Sunday, December 8, 2019

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Dominican Resort Drink Tour

Quandary - you have an unlimited bar tab at a tropical resort. How to you make the most of it?

Watch the Video!

Coming to you from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, this week's Cocktail Hour tries to make a dent in it. Watch as we go from lobby bar to plaza bar and swim up bar to sample the bartenders talents.

Trying to not get too lit up (yeah, right) while keeping the sunburn to a minimum, it's all rum, tequila, and vodka by by the pool in this week's on-location Cocktail Hour video. Enjoy!



Friday, December 6, 2019

Sand, Sun, and Fun - The Dominican Republic, Part 1

"You know I really miss going to Puerto Vallarta." Letty said to me...for about the tenth time.

"I know, hon," I replied "but you know that it's just too inaccessible for us now that Tim is grown up."

"I know, but I'd really like to go on a beach vacation," she finishes.

I really want to make her wish come true, but where can we go with the wheelchair?

Watch the Video!

Okay, PV is out. Much research time is spent trying to find another Mexican destination that would serve up a more accessible destination.  Cancun and Cabo just seem to overdeveloped and overrun to me. Ixtapa comes very close until we're finally able to contact the hotel that looked fantastic but ended up having "only" 234 steps to the beach.

We need something a little flatter, a lot tropical, and a little less Hawaii.  Here is where we ended up...

The little green gecko is not trying to sell me insurance. Instead, he’s being impatient as my wife tries to get him to pose for a picture. The little guy is on the door of our room. Soon, after my wife snaps the pic, he runs to the edge of the balcony and jumps off like superman, landing gently on the leaves three floors down.

The marble floor of the junior suite cools our bare feet as we enter from the hot, sticky humidity of the Dominican autumn. Our bedding consists of two full beds pushed together making a super-size king bed. The management has put in an extra twin bed because there are three of us. My wife likes the feel of that bed better so Tim and I sleep in the large bed.

A big flat screen keeps my son occupied during spells in the room between activities with American sports programing. A full slate of local Dominican programs are also on, which comes in handy to watch the local Dominical Baseball league in full swing.

Our assigned room came with a big, roll-in shower and step-free access for the wheelchair. It was also in the very back of the gigantic Riu Palace Punta Cana resort and came with its own set of maintenance and noise issues. It was obvious that the hotel rarely rented out this accessible room and it seemed like the ugly redheaded step child of the resort.
(Full Disclosure: The Riu used to be an affiliate advertiser on this blog - please see our Disclaimer policy)

After an almost sleepless first night, a visit to the front desk was in order. We were unhappy. Fortunately at the Riu, if you’re unhappy, you better be made happy or there will be hell to pay.

Another step-free room was found for us…closer to the beach…in a quiet area of the hotel with a nice terrace overlooking the main courtyard plaza of the hotel. Alas, this room only had a bathtub, but a shower chair was installed and it worked for us.

An extensive array of delicious breakfast foods awaited us in the morning. French toast, a couple of scoops of soft scrambled eggs, fruit, and a croissant fortified us for the day.

A quick stop by the reservations center located in the lobby of the Riu’s Italian restaurant secured us dinner for the next four nights in each of the hotel’s a la carte restaurants for dinner. Tonight would be Brazilian Churriasca followed by Japanese fare, Italian specialties, finishing up with a hearty dinner in beachfront steakhouse.

The last night of our stay would find us browsing in the casual buffet where we wouldn’t have to adhere to the a la carte restaurants dress code of long pants and sleeved shirts…it’s kind of a bitch to redress Tim multiple times a day but it’d be worth it to get the full resort experience.

After a change into swim gear, we head to the heart of the resort…the large pool located at the edge of Bavaro Beach. We get to know Carlos, a pool boy, who provides us with towels and finds the perfect spot to decamp into some lounge chairs steps away from the pool, the beach, and the bar separating the two. He quickly got to know us and would make sure that those two lounge chairs, with the space for the wheelchair, and the umbrella would be “ours” from now until we checked out.

We bring an inflatable inner tube for Tim to float in when we go swimming. Carlos took it for a minute, disappeared to some unknown location where there was an air compressor, and returned with a fully inflated tube.

For the next few hours, Tim and I would float around the large pool getting to know Jim, Heather, and their baby Lucas from Chicago; Roger and Ivy from Ontario, Canada, Simo, Elisa, and their disabled daughter Nailia, from Argentina; and Tom and Vanessa from Flint. When Letty would get too hot from sunbathing and join us in the pool, we’d float over to the swim up bar and get to know the extensive bar menu provided by Juan the bartender.

Steps away from the pool, La Altigracia…the resort’s steakhouse…would lay out a spread for the swimmers and beach goers consisting of steak, pork, chicken, seafood, and a giso of rice topped with saucy spare ribs and black beans…a delicious local specialty. Kids missing home could also have their fill of burgers, hot dogs and pizza.

After every meal was the extensive dessert and ice cream bar.

A little time in the sun was in order after the meal where our biggest concern was whether we’d lathered on the sunscreen thick enough.

Animacion…the resort’s entertainment team…would lead dances by the pool, set up archery and ping pong tournaments, and keep the guests involved in the experience. We’d take the afternoon and head over to the beach.

An accessible, paved beach path connects all the Riu resorts along the beach. When it gets over to the neighboring Palace Macao resort, the path takes a nice detour towards the water where it’s only about 30 feet from the water. Here we can get the wheelchair onto the sand, grab a couple of lounge chairs and relax on the sand.

Nearby is Scuba Caribe which serves as the resort’s watersports activity center. Snorkeling gear, boogie boards, wind surfers, and much more are available at no charge (a refundable cash deposit is required).

The lounge chair are on runners like skis, so it’d be easy to drag Tim to the water, put a mask and snorkel on him, swim out and watch the fish. Unfortunately this week the water is just too rough with some strong offshore winds kicking up the murkiness.  I’ll just have to be content with a boogie board, a little body surfing, and drinking rum in the sun on the sand.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming very soon...

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 2, 2019

Heading Home from Nova Scotia

It's been a fun and eventful couple of weeks checking out history, natural phenomena, and even riding out a hurricane in Halifax, Nova Scotia but now it's time to make the long flight home.

Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from California so we have to change planes in Calgary before getting our last flight back to San Francisco. In between, we have a 16 hour, overnight layover.

To make things easier for us, I book a suite at the Delta Hotel, located in the terminal of the Calgary airport.

It's not an accessible room but Tim's wheelchair will fit in and, really, we're just looking for some comfortable beds to spend the night in before catching our connecting flight in the morning.

Calgary is a big airport. Lots and lots of walking here and it's not always easy to tell the domestic checkin from the internations. The U.S. has its own departure hall on concourse E.

This is because U.S. Customs and passport control are here in Calgary, processing you before you board, so when you get home you can just collect your luggage and leave. It's kind of a neat system, saving you a lot of time when all you want to do is just go home.

The flights are uneventful but we were delayed an extra two hours in Calgary. It sure was nice to get home.

Here are links to our Nova Scotia posts, in case you've missed any:

Travel Day - San Francisco to Nova Scotia

Sunday, December 1, 2019


If it's not quite a hurricane, it must be a tropical storm.

Watch the Video!

This week's cocktail is a one-off of that great New Orleans tradition.  Ours uses ingredients on hand but is still rum based. 

Here is the recipe...

INGREDIENTS (makes two drinks)
2 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
1 oz. mango juice
2 oz. sweet and sour mix
splash of grenadine
2 oz. orange soda

Mix all ingredients, except for the orange soda, into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Strain over the rocks into two highball or pint glasses filled with ice. Top off each glass with the orange soda.



Friday, November 29, 2019

Ending Up Our Nova Scotian Adventure

We've got one more full day in Halifax before it's time to head home. Let's head out into the city and pick up a few last sights before we leave...

Fairview Lawn Cemetery is a bit out of our comfortable walking distance so we take the number 21 bus from the waterfront. It's about a 20 minute ride on the fully accessible bus and we're let off about a block from the front gate.

Watch the Video!

In April of 1912, the Titanic went down about 700 miles out to sea from Halifax. The city was the closest to the accident site with the means necessary to mount a rescue and recovery effort. Much of what had to be done was to recover bodies from the icy seas.

The White Star company offered to pay burial expenses for the victims on the condition that they be buried in Halifax and with a modest headstone. Anything beyond that would be at the expense of the survivors. 121 are buried here at Fairview Lawn, 10 are buried next door at the Baron de Hirsch Jewish Cemetery, and 19 are interred at Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery.

Signs at the gate point the way to the plot in the back of the grounds where the Titanic victims are buried. It's about a quarter mile walk from the front gate.

We browse the head stones, most are the company-provided basic version while a few are a bit more elaborate, and try to imagine the stories behind each one. Some are still unidentified.

The one that is most poignant is a baby who could not be identified. At least at first...more recent DNA testing has revealed the baby to be Sidney Goodwin. An updated tombstone sits at the base of the 'unknown' one while someone has provided a photo of baby Sidney. Many people leave toys and coins for Sidney on his monument.

Many trees in the park are toppled from Hurricane Dorian's visit a couple of days ago. That day, we hunkered in our hotel room to wait it out. The power in and around the cemetery is still out days later.

Moving on from the cemetery, we walk past the Public Gardens. It has been closed since the storm and would remain that way for the duration of our trip. We never got to go inside.

A few blocks away, we visit one of the city's oldest buildings, St. Paul's Church which dates to the city's founding in 1749. Inside are plenty of artifacts covering the almost three centuries since such as the Royal Pew for the Queen or King, the old pipe organ, and even a few Titanic artifacts.

A couple of different things, though, date back to the Halifax Explosion of 1917. When a French explosives ship collided with a Norwegian ship on December 6th, the resulting cataclysm was the largest man-made explosion the world has ever seen until nuclear weapons came along.

Outside, you can see what looks like a silhouette in one of the windows. There are a few stories about what happened, the most morbid is that a head flew through the window from the explosion and all attempts to remove the shadow that remained have failed and a ghostly apparition remains.

The docent, however, sets us strait. The window broke in the explosion, the resulting damage looked like a silhouette, and that had a resemblance to the pastor of the church so they put two panes of glass on either side to preserve it.

Another is in the entrance. When you look up, you'll see a metal bar embedded in the wall. This was blown from the explosion over a mile and a half away and has been sticking out of the plaster ever since. 

Just up the street is St. Mary's Cathedral. This Catholic church is about two centuries old, has plenty of beautiful artwork inside, and makes for a very handy, accessible bathroom stop.

Back down by St. Paul's Church is the Old Burying Ground. This cemetery is so old that it filled to capacity in 1844 so it closed before most of Canada's major cities were even founded.

About 1,200 headstones are hear although there's more than ten times that number of bodies rotting in the ground. The grave of Robert Ross is here, who burned Washington D.C. and the White House during the War of 1812.

On the other side of St. Paul's is the Five Fishermen restaurant. This is curious because in 1912 it was a mortuary. The dining room upstairs was used to embalm bodies from the Titanic.

Caskets of Titanic victims stacked up outside of what is now the Five Fishermen restaurant

It's supposed to be a good restaurant and we wanted to eat there but, alas, it's not wheelchair friendly.

Now, it's back to the waterfront. 

Back at the Maritime Museum, we see the HMCS Sackville docked outside. This historic ship, a submarine hunting Corvette, had a legendary career attacking U-Boats in World War I. 

It also served in World War II and the Korean conflict.

Today, self guided tours are available for free. I go onboard and shoot the video you can watch below.

Watch the Video!

Unfortunately, the Sackville is tight, full of steps, stairs, ladders and other obstacles so wheelchairs would not be able to go onboard.

We've got one more stop on our sightseeing tour. Maud Lewis is a famous Canadian artist (you can pose inside a frame of her recreated artwork on the waterfront, above). She was disabled and lived with her husband in poverty in a shack in Marshalltown on the bay side of Nova Scotia. 

She sold her works to travellers out of her home and became a renowned artist.

Her shack, which she painted from top to bottom, inside and out, has been relocated to a gallery specifically built for it at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

We go to take a look, admiring her artwork hanging on the walls.

Here's Tim next to the door of her house, on display in the gallery.

With that, we've seen everything we want to see and will head back to the hotel to rest up for the trip home.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 25, 2019

In Search of the Official Halifax Food: The Donair

We get to Halifax and everyone is saying, you have to try a donair. Our friends, who have been here before us, tell us you have to try a donair. It's so ubiquitous to Halifax that it is the city's official food.

On one of our first days here, we tried a 'donair sandwich' at a local restaurant, but I had my doubts as to how authentic it was.

One thing we needed to do was to search out an authentic donair and try it before we go.

As you can see from the picture at the top, it looks like something you'd find on a street in the Middle East. So how did this Mediterranean style food find it's way into the hearts of Haligonians?

Peter Gamoulakos, a Greek immigrant with a pizza parlor in nearby Bedford started selling doner kebabs. It wasn't quite to the taste of the locals so he started experimenting with the recipe, toning down some of the more pronounced Greek savoriness and spice.

The locals pronounced it 'donair' and the new recipe caught on.

In 1973, Gamoulakos opened the "King of Donair" restaurant on Quinpool Road in Halifax. It was a success and soon spawned a chain and imitators. In 2015, it was named the city's official food.

We're headed to the original restaurant. Mainly because we want an authentic experience and it's also in a part of the city where the power has been restored after the hurricane. Many neighborhoods here are still in the dark.

It's a long walk from our hotel, at least a couple of miles, but walking is what we do when traveling. It builds up a good appetite.

Upon arrival, we find a table and peruse our options. We decide to go with the original, classic donair.

They're big enough that we get a large sandwich cut three ways so we can all have our own.

I'd watched the cook slice the meat off of the spit and wrap it in the sauce, tomatoes, and onions.

I dig in and take a big bite expecting a tasty, savory bite...not unlike a good gyro...and - what's this? - it's sweet! I was not expecting that.

So, imagine a gyro with a bit of frosting like you get on a cinnamon roll in the sauce, and you get an idea of what the donair tastes like.

It's good, if you know what to expect, but not quite my cup of tea.

We finish it and now we can be satisfied that we haven't missed anything.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 24, 2019


It's Blooper Reel week here on The Cocktail Hour!  Not really, but you will see a major prop malfunction in the video below (what happens when whipped cream isn't whipped?  Find out below).

It's getting colder now and we're going to go with a hot drink.  Cold means 58 degrees mid-afternoon here in Southern California, but it's also very windy today and we need something hot if we're going to sit out on the patio.

Watch the Video!

Today, it's the Cafe de Playa, which means beach coffee in Spanish.  If you're on a cold beach this winter (which can be very fun...if you have a nice fire to sit by), this is what you need to take the chill off.  I modified this recipe from the Cafe Platino recipe on the Jose Cuervo site, and mashed it up with Giada de Laurentis' spice coffee recipe.

It came out good.  Letty liked it a little better when she added half a shot of amaretto to it which also adds 42 calories to the total.  Here's the is it's 120 calories.  Add 42 more if you use the amaretto:

1.5 oz. - - tequila
1/2 oz. - simple syrup (can substitute sweetener to eliminate more calories)
1 cup - coffee
reddi whip or whipped cream (1 tbls)
dash of ginger
dash of nutmeg
dash of cinnamon powder

Put ginger and nutmeg in coffee cup.  Add tequila and simple syrup.  Pour in coffee and stir. Put whipped cream on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.



Friday, November 22, 2019

Seeing a Giant Tide and Ending Up on the Bottom of the Ocean - Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia

Time for another Nova Scotian road trip. My dad would regale me with tales of the world's highest tide when I was a kid. It was something he always wanted to see and told my about this magical place with the world's highest tides...up to 50 feet!

Watch the Video!

When he explained it, it sounded like a giant tidal wave would come in each day..."you can actually see the wave come in," he'd tell me. I was always entranced by this but never thought I'd get there. Well, you can see where this is going. Now that we're in Halifax it's only about an hour by car to the Bay of Fundy and the Fundy Discovery Site where you can watch this very tidal action take place and watch the wave, the wave my dad always talked about, come in.

In reality, the "wave"...or the tidal bore, to be technically only 1 to 3 feet tall but it is still something amazing to see.

Gray clouds are threatening as we leave Halifax towards Truro on the other side of the province. There will be rain but this will just be a normal, late summer precipitation, not the hurricane that came in a couple of days ago.

We dress appropriately and bring our raincoats and hats along.

It's a very easy drive, if a bit wet. We had checked the tide table before we left and the tide was scheduled to come in at 11:56am. We arrived, parked, and turned off the engine. It was 11:36.

With just enough time to get Tim out of the car and into his chair, we make our way over to the viewing area, a couple of hundred yards away.

There are about 40 to 50 people here for the same reason. We find a couple of chairs on the bank of the channel and then wait. It's raining so it's not the most comfortable wait but it shouldn't be too long.

The tide's a bit late. 11:56 comes and goes with nothing. Then, about ten minutes later, a flock of seagulls sitting on the ground of the estuary suddenly take flight and a shout of "here it comes!" from the visitor center behind us tell us to be on alert.

The estuary is on a curve so we look down to the bend and there it is...the magnificent, one foot tall tidal bore. Yes, it looks a bit like a large ripple but there it is (you can see it very well in our video).

It comes by and past us. The water keeps rushing in afterward like a rushing river. Soon, the water has risen about 6 feet. We stay for about a half hour before we decide to leave and look for some lunch.

One of the best restaurants in Nova Scotia is about a 30 minute drive down the bay. The Flying Apron comes highly recommended but I call just to make sure..."we just go our power back this morning so we're not going to open until tomorrow."

Scratch that on the list of Dorian related vacation casualties. Now, it'll just be a scenic drive along the bay and then back to our plan B restaurant close to the Halifax Airport.

Awhile later, we're in the town of Noel where I stop to get gas. Full serve out here in the boondocks at similar prices to what we pay in California. At the edge of town on the edge of the bay, we have to make a stop at Burntcoat Head Park. It's here where you can really see the effects of the massive tide here.

Tim's not interested in getting out of the car in the rain and the park's really not accessible anyway. He waits and listens to music while Letty and I take a short walk.

The tide's gone back out now so we walk down some stairs and soon we're walking along the bottom of the ocean, about 30 feet below the high tide line.

Nearby is a mushroom looking tower of red rock that is under water when the tide is in with a forest of trees on top. When the tide comes in, it's a small island offshore.

We spend a few minutes wandering around the seabed and then we meet back up with Tim for the drive back to Halifax.

Along the way, we stop by Oliver's Gastropub...located at the Inn on the Lake near Wellington...for a delicious lunch in a very cozy, warm atmosphere.

It'll do us nicely as we get back to our hotel and relax for the rest of the night.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 18, 2019

Day Trippin' on the Day After

After burning a day of doing nothing but sitting in our hotel room yesterday, courtesy of Hurricane Dorian, we're back at again today. Looking at the weather, you'd never know a big storm blew through the day before but looking on the ground, there's a lot of evidence looking at all the dark shops and torn out trees.

Still, it's a beautiful sunny day and there's really nothing to do in our neighborhood. Let's take a drive.

Letty wants to see a quaint Atlantic fishing village. Her pick is Lunenburg, about a two hour drive out of Halifax. I'm wanting to go a little closer to Peggy's Cove, about half that distance.

Of course, we're going to Lunenburg.

The signals are all out in Halifax so it's a bit slow going until we get to the freeway, then it's a quick cruise. Tim has a loose bolt on his wheelchair and the toolkit we carry along with us doesn't have the right wrench for it so I swing off halfway down to stop at a hardware store.

Of course, it's closed because there is no power. I'm thinking this is going to be a quick trip to Lunenburg if there's no power there.

Hurricane Dorian actually made landfall a bit north of Lunenburg, sparing it the full force of the storm. Still, we pass plenty of downed trees. Some block over half of the road with no emergency personnel or signs of any kind. We can see where this might be a problem if traffic will be coming in both directions.

We also see dozens of dead porcupines on the roads. We don't know if this is a regular thing in Nova Scotia or maybe storm related.

Exiting at highway 3, we wind through Mader's Cove...another postcard perfect Atlantic village...where we see a huge, uprooted tree laying across someone's house. Eventually, we end up in Lunenburg where we find a nice, handicapped parking spot right in the middle of downtown.

It's a hilly little town and we climb up to the top of the hill on King Street from which we can wander downhill through the shops and restaurants on the way to the waterfront.

About half of the businesses here are still without power but enough is open so it doesn't feel like a wasted trip.

A friend of ours recommended we stop by Ironworks Distillery at the end of town. We walk over and, even though they have power and a few people are inside, they're taking the opportunity of the storm to have a day off and are closed to the public.

We continue to the waterfront, take in the views, and talk to a few shop owners.  A cemetery at the other end of town makes a good spot to look at the gravestones and take a few pictures.

Here's one where a tree grows through two tombstones.

Finishing the day with a forgettable lunch at Big Red's, we stop at a hardware store on the way out of town that and with power to get the wrench we needed for Tim's chair.

It's a slow, scenic drive along the coast on the way back as we decided to drive through Peggy's Cove to see what's there.

It's much smaller than Lunenburg but with about twice as many tourists milling about. There's an almost full parking lot at the famous lighthouse perched on big rocks that make for a stunning picture.

We cannot find an accessible spot but park in a normal parking spot while Letty goes out to take pictures.

While there is a tiny, picturesque fishing village here, there's not much else to recommend trying to navigate the area with a wheelchair so we continue on and back to Halifax.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Some photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved