An exciting birthday surprise!…Wow!…What a thrill!…

The four of us at our table last night. What a fantastic time we had with the two of them.

I know why Tom pushed me so hard about dining out last night. No more than five minutes after we sat down at our favorite window table at Luna Rossa and ordered our drinks, I heard a familiar voice. Gingerly, I turned around to find our dear friends, Rita and Gerhard, standing there with wide grins on their faces and moments later embraced in hugs between. Tom was aware of the surprise and did great keeping it from me.

They flew all the way from the state of Washington, a two-hour flight to arrive on time for our 5:00 pm reservation at Luna Rossa restaurant, down the one flight of stairs for my birthday dinner at our favorite restaurant. Amid giggles and enthusiasm, we all sat down, thrilled to be together one more time. The last time we’d seen them was in September when, again, they came to visit us for dinner and then turned around and flew back to Washington only a few hours later.

Gerhard ordered the delicious lamb shank.

Last night, they had exactly two hours until they had to head out to catch their flight back to Washington to their home. They travel extensively but occasionally spend time with their adult kids and their house near Portland. They recently returned from a cruise to Antarctica, and it was fun to share our mutual experience, although we’d recently chatted at length on the phone.

I’m not one to spend much time talking on the phone, although occasionally, I do so with friends and family. After all, staying in touch and hearing their voices is terrific. We often text back and forth on the phone or via WhatsApp.

Yesterday, I couldn’t have been more delighted to hear from many friends, family members and readers. There wasn’t a single person I didn’t hear from to wish me happy birthday.

Rita had the red snapper with scallops and prawns with veggies on the side.

But, the surprise of seeing Rita and Gerhard was over the top again. They have surprised us on several occasions. A few years ago, while we were at a New Year’s Eve party in 2021 hosted by friends Flo and Jj at their bush resort in Marloth Park, Rita and Gerhard suddenly appeared to surprise us. We couldn’t stop squealing with delight for the rest of the evening. They’d come halfway around the world to be with us and enjoy the bush together for several weeks.

Then, in September 2023, they called to tell us they would join us for dinner only 24 hours before they arrived. They couldn’t surprise us that time since we had to ensure we had a good table at the Green Valley Ranch Spa and Casino and were available that night. They stayed for about eight hours that time, and we cherished each moment.

Last night, Rita and I sat next to each other with Tom and Gerhard at the opposite side of the table. The ambiance, the food, and the service were impeccable. Of course, Tom picked up the tab, and we ate and drank to our heart’s content. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

I ordered the sea bass. Rita and I tasted each other’s fish, and they tasted similar. Both dishes were delectable.

When it was time for them to go, and Gerhard needed to contact Uber for their ride back to the airport, we had time for them to come up the one flight of stairs and see our place. It was fun to show them this lovely condo and all it has to offer.

On top of it all, they gave me a fantastic birthday gift. It’s a new version of a digital insect repellent that they used in Marloth Park, and it works better than any others. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with this gift. They both know how much I love anything electronic and, in the past, have given me several devices of one sort or another. They are so thoughtful.

When they left, we walked down to the lobby with them and waited for their Uber, which arrived in time for them to make their flight back on time.

We walked back to our condo and settled in for the evening, streaming a fun series and enjoying the remainder of my birthday together. How fortunate I am! I am grateful and humbled by the wonderful people in our lives.

I must get ready to go down that same flight of stairs to the nail salon for my first pedicure since we arrived on December 15. Tonight will be another exciting evening; we’ll share photos and details tomorrow.

Be well.

Photo from ten years ago today, February 21, 2014:

Nomsa and Zeff sing Happy Birthday to me in Zulu. The sign behind Zeff’s head says, “Take risks. If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise.” So true. For more photos, please click here.

Nuances of dining out that remain with us years later…

This was a meal that hits all points as listed below. While on the Antarctica Cruise in 2018, the chef served lunch outdoors. What a fabulous memory!

We probably dine out in restaurants more than the average couple. Like some other couples, we’ll occasionally order food delivered or buy a meal at such locations as Costco, which only require oven or microwave heating. For the purpose of today’s post, we are focusing on dining in restaurants, memories of which have stayed with us many years later.

For easy recall, we’ll only refer to restaurants since we began traveling the world. In our old lives, we seldom dined out, most often when we planned to get together with friends. When it came to family, they often came to our home for Sunday brunch, dinner, or holiday celebrations.

Although dining out for lunch with my friends was reasonably frequent while I was still working and later, after I retired. When we visit Minnesota since we began traveling the world, I often go to lunch with friends and, most often, my son Greg. In our old lives, while I was still working, Greg and I often got together for lunch at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Kindhu, which closed during the pandemic, which was the case for many favorite restaurants throughout the world.

But, as mentioned above, today’s post is regarding dining experiences since 2012, when we began traveling the world. Except for the time we spent in Marloth Park, we dined out an average of once per week. Per the online app, “Date to Date Calculator,” I calculated how many weeks we’ve dined out in the past 11 years and three months, discounting the many times in Marloth Park where we dined out at Jabula twice a week, especially during the last year.

On average, it was 587 times we dined out. Could we remember all of those restaurants, all of those weeks? Of course not. And keeping in mind that we are the type of people who will often return to a restaurant we particularly love. Thus, if we narrow it down from there, let’s say for the sake of illustration, we’ve dined at 300 different restaurants in 11-plus years, including dining on cruise ships after 33 cruises since 2012.

So, to finally get to the point, what features stand out most in our minds after all those experiences? Of course, the first considerations were the food quality and the service. If we had to list those two factors, we could still recall every restaurant.

But other nuances left a good or bad taste in our mouths (no pun intended) that we can easily recall all these years later, and here’s our list, not necessarily in order of importance.

  1. Food
  2. Service: friendliness of staff and knowledge of food on the menu
  3. Ambiance, decor, and pleasing environment
  4. Choice of menu selections, including options for my way of eating and Tom’s picky tastebuds. (There’s never been a restaurant where I couldn’t find anything to eat, except one local “dive” in Kenya in 2013 and the awful offal restaurant in Buenos Aires in 2018. (See, we do remember!)
  5. Cleanliness of restrooms, restaurant, and food prep
  6. Noise level
  7. Accepts credit cards
  8. Convenient location
  9. Scenery (if dining outdoors)
  10. Comfortable seating: Availability of booths (which we prefer) or appealing seating in pleasing locations within the venue. We prefer not to sit in the middle of the room or close to a service area with high staff traffic.
  11. Cost: We are happy to pay more if the food, service, and ambiance are in accordance with the price
  12. Wine glasses* – see below

What prompted this story was an article Tom sent me this morning regarding how the wine glass impacts the flavor and enjoyment of the wine. See the article here.

For the first few years of our world, I didn’t drink any alcohol. It wasn’t until 2016 that I began to drink red wine once again after a 20-year hiatus. I didn’t quit drinking due to any alcohol-related addiction or problem. I quit due to a lack of taste for it. But on that cruise in 2016, I tried a glass of cabernet sauvignon and again fell in love with red wine.

Now, I only drink one glass at any time, whether staying in or out to dinner. I must admit that the wine glass I’m served in a restaurant is a significant factor in my enjoyment of the wine. I can recall every glass I was served since 2016. Recently, we dined at the restaurant at the bottom of the steps here, and they served me a regular glass instead of a stemmed wine glass.

I asked for a stemmed glass; all they had was a champagne glass, which I accepted. I didn’t enjoy my one glass of Merlot, not because of the wine itself but because of the glass. If we dine there again, I will bring a lovely stemmed glass I’ve been using in the condo, which is the perfect wine glass. There are only two such glasses here, so I will be extra careful not to break it, as I’ve been when I have wine when we stay in.

I won’t do this, but I remember every restaurant since 2016 where I was given a short, stubby glass filled with wine with no other options available.

Of course, all of this and the other points are subjective. We all have personal preferences. It might be fun to list your preferences, which will make you more aware the next time you dine out. In any case, enjoy!

Be well.

Photo from ten years ago today, January 31, 2014:

We could hardly turn her down when Louise invited us to stay at the Khaya Umdani house for a few weeks in 2014. We’d write about the house, and in return, we wouldn’t have to pay any additional rent, while the Hornbill house would remain our primary rental while we were there. This veranda is where we’ll spend our time for easy viewing of the massive grounds, a combination of the dense bush with a few open spaces for wildlife to run. This shot reminds me of a scene in the movie “Out of Africa,” which we watched a few months ago while in Kenya. For more photos, please click here.

Great evening out at Luna Rossa…Short attention span?…Pigs are smart…

My entree consisted of grilled barramundi, one of my favorite types of fish we discovered in Australia, with scallops and shrimp. Divine!

It was a lovely evening last night when the four of us had a drink in our condo after we gave them a tour of our condo, then walked down that one flight of steps for the short walk to Luna Rossa. We love that restaurant, the quality food, the ambiance, and the service. It couldn’t be better.

Plus, the conversation at our table was lively and animated, with a seemingly endless stream of laughter. The evening passed too quickly, and before we knew it, by 9:00 pm, we said our goodbyes. In no time at all, we were situated comfortably on the sofa, me in my PJs and both of us watching the first episode of Season 4 of True Detective after struggling through Seasons 2 and 3. Season 1 was fantastic, but it went downhill from there.

My side of roasted vegetables.

Tom is way more patient than I am. I want to change to something else if I am not engrossed in a series after the first episode. Tom, on the other hand, will stick it out to see if it improves. When I don’t like it, I play games on my phone and do not pay attention. Admittedly, I have a short attention span.

Once I get bored, I tune out and search for something stimulating to keep me entertained. I’ve never been one to sit patiently in one spot when I have lost interest in the situation at hand. No, I won’t be rude to those engaged in a dull (to me) conversation and will make every effort to appear engaged and interested and pay attention.

When in school, the teacher often yelled at me if I was distracted by a boring topic. I was a straight-A student through high school, but I often felt like I “skated through” by studying well for tests and diligently completing my homework. By doing so, I was able to tune out when I wanted. Also, I always enjoyed writing essays, and good scores on those always added to my final grade.

Tom’s lasagne.

No wonder I have no trouble writing a new post each day. When we do what we love, it’s not complicated.

Since I am this way, it’s not hard for me to spot others who also may have a short attention span, and on occasion, l find myself making eye contact with them, smiling in acknowledgment that we are the same.

Last night, there never was a moment that I lost interest in our lively banter. I was so engaged I was using my hands too much when talking, a habit more frequently seen from Tom, that I spilled the balance (a small amount) of the wine left in my glass. I felt terrible to have sprinkled our guests with red wine.

Richards’ chicken piccata with roasted vegetables.

Today is a low-key day. I am making baby back ribs for Tom, and I’ll have something else. I don’t often eat pork, mainly since I love pigs. Due to my necessary low inflammation diet, I’d never be able to give up meat entirely, but pigs…well, that’s another matter.

We love pigs (warthogs) and look forward to seeing them again.

Tom always makes fun of me for a Facebook site I always follow, “Arthur’s Acres Animal Sanctuary in Parksville, New York.”  Todd, the owner, is a fantastic guy who loves animals, mostly abandoned and mistreated pigs. He has devoted his life to the pigs and animals he rescues that their former owners grossly neglected. Check out his site for a chuckle and some heart-warming entertainment. Go to search on Facebook and type in Arthur’s Acres. This site instantly picks up your mood if you feel out of sorts. It always makes me smile.

Pigs are listed as #5 of the top smartest animals worldwide.

Be well.

Photo from ten years ago today, January 25, 2014:

On either side of the face are two hanging red-tipped hanging pieces of skin. When the helmeted Guinea fowl moves about, these swing around like dangling earrings. For more photos, please click here.