Welcome ...

One day I was contemplating the advice I had been sharing with hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years. I decided it was time to put my experiences into the written word and hope that you find as much pleasure in my adventures as I have ... and maybe, just maybe, if your travels cross some of the same places that mine have, perhaps my words of wisdom will make your journey that much more fun and exciting.

So whether it's local restaurants or exotic destinations ... as my Uncle Jim described me, I am the "intrepid traveler", always ready for an adventure, whether traveling solo or leading the way ... you never know what will pop into my head and come out on the keyboard.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Found A Gaucho, Ended Up In A Meat Coma

As a child, I was lucky because my Mom raised me to eat food that I enjoyed, never forcing me to eat something just because someone put it down in front of me.  For example, Mom wasn't the one who forced me to eat brussel sprouts for the first and last time, that was my Grandma. Gosh, they were so awful that even the dog Fritz wouldn't eat them!

Forced to get creative, I found the easiest thing to do was to cut them up into small pieces, pop one into my mouth, pretend to chew and then spit them back into my milk glass (I know, totally gross).  This I could get away with because as kids, we were the ones who cleaned up after dinner, so I could hide what I did and just flush it down the garbage disposal.  Thank God I never got caught!  I swear, Grandma would have made me drink that milk and chew up the brussel sprouts.  She was a "clean your plate" kind of Grandma but gave good hugs, for those of you who might be thinking she deserved to wear a witches cap.  

But onto adult-hood.  For my friends who know me, you are all well aware that I love good food and I am so happy that Nashville is moving into an international restaurant thought process which brings many of my favorites as available options when dining out around town.  So with that in mind, the last time I was over in Hillsboro Village, I noticed that a new restaurant opened and it was a Brazilian Steakhouse called Bombasha. Located right next to Cabana, and down the street from the Pancake Pantry, it's got a great location.

I was curious to check out the menu and the pricing as most Brazilian Steakhouses can be over-priced.  If you've never been to one of these types of restaurants, this is typically what happens.  Once seated, the waiter comes to explain the menu and take a drink order.  From there you are welcome to go to the buffet display for your salads and side dishes and then the Gaucho's glide by with skewers stacked with freshly grilled meats, offering you anything from chicken, to sausage, to filet mignon, to the House Special grilled meats.  With a little color-coded sign, you can control how often the Gaucho's stop at your table.

At Bombasha, it's red for stop and green for go.  My favorite place in Rio de Janeiro has three, like a traffic light ... they add yellow for slow down but don't stop.  This would be one of my suggestions for Bombasha, and it could be a little top you turn, which would be easier to see and also more sanitary.

With Bombasha, the per person price is $36.00 (very reasonable for a Brazilian Steakhouse as most in the US run $55-$70 per person). They do not limit you to how many times you visit the salad buffet which included blanched asparagus, roasted red peppers, smoked salmon, salads, olives and cheese amongst other things.  Everything was fresh and I noticed throughout dinner, the chef checked on the display about every 30 minutes.  This was impressive with the frequency.  I was happy with the variety of the grilled meats and the ability to explain what cut you wanted - rare, medium rare, well done.  My favorites were the roasted chicken legs, the House Special and the filet mignon.  All were cooked to perfection, had great flavor, and were served hot.  Yes, I was in a Meat Coma by the time I was done.

For drinks I chose to have the Caipirinha, the Brazilian national drink.  I love the combination of the raw rum, sugar, and lime.  Drinking them brings back hilarious memories from the years I worked in South America. Refreshing but in vast quantities, can kick your butt and encourage you to paint bulls-eyes on the butts of the engineers wearing white cover-alls and then take turns using them as a target with your blow gun.  As you can see, we were forced to get creative with our entertainment with some of the ports of call we were in.

Bombasha's wine list is nice and priced fairly.  For desert, I chose the Passionfruit Mousse, which was exquisite!  More like a Passionfruit Creme and less like a Mousse, the flavor was intense.  The owner/manager stopped by the table to tell me that they were altering the recipe in the future and adding a chocolate float as a base.  Nice!

All in all, I would go back to Bombasha but next time would request a table away from any large parties. There was a birthday party behind us that consisted of 8 women and 2 men (poor suckers couldn't get a word in edgewise the entire night) and the more they drank, the louder they got (imagine that and I know, those in glass houses ... blah, blah, blah). Conversation was a challenge at my little table for two and made us not want to linger once we were done.  I don't like to eat and run, but was encouraged to because of the sheer volume behind me.  The floors are wooden, which adds to the charm but does not absorb noise.

Also, if you plan on going on a Friday or Saturday night, I would definitely suggest reservations:  615.463.0021 or you can email them at bombasha@att.net

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flashback: The Not So Newlywed Game Show

One of my favorite activities on board a cruise ship has always been The Newlywed Not So Newlywed game show, hosted by the Cruise Director.  Whether it was me hosting or keeping score, the couples and their answers have, for the most part, been fun and entertaining and it was rare that we would get a "dud" couple.  

For those of you who have never been on a cruise, you may remember the TV show The Newlywed Game that made its debut in 1966.  I don't know who the original host was, but host Bob Eubanks is the one who gets the most air time in re-runs or clips, but he was the man who coined the phrase "make whoopie" to avoid censorship.  After holding a microphone and hosting/mc'ing shows for 14 years, I can well understand the need for this, finding words to communicate intent without offending anyone.  When you have as diverse a canvas of an audience that we have, you should be politically correct - although I will add that the gloves have come off which is something I've noticed about TV now.

I have to give kudos to the first Cruise Director was that converted it for a cruise ship, and whoever you are, I have to thank you for all of the laughter it's supplied to me!  We've always hosted it as a late night event, give the parents a heads up just in case they have children with them, who they might consider bringing along.  Why?  Because although we as the hosts have control over what WE say, we don't have control over what a participating PASSENGER OR GUEST might say when they are giving their answers.  

You also might wonder why we call it the Newlywed Not So Newlywed Game and not just the Newlywed Game, like on TV?  When a TV show is filmed in New York or LA, the networks always have thousands of people who are ready, willing and able to show up.  People are always vying for their 15 minutes of fame or to win a brand new car or a trip to some exotic destination.  On a cruise ship?  Yes, there are up to 6000 passengers at one time, however the biggest caveat?  The participating couples will have the rest of the cruise to be approached by anyone who may have been in the audience or caught their show on our cabin TV's.  It's not as anonymous.  Plus the majority of our passengers are not on a honeymoon!  Sometimes we have a few couples who are honeymooning, but honestly, if you were on your honeymoon, which would you rather be doing - playing in a game show or having a "romantic" evening on the balcony of your cabin?  We had to find a way to fill the list of volunteer couples and with those who had been married a long time, this was going to make it interesting.  As for our prizes?  We offer the winners a bottle of cheap champagne and a key chain or mug.  

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because my all-time favorite answer was from one show I hosted on Holland America Line's ms Veendam.  See www.hollandamerica.com if you want to check it out.  As usual, I had my four couples.  The first couple being married the shortest amount of time and the fourth couple being married the longest, with the two other couples falling somewhere in between.  When I got to the final question, the husband's were on stage with me with their wives being entertained with cocktails back stage in our "sound proof booth".  No, we don't have a "sound proof booth" on board, we just created one in the wings, so the ladies could only hear the audience laughing.  Typically the husbands were more candid with their answers, however many thought first before answering, just to censor themselves and wondering how their wives were going to yell later.

Here we were, the show was going well.  Great couples on stage and a great audience laughing at all the right spots.  The last question came and I started with the wife of the couple married the longest - they were celebrating their 50 year anniversary on this particular cruise.  My question as usual was, "Where was the most unusual place you and your husband have ever been romantic," adding, "you can interpret the word "romantic" any way you want."

The answer from couple number four won them the game, cheap champagne and all, but also brought the house down.  Her answer?  "In the cemetery."  With that her husband grabbed the microphone out of my hand and added, "It was the only place I knew to take her where she could make as much noise as she wanted to and no one else would care.  She was on the headstone so long she had DIED IN 1841, imprinted on her backside."

Mauna Kea Stargazing - The Planning, Part 1

"To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and don't worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine the brightest."

Before heading to Hawaii for Chris and Nikki's wedding, I decided to Google the top 10 things to see and do in Kona, comparing my list of what I had accomplished in the past, when I was in Hawaii with Holland America Line.

The list included:

  1. Volcano national park and helicopter ride
  2. Rainbow Falls
  3. Banyan Tree
  4. Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory
  5. Swim with the dolphins
  6. Sunset at the telescopes on Mauna Kea

Out of curiosity, I went looking for the telescopes and found an ad for the Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, see paraphrased description:  

While acclimatizing and dining at the Mauna Kea, home to the world's largest telescopes, visitors center, we issue parkas and gloves (the warmest available) and engage our four wheel drive for the steep 1/2 hour drive to the summit area.

On the summit, see the observatories as they begin to open and rotate into position. Learn about famous observatories such as Keck, Subaru and Gemini. There is plenty of time for photos while the sunset transforms the area into a beautiful and quite unearthly spectacle. When the best of the color has passed, we descend to mid-mountain, where the sky is equally clear but the climate and air density is much more comfortable for stargazing using high power telescopes. 

and decided THIS sounded interesting! The opportunity to see stars from 14,000 (approx.) feet sounded like an awesome opportunity! Throughout the years of working on ships and spending long nights at sea, I've had the blessing of doing some amazing star gazing, even seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska a couple of times! As a side-bar, it's a very humbling experience to be under a blanket of stars with no land in sight for hundreds of miles.  It makes you realize how small your problems really are, in the scheme of things and also how brave the sailors were who set forth towards a horizon which others said they would fall off of.

When I worked in South America for Sun Line Cruises, we had an astronomer on board who would have the Bridge turn off the deck lights at night and we would watch for shooting stars, chart constellations ... and it was the first time I saw the Southern Cross. I remember the magic of laying up on deck at night, above the Bridge where it was the darkest, listening to classical music, watching the stars dance across the sky, and smelling the baking bread from the galley below (the air vents from the ovens disbursed the heat and delicious smell way up there). 

Disappointingly today, due to all of the ambient light from the city lights, stars are getting harder and harder to see ... not because they are no longer there or that they are moving away from our planet, but because we as human beings are moving away from wishing on stars or just taking moments in the night, to gaze up at galaxies we can never imagine to touch. With cruise ships, due to liabilities, they no longer turn the lights off at night, even for brief segments of time! You have to try and find a dark corner on deck - a true challenge these days (and that alone can lead to another story).

Hands down, Mauna Kea and the observatories beckoned. I was so excited about the prospect of watching the sunset from the mountain as well as having the high altitude to star-gaze from, that when I phoned to make my reservation, you can imagine how crushed I was when they told me they were sold out until the day after I was leaving to return to Nashville! I thought desperately, hanging onto any thread of hope ... so I threw it out there ... what if someone canceled? Did they have a cancellation list (thank my lucky stars for having been a Shore Excursion Manager at one time and remembering our lists ) and if so, could I give them my name and cell number to phone me, even at the last minute? Yes, they had a list but the likelihood of having just ONE seat cancelled was slim to none.  

Now you may be wondering why I only wanted one seat? As an only child, I was raised to tackle adventure and decided early on, that I wouldn't wait for adventure to come to me, nor wait for a fearless companion to co-pilot my adventures with.  Oh horrors! That could mean waiting months, or even years, or worse yet, a lifetime to do the things I wanted to do. And I don't want to wake up at 80 and say "I wish I would have ...". Never fear, I'd make friends along the way, even when traveling solo. No one else in our wedding party had expressed an interest in going, and I assure you, that was NOT a deterrent. 

Driving Saddle Road with the slopes of Mauna Kea
So, I gave the operator my name and phone number and hung up, saying a prayer to Pele, that if I was meant to go, then my phone would ring.  In my mind, I pictured the moment when my phone ring with the good news and wouldn't you know it, on the adventurous drive with Uncle Jim back from Hilo, taking a shortcut across Saddle Road (another story), they called!  One seat had come available and did I want it?  I could have shouted to the rooftops!  Whoopie, I was on my way.  I told the operator where I was, to which she instructed me to hang up immediately and phone her when I got safely back to the resort.  If any of you have ever driven Saddle Road, you will understand why. As I found out later, it's known as the most haunted road on the island ... but again, another story for another day.

In the meantime, check out the Mauna Kea website and part 2 will continue.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hillsboro Village and Radnor Lake

A Sunday in Middle Tennessee can be absolutely spectacular simply seen from the balcony of my house, however the icing on the cake is getting out and enjoying good food and beautiful nature.

Fido in the Village
My first choice was the Pancake Pantry (a Nashville tradition).  I've been home for over two months now and still haven't made it there - not for the lack of trying, I assure you.  My order was ready and my taste buds watering with the dream of two eggs scrambled and two sweet potato pancakes, however 10 am on a Sunday is still not the time to go unless you want to stand in line for an hour and a half.  Yes, it's a Sunday and you would think that most people would be in church, but then again, summer school at Vanderbilt and the U2360 concert the night before, would have a lot of people in town and nursing hangovers.  And what is better to absorb the leftover alcohol?  Pancake Pantry pancakes!  It seems that I was not the only one who had the idea to go and the line wrapped around the building, as usual.

Change of plans ... a quick walk up the alley and in the back door to Fido www.bongojava.com/fido.php.  Yes, Fido, as in dogs.  That's how you get identified by the wait staff when they bring your food ... I love it that you are not just a number, you are a pooch.  And our pooch is looking for a home.  Because of the long lines at Pancake Pantry, I've actually been to Fido more times than the Pancake Pantry but I never eat the same thing twice and although the menu is short, the food is never dull.  I like that they buy their food from local farms.  It's great to be able to eat local and support the local farmers ... just like heading to the Farmer's Market but that's another topic for another day.  So yesterday's choice was the Euro Eggs with Veggie Sausage.  Now I'm normally not a big fan of veggie sausage ... veggie burgers, yes, but under an egg? This was going to be something new.

Two eggs perfectly poached, the right amount of Hollandaise without going overboard with fattening calories, perched on a veggie patty on an English muffin, that was lightly toasted.  Side note, restaurants can over-toast the English muffins and they are like hockey pucks!  Small side of breakfast potatoes, cooked to perfection, tender on the inside and lightly crunchy on the outside.  Complemented with some fresh fruit.

As for a beverage, normally I drink a Pink Poodle which is an espresso with non-fat milk, white chocolate and raspberry.  This I have never deviated from until YESTERDAY.  I ordered the Rollover which has chocolate and carmel.  Not a bad choice, but it's definitely NOT the Pink Poodle so "note to self" next time, I'll return to my house favorite.

Words of advice about finding a seat ... it's always busy at Fido.  The best thing to do is come in the back door, and send your friends off to find a seat while one person stands in line.  Two bonuses for this, 1) you can check out what everyone else is eating before making your decision and 2) you can make a friend while standing in line.  We lucked out yesterday and got a booth ... I spied a couple getting up and sent my Mom immediately over to nab it - I think the wood was still warm when I eventually sat down.

Try It:  PC Muffins ... Pumpkin and Chocolate Chip.  THE BEST.  And on a hot day, leave the muffin in your car so the chocolate melts and then eat it.  I guarantee you will be licking your fingers happily afterwards, wondering ... did I REALLY eat the whole thing by myself?

The Nature:
Radnor Lake www.radnorlake.org is truly one of my favorite places to immerse myself in nature and I don't have to go very far to get there.  The lake trail offers you a nice walk while enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife and then the ridge trail offers you elevated heart therapy.  When you get to the top, you can stop and listen to the wind in the trees and in the winter time, you can actually see the high rises downtown.  I've had a herd of deer run past me, seen hawks soar in the thermal winds, snakes slither across my path, chipmunks bury their nuts, yes the wildlife abounds.  This week, not only did I get to see two of the fawns that have been growing in the park, but the Ranger brought out two treats, one was a Red-Shouldered Hawk that had been hit by a car and whose feathers never grew back well enough that she could fly and the second treat was a Great Horned Owl who had gotten his wing caught in a barbed wire fence and then had to have it amputated.  Both cases are sad (however I do feel blessed for having seen them) and I ask the questions:

What is life like for a bird who can no longer soar?
Do they have memories of where they have been, what they have hunted?
Do they hunger for freedom in flight?