So… what is this?

So… this isn’t a food blog (although I do love eating out and do quite a bit of it); it isn’t a travel blog (although in my past life I did do A LOT of travel, but that has now stopped); it isn’t a gay blog (although I am gay, and the name of the blog was born out me being gay and starting the process of being my true self); it isn’t a friend blog (because, quite honestly, I don’t have a lot of those right now.) So what is it? I need to start writing on a daily basis, and I think the blog will find itself. Because I am all of those things- food, travel, gay, friends, life in SoCal.

Since my last post… Life has changed completely. I’ve moved to California- which actually took place exactly one year ago from the day of this post. In that year I’ve become an executive in my company (although I am still trying to really find the perks in that), I’ve been in and out of a relationship (something that made me very happy ended up making me very sad); I’ve bought and sold a house (because of the move).

For today, because it is a happier subject, let’s focus on travel. Although my level and frequency of travel has completely changed in the last year (a very welcome change, I might add) I have spent the day looking for a house to rent in Sonoma/Wine Country in October with friends. There are so many options, search engines, etc. how does one even begin to narrow down the search? I’ve chosen to VRBO.com as I’ve had friends reccomend it. The good part is the search features. You can very quickly narrow down your search given the criteria they give you. We have some wonderful options- more money than I know we were hoping to spend, but that’s OK… If it’s the right place, it will be worth it.

These friends are the same ones that were the subject of my original posts from Italy. Appropriate that our last trip was Italy, the next trip is wine country!

For future topics: Moving, dating, eating, trying to lose weight, friends visiting… lots of stuff to capture. Now the question is will I do it?

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When this plane lands… in China…

So I didn’t think I’d ever see the day come that I would be in a Buick with 4
other people driving through the Chinese countryside at 140 km per hour.  How
fast is 140 km hour anyway?  Do I even want to know? 

Another on my list of I never thought I’d be there…  China.  We started in shanghai. Having been to Tokyo twice I found it quite similar.  We were staying in a very nice hotel
(the shangrila) so of course my experience with and exposure to the culture were
minimal.  

We are now n the road between Zigong and chengdu.  If it wasn’t for the intense pollution and haze, parts of the drive would actually be quite pretty.  But with all of the intense industry throughout the country there is an intense haze and somewhat acrid smell that just hangs n the air.  I find it quite depressing…  Thinking that much of what is driving this environmental abuse is our desire in america and the rest of the world for cheap stuff… 

We have attended two of the famous lantern festivals as a part of this
research trip.  The first was in Yu Garden in Shanghai.  Yu Garden is a type of
tourist themed shopping area combined with a traditional Chinese garden.  There
is a separate small admission price for the garden, but if you ever go to the
area it’s totally worth it.  Don’t be put off by the tourist nature of the
shopping area and leave. Go all the way to the back and experience the garden. 
During the Chinese New Year season there is a very nice installation of what are
referred to as lanterns.  In reality they are more like large, interior lit light sculptures.  Well worth the visit.

The second festival we attended was in Zigong. Although the display is large, it is actually quite tacky and not very cultural…  I would not recommend that western tourists make the trip to see this.  The town is what is referred to as a tier 3 city, meaning that there
is no real cultural value to the city…  No history, cultural sites, etc.   It is a rough city with few hotels friendly to westerners.

So back to the drive…  We’ve slowed down now.  We have two travelers with us that speak Chinese so there was a bit of a “scene” as we had them ask the driver to slow
down.  After a bit of arguing back and forth, we’ve slowed down to about 110 to
120 km hour…  How lucky is my life that I find myself in these situations?  I
truly don’t know that I could have ever imagined half of the things that my work
had allowed me to do…

So…  Should one experience china?  So far my vote is no. Due to the cultural revolution followed by the explosion of industry, etc. there just isn’t much culture left.  It’s just a rough dirty place.  Go to Tokyo.  Go to st Petersburg Russia.  Go to Barcelona and Florence and Tuscany.  But skip china.

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When this plane lands, part two…

Well- I guess we can see how that last “re-committment to the blog” went…  That was October, and it’s now January.  But now is the perfect time to refocus as so much has happened since then…

This past Friday I relocated from the east coast to the west coast for a new job.  The time since Christmas was a bit of a blur- packing some boxes (some, as it’s only a temporary relocation), making arrangements for my house, wrapping up work details…  I got to the airport Friday morning to head out here and I soon as I sat down in my seat I thought of this blog… and what my life was going to be like when this plane lands.

So what is life going to be like?  Well, first the place.  I had to select where to live based on what was available through corporate housing.  To be honest, I don’t think I could have gotten any more lucky.  I am living about 10 minutes from the Pacific Ocean in a charming, Orange county, very California.  And very perfect.  I have spent a lot of time out here on business trips over the last 15 years, but I have always been up in LA/Burbank/Glendale.  While there has always been a bit of a charm and attraction to California, there was something that just didn’t click with me.   Since I had never spent any real time in Orange County or by the beach, I never knew what I was missing.  And I never knew how well it would suit me.

I have only been here a few days, but I have already done a good deal of exploring.  There have been your typical activities- shopping for groceries, running to Target for supplies, running back to Target for the supplies that you forgot…  And inbetween, I’ve had two delicious meals, as well as some really good cookies, all at local restaurants.  I’ve also had some even more delicious beers.  I haven’t fully explored the mexican goodness that I can tell is everywhere out here, but lord knows I plan on it.

Tomorrow is the first day at work, so I did a ‘test drive’ today to make sure I knew how to get there.  It took right at 30 minutes on Sunday, so will be interesting to see tomorrow.  I’m going to give myself an hour, just to be safe.

But what does this move really mean?  Will I keep up my weight loss program?  Yes.  Will I make new friends?  Yes.  Will I launch into a relationship?  I sincerly hope so.  Sure, there are lots of professional things to focus on (advance my career, etc. etc.) but what really matters are those personal things.

Get my act together, get happy and healthy, and set up myself to hit 50 at full force.

When this plane lands?  You bet, when this plane lands… it will change me.

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Recommitment to the blog…

I started with such a bang…  Posting every day of my Italian holiday.  And even one post after that!  I think the challenge is I’m not sure exactly what I want this blog to be…  what is that I want to say or have to say?

I don’t want to just make it a travel blog- there are plenty of those out there.  And I don’t want to make it dining blog- again, plenty.  Lifestyle? Is that it?  The fabulous lifestyle of a 47 year old creative professional living and working and playing in this wacky world?  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe I just need to start writing about my day.  Might be travel (I do a lot of that.)  Might be eating out (I used to do a lot of that, and still do my fair share!).  And it might be lifestyle (I think I have one of those.)

So I’m just going to jump in- what does the title “when this plane lands” mean?

In 1998 I was 34 years old.  I had spent my whole life up to that point living in the closet.  Lots of ‘girl friends’, but never a girlfriend.  And I had a unique opportunity on my horizon.  My job was giving me the opportunity to go to Europe for what was not only my first visit but also an extended work assignment that was going to have me interacting with many new people from all over the world…  and it was time to deal with who I was.

I was (and am) a gay man and it was time to be OK with it.  (Let me just say that even now, 14 years later, I’m still in that process.  But back to this story…)  It was early June, which- where I live- means a huge gathering of gay men and women from around the world.  I had never been to any of the parties or theme park visits associted with this event at that point (and still haven’t, for that matter…) but I still knew it was happening and that it was something I had avoided in my life.

So as I prepared for the trip I made a decision and as I sat on the plane I made a decision.  When this plane lands the secrecy is over.  When this plane lands I will finally deal with who I am.  When this plane lands I will be an out gay man to whomever I may cross paths with.

And with that, I settled into my business class seat (yes, first trip to Europe and I got to fly business.  I know.  Spoiled), had another glass of wine (OK, 4 more glasses of wine) and fell asleep somewhere over the Atlantic.

And when that plane landed I was in Italy.  Amazing, beautiful Italy.  And within a few hours of landing I met someone whom, although it was not a romantic relationship, did become a dear friend, confidant and the first person that I ever spoke to about men.  It was great.

That’s why this trip to Italy, all these years later, inspired me to start a blog.  And as sloppy and uninspired as this post is it’s the first time I’ve ever put this down in words.

And it feels good.  And so does Italy.  I need to go back.

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Tuscan Hangover

Symptoms of an Alcohol Hangover- dry mouth, headache, achy body, stomach that won’t quit.

Symptoms of a Tuscan Hangover- dry mouth that wants to be quenched with a carafe of red table wine (which is most likely just as good if not better than much of the wine in bottles); the headache is replaced with waking up with a smile on your face, remembering the birds outside of your window and church bells; the achy body is replaced with a morning stretch where you notice the farmers tan where you wear your watch, remembering your day in Florence; and that stomach ache is replaced with an ache for Pasta Luchessi!

A Tuscan Hangover- the kind of hangover you want.Image

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A final night in Lucca before heading home…

So… final night in Lucca.  A walk on the wall, some gelato, a stroll past what happens to be the cool joint in town (Re-Wine, a wine bar.  And a cute name.)  Although I’m ready to go home, at the same time, I’m not.  I still want to go to bars and have wine and snacks and talk and…

But- it’s time to go.  Arrevederci, Italia.  Grazie.

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How to rent a villa in Tuscany…

As I am nearing the end (OK, it’s really near.  Like, tomorrow.) of my first villa rental experience in Tuscany, I thought I would capture some thoughts/notes/ideas about the experience that I know might have been helpful to my friends and I when we were first considering embarking on this grand adventure.

First thing I would say, before getting into specifics is DO IT.  As many people who have traveled know, to have space all to yourself (more than what a hotel would afford) is truly a blessing.  And to be in a country so rich in bounty of meats, cheeses, vegetables, etc. and have access to a kitchen to do some cooking is just, quite simply, a blast!  So- do it.

Agency or Independent:  We went back and forth, and ended up going independent.  (As it turns out, the place we rented was literally the very first one my friend found on the internet…  after several months of looking, we ended up booking where we began!)  The decision for us, really, was based on many of the agencies not really having what we were looking for.  We wanted two bedrooms, one or two baths, kitchen, location near Lucca.  Most of the villas agencies had were much larger, like 4-5 bedrooms for large families or multi-family/friend groups; or they were more like smaller apartments that were a part of a larger compound.  As it turns out, everything was just fine and has worked out great.  Getting the deposit to the owner was a bit of a challenge, as he does not take credit cards.  But once we worked it out, it was fine.  (And we were both very patient with the process.) So, the verdict?  If the agency had what I wanted, I would give that a go for sure.  But I wouldn’t be afraid to go independent again either.

Mobility:  If anyone in your party has mobility issues, make sure and ask about stairs, showers, toilets, etc.  We are in a great unit, but with a steep, somewhat awkward staircase and if my parents were with me, for example, it would be a challenge (although the older Italians seem to have no problem with stairs, etc.  Guess they are just in better shape.)

Pool:  Something to really consider.  If you will be traveling with kids, rent a place with a pool.  The days exploring the Italian countryside can be hot and dusty, and for kids knowing that there is a pool at the end of the parmesan and prosciutto crusted path would make them very happy, I’m sure.  Hell- it would have made us happy!  Again, this with another decision based on size…  Because we wanted a smaller unit, and not to be a part of a larger property that would have shared a pool, we ended up going without.  But it would have been nice.  Really nice.  Not that we would have spent a whole day by the pool, but man- a swim would have been nice.  (Did I mention that a pool would have been nice?)

AC:  Remember, it’s Europe.  Almost nowhere is air conditioned.  And we Americans loves our AC.  So if this is something that’s really important to you, narrow your search.  I can’t imagine you will ever find a villa that is totally air conditioned but there are probably ones that have ac in the bedrooms.  We were here June 2-June 16, and the weather was actually perfect…  some evenings, it was actually cool.  But we always slept with the windows open and it felt great.  (I’m not looking forward to the trip home to Florida and the humidity.  But I do have a pool, so I have that going for me!)  If you DO find a unit with AC, I bet you will have to pay for the electricity to run it- a fee above and beyond the unit rental price.  This usually applies for the pool heater as well.  We did not have to pay extra for electricity or gas, as we had no AC or pool.  Although we did get reprimanded one day for leaving our outside light on all day.

Toilet Paper:  Why toilet paper, you ask?  To serve as an example of making sure you are clear of what is and, in the case of toilet paper, what isn’t included in the villa rental.  We discovered that toilet paper is not included.  The kitchen had basic supplies and is it is a rental, there were basic items (spices, salt, pepper, etc.) that others had purchased and left.  This leads me to my next point…

Grocery vs. Supermarket:  Yes, virginia, there is a difference between the two over here.  Grocery will be a much smaller, more local stop for very basic supplies in small quantities.  The hours are most likely very limited, it’s probably closed at least one day per week, etc.  Supermarket is going to be a store more like we are accustomed to in the states.  Don’t feel like you need to be ‘all local’ and shop just at a small market.  The supermarket has everything you need, in larger quantities but still focusing on local produce and products.  (Note, you get a shopping cart by inserting a 1 euro coin into the slot near the handle of the cart.  This is then returned when you return the cart.  Kind of genius.)  All of the produce is clearly marked as to its origin, so you can still shop very local.  We found that nearly all of the produce at our local Essalunga (Supermarket chain) was from Italy, except for those items such as pineapple and bananas.  Call me a food nerd, but I love grocery shopping in different countries.  I always end up bringing home a new spice or something that when I then use it reminds me of my trip.  Note that the supermarkets also have somewhat strange hours, and are usually closed on Sunday, and don’t re-open until Monday afternoon.

Location:  The last big question- where to rent.  If you’ve never been to Tuscany before, then you really can’t go wrong.  The whole place is beautiful, and each area has its own highlights.  If you don’t have a specific location or city in mind, I would then recommend making a list of what you want to do and see, and then find a central location.  For example, we chose Lucca area for several reasons.  First of all, Lucca is amazing and I wanted that to be our homebase for shopping, exploring, etc.  But it was also central for much of what we wanted to do:  Florence (1 hour by train); Cinque Terre (about 1:30); Forte di Marmi and the coast (about 30 minutes); Siena and the surrounding area (about 1:45) and we were flying in and out of Pisa (about 30 minutes)…  So it was just a great central location.  If you were more interested in touring wineries, you might want to be in the Chianti area of Tuscany, for example.

I’m sure I will think of some more things, but all of this popped into my head on my morning walk today and I wanted to capture them!

My morning walk today- that will be my next post.

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