Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Golden Age and the Idle Rich

We joined the history walk that leaves twice a week from the Glorietta Bay Inn's Music Room. But before we set off, our guide Nancy told us a bit about San Diego's short -- but rather astonishing -- history. It begins with America's so-called Golden Age (1850-1929) which created an upper class of millionaires. Their children and grandchildren became the idle rich, with nothing to do except to think up new ways to spend their money.  If it hadn't been for the Golden Age, San Diego might still be a shallow little beach.

That's what it was when Horton arrived. He had $1500 in his pocket and had planned to buy land in San Francisco, but he was too late. Try San Diego, they told him. Lots of land there. But the harbor is only seven feet deep. Still, Horton thought he saw potential. The climate was wonderful. So he bought San Diego, all of it. It cost $270.

Horton dredged the harbor. People came. Among them were Babcock and Story, who bought Coronado Island and built the Hotel del Coronado, for the Idle Rich.  They were railroad men, and they'd never built anything like a hotel, nor had the 300 Chinese workers they imported from San Francisco. But eleven months and $100,000 later, the Hotel del Coronado up and running. The Idle Rich loved it. Things went well until the financial crises of the '90s, but then along came John Spreckels, who bailed out the struggling hotel and ended up owning it.

So off we go on our walk, Xingxing prancing happily and thrilled to be outdoors and walking on pavements that don't burn his feet. One day we're in Scottsdale, the next day we're in Coronado. Does this seem like magic to him? Or does he think I've somehow organized it? I guess in a way, I have.

The best part of this holiday is the ability to be outdoors. We visit the Hotel del Coronado and see the tree Marilyn Monroe stood under in Some Like It Hot, which was filmed here. We walk along the beachfront to the other Spreckels mansion, the beach house. This is where the little boy was killed and his Burmese nanny subsequently committed suicide by tying her legs together, tying her hands behind her back, putting a noose over her head and jumping over a balustrade.  The house is currently for sale. Price tag: $18 million. Don't know if the notoriety raised the price, or lowered it. We live in strange times.

I need to say that if you are ever in Coronado, this history walk is one of the best I've ever done. Nancy is tremendously knowledgeable, but it's her ability to tell intimate little anecdotes that really brings it all alive. You don't have to be staying at the Glorietta Bay Inn to participate. So if you're in the area and you like history served up with spice, call the front desk at Glorietta and check it out.

After the walk, Xingxing and I  have lunch at Vigilucci's, homemade pasta with shrimp and garlic. And wonderful bread. When we eat out, that's Xingxing's favorite thing -- bread and butter. But not at home. Not anywhere except restaurants.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Glorietta Bay Inn - Glorious!

My friend Josie described it as "a charming, little old place" --  it's certainly charming, but you'd hardly call it little!

Xingxing and I are spending a week at The Spreckels Mansion, no less!  Well, on the mansion grounds, anyway. It's not too great a stretch of the imagination to pretend we're guests of John Dietrich Spreckels himself, accommodated in a guest cottage.

The mansion itself has been lovingly restored, with accommodation for 89 lucky guests. Breakfast is served every morning on the patio of the main building and the Music Room is open to guests, as well. Built during the first decade of the 20th century in the Italian Renaissance style, the original Spreckels Mansion had six bedrooms, three baths, a parlor, dining room and library. It cost $35,000 to build. The Music Room was added later, as was a third-floor solarium, which Spreckels used as a study.

It's all very grand, very elegant. And unfortunately, not pet friendly. (Neither is the Hotel del Coronado, directly across the street) But service dogs are welcome, and we've certainly been made to feel welcome. The staff here are wonderful. You feel as if you really are a guest, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Every afternoon, ginger snaps and lemonade are served on the terrace, and piano music wafts from the Music Room, adding to the ambience. The idle rich certainly knew how to live!

Not that John D. Spreckels was idle. From the moment he sailed his yacht into the then-tiny town of San Diego, he saw its potential and put his money (he was the eldest son of sugar magnate Claus Spreckels) into making it all happen. He was only 34 at the time, but within three years he owned a controlling interest in the Hotel del Coronado and went on to purchase the San Diego utility company, streetcar system, water company and almost all of Coronado Island. He also established the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad.

Yet for all that, Spreckles Mansion has a comfortable, homey feeling about it. You can imagine actually living here. Did Spreckels' children and grandchildren slide down the brass bannister railings that flank the magnificent marble staircase? I suspect they did. And I'll bet a few dogs lived here, too.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Scary Ride and a New Friend

We decided to escape the heat and spend a week in San Diego. My friend Josie always rents a place on Coronado Island during the summer, and since we've never stayed there I thought it might be fun to give it a try. Josie recommended "a cute, old little place with lots of charm" called the Glorieta Bay Inn, right across the street from the iconic Hotel Del Coronado. So I made a reservation, we packed our bags and off we went.

It's only a five and a half hour drive, and things were going really well until we were about 40 miles from San Diego. We were on that twisty, mountain road, just starting our descent from 4000 feet when all hell broke loose. The sky darkened, and it began to rain. Suddenly, buckets of rain. The windshield wipers could barely cope. Visibility zero. Cars and huge trucks in front of me, behind me, coming towards me and I could barely see anything. Everybody going 65 mph. I would have pulled over and waited it out but I was scared to slow down lest whoever was behind me plowed into us. Then a warning signal started to scream. I had no idea what it was or where it was coming from and I didn't dare take my eyes off the road to look. This went on for about 10 minutes, although it felt like forever. Then -- as suddenly as it had started -- the rain stopped. (The warning signal turned out to be an emergency bulletin from my cell phone, warning of severe flash flooding)  The rest of the drive was uneventful, thank goodness.

We checked in and Josie and her dog Annie walked over to welcome us. Xingxing had never met Annie, but it was love at first sight. Annie is a big, gentle yellow Lab, and she and Xingxing got acquainted while Josie and I enjoyed lemonade and cookies on the terrace. A lovely ending to what had been a long -- and a bit frightening -- day on the road. And we're sitting outside! You can't do that in Scottsdale, this time of year.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dogs on Cruise Ships: A Billion Dollar Market

So why can't everybody take their dog on a cruise ship?

This question crossed my mind again and again during our trip. Most of the passengers aboard the Azamara Quest loved Xingxing, and went out of their way to approach us, strike up conversations and even invite us to sit with them at dinner.  Okay, there were a few people who obviously didn't like dogs. But only a few. A very few. You could count them on the fingers of one hand.  But there were also few people -- unbelievable as it may sound -- who didn't like the food, either. I mean, there's always someone who bitches and moans, whether there's anything to complain about or not.

On the other hand, so many people told me how much they missed the dog they'd left at home. And most of them showed me photographs of their dog, or dogs.  Lots of photos. The United States is a nation of dog lovers.

Okay, cruising wouldn't necessarily suit all dogs. Big dogs might be more problematical than small dogs, but not necessarily, because a well-beheaved lab is going to cause less uproar than an out of control chihuahua.  There are sanitary issues, of course. But Xingxing could have easily shared his designated area with half a dozen other dogs (and probably would have enjoyed it more) so long as all of us owners picked up. And given the kind of people who'd want to take their dog along on a cruise in the first place, I don't think that would be a problem.

Actually, the whole health and sanitation issue is a non-starter. People don't generally get diseases from dogs. (You can get rabies, but the dog has to bite you) Although people make people sick all the time,  dogs rarely make people sick. (Of course, the French have known this for years)

So health and sanitation aren't problems. But what about people who are allergic to dogs?  Okay, what about them? Many of them are liars. Some of them don't like dogs, the way I don't like oatmeal. Some of them are genuinely afraid of dogs.  But they don't want to admit it, so they say they're allergic. Mind you, some people are indeed allergic to dogs. But some people are allergic to perfume, as well. And they don't ban perfume on cruise ships, do they?  On my ideal cruise ship, dogs wouldn't be running loose. They'd be on leashes. And people who were allergic to them could stay away from them.

It seems to me that when it comes to dogs on cruise ships, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Cruise ship lines would be able to charge extra for any dog that wasn't a Service Dog and as near as I can tell, this wouldn't be an issue. Everyone I talked to said they'd be happy to pay an extra thousand or two, if it meant their dog could accompany them -- especially people who were traveling alone, and already paying double.  Certification guaranteeing the dog's good behavior could be required, things like the AKA Good Canine Citizen Certificate. The number of dogs traveling on any given cruise could be limited. And of course, individual owners would have be responsible for obtaining whatever documentation was necessary for each port of call.  But for anyone who can afford a cruise in the first place and wants to travel with his dog, none of this would constitute a difficulty.

Sooner or later, I think this will happen. The first cruise ships to welcome dogs aboard will reap a bonanza, thousands of dollars with no outlay required.  Not to mention the fantastic good publicity. People who can afford cruises but don't cruise because they don't want to leave their dog would suddenly become enthusiastic, paying customers -- like me. And there are thousands of us out there.

Cruising is a great way to travel for dogs as well as for people.  Xingxing and I are privileged to be pioneers, and we hope many others will have the opportunity to follow in our

Friday, August 8, 2014

Disembarkation: Lessons Learned

And now our Adriatic Idyll is over.  When we wake up this morning, we're already moored at Rome's port. We'll disembark and then we'll board a bus for the longish ride to the Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport where we'll catch our flight back to the United States.

The Azamara Quest gives us a lovely breakfast, but it's very clear they want us off the ship.  In just a few hours, hundreds of new passengers will be boarding. It's like being in a restaurant after you've paid the bill and left the tip. They're glad you came, and they're glad you had a good time. Now, they just want you to leave.

Unfortunately, Xingxing refuses to use his box when he can smell land. But of course, he still needs to do what dogs do.  The understanding Azamara Quest staff let us get off the ship early, but once we're ashore there's no place to go.  The port is a concrete vastness. Not a tree, not a plant, not even a weed growing through the cracks in the concrete. Xingxing sniffs hopefully, but he can't find a spot. And if you've got a dog, you know how important it is to find the right spot. Xingxing walks and walks and sniffs and sniffs.  Time passes. I'm try not to hurry him. But he's going to have to do something. And people are starting to board the buses.

Finally, Xingxing manages a half-hearted poop. Afterwards, he gives me a reproachful look. I feel terrible. It hasn't been a proper walk, I know that.  He needs a proper walk. But what can I do?  We've got to get on the bus, I tell him, because it'll take us at least an hour to get to the airport and our flight leaves before noon.  I'm hoping there'll be a spot outside the airport where we can walk, but no such luck.  And it's a nine-hour flight.

I've put a puppy pad in my purse, just in case.  And just as well.  Halfway through the flight, Xingxing needs it.  He's unhappy and embarrassed. And I feel terrible, because this is my fault. I didn't mean to, but I've let him down.

We're both relieved when we land in Philadelphia.  And just so you know, the Trusted Traveler Scheme works a treat. You put your passport into a machine, it reads your fingerprints and asks a couple of questions, and that's it. No waiting. No lines. Brilliant.

We go straight outside, even before we get our luggage. What a relief! We stay overnight at the Aloft again. Xingxing has his dinner, another long walk and all is forgiven.  (Dogs don't hold grudges) We both get a good night's sleep and are refreshed and ready for the flight home the next morning.

Lesson learned. Next time we take a cruise, when we disembark we'll check  into a hotel instead of straight to the airport. And then we'll stay overnight and leave the following day. Xingxing needs that bit of extra time. And you know what? So do I.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Last Stop, Sorrento

Actually, it was supposed to be Capri.  But there was some sort of dispute about tenders. Azamara Quest has its own tenders, but the people in Capri were apparently insisting upon using their tenders, which the Azamara people did not feel were sufficiently safe.  So we ended up going to Sorrento, instead.

We'd booked a tour in Capri, but now that we were starting from Sorrento, the tour would be several hours longer. We'd have to take the tender to Sorrento, and then a ferry to Capri to meet up with the tour. And at the end, we'd need to take a ferry back to Sorrento, and then the tender back to the ship. Tomorrow, I'm thinking, we will disembark and go straight to the airport in Rome for our 9-hour flight back to the United States.  So tomorrow will be a long day.  And yesterday was a long day.  I consult with Xingxing, and we decide that it would be better for today to be an easy day. We'll skip the Capri tour and explore Sorrento, instead.

Sorrento sits on top of a massive escarpment.  There is supposed to be an elevator to take you up. That's what it says in the brochure. But we follow a bunch of other tourists and end up on a narrow, winding, cobblestoned road that leads torturously up the cliff face.  Then we come to the steps. Look very closely at the upper right side of the photograph and you will see them.  Unbelievable steps.  Many, many steps. We can go back down and start over, or we can climb the steps. We climb the steps.

At the top of the topmost landing, we emerge into a noisy, seething crowd of tourists and vehicles jostling for space on a thoroughfare not much larger than a driveway. I consult my map. It bears no relation to the reality that confronts us. We make our way along a narrow pavement, with thousands of other people, most of whom are wearing backpacks. There are shops. There are cafes. But there is nothing picturesque about this particular bit of Sorrento. It is hot, noisy and crowded. We try a side street. That's not particularly interesting, either. And it's steep. Everything seems to be uphill, in Sorrento.

We stop at a cafe, and I have a glass of wine. And I buy a jar of lemon marmalade. I'd hoped to buy some lemon fudge, as well. But I don't see any, and I don't have enough Italian to ask for it. Want to go back to the ship? I ask Xingxing. He wags, enthusiastically. But we're not going down those steps, I tell him. We're going to find that elevator.

I ask several groups of English tourists for directions. Down this street and take the first right, they tell me. It's just across from the Franciscan monastery. You'll see signs. We found the Franciscan Monastery, but we didn't see any signs. Once again, we found ourselves on the narrow, winding cobblestone road. At least this time, we're going downhill.

Back at the ship, we enjoy the luncheon buffet. Xingxing has learned a new command during this trip: Buffet.  It means, sit quietly and in a few minutes, I'll come back with a plateful of food. Xingxing has become very good at this. Xingxing is very good at anything that involves food. But the best thing is that he never once says, You know what? We should have gone to Capri.

Amalfi and Pompeii

Amalfi is gorgeous. The little hotels clinging to the sides of the cliffs, the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the sunshine … I want to rent one of these villas and spend the whole day on my veranda, sipping Italian wine and watching the sea. Instead, we're off to Pompeii.

I have always wanted to see Pompeii. I've read about it, watched films about it, gone to museum exhibitions that featured relics of Pompeii -- including casts of the bodies of people and dogs who were killed instantly and whose remains were preserved by the ash -- but I've never actually seen it.  After another amazingly beautiful drive along this spectacular coast, here we are.

It is much, much bigger than I imagined.  First, we visit a cameo factory. (Cameos were found in Pompeii)  I didn't realize that cameos were made from shells. So that was interesting.  Then we were led down a long walkway to Pompeii, which was originally a seaport.  Xingxing trots happily, stopping to sniff here and there. Dogs have obviously come this way. Our guide walks very fast, so fast that it's hard to keep up with her.  By the time we get to the city entrance, she's lost several people and we have to wait while she finds them.

We enter Pompeii. Narrow, cobblestoned streets. The paving stones are huge. On either side, the brick walls of destroyed houses. It is amazing to think that these are the original stones, the original bricks.  It is very hot, and there are thousands of other tourists. Some of them are with tour guides, others are wandering around on their own with guide-books and head-sets. Nobody is expecting to encounter a small dog, so we've got to watch our step. Between the crowds and the small spaces and the uneven paving and the speed with which our intrepid guide marches forward, it's all rather a challenge.

We visit the remains of shops, a wealthy man's home -- complete with atrium -- and the prostitute quarter, where what's left of the graphic murals advertise each woman's speciality. I think it's the sheer size of the place that overwhelms me. I don't know why, but I always thought of Pompeii as being a small village. It wasn't. It was a city.  We finish at the Forum, which is enormous. Everything is still there, and you can imagine the residents walking and talking among the columns and arches.  My imagination peoples the ruined houses with men and women in togas.

Xingxing is hot, and tired. I've brought water for him, but the guide is moving along so quickly that I'm afraid to stop, lest we lose her.  But she wouldn't dare just leave us here, I think.  If she returned to the ship without us, surely there'd be hell to pay.  So we sit down on one of the huge curb stones, and I pour water into a little dish I've brought.  Several of the other people on the tour have noticed, and they loudly tell our guide to stop and wait for the little dog to have his drink. She pauses, not impressed. But Xingxing gets to have his drink.

At the end of our tour, other people are missing. (This doesn't surprise me a bit)  Our guide counts us three times, always coming up short. She's very annoyed. The rest of us wait at a souvenir store while she rounds up the strays.  It's quite a nice store, and I manage to buy some limoncello to take home.  It's rather a long walk back to where the bus is parked and when we get there, a huge, black mastiff leaps out of a kiosk, growling and snarling. Xingxing leaps into my arms and several of the men in our group form a protective cordon between us and the angry dog -- who is probably a guard dog and just doing his job.

People think I'm lucky, to be able to travel with my dog. And it's wonderful, most of the time. But it's also like traveling with a very small child. You've got to be alert, you've got to always be watching for potential trouble.  Of course in this case, the guide should have warned us. But she wasn't a very good guide. Still, no harm was done. And we saw Pompeii. And back on the Azamara Quest, yet another four-course, gourmet dinner awaited us. So all in all, it was a pretty good day.