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The Rear View Mirror; 2013 In Review

Gulfport, Florida Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Gulfport, Florida
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I think my first New Year’s Resolution was not to do a “year in review” piece here (the second was not to do New Year’s resolutions – they never get fulfilled anyway 🙂 ). 2013 was such an enormous year for us that I couldn’t help myself. I am a bit late here as we start the second week of 2014 already. I spent my Christmas/New Year holiday in our home in Florida, and I have not set myself up to blog from there yet. I can write and post, but my image library is not in the cloud (yet).

But I digress (which was probably a resolution some past year – not to). As noted, 2013 was a big year for us—perhaps the biggest since I graduated from Law School and moved here to Saginaw, Michigan.

O’brien Estate Wine Cruise

Some time in 2012, we had planned and booked a 2 week Mediterranean Cruise, and some extra days in Europe. One would have thought that was enough to bite off in one year. But late in the summer, we received an invitation to join the O’brien Estates Winery from Napa, California on its “first” Caribbean Wine Cruise on Celebrity Cruise Line (we had joined the “allotment club” when we visited the O’brien Estate Vineyard on our October trip to San Francisco in 2011). The package looked like a good deal and we were always interested in a warm weather trip during our dreary SADD inducing winters here in Michigan. For about the same cost as we had cruised a year earlier on Princess Lines, with about the same accommodations, we also participated in some extras, including 5 events involving O’brien Estates wine as part of the package, a tour of the ship kitchen, and wine cellar. The O’brien wines, by the way, are really, really good!  So we signed up.

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

This was a first of a kind adventure for us, as we have never really traveled in a situation where we knew absolutely nobody. Somehow, we survived the ordeal, and in the process made some great new friends, Lou and Penny and John and Agata. We spent a fair amount of time together during the cruise, and have stayed in regular touch since. They are really great folks and we had more fun than we were entitled to.

We also had a chance to get to know Bart and Barb O’brien, owners of the O’brien Estate, on a more personal basis. This would lead to another fun and notable event in our 2013. Stay tuned. They also announced yet another O’brien Estate event in 2014, for which we readily signed up – a tour of Ireland.

On the cruise, we toured the Fort in San Juan, saw some of the old sugar plantations on St. Kitts, and watched airplanes land so close we could nearly touch them on St. Maarten. My biggest regret from this cruise was not enough time to set up and photograph one of the landing planes. One more reason to return to St. Maarten.

Sometimes things happen faster than you plan

Tampa/Palm Harbor

About 2 years ago, my brother in law, who we are close to and spend a lot of our leisure time with, moved to the Tampa Bay area. We visited him a couple times and it soon became evident that he was going to put down some serious “roots” there. We have speculated that it would be nice to be closer, and we have always planned to retire to a warm weather climate. Sometimes things happen faster than you plan. We started looking at homes in the vicinity of Clearwater, Florida (for the geographically challenged, just Northwest of Tampa). We liked the homes and the neighborhood up there. We made a couple trips specifically to spend time with our wonderful realtor, Julie, and, on Memorial Day weekend (in what may be the most impulsive – yet not so much, as my wife did a ton of “homework” first – thing we have done during our 30 years together), we made an offer on a house in the little community of Palm Harbor. Our offer was accepted and we suddenly found ourselves a 2 home family, for the first time in our marriage. We are thoroughly enjoying it and spent the first of what we expect will be many, Thanksgivings and Christmases there this year. It has been a big, but positive, change for us.  (Julie, our realtor, by the way, is really good at what she does!)

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

O’brien Estate – Reprise

Aonair_winery

Aonair Winery; Napa, California
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

O‘brien Estate hosts several events during the year, including its annual “Date Night at the Drive-in” in July of each year. Via text and e-mail, Lou and I began “spitballing” about going out for it. It developed into a plan and in late July, we again joined Lou, Penny, John and Agata, for a 3-day visit to Napa, which included a cookout with Bart and Barb, and two days of wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma, culminating in the Date Night event. We had a great time and will have many good memories of this trip.

My daughter lives in San Francisco, and we were able to “bookend” our visit, spending time with her. On our last day, she took us to the St. George Spirits distillery in Oakland, California, where we learned a lot about the making of vodka, gin, liquors, and even some bourbon blending. Of course, there was some tasting that went along with it. It was a fun afternoon, with a little side-trip to Yerba Buena Island, halfway across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, between Oakland and SF. Unfortunately, it was a blustery, dark day and photography wasn’t at its best.

St. George Spirits copyright 2013  Andy Richards

St. George Spirits
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The “trip of a lifetime” happened in September

A Mediterranean Adventure

After much planning and anticipation, the “trip of the lifetime” finally arrived in late September. Passports in hand and luggage dangerously close to the maximum weight, we left Saginaw to fly to Paris and then Venice, via Detroit (yes, Detroit has an airport, even though they don’t have a football team). I had never done a transatlantic flight before. We had tight accommodations, and I wonder if the number of times the flight attendant call bell rang, just as I was finally dozing, approached several thousand! But we made it and even made the change at DeGaule, and eventually, landed at our home for 4 days, on the Venetian mainland.

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of "Venice" in my view Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of “Venice” in my view
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

GONDOLAS Venice, Italy 091320130006

Gondolas, Venice, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We were directly across the street from the Mestre Train Station and the ride to the Island and the Ferrovia Train Station was one stop, 10 minutes, and about $1.20. We spent a lot of time walking on the Island of Venice, with trips to Murano to see the glass factories and Burano, to see the pretty pastel structures along the canals, and to buy some of their world-famous lace.

The primary reason for this trip was a planned 2-week Mediterranean Cruise on the Princess Cruise Lines Flagship; The Royal Princess. We once again made some new friends, Scott and Pam. We met them first for dinner on Venice, where we had a nice time getting to know each other. Later, we had a couple of tours together and finally, shared a cab for two days after the ship breakdown, enjoying the Almalfi Coast and an afternoon in Rome together. They were great companions, with a lively sense of humor and we immensely enjoyed the time we spent with them.

Temple Erechtheion; Acropolis; Athens, Greece Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Temple Erechtheion; Acropolis; Athens, Greece
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

They say “it doesn’t get any better than this.” I’ll bet it does!

If you have read the past several blogs, you know that I am in the process of chronicling this cruise and will get back to that in the coming weeks, covering Ephesus, Istanbul, Mykonos, the Amalfi Coast and our brief time in Rome.

We finished up our year with a partial move to Palm Harbor, and celebration of the holidays there, with our children both joining us for Christmas. There is an old commercial that says: “it doesn’t get any better than this.” I’ll bet it does. 2013 was a great year for us, but we look forward to even better things to come, spending more leisure time and travel together, and – hopefully, more of it with friends and family. 2014 looks to be an exciting year for us, too.

Regular readers here may not that there has been a hiatus in posts, which I try to make weekly. During the winter months, I expect to spend at least one weekend a month in Florida and (as noted above) am not yet set up to effectively blog from there. So, though I will try, I will probably be doing only about 3 blogs a month. But hopefully, a planned Mediterranean Cruise in February and the Ireland Trip later in the spring will provide some additional interesting photo opportunities and narrative. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to take advantage of all that Florida has to offer. So I look forward to presenting some Gulf Coast images in the future.

I wish everyone who reads hear a happy and prosperous 2014 (albeit belated) and express my sincere gratitude to those who read, follow and occasionally comment and add to whatever I bring here! Best to all.

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