENDS SAY the pandemic has been difficult for him, but he still paints and sings a set twice a week. They confirm that the cancellation of concerts and  absence of the life-enhancing stimuli of audience and fellow musicians has no doubt set him back.
Born in Queens, the acclaimed artist has lived in several cities but has come full circle back to the Big Apple where he and his wife, Susan Crow, live in a luxurious condo in Central Park West. 
Bennett continues to practice, rehearsing a 90-minute set twice a week with Lee Musiker, his longtime pianist. Although the grim circumstances of his illness and the pandemic have impacted Bennett's memory and ability to communicate, friends say his recollection of lyrics and melodies remains remarkable. The healing power of art and music!

Hilton Hawaiian Village offers a stunning mix of trees,
flowers, sculpture, relaxing hotels, pools and a lagoon
UP NEXT: A tropical wonderland awaits in Honolulu at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.  The beautiful Honolulu property boasts gorgeous grounds with several artfully designed pools, a complex of plush hotels of varying styles, restaurants both lavish and casual, a nightly luau, inviting lagoon for snorkeling. Set on 22 acres of prime, tranquilizing, bird-friendly Honolulu landscaping, the property offers many boating options. Entertainment ranges from lei making to hula classes and ukulele lessons. It's waiting for you. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a refreshing take on the arts, nature, travel, family and more: