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All posts by Jim St. George

Rob and Mel getting married with our new friend Mina officiating

August was a busy month for us, including lots of time waiting and waiting and waiting for a building permit so we could start the condo renovation. It was supposed to happen and then it got rejected because the reviewer didn’t see an item our architect had specifically included. And then they lost our file. And when they found it the inspector was out on vacation. So the month ended as it began, with no building permit.

Except for that we had lots of fun in August. The big excursion was an eight-day trip out to San Francisco and Napa County, ostensibly for a wedding but since we have family and friends we had lots to do there. First up was three nights in San Francisco. Lots of walking around and some last-minute clothes shopping for the wedding (it was a gay couple getting married and we couldn’t show up in the wrong outfits). Dinner one night with an old work colleague and friend of mine, a woman I worked with 30 years ago and have stayed in touch with since. That was great fun. And then one evening we took the trolley out to Mark’s brother’s house in the sunset where we enjoyed pre-dinner wine with John and Alma and their kids before going out to Third Cousin, and incredible restaurant where they did a tasting menu – a low-carb tasting menu – for us.

In graduate school Marie was a year ahead of Mark & me. Normally I wouldn’t have known her well or even at all except she was roommates with a classmate and great friend of ours. Then she was my coworker for two or three years and then even my boss for a while. Thirty-plus years later I still love hanging out with her.

From there it was up to Napa Valley for the wedding. It was a little strange insofar as we didn’t know anyone except the two grooms … and we didn’t know them that well. We’d met Rob & Mel back in the Seychelles where they were celebrating Mel’s 50th birthday. And then celebrating Rob’s proposal and Mel’s saying yes. We just really hit it off so when they invited us for the big event we had to go. The weather was hot but the wedding was beautiful. We even made some new friends.

Mark & Patricia. Like Rob she’s a surgeon. Except she’s an African American woman who grew up in Anacostia, the poorest section of DC. In other words, started with every disadvantage and today a surgeon. Pretty impressive!

And then we stayed in Napa for a few more nights on our own, moving to the Las Alcobas hotel just a few miles down the road from the wedding venue. The attraction to this particular hotel is that it’s owned by a friend of ours, a guy we met touring the Galapagos way back in 2002. We’d stayed at his hotel in Mexico City some years ago and it was fantastic (not surprising as at the time it was rated #1 on Trip Advisor) so we figured we’d give his newer California hotel a shot. And while Sam wasn’t around – he was down in Mexico – the hotel was great.

While we were there we did a day trip up to Healdsburg in Sonoma County to visit an old friend of mine from my Minneapolis days. Dan and Mark (Dan’s Mark, not mine) moved out to Sonoma four or five years ago and Dan telecommutes to his job in Minnesota. They have a great place with killer views but sadly we had so much fun visiting that I didn’t take any pictures.

Mark, Vlad, & Alex

Then it was back to New York. And after eight nights in the laid back Bay Area, it felt fabulous stepping out of Penn Station back in the intensity of New York. Except for waiting to get our building permit our time in New York included a visit from Boston friends Vlad & Alex and their very cute toddler Victoria. Plus a visit from Keith & Nic, and even a quick drop by from John Lee. Shakespeare in the Park one evening which we enjoyed even though neither of us are really Shakespeare types. Then there’s always the time hanging out in parks reading, going to the gym, cooking; all that normal stuff.

And just in case you’re wondering, eight months in and we’re enjoying New York and really not missing traveling. Of course, I supposed it’s easier to “not miss” traveling when you’re spring and summer have included London, Italy, Greece, and California.

Out for tapas with Nic and Keith

Virgin Mary Over the Toilet (seriously) at a mescal bar we love

Vlad, Alex, and Victoria. The little one kind of stole our hearts.

Mark and a pig. What else can you say?

I love that I’ve become the guy who can just hang out in Union Square in the middle of a perfect weekday and read

We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary in August. How did Mark celebrate? By having a root canal on our anniversary!

Mary Beth & Sven had extra tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, so we were guests. Now that feels New York!

One night our former intern-programmer-project manager-lead project manager-COO-CTO, soon-to-be first-time father, and still great friend John Lee was in town and joined us for drinks at Excuse My French, our favorite neighborhood hangout

Mark and niece Ava, days before she was starting college

Me and Alma out for a great dinner

Mark out for a long walk in San Francisco

And me

Some siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews as we start our little hike to the Little Sucker River

A key part of our thinking in establishing a home in the U.S. again was to be closer to family. And what better time to visit family in northern Minnesota than over the 4th of July weekend? Not only is it a great holiday on its own but my Dad’s birthday was the 5th of July, making it always a big couple of days for us. So off to Duluth we went.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a cousin’s 40th wedding anniversary. I grew up amongst a large number of cousins and I figured going to her party would be a great way to see a lot of them at once. That all worked and while I probably enjoyed it more than Mark did (I come from a big extended family and he didn’t), it was great fun reconnecting. Or, in the case of some of their now-adult children, great fun getting to know them. Sadly, though, there were no good pictures as the bar where the party was held just didn’t lend itself to good photos.

A little pool formed by cascading water made for a great little break in the day

Another highlight was a family hike up to a little swimming hole on the Little Sucker River just outside Duluth. I laughed when I saw it and started playing around: Mark & I travel the world looking for just the right little isolated spot like that, and there it was in my old home town.

Otherwise the long weekend was just about hanging out with family. Mark & I took my mother out for lunch at a favorite restaurant up the North Shore. She always loves having guests even when – as in this case – she wasn’t at all sure who we were or why we were taking her out. Sad, but Alzheimer’s only goes in one direction and it’s not a good one. The rest of the family, though, is doing well.

Dropping off Mom at her assisted living facility after lunch

The Little Sucker River

Some years ago Duluth created a fabulous trail along the north shore of Lake Superior. Great for running and walking, you have views like this of the city.

A double rainbow over Lake Superior

Mark & Karen

Me and Rebecca, outside a cousin’s home in Superior. When I was a kid an uncle used to cook Sunday pancakes for whoever was there and while he has long since passed away, his kids keep the tradition going when there are cousins around. Such fun!

Anita with flowers from our hike

While the focus of our stay was to visit family I carved out dinner one night for Mary, an old graduate school classmate and friend of ours who lives in Duluth. Over the years she’s become friends with my sister Rebecca, so we made it a five-some along with Mary’s husband Bill.

And Mark taking the best selfie ever

Vic & Karen enjoying Venice

We like Italy. I’ve liked it since I first experienced it in 1973 and we spent more time there than any other country during our five-plus-year round the world adventure. So when we had a chance to take my brother and sister-in-law to Europe we weren’t surprised at all that they chose Italy.

Vic & Karen had a tough 2018. That was the year their little grandson Dex lost a nearly four-year battle with cancer. A couple months later we took Dex’s surviving brother Mat to Europe and this time it was their turn. Karen had never been across the Atlantic and Vic’s only experience was when he was in the Army in the 1970s, so this was going to be new for both of them. I’m pretty sure they had a good time, and even more certain we did.

First stop was Venice. And then you have to do a gondola ride, right?

Their choice – as it would be for most people – was to see Venice, Florence, and Rome. I mean, who wouldn’t? Since Mark and I have been to all three places lots of time there wasn’t a lot new for us to see or much to say about it here, for that matter. They are all beautiful cities with stunning art and history, but they also all suffer from massive tourist crowds. It just seems worse and worse every time we go and, to be honest, I don’t think Mark & I will go back to Venice or Florence again. Rome is big enough to handle the hordes, but Venice and Florence are just swamped. Both are incredible and beautiful, places you need to see, but there may be a limit as to how many times you need to go.

Along with those three must-see cities, we added a couple brief stops in central Italy. After Florence we drove to Casole d’Elsa, a tiny town in the province of Siena. No real reason except to experience a little of rural Italy in a beautiful hotel. And it gave us the opportunity to take day trips to Siena (beautiful, as always) and San Gimignano. We hadn’t been to the latter in over 20 years and while you’d like to say that these old Italian towns with histories going back many centuries don’t change, they do. A little more upscale than we remember, certainly more tourists.

The towers of San Gimignano

Speaking of day trips, from Casole d’Elsa we were heading to Assisi in Umbria. En route we stopped to visit old friends and former classmates Sarah & Eric. They both joined the foreign service after graduate school and after their careers in various spots around the world they’ve settled on an olive farm in the tiny, tiny town of Paciano. They made us lunch, gave us a tour of their 200-plus olive trees, and, before bidding us adieu, gave us a little can of their homemade olive oil. Fabulous!

The view from Sarah & Eric’s olive orchard

Assisi was another of those “haven’t been there in over 20 years” places. Beautiful, peaceful, historic, slightly off the standard tourist route, and needless to say great food. Then it was off to Rome and more of the tourist hordes.

The beautiful medieval streets of Assisi

And thus we spent two weeks with my brother and his wife. To our surprise, we found ourselves eager to get back to New York; that whole nesting thing seems to have taken hold. And of course the prospect of returning to the city where we had finally closed on our dream loft the day before leaving was exciting. I mean, now that we had closed we should be able to start construction pretty quickly, right?

Hahahaha!

Karen and the Grand Canal

Venice

Artsy Venice

Who says we don’t know how to be good tourists?

Mark documenting our gondola ride

Vic & Karen enjoying Florence

We might be a little jaded about Florence but I never tire of this view of the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River

Mark in Florence

The fabulous Mary Magdalene could be reason enough to return to Florence some day

The Arno River

A nice little walk outside Casole d’Elsa … and a rainbow!

On the way to Assisi we stopped for lunch with old friends Sarah & Eric. Great fun!

With Sarah

For a couple years we would come to Rome and the Trevi Fountain was closed off for renovations. Now it’s clean, beautiful, and unbelievably crowded.