"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MARCHing to Atlanta and Chicago

Saturday, March 10 - We took a quick trip down to Atlanta today to catch one of our favorite singers, LP, at Centerstage tonight.  Ashlee's mom, Evelyn, and our niece, Ella, came along as well.

We got a great price on the historic and quirky Artmore Hotel just up the street from the where the concert was being held.  This little 3-story structure built in 1924 is dwarfed by the new high-rises all around mid-town Atlanta.
Before the show, Ashlee, Ella and I walked nearby to the Center for Puppetry Arts which has a great Jim Henson exhibit including his original work desk and office set-up.
Big Bird really is BIG in real life.  This original puppet used on Sesame Street was part of the collection.

Our friend, Rex, joined us for dinner before the show at DaVinci's Pizza Mid-town and then we walked over to Center Stage Theater for the packed show with LP.  We got there in time for the second opener, Noah Kahan, who was pretty good.  LP's show was tremendous and this was her last stop on a recent North America tour.  I think she's about ready for the big time and the bigger arenas.
Sunday, March 11 - Before heading home, we took some time to visit the World of Coca-Cola exposition in downtown Atlanta.  It's a great , interactive hands-on experience of every aspect of the soft drink giant.

One of favorite exhibits was the tasting room where Coca Cola products from around the world can be sampled.

March 16-18: One of our TRAVEL BUCKET LIST ITEMS got checked off this long weekend as we flew to Chicago to experience St. Patrick's Day in the Windy City.

Cotton-ball clouds on our decent into Chicago this morning
Friday, March 16 -  We took a very early direct flight to Midway Airport this morning and rode the EL in to downtown Chicago for a day of fun and exploration.  We stored our bags at the spiffy Conrad Hotel and headed off for some fun until our room was ready....a very affordable room thanks to Hotwire.com's "buy it blind" option.

Before heading out, we did grab a mimosa at the 20th floor lobby bar of the Conrad Hotel.  Cheers!
Our first destination was a couple EL stops south (for $20 you can ride the EL an unlimited amount of times in 36 hours!) at The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago's Money Museum:  a free interactive  learning center where you can actually see one million dollar bills stacked together in a cube...(that's too heavy to run with Ashlee...).  They also had a million dollars in $20 bills and another million in $100 bills...show-offs!  

Another cool (and free) stop was inside the Chicago Cultural Center which is housed in a large building built in 1897 and has two incredible large domes made of Tiffany glass
It was time for some more libations and fun so we hopped on the El and headed to the West Loop area and the Kaiser Tiger Curling Bar.  We came here because they boast at having Olympic curling lanes you can actually try out, but the food and drinks were great as well.

We found out quick that curling is much harder than it looks on TV.  We also found out quick that we won't be making any U.S. Olympic teams anytime in the near future.  
We were able to check into our room at the Conrad Hotel after lunch and we were very impressed with it.  We grabbed a quick nap since we had been up since 3 AM and wanted to stay up later tonight to meet our friends, Chris and Tarryn, who were driving in after work from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to join us for the rest of the festive weekend.  After our snooze, we grabbed dinner at Friends Sushi near the hotel and it was fantastic.  

Chicago was gearing up tonight for the big green weekend ahead.  
After dinner we walked down to Spin Chicago for a game we could handle a little better than curling.  This huge ping-pong bar and restaurant was a hoot and we had a "ball" playing...in between drinks, of course.  

Chris and Tarryn got in a little later than expected, so we all just sat around in the room enjoying some libations we bought at the Trader Joe's around the corner and  watched the historic March Madness upset of a tiny #16 seed, UMBC, over mighty #1 seed, Virginia, before turning in for an early rise and a long day tomorrow.
Saturday, March 17 -We began St. Patty's Day in Chicago early with reservations for breakfast and unlimited libations at Kerryman's Irish Bar near our hotel.  Here's two of the prettiest lasses in the joint with some of their "supplements."

  We didn't really know what to expect with the famous dyeing of the Chicago River Green, but it exceeded all our expectations.  The crowds were reasonable so there was lots of easy access to view the river, drinking wasn't out of control so the crowds were laid back and jovial, and the dye is just amazing.  This shot is completely unfiltered and one of a hundred good ones I took.  We highly recommend this inexpensive and easy access experience to everyone.  

We looked for the St. Patty's Day Parade that was going on but never found it.  We did get run out a building while trying to use their PUBLIC bathroom by a cranky old lady who then proceeded to follow us outside when I called her a name...well, that was her mistake because...any way, moving on...

We headed back to the hotel to change because we had a big evening ahead of us with tickets to see the super-popular (and thus super-expensive in terms of tickets) musical, Hamilton.
The show is and was fantastic.  Our balcony seats were not fantastic,  but it's really not that visual of a show and we are glad we experienced it and now we see what all the hub-bub is about.
Sunday, March 18 - It was going to be a Sunday-Funday in Chicago for us today before we flew back home late tonight and another early rise as we had an Underground Do-nut Food Tour scheduled for 9 A.M.

We had four stops on the Underground Do-Nut Tour that included Do-Rite Donuts, Firecakes, West Town Bakery and Stan's Donuts.  All the goodies we got were delicious and we had a pleasant morning stroll through downtown Chicago with our guide and small group.  The river was even still green from yesterday despite the fact that we had read it would only last about 6 hours.
Next up was a booze cruise on Lake Michigan aboard the Anita Dee II yacht.  This cheap Groupon find was a hoot and the weather was the best of the entire weekend during the 3 hours we were out on the water.
Chris and Tarryn had to start their drive home after our lake cruise, but we still had a couple hours to kill so we made one more stop and it turned out to be a dandy.   The Three Dots and a Dash Tiki Bar is a fairly new establishment known for a cool vibe and over-the-top drinks.  Thanks to our do-nut tour guide for pointing out how to find the place down a little obscure alley earlier in the day!

From left to right:  Ashlee's Chief Lapu Lapu (suggested for 2 people...balderdash!), our Captain Dino's Pu Pu Platter (serves 3 or 4...double-balderdash!) and my Aloha Felicia # 2 rum drink.  The food and drinks were amazing!  We can't wait to come back here with a larger group and try the Treasure Chest  drink for $385!!
Our late-night flight home was a few minutes late arriving back in Nashville, but we made good time getting driving and in the bed a little after midnight after a fun, fun GREEN weekend! 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

FEBS 2018

One of our New Year's resolutions is to dedicate at last one night a week to turning off the TV, phones and computers and to play games.  We've stuck with it so far and actually really enjoyed it.  We finally broke out our beautiful mahjong set we got in China a few years back and learned to how to play.  I also learned that Ashlee is very, very good at it!  We've also been playing a new card game called BLDR that I got for Ashlee for Christmas which was a Kickstarter project of a young kid from Nashville.  It's a very well-developed, fast-paced and enjoyable game.

Ms. Bea thinks I have a  really lousy BLDR hand.
Photo courtesy of the songbirdsguitars.com.

Friday, February 2 - We drove down to Chattanooga after work today to catch a show by Scott Miller at the new Songbirds Guitar Museum along with our friends, Tim and Lavonda.  We have seen Scott many times and this time was especially memorable due to the fact that he and his family flipped their van on icy conditions in Virginia (photo courtesy of Scott's Facebook page) early this morning and still made it to the show with no one hurt thankfully.  This new venue and museum are very cool.  It is located above the Revelry Room venue that we have been to before a couple times and is another great addition to the new vision of the Chattanooga Choo Choo area down on Broad Street.  After the show we stopped by the (also new) Frothy Monkey for a late night (low-calorie) bite to eat and a couple drinks.  The food was exceptional.

A bonus to buying a ticket to see a show at Songbirds is also free admission to the impressive museum they have there.  It's an incredibly large collection of vintage guitars and other stringed instruments.  
Tuesday, February 6 -  Ashlee and I headed over to the Roxy Theater here in town and kicked back in a couple of the recliner seats there to catch a showing of the quirky fantasy love story, The Shape of Water.  This was my second viewing of the film which has 13 Oscar nominations including a shot at Best Picture.   \I thought it was just as good the second time seeing it, and Ashlee liked it a lot as well.
 (Editor's Note:  3/4/18 - First science fiction movie to ever win Best Picture!) 
Wednesday, February 7 -  We decided sort of last minute to go check out one of our favorite voices in music today, Dan Layus (of Augustana) at 3rd and Lindsley tonight.  Our reason for the hesitation was two-fold:  first, another artist we like, Andy Frasco, was also playing in town -- secondly, the last time we saw Dan he didn't play anything from his Augustana days which was  a bit disappointing to us.  We like his new solo stuff, but the Augustana tunes are our favorites.  Since he was the headliner tonight, we figured he had to do some Augustana tunes and we were not disappointed!  It was a great show sprinkled with new songs, solo stuff and some classic Augustana hits.  He even hinted that the band may be getting together again which I predict might be aimed at 2020 when his best-known song, "Boston", turns 15 years old.  (photo courtesy of Dan Layus' Facebook page). 
Wednesday, February 14 - Valentine's Day is supposed to be all about love, so we spent our morning traveling to Knoxville to visit a vet oncologist regarding our oldest cat, Mabel, who has mouth cancer.  They are the only place in the state that treats cancer in animals with radiation and we were hoping our sweet girl might be a candidate.   She was not, unfortunately, but we got a little bit of encouragement with another option of chemotherapy.  We will bring her back next week for her first treatment and see how it goes.  WE LOVE YOU, MABEL!! 
On a happier note, we did spent Valentine's Day evening at dinner at Waffle House, yes Waffle House, where once a year you can make a reservation there, sit at a table with white tablecloths, flowers and mood lighting and have a "romantic" hash-brown or two.  
Oh, so fancy! 

Thanks to our friends, Danny and Brenda, for joining us in the silly Waffle House fun on Valentine's Day.  Next year it's White Castle for a contrast and compare experience! 
February 16 - 22: We took a great cruise to Cuba this week.  See previous blog entry for details.

Friday, February 23 - It was another road trip to Knoxville today with Mabel for her first chemo treatment for her mouth cancer.  She was a trooper and handled it well.  We are hoping for positive results from the treatment in reducing and slowing the growth of the tumor.  On a more fun note, we did have a great breakfast nearby while Mabel was getting her treatment at a little place called First Watch.

Saturday, February 24 - After  spending the afternoon helping our pal, Wayne, do some packing for his upcoming move from Nolensville, we headed back to Lebanon tonight to catch a showing of the new dark comedy, Game Night at the Roxy Theaters thanks to MoviePass.  It was pretty good and Jason Bateman continues to be one of our favorite comedic actors working today.
Tuesday, February 27 -  Ashlee got us tickets to see one of favorite live performers tonight, Brett Dennen at the City Winery in downtown Nashville (photo courtesy of City Winery).  He had a good opener, Dean Lewis, a crooning Aussie with a great voice.  Brett's show was solid as usual and it was a nice post-vacation evening for us.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

CUBA 2018

We took a quick cruise out of Tampa this week and were able to mark another country off our "visited" list with Cuba as our destination.

Friday, February 16 - We flew down to Tampa after work today with our friends, Wendy and Charly, and got a hotel near the airport.  Everything went smooth except for me leaving my wallet on the plane like a dope.  Thanks to Southwest Airlines for the quick recovery of it.

Saturday, February 17 - After sleeping in a little and a grabbing a late brunch at the hotel, we Ubered over to the Port of Tampa and boarded the Carnival Paradise for our afternoon departure.

The Carnival Paradise is an older, smaller cruise ship.  In fact, it was going in to dry-dock we learned after this cruise to be refurbished and updated.  But she was making one more run to Cuba (while we still can) and we were happy to be aboard.
Speaking of old and small, the majority of passengers on this trip were in the senior-citizen range and here is a clandestine pic of our favorite one that we nicknamed "Tiny Trump."  He looked exactly like The Donald except he was only about 5' tall and wore some very interesting clothes including a "cuddle me" T-shirt and two types of "dress" shirts with wings on them.  He was just one of those people you happen to see every day on a cruise even if you aren't looking for them and when you do see them, it kinda makes your day.  People-watching is always a great past-time on a cruise. 
The city of Tampa faded into the golden sunset as we headed south out of the bay and down the west coast of Florida toward our first destination tomorrow morning, Key West.
Sunday, February 18 - We got into Key West around noon with a smattering of rain falling.  It was just enough for our scheduled snorkeling trip with Fury Charters to be cancelled due to cloudy water and choppy conditions.  Might as well go drinkin' I guess!   We went by The Porch which has the best craft beer selection in Key West, had a pint and figured out our next move.  Now we've been to Key West close to a dozen times and the one place we have never visited but always gets great reviews is Mel Fisher's Maritime Museum.  Now we know why....it was pretty damn interesting and a great way to wait out the weather!

These extremely rare Muzo emeralds  and the small box they were contained in were found by treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, in 1985 aboard the Spanish galleon, Nuestra Senora de Atocha which was lost to a hurricane in 1622 off the coast of Florida.  This amazing display plus dozens of others in the museum show many of the incredible finds of Fisher during his lifetime of searching the ocean floor.

The weather cleared after our museum visit, and we spent the rest of the afternoon eating and drinking our way around the Key West harbor with stops at The Waterfront Brewery for more beer and appetizers,  free samples at the Papa Hemingway Rum Distillery,  and last but not least, the historic Two Friends Patio Restaurant for some happy-hour cocktails (with 151 floaters...whoa, Nelly!) along with delicious conch fritters and steamed shrimp! 

There's no place that does sunsets better than Key West and this (no filter) shot back aboard the boat proves it once again. 
Monday, February 19 - Our Monday morning commute  today was an interesting and memorable one as we pulled into Havana Harbor for the very first time.  Kind of mind-boggling to think that just a few years ago on our way to Jamaica we had to fly all the way around Cuban airspace and here we are now sailing right into port on an American cruise ship.    Thanks for the opportunity, President Obama!
The Havana Harbor entrance is small, but striking in appearance.  We actually had to wait for another cruise ship to leave before entering it.  On the north side is the lighthouse, Faro de Castillo del Morro standing guard over the 16th-century fortress, Los Tres Reyes.
This panoramic look of Havana's waterfront on the south side of the harbor entrance was helped by the perfect weather we were having as we sailed in today.
Ah, the cars!  The classic cars catch your eye right from the start in Havana.  All of them are a rolling museum and an important part of the heritage of Cuba these days.
Our first tour off the boat focused on the flavors and traditions of Havana and our first stop on that tour was the seafood restaurant, Don Cangrejo,  which sits on the north coast where we were served fresh lobster and Cuban Bucanero beer while live music was played by the staff as we ate and drank.  The people seem so nice here in Cuba with big smiles and friendly faces all around.
Did I mention I like the old cars in Havana?  This beauty was sitting outside the restaurant when we came in and gone when we left...not just pretty, but practical and still a working machine.
Yep, more cars...with our ship in the background.  Note the ugly  Russian-made boxy cars in the background.  What a clash of ideologies this country has struggled with over the last century.   

Our next stop was for a little shopping for the best products from Cuba...cigars, rum and coffee.  This tiny little shop on the second floor of the old Bocoy Rum Factory building in the Cerro neighborhood did not disappoint.  Montecristos, Romeo y Julieta, and other  high-quality cigars, once illegal in the US, are abundant here and CHEAP!  You could bring up to 100 back with you.  You are only allowed one liter of rum and we got the best they had in sipping rum, Havana Club (and it was about 7 bucks).  We didn't buy any coffee, but had some a little later that was outstanding.
Just when you think all the classic cars probably hang around the port for the tourists to gawk at, we saw this little gathering from our bus deep into the city of Havana.     
Beside the rum and cigars, one of my favorite stops on this tour was at El Tanque (The Tank), a completely community-funded arts center built literally piece by piece in mosaic-style from a long-abandoned 100-year-old water tank in the Lawton area of Havana.   U.S. visitors are required to make some of their visit to Cuba educational and this stop filled that requirement, plus did a whole lot more to give you hope for this crumbling country that has been used as a pawn for so long in the struggle between world superpowers.  Caught in that struggle are real people just wanting to live their lives as best they can and fill that those lives with music, art and happiness. Not a bad thing at all.  This is also the first community center I have ever seen with a bar in the top of it!  Hey, make money however you can!  Cheers!
OK, so back to the debauchery!  Our final stop of this tour back near the port was for a coffee, rum and cigar tasting with a local expert. Hey, we are still "learning" here!   
We sipped our rich coffee and smooth Havana Club rum and puffed on our Romeo Y Julieta cigars in the beautiful courtyard of the historic Palacio de la Artesana building constructed circa 1780.  
We had just enough time when we got back to the boat to run back on-board, freshen up a bit (put on some long pants for me) and head back out for our night-time activity, a viewing of the Cabaret Parisien show at the swanky Hotel Nacional  de Cuba (photo above of the hotel was taken earlier in the day as we passed by it on our day tour).  
The show was pretty amazing.  Filled with color, movement and sound, Parisien Cabaret delivers everything the Cuban culture has to offer.  The mojitos weren't bad either!  Cheers!
Tuesday, February 20 - After a night in port, we got up early for our last tour, A Morning in Havana, a bus and walking tour of the port and Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our first stop of the morning was the massive Christ of Havana marble statue on the north side of the harbor entrance.  While not as tall as "Christ the Redeemer" in Rio de Janeiro, it's still an imposing figure.  The local joke is that his hands seem to simulate holding a cigar and a glass of rum...hey, their joke, not mine....but I do see it..
The view from the base of the Christ of Havana statue looking south back toward Old Havana and our ship was pretty amazing as we had yet another perfect day of weather in Cuba.

We also made a brief stop at the fortress, Los Tres Reyes, which we first saw coming in to port yesterday.
Back in Old Havana we began our walk in the quiet and beautiful Plaza de San Francisco

This streetscape shot in Old Havana shows the vibrant colors that abound here.  Unfortunately, a lot of Havana does not look this nice and kept up.  It's a crumbling town that seems to be trying to hang on to it's hey-days of the 1950's and while the classic American cars are shiny, clean and fussed-over, their owners seem to be living and working  among neglected homes and businesses which may not be their fault due to lack of resources, government help and valuable tourism dollars.
The National Cathedral of Cuba.  

The star-shaped Castillo de la Real Fuerza fortress built in the 1500's.
The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales Casa de Gobierno - a former palace, governor's home and now a national museum.  At my feet are wooden "cobblestones" which I unfortunately didn't get a good picture of.  The story goes the lady of the palace didn't like the clip-clop of horses hooves on actual cobblestones and had these installed to buffer the noise...rich people...go figure...
OK, last money-shot of more classic cars.  
As we headed out of Havana Harbor, these re-purposed warships still remind us of what was here, what still could be here and what hopefully is more of the past here in this interesting (yet still possibly dangerous) place just 90 miles from our shores, but light-years away from our hectic, modern world.  
Wednesday, February 21 - We enjoyed a lazy day at sea today stuffing ourselves with pretty good food, hitting the water-slide despite our ages and just hanging out and relaxing.

Thursday, February 22 - We were back in port early and immigration went pretty smooth and we made our flight home with no issues.  Thanks Carnival, Key West, Cuba and "Tiny Trump" for a fun and interesting trip.