Thursday, July 29, 2021

Covid survival kit: imagination, hobbies, passions, patience, friendships


Biking the neighborhood was a daily diversion for Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers.
Here their aging Yorkshire terrier, Nick, poses with them.  (He walked daily, but didn't ride!)

Scrabble continues to be a regular feature for weary,
Covid cautious Cookie and Keller who are well past
100 games. The ritual began early in the pandemic.



HOPING FOR an end to the purgatory of the pandemic, we hauled out board games, played piano and sang, visited friends for the occasional distanced and masked party,  and awaited a vaccine.
Friend Yosh and Keller towel off after a dip
in the Dead Sea, a happy memory that helped
us survive the long seige of the pandemic. 
We thought it would be weeks, then months, then we passed the one-year mark.
Now after nearly 18 months, we are cautiously traveling again, grateful to be fully vaccinated. If this period has taught us anything, it's that life is short and precarious. Be grateful for small things.
We know we're not out of the woods yet, so we play Scrabble, take photos, ride bikes, plant flowers and admire the aquarium our friend Phyllis developed.
Shopping by telephone and computer
avoided stores, cheered up Cookie.
We're in contact via email, and FaceBook, with friends all over the world. It's fun to trade photos of trips in safer, happier times, such as our tour of Israel with our friends and guides Yosh and Shula.  (The boys took a dip in the Dead Sea, the girls shopped for sea salt and souvenirs.)
ENGLISH FRIENDS Sue and John and their son Johnny contracted Covid despite their vaccinations. Our Israeli pals are dealing with multiple health issues. Both couples' travel plans have been curtailed, disrupted, delayed. Even though their travails are distressing, the contact is crucial to keeping us all relatively sane and connected. 
Garage parties for happy hour were a regular
pep-up for Keller and Cookie, sometimes in
theirs, and other times in friends' garages. 
Crafts and hobbies have become hugely important as we stave off boredom and anxiety.
One older Oregon friend documented her life, publishing a book just shy of her 94th birthday.
A friend in Montana hauled out his late wife's sewing machine and taught himself to create simple clothes for a homeless shelter.
We cope with Covid in the kitchen, preparing great meals together. Super Scrabble is a ritual with more than 100 close games which usually exceed 700 points.
Venturing out with caution was one of Keller's regular feats.
Here, he checks out of Home Depot for a repair project
 IN ONE game, I drew the dreaded "Q" at the end of the game. Keller used all his letters forcing me to deduct my Q 10 and add 10 to his score. He eked out a 4-point victory....731 to 727. Each game takes three 90-minute sessions during which we reminisce about past trips, share our love of exploring other cultures, seeing new places, tasting new cuisine, hearing new music, trying new mountain trails, beaches, parks.
WE STILL SHOP on line, eagerly awaiting the knock at the door and greeting the masked delivery person with gusto.
Keller made this print of his intriguing photo
of the Yaquina Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon.

It was fun to look at the variety via technology. Even though are occasional substitutions, it beats venturing out into the world with things so tenuous.
We occasionally re-enter the world of shopping in stores, with Keller doing repair projects around the house, picking up supplies at Home Depot.
His photography hobby continues to be a godsend, as he selects favorite images and makes prints to share and sell. One, of the Yaquina Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon, is a favorite of mine for its dizzying view of the circular stairway to the top. 
SHARING hobbies and talents is a lifeline.  My piano and writing, Keller's woodworking and photography, Shula's wonderful  paintings, the vocal gifts of singer Barbie in New Zealand, gardening and horse riding for the Yorkshire farmers......
Hearing how these cherished friends survive the challenges of the pandemic makes us appreciate them even more -- and be grateful for life.
 THESE INTERESTING people we've met on our trips have become lifelong pals. Because travel brought us together, it remains a binding thread. Imagination, creativity and patience help, too. Hearing how they're coping helps us keep our own chins up.

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett plan a reunion concert
billed as "One Last Time." We'll be there and will report
on the performance of these two talented friends.

UP NEXT: Tony turns 95! The legendary jazz singer Tony Bennett will be 95 years old on Aug. 3, and he is celebrating with a concert. He'll sing a 90-minute set with his friend and "Cheek to Cheek" collaborator, Lady Gaga. Their two-night sold-out gig at Radio City Music Hall (Aug. 3 and Aug. 5) will wrap the 75-year career of the incredible Bennett, who has performed the last five years despite his battle with Alzheimer's. We'll be in the audience, breaking the bank for this once-in-a-lifetime farewell concert. Break a leg, Tony and Gaga. We love and admire  you both and can't wait for this bittersweet celebration of a lifetime of music. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Where to go? Which countries welcome travelers? Is Covid waning?

Malta is one of several sun-soaked Mediterranean islands now open to U.S. citizens under certain restrictive conditions, including which state you come from. Here, Valletta at sunset from our ship.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
are traveling again, with caution and vaccinations.

U.S. PASSPORT holders have more international travel options now than at any point during the grueling Covid pandemic. From Italy to the Netherlands, Poland to Peru, people are traveling again. Vaccinated travelers have a definite advantage and do not need to get tested before leaving the United States unless required by their destination. (Some countries do require this, so check it out. Other countries, like New Zealand, have closed borders to all but residents.)  
Cinque Terra in Italy is open again, as Italy
welcomes tourists who have either been
vaccinated or have a recent negative Covid test.
Italy is open for vaccinated or negative-test tourists -- good news for travelers yearning to explore the charming villages of Cinque Terra,  drive the stunning Amalfi coast or relax in Tuscany's inviting vineyards and hills. Many other countries have followed suit. 
For all of us -- whether in the U.S., Europe, South America, Asia or the Middle East -- the key is to be flexible and do the homework.  Be aware that while restrictions are lifting, the Covid variants are causing a backslide in some parts of the world.
Costa Rica's beaches, rich wildlife and beautiful
landscapes draw visitors. Here, Cookie and
Keller take to a dune buggy near the water.
No testing or quarantines are required

ALL AIR passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative Covid test result or documentation of recovery from the virus before they board a flight to the United States. Masks are still required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the U.S. and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

Total U.S. cases have passed the 347 million mark since the pandemic started, but the rate of new cases is far below the winter peak. The U.S. is one of the world leaders in vaccination rates and has been leading among nations with a population over 100 million. But we're not out of the woods.
THE DELTA variant remains
Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves,
Mas La Boella is a boutique hotel
near Tarragona, Spain, now reopen.

 a concern. Some nations are still overwhelmed by Covid. And several U.S. states report an alarmingly low vaccination rate. 
Still, more and more of Europe is opening up to leisure travelers -- especially the fully vaccinated. Besides Italy and Greece, Germany, Spain and Austria have reopened their doors. The global situation is in flux, though. Even as some places reopen, others are closing again.
Ultimately, it's up to the individual to decide whether travel to international destinations is a good idea. If you're not fully vaccinated, the risks are greater and nations can change their rules at any time. You may have to adhere to strict curfews and mask mandates. Violations can involve fines and even jail.
Cookie and Keller are at
home on the range -- and
in the kitchen, traveling
again, too, with caution.
WE ADVISE getting expert advice. Both our U.S. State Department and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention provide Covid risk assessments by country. Both agencies rate many of the countries open to travelers at Level 4, the highest risk for the virus. Also, remember that air passengers two and older must show proof of a negative Covid no more than three days old to enter the U.S.  Most countries in the developed world offer similar advise. Google your country and plug in "Covid regulations."
Keller and Cookie enjoy a garage party -- masks off briefly
for snacks, wine and Keller's non-alcoholic beer.

UP NEXT: What kept us relatively sane these trying "Covid months"? Diversions. What would we do without activities to help us through this now 16 months of pandemic purgatory? We travel loving folks rely on our travel loving friends to buoy our sagging  spirits.  During these past months, we have all missed personal contact with family and friends. So we relied even more on hobbies, emails, texts and old-fashioned letters from friends around the world. We are thankful for music, writing, Scrabble and the occasional masked-and-distanced gathering. As we emerge from the veil of Covid, we salute creative thinking and the travel-friendship connection. For many of us, the ability to communicate has been a life-saver in these stressful times. Connecting with friends around the globe is essential in the isolation and fear surrounding the virus. We do our part to revive old-fashioned hobbies and communication, with our modern recipe for combating "the Covid blues." Remember to explore, learn and live at

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Steinbeck lore, legend live on in Monterey and in Salinas Center celebrating the author's life

Cannery Row lives on in Monterey, with upscale shops, eateries. 
The fish canning industry flourished from the early 1900s to 1973. 




THE STORIES of writer John Steinbeck tell of man's struggles and search for justice. The American Dream is just out of reach for his downtrodden,  repressed characters.
Steinbeck was a Californian -- born in Salinas in 1902 -- also lived in Monterey.  
He experienced life in both of these contrasting towns -- the farming based Salinas, where his dad was an expert gardener, and the artsy Monterey, with which his bookish mother more identified.
John Steinbeck's hometown
celebrates his life in a multi-
million dollar museum.
--photo courtesy NPR
The two cities are in many ways the Athens and Sparta of this part of central California. Monterey boasts lavish ocean-front property, boutiques, pricey hotels and B&Bs. The inland Salinas Valley is known as "The Salad Bowl of the World" for its quality produce: lettuce, broccoli, mushrooms, strawberries and more. 
STEINBECK WAS drawn to the rough and tumble times and characters he observed during the fish canning industry's heyday. He was a keen observer, fascinated by the colorful but turbulent life on the waterfront. His passion for this part of the state -- and for travel -- lives on in a center memorializing him, his work, his ideals and characters. Prostitutes, fishermen, cooks, shop keepers, denizens of an often dirty life inhabit his prose. My 1982 visit was for the world premiere of "Cannery Row," a movie starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. It is based on the Steinbeck novel published in 1945 when the author was living with his second wife and son Thom in Monterey.
Nick Nolte in 1982.
He turned 81 in February
Debra Winger and Nick Nolte
star in "Cannery Row."

--photo courtesy MGM
Salinas, in Central California, feeds the nation with its
rich variety of farm produce from fertile valleys.

We walked down the hill he strolled to downtown Alvarado Street, reminiscing about my visit, chatting with a shopkeeper who said Steinbeck returned several times to his stomping grounds, and connected with California throughout his life.  He studied at Stanford University and was a tour guide in Lake Tahoe before his work won acclaim and a Nobel Prize. Six years after the Nobel honor, he died in 1968 in New York City, not his native state.
IN 1982, NOLTE was 41 and 28 years away from quitting cigarettes. But he was trying. During a round table interview, he needed a smoke and said, "Whoever gets me a pack of Marlboros aces a one-on-one." I jumped up, headed for the hotel lobby, slipped a $5 bill into the machine and bought two packs. Cigarettes were 60 cents a pack. I was so excited, I left the change.
The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas pays tribute to
a native son who won fame and in 1962, a Nobel Prize

It was a great interview and I sent him a note when he finally kicked the habit in 2010 -- using electronic cigarettes. The film's focus is the decline of the fish canning industry, set during the Great Depression. It is based on a pair of Steinbeck novels ("Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday.") The last cannery closed in 1973, nine years before the film, which ranks as a sentimental favorite of mine. I love my back story, the whimsical characters and cinematography by Swedish born Sven Nykvist. BTW, Winger plays Nolte's love interest, and David S. Ward made his directorial debut.
FANS OF STEINBECK know his familiar themes:  the pursuit of  the American Dream, the need for compassion, the importance of unification, the mass hardship and suffering in life. We visited his museum, with its grand National Steinbeck Exhibition Hall, taking a pleasant journey through the author's "Valley of the World."    

Salinas is known for its vibrant agriculture.
While  not as "artsy" as its neighbor Monterey,
it boasts galleries which struggled during Covid. 
The lore of the sardine canning period lives
on, here in a boat by a brewery in Monterey.
  The exhibit offers a unique slant on Steinbeck -- organized geographically, so we visited locations in which he lived, traveled to, and wrote about. Each location features information, details and displays, including theatrical sets and "scenes" from the author's life. We watched films, listened to sound clips and viewed artifacts about Steinbeck's life and writings. The Packard Foundation, which funded the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, also endowed the Steinbeck museum. Its mission is to encourage his goals: to participate, to inspire, to educate, and to understand one another. It opened in 1998, 30 years after the author's death, in his hometown of Salinas. It pays homage to his 1962 Nobel Prize, awarded for his "realistic and imaginative writings, combining sympathetic humor and keen social perception."

Malta's history and culture and Mediterranean warmth
are attracting visitors again, as Covid numbers shrink.
UP NEXT: The world is opening up as Covid shows signs of being controlled, if not conquered.  From Peru to Poland, Kenya to Croatia, travel is opening up again. It's critical to research your destination for each country has its rules and regulations and there are stiff fines -- even jailing -- if protocol is not observed and followed.  We take you to the best and safest spots, with caution and care, but the knowledge that our world is once again opening and welcoming the traveler. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Monterey Aquarium: one of the world's finest in an old fish cannery


After more than a year of closure, the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is open for lovers
of marine life once again.  Masking and distancing are in place, and one must obtain tickets on 
line for specific times and numbers quotas.  It's worth the wait and the trouble to get inside.


A renovated cannery offers one of many outdoor patios
at the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

DIVE DEEP into one of the world's finest ocean exhibits to explore the wonders of Monterey Bay Aquarium in the lovely village of Monterey, California.
We booked our tickets on line in early May, after the world famous venue announced it would be reopening after 15 months of closure.
We spent a splendid, uncrowded afternoon admiring sea otters, jellies, seabirds, penguins and even sharks in perhaps the world's finest exhibit of sea life.
Julie Packard, daughter of
aquarium founder David
Packard, runs the operation.

ONE UNIQUE attraction -- among many -- is the amazing living kelp forest, an expansive three-story exhibit with graceful leopard sharks, wolf-eels and an array of other colorful fish.
The non-profit enterprise is known for its regional focus on the marine habitats of Monterey Bay, it was the first to exhibit a living kelp forest when it opened in October 1984.
The aquarium was a gift to the community from David and Lucile Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame, the multinational technology company). Its remarkable evolution includes an imaginative rebuilding -- from the ruins of a sardine cannery on the Pacific Coast to a world class learning institution. 
The Packard family renovated the 1916 Hovden Cannery and transformed it to house the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which opened with fanfare and kudos in 1984.
The Packards' $55 million grant  launched the institution. Their children carry on the legacy of philanthropy and love of the sea's rich life. Daughter Julie Packard has run the operation since its 1984 opening. 
Marine lover, lifelong diver and sailor Bruce
Keller admires the unique kelp forest, also above.
She majored in marine algae studies at U.C. Santa Cruz and serves as the aquarium's executive director.
Her goal -- and that of her parents -- is
to inspire conservation and appreciation of the ocean and its richness. Her sister, Nancy Burnett, also played a part in developing the imaginative space, using her graduate work in marine biology at Stanford University to help inspire the aquarium's creation. 
Marine life lovers worldwide appreciate the deep pockets of the generous Packard family, whose wealth supplied the millions necessary to make the conversion from the fish canning days.
Fascinanted viewers enter the magical world of coral and fish.

THE AQUARIUM'S displays are first rate, with the unique backdrop of Cannery Row and the rocky California coastline near Big Sur.
We drove it in just a little over 3 hours from downtown San Francisco.
The friendly and knowledgeable volunteers enhanced our visit, smoothly directing traffic and answering questions. The facility's welcoming architecture and attention to details large and small make it a pleasure to enjoy -- much like a world-class museum.
The exquisite chambered nautilis has been around 500 million
years and is a popular part of the aquarium's vast displays.
It's easy to spend two or three hours, and you must not miss the three-story kelp forest, largest living kelp forest community in the world. Leopard sharks, eels and colorful fish swim just an arm's length fom the viewer. A lively aviary offers the opportunity to observe birds at close range, foraging for insects. A colorful colony of penguins splashes and preens, flipping about like the underwater acrobats they are. And the Monterey Bay Habitat specializes in featuring  inhabitants of the local waters.
FAMILIES, COUPLES, students and small multi-generational groups wandered from the jellies to the seabirds to the the extraordinary chambered nautilus, which pre-dates the dinosaur.
"Nautilus pompilius" was attracting crowds the day we visited.  This large, mobile cephalopod is 
Fascinating artwork adorns the aquarium,
including this beautiful sphere made from
recycled plastic pulled from the ocean.

considered a "living fossil." Of all the delights of this extraordinary aquarium, he was the favorite of this arts driven musician and English major. I'd never seen one close-up and yearned to, for this chambered wonder has been the subject of poetry, artwork, math, musical compositions and elegant jewelry. 
The nautilus has even inspired the names of submarines and exercise equipment and has been around for about 500 million years—even before the dinosaurs.
IF YOU'D like to sit and admire the aquatic wonders, there are thoughtfully placed benches, and if you're hungry, there's a pleasant cafe with distanced dining and signs aplenty to encourage hand washing and respectful behavior.  We found our fellow viewers polite and courteous. The bathrooms are immaculate.
Everything about the museum is thoughtful, welcoming, educational without being preachy.
A graceful jellyfish resembles a
person under a parachute.

ARTWORK IS also an important and delightful part of the aquarium. Sea life mobiles and eye-catching contemporary art adorn transitional spaces between the various "zones".
We applaud this magnificent gift and hope to return on our next swing through this beautiful section of California.
Reservations are essential and the number of guests is carefully controlled.



UP NEXT: While we're in Monterey and Salinas, we take a stroll down Memory Lane, with a look at the 1982 film, "Cannery Row," inspired by a John Steinbeck yarn, and our interviews with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. There's a fun story behind the world premiere of the film, and Cookie's one-on-one interview with Nolte. Plus a look at Salinas now, in the post-Steinbeck days, with the National Steinbeck Center replete with the writer's archives, life history and displays. It's right in Old Town Salinas, and we look at the changes in both cities from the quaint days of 50 years ago to change and  gentrification of the old canneries and warehouses. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more:

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Covid's delta variant strain puts countries in caution mode -- again

Stockholm from the water, on our last visit, just before Covid shut down international travel.
In our eagerness to resume travel -- and given new variants -- we must continue to exercise caution.

Seasoned travelers are traveling, but restrictions are reinstated as variant renews Covid concerns  worldwide



Since 27 March, 2020, no foreign-flagged cruise ships could
enter Sydney Harbour, above, or Australian waters. The new
Delta variant resulted in the ban's extension to Sept. 17.
(Here's our group in safer times on a bridge climb.)

AFTER A FEW blissful weeks of "freedom," the new Covid variant -- delta -- has pushed dozens of countries and millions of people back into a mode of worry, concern and caution.

"It's a definite slide back," a friend in Stockholm wrote us. "There are dark clouds on the horizon, with the delta variant. But we seasoned travelers are traveling again -- with caution." 

IN EUROPE, fellow travel writers note that countries are slamming their doors shut once again, with quarantines and travel bans. In impoverished countries, another coronavirus surge is underway.

Cruise ships worldwide are again awaiting travel.

Visitors may enjoy the grounds of Sofiero Palace in the
lovely Swedish town of Helsingborg. The palace is closed.
Countries that thought they'd quelled the pandemic are reassessing their progress. Experts say the delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies. In the United Kingdom, the variant is responsible for 90% of all new infections. In the U.S.,  health officials say it could become our country’s dominant type as well.
Countries like South Korea and Israel that seemed to have largely vanquished the virus are experiencing new clusters of the disease.
REACTING TO the concern, countries such as Australia are amping up cruise ship bans, permitting no foreign-flagged ships to enter their waters until September or even October, with a possible extension. Sweden initially took a less strict approach to the pandemic than its Nordic neighbors, Norway and Denmark, as well as other European nations. The government did not impose lockdowns or mandate face masks. "Big mistake," a Helsingborg friend wrote. "By allowing restaurants and businesses to remain open, we relied on voluntary social distancing and hygiene recommendations. People were too casual and we failed to slow the spread."
Our Tel Aviv friends Yosh and Shula
are safely back in Israel from a lovely
holiday in Greek Isles, here with us
in Las Vegas before the pandemic.

 spread of the delta coronavirus variant has forced a growing number of our favorite countries to reimpose lockdowns and other public health restrictions.
In Israel -- where we've had several lovely trips, with this year's planned visit cancelled -- our Tel Aviv friends are demoralized and concerned anew.
"We're back to the drawing board," said our friend Shula. She and her husband Yosh recently returned from a long anticipated trip to the Greek Isles, a favorite vacation spot before they joined the rest of us in sheltering and canceling trips.  
So far, they say, no dramatic changes have been imposed in Tel Aviv, but they are concerned now that the variant is causing more infection.  Mandatory masking is again back in indoor public places; Israel's schools closed Thursday to diminish infection spread. 
ISRAEL BOASTS the world’s highest vaccination rates but has also seen delta cases jump in recent weeks, causing authorities to reinstate the indoor mask mandate that was dropped just two weeks ago.
Adds Shula, "We had three tests on our trip. Now they want to add one or two tests even if negative. Schools are also closing to lower chances for infection. Kids 12 to 16 are getting the vaccine now."
Keller and Cookie hosted friends Janell and Al
recently, toasting their trip to Turkey and Greece.
 Israel's new government is relying on the country’s high vaccination rate to protect residents from virus-related hospitalizations and deaths. "We are hoping for the best outcome," says our optimistic, travel-loving friend Shula.
Other friends, Janell and Al, are enjoying a holiday in Turkey and the Greek Isles now, but other friends in Melbourne and Sydney report Australia began another lockdown this week preventing their planned trip. 
IN AN ATTEMPT to curb an outbreak of the highly infectious delta variant, Aussies are experiencing new  restrictions. Our Sydney friends had planned a trip to Germany and southern Europe later this month, but cancelled because they are concerned about new rules. So caution seems in order.
Keller and Cookie with British friends John and Sue, who
recently took a holiday in their native England.

Capetown friends report South Africa has set new restrictions, including extending a nightly curfew.  Last Monday, the government also introduced a second ban on gatherings, alcohol sales, indoor dining and domestic travel.
FRIENDS IN Yorkshire, England, Sue and John, say that while restrictions seem to be easing, they, and their countrymen are cautious. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and six U.K. military commanders are self-isolating after the head of Britain’s Armed forces tested positive for coronavirus. 
EAGER TO travel, our English friends recently took a holiday to Shropshire, noting "People are being respectful of everyone’s space and in general you have a fairly wide berth around you.
A Hilton worker wipes a door
last week on our road trip.

Masks are still mandatory in shops and people wear them in busy places."
 A new wrinkle is the bogus vaccination certificates. They're booming in Russia, a Reuters friend reported. This while Moscow logged a record 144 Covid deaths in a single day.
THE CENTER for Disease Control's updated its list of “high-risk countries” this week to include Bangladesh, Britain, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel and Peru. Hotels are still sanitizing in extra measures. New restrictions are being imposed on travelers abroad and even U.S. citizens with vaccinations must produce negative Covid test results no more than three days before travel. We await good news of their safe return from our fellow travel loving friends, Janell and Al.
It's been a long haul for travel lovers, including the two of us. Let's not let down our guard. Caution, slow and steady on!
Monterey Bay Aquarium's life-size mobiles are one of its
many enticements. Numbers are controlled and distancing
and masking are required in this impressive attraction. 
UP NEXT: One of our first public outings as "vaccinated" people was to the world renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium. From its living kelp forest to magnificent life-size mobiles of sea creatures, the aquarium delights. Masking and distancing are in place as we take you with us on our recent visit. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, food, family and nature at 





for those over 40.