It is nice when we travel, especially when venturing in far away places which we do not get a chance to do quite so often; nevertheless, traveling with a set purpose is even nicer. My visit to the USA in June 2011 had that added ingredient.
It all started back during the winter month of January, after the traditional Season’s Greetings had been exchanged with few of my Lake Forest College friends and classmates of 1973; the idea was tossed by David Agger: let’s get together for a private re-union in June in Wellfleet Cape Cod!, where he and David Koven both have houses. How many years since? I dared not count, but yes it was going to be close to 40 since I had last met some of my close friends from College days in America. After many e-mail exchanges I decided: Yes! This was going to be a fulfilling experience and a pleasant opportunity hard to ignore. A once in this life-time kind of situation.With flights booked and a rough trip outline sketched, I took my wife Ivi along for three weeks of USA-ing!
Vinalheaven, North Haven, June 3rd – 6th
First stop was Boston; Greeted by my friend Avrum Belzer (the two of us having built my Autodynamics Beach Buggy back in 1973, read the full story by clicking and then scrolling down here), we spent our first night at their apartment in Brookline with the intention of getting up early next morning, Friday June 3rd and to drive for about three-and-a-half hours to Rockland, Maine. From there we would catch the ferry for another hour or so to Vinalhaven island, part of the Fox Islands in Knox County, home to a thriving lobster fishery which hosts a lovely summer colony. Our friends Avrum and Martha Richardson of www.martharichardsonfineart.com, own a cute, waterfront house with a private floating dock, where we would spend a long week-end together.
The approach to Vinalhaven from the ferry was special as the vessel was navigating through the straits and shallows and the island landscape cum sea smells were being revealed gradually as if a slow moving tableau vivant! To add to the joy, Avrum had arranged for his small outboard engined boat to be launched at our arrival; the ladies would drive the car to the house and we would go by sea! More seascape revealing was in store, the temperature was chilly in northern Maine and I had my camera ready so as to take it all in and save it in the can!
Eating lobsters was a must priority! Our friends not only know how to cook them but also taught us how to eat them, ensuring that nothing is wasted. Being at the center of lobster fishing meant that the product is of superior quality and taste, but also quite inexpensive. We feasted on eight of them crustaceans during the week-end and also discovered the gourmet like taste of another local delicacy: scallops! The marine bivalve mollusk of the family Pectinidae.
Exploring the West Penobscot Bay, was another priority and pleasure. We did so by car and by boat. We had an excellent dinner at the near-by island of North Haven, were the local launch boat of a restaurant named Nebo Lodge, came to fetch us! What a treat at dusk that little round trip adventure was!
Admittedly I have a soft spot for Lighthouses, which are an embedded part of the seafaring scenery of Maine; as such I could not resist from capturing their magic; their fog horns and chimes add to their mystic aura, creating an audiovisual memento hard to forget!
Before bidding Good-bye to this secluded paradise, here is one more memorable scene from our friends island home, taken at 05:30 in the morning. Later on that day we started our return trip to metropolitan Boston.
Boston, June 6th-10th
Spending few days in Boston, we booked into the Liberty Hotel, which used to an old Federal Prison at the foot of Charles Street. Not your usual hotel, with character and fascinating history. It was a very pleasant stay featuring “a room with a view”, overlooking the city scape and Charles river. Needless to say, June 6th is as many people know, the D-Day of Normandy anniversary but also, as many friends and relatives know, marks my B-Day; this year was to be celebrated away from home, but instead with a nice dinner in Boston with our good friends Avrum & Martha.
Next morning was dedicated to walking and shopping. The cheap prices for clothes at Macy’s and other Bostonian stores combined with the strong Euro/US$ currency exchange rate, made us quite happy!
With Avrum we had vowed to do a pilgrimage to Marblehead, a historic harbor town north of Boston, with roots in both commercial fishing and yachting; locals allege that Marblehead is the birthplace of the American Navy, Marine Corps Aviation, and a yachting capital of the United States. To boot, technology and specialist automotive companies have thrived in modern times. My and especially Avrum’s association with the town go back to 1973. We both then had driven in late June non-stop from Lake Forest, Ill. (ca. 1.000 miles) to pick up my Autodynamics Deserter GT beach buggy kit car. More importantly though, Avrum later that year returned to Marblehead and started working for Autodynamics as a young apprentice mechanic, a life’s crossroad that made him stay there for several years and eventually settle in the Boston area, away from his hometown Chicago family. As such my friend not only remembered many facets of our venture of yesteryear but also has maintained some close friendships from those days. As for example now prominent classic car restorers, Paul Russell and Alex Finigan of Paul Russell and Company, a firm that has been named as “Best of…best restorers” by the Automobile Magazine and which among other noteworthy deeds, exclusively looks after Ralph Lauren’s incredible car collection!
Hence the two of us drove to Essex, Ma. to visit this top class establishment and to meet Paul and Alex. Upon our arrival on the parking courtyard there was an impressive black Bugatti awaiting, as if to welcome us. The tour of the shop, administered by Alex, was an incredible experience for me. I did ask for permission to photograph the premises and the cars being worked on or up for sale, but I also have to respect their request for non-disclosure; hence I am not posting images taken inside the shop. I do so though for the ‘Warning – Disease” sign above, which perfectly describes my feelings pertaining to car collecting. I admit it; I am diseased.
Alex was kind enough to join us for lunch in Marblehead and to also show us his private car collection stored in none other premises than the old Autodynamics garage on Barnard Street! Is that a coincidence or what?
While in Boston we pleasantly mixed a family re-union and being tourists. We met with my first cousin Chris Iliades, his daughter Corinne, husband Lawrence, their baby Sophia and son Nicky along with his fiancée Jennifer.
Next day we experienced the Boston Duck Tours, which operates a fleet of restored World War II era DUKWs. These amphibious vehicles played an important role in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war.
The fun begins as soon as you board your “DUCK”, a W.W.II style amphibious landing vehicle. First, you are greeted by one of the legendary tour ConDUCKtors, who do the narrating of the tour. Then we’re off on a journey like we’ve never had before. We cruised by all the places that make Boston the birthplace of freedom and a city of firsts, from the golden-domed State House to Bunker Hill and the TD Banknorth Garden, Boston Common and Copley Square to the Big Dig, Government Center to fashionable Newbury Street, Quincy Market to the Prudential Tower, and more. And, as the best of Boston unfolded before our eyes, the ConDUCKtor kept giving us lots of little known facts and interesting insights about this unique and wonderful city.
And just when we thought that we’ve seen it all, there was more! It was time for a “Splashdown” as the ConDUCKtor splashed our DUCK right into the Charles River for a breathtaking view of the Boston and Cambridge skylines, the kind of view one just won’t get from anywhere else.
Next task was to rent a car for heading on Friday morning south to Cape Cod. When traveling in the US, I almost exclusively rent from Thrifty.com. Their rates are competitive and the service is good. Took a taxi to Logan airport area for the pick-up. Shared with the cabbie my NYC taxicab days saga and sympathizing, I gave him a generous tip. I wanted to rent a convertible but such was not available, so I settled for a red sporty Dodge Challenger cum Garmin Nuvi GPS navigation system, my guardian angel in these touring ventures in “terra incognita”.
Cape Cod, June 10th – 13th
Equipped accordingly, filled with some doses of excitement, I begged and cajoled spouse to start early, eventually checked out of the Liberty and asked the Valet to bring up the Charger from the hotel garage. From now on we were free and on our own to venture into the streets and highways or turnpikes of East Coast America. Certainly a thrill. The mission of our trip, i.e. the Lake Forest College Class of 1973 mini reunion was to unfold in the coming week end.
I set the Nuvi for East Falmouth, our first stop on the way to Wellfleet, to visit the home and have lunch with my cousins Chris and Caren Iliades. Today Falmouth is well known as the terminal for the Steamship Authority ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and as the home of several scientific organizations such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and the Woods Hole Research Center. The one and a half hour drive was smooth and the excellent GPS gadget found my cousin’s home on the dime! There a touching moment was in store for me, as Chris had placed on the table a large family photo album compiled by his father, our beloved uncle Costas; leafing through it was too much for restraining my tears from coming down. Touching bases all the way up the family tree!
Onwards through the town of Dennis and the surprise encounter with the Ford Model A Tudor example (read more on this story here: My next classic/veteran car investment?). I punched in the Nuvi our final destination for the day: Wellfleet! The home base of our College reunion. Located halfway between the “tip” and “elbow” of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the town had a population of 2,749 at the 2000 census, which swells nearly sixfold during the summer. Nearly half of the land area of Wellfleet is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and a total of 70% of the town’s land area is in some form of protection. Wellfleet is famous for its eponymous oysters, which are celebrated by the annual October Wellfleet OysterFest. The drums of anticipation were pumping in my head and heart. I was about to meet my classmates after some 40 years! Such moments are not served-up every day into our lives and as such are much cherished.
The first moments of the many months planned and much anticipated by all meeting, were very touching to say the least. At this point there is another comment worth making. In all my years of living in the US but also through my many business colleague encounters, I have come to the overall understanding that American folk are generally good natured, open hearted, honest and candid. In addition, relationships which go back to our youthful years are what I term as “annealed”; in other words even if many years have gone-by in between from seeing each other, upon encounter, Bingo! the relationship is right there despite all the wear and tear of each one’s individual life’s paths. What happened next and throughout the entire precious week end? As is usual in such re-uniting occasions, we went a lot down memory lane and brain honing, soul digging and experiences sharing. Wonderful, powerful stuff!
Attentive, warm and hospitable were our hosts of the reunion, David Agger and Deek Koven; in their dwellings we all slept and had our dinners, drinks and held the music jamming session after the lobster, salmon and scallops diner of Saturday night. Before going back to Logan for our next flight to the West Coast, we shared more precious moments with David, Sharon, Jeff and Amy on Sunday noon and visited together the end town of Cape Cod, the historic Provincetown. Sometimes called “P-town“, the town is known for its beaches, harbor, artists, tourist industry, and its status as a gay village. Parting and saying good-byes was quite difficult. The sole comforting promise was to meet again soon, this time on our home turf, i.e. Greece and Kea island.
My additional Boston, Vianalhaven, Cape Cod, LFC Reunion photo album on Facebook can be shared by clicking here!
San Franciso, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, June 13th – 20th
Bolinas, San Francisco
Driving back from Wellfleet to Logan Airport on Monday morning was a bit sad regarding the end of our reunion but filled with satisfaction as well. It was a moment of reflection about the experiences and emotions of the previous days. On the other hand the anticipation of our next and final leg of the visit to the USA, soon balanced the prevailing feelings.
The transamerican flight to San Francisco was longish but due to the time zone changes, we reached our destination in the early evening with plenty of light zone remaining. Awaiting at the airport were our good friends of many years, Captain Marco Sange and Babette and their cute poodle “service dog” Scooter. Having seen our friends in Athens only since last October, the re-connection was immediate. The drive to their home at Bolinas, included a stopover at the Golden Gate Bridge and the cute marina of Sausalito. It is there that my friend moors his lovely custom 43 foot performance cruiser sailing boat, the Evening Star.
At their home in Bolinas, Babette maintains an organic vegetable garden, and the soup awaiting us at the dinner table was delicious, including home baked bread. We set the plans for next day which included to take out Mark’s original unrestored 1969 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2, for a spin heading north along the scenic U.S. Route 1, visiting Point Reyes Station and then onwards to Nick’s Cove along Tomales Bay for lunch. Aside from the excitement from riding in such cool wheels, the exhaust sounds and Mark’s double clutching spirited driving (an amateur race driver and avid car collector) accentuated the Ferrari moments; to boot, Mark stopped by his friend Roger Hoffman’s house, another serious car collector who proudly showed me few of his precious and unique examples. Such included the Kurtis 500KK race car. Watch the video clip below:
The drive along U.S. Route 1 was unforgettable, as was the fish lunch we enjoyed at Nick’s Cove restaurant.
Next day’s program was going to be equally exciting, long and memorable. A visit to San Francisco, with a stopover at the Fantasy Junction, a world-wide known top class classic car dealer who has enjoyed an outstanding worldwide reputation for integrity and knowledge in the collector car field. Then back to Sausalito for an afternoon sail on board the S/Y Evening Star in the Bay area, rounding the notorious Alcatraz ex Federal Prison island!
Later on during the evening we were invited by Mark’s friends John and Maureen Hutchinson for dinner at their lovely hilltop house in Stinson Beach, about a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge on California’s Highway 1, and 10 minutes from Bolinas. We had the pleasure of meeting John and Maureen in Athens last October as they were traveling to Greece with Mark & Babette. John so happens to share the same car collecting disease as we, so in their garage was another Ferrari and a Mercedes 55SL.
The following day, Thursday was going to be our last full day in SFO. We were invited by the Hutchinsons to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and see the Gertrude Stein collection, cum lunch, cum dinner later on in the evening. I also, somewhere in between the day’s full program, had to go back to SFO Airport and pick-up my other car rental, a Ford Mustang Convertible this time, so that we could start our drive early next morning along US-1 to Santa Barbara. Few pictures of SFO street life follow.
Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Barbara
On Friday morning we had to push on early in order to make the scenic drive via a combination of US-101 and US-1 (a.k.a. Pacific Coast Highway-PCH) routes to Santa Barbara where my housemate from Lake Forest College, Stephen Robeck and his wife Susan would be awaiting us. Saying good-by to Mark & Babette was difficult. Again vows to meet again soon in Greece were made, such helping to soften the parting emotions. Once again I punched in the coordinates for Santa Barbara into the Nuvi and drove on. Being careful not to miss any exits after crossing the great bridge, we made a good clip initially on the faster US-101. We picked-up the US-1 Pacific Coast Highway at Salinas, and onwards to the Big Sur.
In that area we were advised by our friends to ensure a stop at Nepenthe Restaurant. Based on the vision of founders Lolly and Bill Fassett, the family has maintained a commitment to exceptional caring service in a relaxed atmosphere. Lolly added the Phoenix Shop in 1964 to share the wares and treasures she loved with the world, and in 1992, the Café Kevah opened. All three businesses are still operated by their children and grandchildren. We had pleasant drinks and juicy burgers sitting at the bar stools and chatting with the friendly bartender. The vista of the rocky Sur and Pacific Ocean below are breathtaking.
Driving the Mustang along the coastal, two lane only, road with the top down, although that particular day was somewhat overcast, was a thrill. Traffic was light with a lot of biker tribes (mainly Harley’s but also touring Bimmers and few Ducatisti) crossing, as well as many campers. We knew that we were on holiday land, and when fate had it that the Mamas & Papas oldie hit California Dreaming, would broadcast through the car radio, the frosting on the cake brought back many teenage memories; only this time I was there, living the very dream!
Passing through Latino named towns added to the myth: San Simeon, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria… Right there the Nuvi did its magic and directed me to exit US-1 and take the US-166 through lovely hilly vineyard country, crossing the deep green Los Padres National Forest before descending down to Santa Barbara, our final destination for the day. Without much trouble we located Stephen and Susan’s house on the hilly side of S.B. with lovely view of the town and the Santa Barbara Channel sea area further out. They had just finished a renovation and extension of their house; needless to say, seeing and hugging my ex-housemate after 40 years was very emotional. The dinner that ensued, B-B-Q’d fresh salmon, tasty salads and home baked palmiers with ice-cream, escorted by good wine, oldies jazzy music and lively discussions made us feel comfortable. Meeting their daughter Laureen was also a pleasure.
After a nice sleep in the plush ex-Master Bedroom, touching bases with Stephen and Susan over morning coffee was cherishable. They were celebrating their anniversary and serious plans got under way about celebrating the following year’s together with ours (one day apart) in Kea island. Now this is a good promise to keep!
Before leaving for Santa Monica we had enough time to browse through the streets and high lights of Santa Barbara, widely known as the “American Riviera.” In addition to being a popular tourist and resort destination, the city is rich with history which begins at least 13,000 years ago with the ancestors of the present-day Chumash Indians. The Spanish period has left a deep imprint with most prominent the Mission Santa Barbara, known as “the Queen of the Missions,” which was founded in 1786.
We loved the streets of Santa Barbara. There is a certain positive aura about it, a calm, clean, neat, well looked after town, which has the look and impression of an affluent suburb. The villas on the hills are numerous and “grande”. Being a coastal town also has a good size marina, a typical American pier, the Stearns Wharf. When completed in 1872, it became the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Named for its builder, local lumberman John P. Stearns, the wharf served the passenger and freight shipping needs of California’s South Coast for over a quarter century. The area boasts many waterfront restaurants and shops as well as beaches. The Main Street features extensive shopping options, pedestrian arcades, easy parking and so on. I think that the nickname “American Riviera” is befitting.
There are certain things or situations which carry a favorite tag of mine, that is “Only in America”. The Hippie Van below is just one example, found in the public parking lot of Santa Barbara. If you click on the photo it will open in a new window in large format, click again and enlarges once more, so that the details of this contraption can be examined and its message deciphered! (By the way, such clicking function is embedded in all photos of my Blog).
My additional San Francisco, Los Angeles etc. photo album on Facebook can be shared by clicking here!
Santa Monica, Los Angeles
After a mediocre Mexican lunch, we cruised on the coastal road toward Santa Monica passing through several “California Dreaming” beachfront towns as Carpinteria, Ventura, Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Malibu… Another befitting song that will add music-score nuances to our cruising experience would be the Beach Boys hit “Surfing USA“. Endless coasts with serious surf wakes entice Californians to this sport. Others just lay on the beach sun bathing and pick-nicking. Beautiful villas along the coastal line add to the scenery all the way to Santa Monica and beyond to Ventura.
We lodged in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel at the end of Wilshire Boulevard, an arterial road that leads from the west coast right into the center of metropolitan Los Angeles and beyond running a distance of 16 miles (26 km).
Our afternoon walk to nearby “Third Street Promenade” and adjacent “Santa Monica Place” was impressive. USA capitalism and retail fever is found here at its grandest manifestation. Third Street Promenade has been a center of business in Santa Monica since the town’s inception in the late 19th century. The Promenade’s roots date back to the 1960s when three blocks of Third Street were converted into a pedestrian mall. Although successful, by the late 1970s, the Santa Monica Mall (as it was then called), was in need of modernization and a redesign. A new enclosed shopping center, Santa Monica Place (1980–2007), designed by Frank Gehry was added at the Promenade’s southern end. Aside from a multitude of stores and restaurants, street artists of all kinds compete to attract visitors and extract their applause and occasional coin donations. After exhausting ourselves walking and overdosing on consumerism, we dined at a Thai restaurant by the name of Buddha’s Belly.
Sunday June 19th, “Father’s Day” was the last full day of our trip to the USA. We got into the Mustang, opened the top and drove north on Wilshire Blvd. towards Beverly Hills. It is one of the most affluent cities in the world, and is home to Hollywood celebrities, many corporate executives and numerous other wealthy individuals and families. In 2007, Coldwell Banker listed Beverly Hills as the most expensive housing market (second year in a row) in the United States, with a median home price of over $2.2 million. These homes range from the extravagant and luxurious in size, to the more elegant and modern homes, and then to the many small duplex rental units and detached homes with less than 2,000 sq ft (185 sq meters). We zig-zagged above and below the axis of Santa Monica Blvd., admiring the hilly setting with the plush, mostly secluded vilas of the rich and the famous. Ivi had a ball.
I wished to show her the exclusive shopping street of Rodeo Drive and stop for coffee. A shopping district known for designer label and haute couture fashion. The name generally refers to a three-block long stretch of boutiques and shops but the street stretches further north and south. As I was approaching the area, I noticed that Rodeo Dr. was closed and saw a huge white canvas across the street with the Ferrari logo on it. Many people were mingling behind but could not see clearly. Ivi shouted “Don’t you dare stop here, no more cars on our last day in L.A.!” Oops! I was going to get into serious trouble. She had overdosed on cars during this trip and was adamant. I drove off and continued cruising along the fine streets of Beverly. After a while, nature’s call had to be answered so I sort of drifted back to the “scene of the crime” once again… I barely got her out of the car on the promise of exclusive shopping etc. What was going on in Rodeo Drive? They were hosting the “2011 Rodeo Drive Concours D’ Elegance”! A unique showcase of classic collector cars on the world-renowned shopping street. What a treat! On the annual Father’s Day, the C d’E celebrated “The Art of Italian Motoring,” and helped commemorate Italy’s 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. More than 100 vintage Italian cars and motorcycles were on display, lining Rodeo Drive north of Wilshire Boulevard. The flack I received from spouse could not deter my excitement, despite being forced to cut it short. For me, a gift on Father’s day, another unique motoring experience, another “Only in America” happening, as a grand finale of my “Pilgrimage Trip” to the USA. See the nice video here:
Also enjoy William Edgar’s slide show photography by clicking here! and then scrolling down to the end of page.
My additional Rodeo Drive Concours D’ Elegance, Beverly Hills photo album on Facebook can be shared by anyone just by clicking here!
On the last day of our visit, on the morning of Monday the 2oth, we took a leisurely drive before reaching our final destination, the LAX. Passing through the towns of Ventura and Marina Del Ray. Its Fisherman’s Village offers a view of Marina Del Rey’s dominant feature as one of the largest man-made small boat harbors in the U.S., with 19 marinas with capacity for 5,300 boats. The harbor, the Los Angeles Times said in 1997, is “perhaps the county’s most valuable resource.”
Returning the Mustang at Thrifty’s was smooth. Overall we logged about 570 miles or 917 kilometers on the SFO, Bolinas and Pacific Coast Highway routes. Motoring on the US roads is pleasant, safe and comfortable. Overall a perfect experience either on the Cape Cod or California roads. Took the courtesy shuttle bus to the Eastern Airlines Terminal where we endured the worst ordeal of the entire trip. We were directed to a “counter operator assisted” cue, because I wanted to ensure that our luggage will not get lost on the multy legged flight plan, LAX, SFO, Zurich, Athens and switching airlines from Eastern to Swiss in between. At any rate we coped among swearing and bitching and vowing “Never to fly Eastern again”. The final luxury of our trip was to fly Business Class on the long return trip from LAX to Zurich and then on to home port Athens. Swiss was perfect, and the reclining seats into fully horizontal position allowed for some light sleep, good airline food and…an on board movie (among the many selections) being Bullit with Steve McQueen and the famous car chase driving a Ford Mustang in the streets of San Francisco.