22 January 2018

2016 ITALY Vico Equense 33 - Villa Ketty View

After the hectic drive through Naples, the Villa Ketty property was a little bit of heaven.

Oh so peaceful. There is a spectacular 180+ degree view on the terrace left from the town of  Sorrento on the Bay of Naples round to Mount Vesuvius on the right..

Hospitality was gracious and warm. The matriarch was originally from France and she craved to speak French. Luckily Jean from our group did speak French and they chatted at every opportunity.

We had a big old, heavy clunky key, like something from medieval times, to get into our room. It was spacious with large bathroom and shower, beautifully painted wardrobe, and king-size bed.

A live orchid grew on the corner table.

The view was fantastic and oh so romantic. Well, the whole place was romantic!
Here was our window from the outside with a Juliette balcony.
The grounds were lush with greenery including a huge prickly pear cactus near the pool.

Chickens nibbled contentedly and produced fresh eggs for our breakfast.

There were nooks and crannies for private relaxation or party time.

Breakfast was a huge hit. Everything was fresh and homemade with ingredients from the property and local farms--yogurt, cheeses, fresh-baked breads and rolls, honey and jams, pastries and pies, fresh sliced meats, juice, fruits and nuts, made-to-order hot items, and more.

The presentation was phenomenal. Lots of live flowers from the villa gardens decorated the tables. You might think I am overdoing it with these photos, but this is exactly what we experienced each morning. I have never seen anything like it for a breakfast buffet!

Chef Antonio is a superstar in personality and preparation.
Colorful and whimsical ceramics were used for our dinnerware and for decoration on walls and elsewhere.

We ate on the lusciously green terrace overlooking the bay.

One day was a bit damp, so we ate inside. We still had a nice view of the bay.
All in all, this was a very romantic, warm, delicious, gracious place to hang our hats for a couple of days.


15 January 2018

2018 MICHIGAN Battle Creek - Tribute to the Eagles Band

My brother Bob seems to have an in at the casino in Battle Creek. He got tickets and asked around the family if anyone might join him and Lo. The event starred the original Eagles tribute band, Hotel California. Eight of us attended. My neighbor Alanta and her mom came along. I asked Alanta because she is a guitar and bass player and I thought she might enjoy the show.

It was pretty snowy weather and I was nervous on the 30-mile drive, but we got there safely. We found a parking space two spots from the door. My luck was running good.

We had a bite to eat at the new tap room, Darcy's. Not a good spot for vegetarians, but everyone else was scarfing down their food. I had chips (fresh made) and dip (garlic-onion). It was tasty, but not what I expected for dinner.

Two cute couples caught our attention at the next table. They had matching his-n-hers suits and dresses. Hadn't seen that in a while on grown-ups. Two were dressed in blue with snowflakes and the others were in green with tree ornament design. Their "snappy" outfits were getting a lot of attention.
We had a little time before the concert, so decided to take a gamble at the machines. As my two friends had not spent much time in a casino, I was going to show them how to lose money in the very quickest way. I picked my favorite poker slots and plugged in a fiver. Lo and behold, on my very first spin, I got a full house and won 30 bucks. Alanta, Joy, myself and a few gamblers around us were impressed.
Wow, some more good luck, but I wasn't going to push it. I decided to call it a night, even though it was my first shot. Got a slip for my $30 winnings plus $5 investment and walked. It was fun, but not as much fun as the old days when you could hear the tinkle of quarters spewing into the tin bowl and walk away with the actual money in a big plastic cup.

Next into the concert hall. My bro had gotten excellent seats--center and only 10 rows from the stage. When the tribute band came out and started strumming and singing, I was amazed. They were VERY good. If my eyes had been closed, I might have thought it was the real Eagles.

I looked on this tribute band's website http://hotelcalifornia.ca, but there they don't look anything like they do on stage today!!!  So I don't know their real names, but that is OK as they are obviously not the real Glenn Frey, Don Henley, etc.

Here's some photos made with iPhone (so not great, but adequate).

They had a neat set up with some instruments on a stand. While "wearing" their original string thing, they play the instrument on the stand at the same time. Here he is holding his guitar and playing the mandolin on the stand. Alanta thought that was quite cool.
 This fellow played the dual neck guitar on floor for a few songs.

They played all the oldies that I remember and love. Among them were Heartache Tonight, Take It Easy, Hotel California, Life in the Fast Lane, In the City, and Love Will Keep Us Alive. We all sang along or at least mouthed the words and had the best time.

The actual Eagles originally ran from 1971-1980 and was one of my faves from way back when. Not the real thing today, but it was a nice refresher to enjoy the music once again. Wish my sis had come. She knows every word to every song from her (and my) "yout."

We stopped by the money machine and turned in our winnings slip for real money and headed down the road back home. It was even more slick, but less traffic. Had a wonderful evening and made it home just fine.

Thanks, B&L.

Jan 4, 2018 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - A Very Big Birthday

This will probably turn away a lot of my younger reading fans, but I just celebrated my 70th birthday. This was a tough one for some reason. And, after a little time has passed, I'm still not comfortable in this decade.

Here I am in my BD tiara (hard to see). Friend Alanta encouraged me to buy it for our guitar-ioki 
nights where all the girls just had to wear a tiara. Mine was "rusting" in the drawer, but I decided it was an appropriate night to wear it. Everyone got a big laugh on this one.

I'm holding a Raspberry Vodka version of a martini. It was oh so good and bro-in-law Jim made sure I did not run out.

The last tough birthday for me was 31. Remember the mantra “don’t trust anyone over 30?” Well, on that BD I was officially "over 30," thinking no one will “trust me" after that, whatever that meant. Pretty silly, but oh well.

This time its "old age must start at least by 70.” I know that roadblock is a state of mind, but bugging me anyway. People say I look younger and my emotional brain agrees, but the physical bod is rebelling here and there.

We generally like to spend birthdays and our anniversary on out of town trips, even if they are just 30 miles away on the Lake Michigan shore. Mike spent his 70th at Lake Como, Italy. Originally we planned to go to Iceland for this one, but decided to do that in March instead.

So in order to avoid any possible surprise parties, we planned a trip down the block to the Radisson hotel. Zazios there is our favorite Italian restaurant in town and they hold chef's table events. Autumn was the Radisson rep that worked with me on details to have a perfect evening. She even made name cards for each place. What a sweetheart!

The kitchen area is to left and there are three rows of "stadium" seating (one behind the banquette). There are 36 seats total and we filled 22 with the BD group. My mom, two brothers, Mike's and my sisters, their spouses, two nephews, and a number of special friends were able to attend. No "outsiders" wanted to dine there that night, so it was all about us.

This was the menu for the month, but chef is quite flexible in substituting for allergies, eating lifestyle (such as me being allergic to mango and a pescatarian), and just plain food preferences. We had two allergic to shellfish, one allergic to onions, two non-alcohol drinkers, one no tomatoes, and a vegetarian. Everyone was accommodated without condemnation or embarrassment. 

The price is $49 for four courses and you can add a wine pairing for an extra $20. Even though portions are small-ish, they do fill you up, but no leftovers. The pairings tonight were wonderful.

We had two chefs manning the kitchen. Alexander was the lead and Justin his sous chef. Ingredients are fresh and cooked on the spot, including the substitutions. There is a large monitor so you can clearly see what is happening on the stove and counter. Chef invited people to come up and help, but no one volunteered this night.
As he cooked Chef talked about various aspects of the food and cooking methods--types of steaks, quality of olive oils, oil burning points, etc.

He brought out a white truffle ($5,000+ per pound) (we knew about these from our Alba, Italy trip where they hold the white truffle festival) and a black truffle (starting at only $575 per pound), and explained the difference. Then Justin walked around so we could compare the two visually and even sniff the diff. My taste buds were swooning.

Near the end of the evening, I cruised around to offer each person in my adorable "fan club" a personal toast.

After the meal, we invited everyone to our home for birthday brownies and to share a bottle of very special wine that we had been saving for a few years. It was from our favorite Italian winery La SpinettaWe ending up splitting it eight ways, so everyone got a mighty nice taste. The perfect way to end a perfect evening.
Thanks to all for sharing this very special evening and easing me over the 69 hump. And thanks for all the Facebook and snail mail greetings and gifties I received. Special thanks to Carla for taking all the photos.

PS - I specifically forbid any personal gifts (just don't need a thing), but said folks could donate a new or gently used book for my Little Free Library if they just had to bring something. We got six new books donated from Ina and Lois, some with kids of diversity and some for toddler age. Just wonderful! Thank you-thank you.

11 January 2018

2016 ITALY Vico Equense 32 - Winding Our Way to a Pizza Party

We were anxious to get to our next hotel, the Villa Ketty in Vico Equense (a town we had not heard of until this trip). It was 37 miles (60 kilometers) southwest of the winery. But a tough 37 miles. It was dark and later than we anticipated to be on the road. We drove through Naples for what seemed like forever. Lots of twists and turns and a back-track or two. Our route was somewhat near the water, but too dark to really see.

We stopped for gas. The station was closed except for use of the pumps and it was a little intimidating with several fellows hanging around the gas station looking us over. This may just be my imagination, but I was happy when Giuseppe was safely back at the wheel and we were moving down the road.

When we finally got to the hotel, or I should say NEAR the hotel, we encountered a surprise and not a particularly good one. We took a windy narrow uphill cobblestone street toward the GPS checkered flag spot. But we ran out of road before arriving at our destination!!! Yes, there was another alley-like passage continuing to the hotel, but it was VERY narrow and involved tight Z-shaped bends. No way our 14-passenger van was going to fit on that one, no matter how skilled our driver was.

Chef called the hotel to find out what was up. They advised they would drive down and meet us in their mini car and mini pick-up. It took four trips to transport all our "stuff." Rather than wait for the next pick-up, we all decided to walk the Z-alley and meet our luggage at the hotel. 

It wasn't easy. Unfamiliar territory. Dark... only lights in doorways of a few abodes along the way. A mish-mash of dirt, rock, and cobblestone surface. A bit treacherous for our old eyes and balance issues. Even though we are walkers, the approximate quarter-mile trek was a challenge, but we all made it without mishap.

What a pleasant scene at the end of the trail. The hotel was a classic Italian villa and lovely. Definitely worth the walk. As it was dark, we could not really grasp the expansive view off the cliff, but the city night lights below sparkled. As the help took the baggage to our respective rooms, we had a welcome shot of limoncello on the spacious terrace.

After a moment to freshen up, out we went again to dinner. We were all stuffed, but couldn't bear the idea of missing a great meal. This time some walked the walk, but about half took the little "shuttle" back down to the van. Even those little vehicles had to go forward and reverse a few times to get around the "Z" area bends.

Giuseppe had no place to turn around at his stopping point, so we all hopped in the van and he backed down the windy quarter mile hill to a turn-around spot. Thank goodness he is a master driver. I'm sure it was still nerve-wracking for him. I know I was a wreck.

We arrived at the nearby ristorante about 1-½ hours late for our pizza party, but the chefs at Pizza a Metro da Giglio were ready for us. This place was expansive. Lots of tables filled with lots of families and couples. They had a huge viewing window of the kitchen with pizza ovens, meat slicing machines, and lots of other stainless steel equipment.

We were invited behind the viewing window to see the operation first hand. Chefs were kneading dough and building pizzas.

Not sure why the fellow above was such a grump, but he warmed up to us and made good pizza. Next we watched the pizzas (maybe 4-5 feet long) go into the ovens.

Sandy and I took a pose by the wood-burning ovens. Sandy is holding the long paddle they use to push and pull the pizzas out of the oven.
Back at our table we were served pizza squares. All you can eat, but we weren't much hungry after our indulgent previous meals that day.
We had three or four combos to accommodate our veg heads and carnivores.

There were wines and beers to compliment the pizza... their own wine vintage and an Italian beer we had not heard of before.
It was all yummy and good.

At that point, we were sooooo ready to get back to the hotel. The day had been fun, but jam-packed, and we were quickly wilting. Sweet Giuseppe stopped at the bottom of the windy road and Z-alley, needlessly apologizing for he dare not go further this time. The mini-cars picked us up there. Some of our group walked, but Mike and I took the easy "chauffeured" way that night and for most of the rest of this hotel stay.