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For all the people, the noise and the heat,
And some might claim, the smell,
La Serenissima never fails to enchant
In all her fading, crumbling majesty.

At dawn’s emerging light, vaporetti and traghetti
Compete for space on crowded Canal Grande,
Past the bustling barges of bass and bream
Destined for slabs on Mercato di Rialto.

After a lukewarm doppio espresso
And fistful of olive e uovo tramezzini,
Most fragile and delicate of sandwiches,
I resolve to lose myself and escape the
Oppressive throng slouching towards me.

Narrow, dark calli and sotoportegi
Open into vast, vivacious campi
Where scruffy children chase footballs,
Dreaming they are Messi or Ronaldo,
Or if their fathers coached them well,
Paolo Rossi or Roberto Baggio.

Intervals of sweet, intense silence,
Splintered only by hurried footsteps,
Or the plash of a gondolieri’s oar,
Pervade the squares and alleyways
Of Castello and Canareggio.

Down a deserted, soundless rio,
Far from the countless, careless hordes
Spewed from colossal cruise ships
Docked at Baciano Della Stazione Marritima,
A charming pizzeria calls to me from
Beneath a washing line of “smalls” hung high.

At midnight the bands at Florian and Quadri
Are muffled by the mighty, mournful toll
Of the Campanile di San Marco;
And English tourists recluctantly drink up
Their gin and tonics and squint
Incredulously at the final bill.

Mia cara Venezia, tu sei troppo bella
Ti amero sempre.

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Our last full day in Chicago began with waving off our San Francisco housemates. Their presence had re-energised us at a time when we were starting to dwell on the imminence of our return home.

Having already visited the attractions we most wanted to see, we decided that we would have a leisurely day walking around the city, particularly the riverfront.

Once Alicia, Jerry, Aiden and Ely had set off for O’Hare Airport, we finalised the packing before strolling to the Chicago train station, the nearest to our house, but still a decent hike.

We alighted at the Merchandise Mart, the world’s largest commercial building in floor area (four million square feet), and home to the city’s premier interior design trade showrooms. Only the Pentagon is larger in the United States.

But what was far more impressive than any of this was that it had a Pret a Manger cafe!

American sandwiches are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are just TOO BIG! It was so refreshing to have a proper English sandwich – two pieces of sliced bread hugging chicken, egg, avocado and tomato –  delicious! Manageable size too.

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I think the following photographs speak for themselves. We spent the next couple of hours strolling the riverfront and lakeside before returning to Millennium Park, where we had marvelled yesterday morning at The Bean with the kids.

We may have shed fifty degrees since the beginning of the trip in New Orleans, but we cannot have experienced a sharper, bluer sky than this afternoon.

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The Chicago Riverwalk is an open, pedestrian waterfront on the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River, spanning from Lake Street to Lake Shore Drive. We sauntered almost the entire length of it. Restaurants, park seating, boat rentals and other activities are dotted along the walk, though the declining season meant that several were now closed – frustrating as I was by now in need of bladder relief!

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Although there were few other pedestrians around, there was a steady procession of river traffic.

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There were some spectacular buildings along the walk, though one with an obscenely huge five letter name memorialising the current incumbent of the White House, was not one of them.

Watching the elevated trains trundling over the river was endlessly fascinating.

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No buildings were more eye-popping than the two 65 story apartment towers at Marina City, a mixed use residential cum commercial building complex that occupies almost an entire city block on State Street on the north bank. The parking garage portion below the twentieth floor was amazing.

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At the end of the Riverwalk, we turned onto Lake Shore Drive and then Millennium Park.

Opposite the park we took up two stools at the bar of The Gage pub and restaurant. We had inadvertently timed our arrival perfectly, as within minutes, the bar was crammed with some of Chicago’s smartest citizens demanding tables or forming large, vocal groups around the bar.

And it was a great bar! Janet was so impressed that she declared immediately that she wanted to live in Chicago!

Aside from the impossibility of such a notion, neither of us would have expected before the trip that it would be the Windy City that would have such an impact. To be fair, the stunning weather helped. Had it been raining during our stay, we may have formed a different opinion.

But even so, Chicago had startled and thrilled us.

One final ride on the “L” to our Chicago stop, and we were walking back to the house, enjoying  intermittent glimpses of the receding skyline.

We had already decided to eat back at the house, feasting on the pizza leftovers from Pequod’s the night before. To be honest, it tasted better the second time around!

Though not as good as that Pret a Manger sandwich!

I’ll leave the last word to The Grinch.

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I had omitted to mention in my last post that, shortly after Alicia and Jerry joined us in our Chicago house, they presented me with my birthday presents – two t-shirts from their Land of the Sun store in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. I wore the Watchtower” tie-dye today, not only as a token of my gratitude but also because it was one I had been pursuing for some time, and was so excited to receive it.

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It was accompanied by a touching “card”, adorned with Aiden and Ely’s artwork.

Alicia was queen of the kitchen again, this time serving up scrambled eggs and bacon, providing us with the necessary fuel for what was to prove a long, exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Ely held court in his armchair while he waited for everybody else to get ready.

Our first port of call was Millennium Park, a former railroad yard in an industrial corner of Grant Park that had been reclaimed to celebrate the turn of the twenty first century. It is now a popular and successful attraction, especially for those interested in art, architecture and the performing arts.

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The extraordinary piece of sculpture, Cloud Gate, was the primary reason for our visit. Designed by British sculptor, Anish Kapoor, it resembles an enlarged, reflective kidney bean, prompting its nickname, The Bean. Wherever you stand on its perimeter, you experience a different, dazzling and somewhat disorientating reflection of the surrounding skyline.

Since the days of ER, one of our favourite US drama series, I had wanted to ride the “L”, the elevated trains that run overhead, providing a great rooftop perspective on the city going about its business.

We walked to the nearest station to Millennium Park, Adams/Wabash, serving, amongst others, the Brown Line, and took it in the direction of Kimball.

Aiden and Janet were happy to be riding the rails.

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Although most of the stations we passed through were quite plain, there were others with gorgeous murals.

We had learnt while standing in line for Willis Tower on the previous day that Jerry’s former business partner and his wife were also in town, and it had been agreed that we all meet up for pizza at 5pm today. With that in mind and time passing we alighted at Belmont on the North Side in search of lunch. Cheesie’s Pub & Grub opposite the station looked enticing, so we took our chances there. There was some confusion initially over what we should have, but my grilled cheese sandwich was certainly worth the wait.

Judging by the baseball memorabilia, we were in the vicinity of Wrigley Field, the fabled home of the Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions in 2016 after a 108 year wait.

While we waited for our food, the boys and I had a few vigorous games of table (ice) hockey. Although Ely may have not been especially tactically astute, his more rudimentary, enthusiastic style made him a match for both Aiden and I.

Cheesie’s was renowned for its root and craft beers, of which Jerry partook, but less so for its coffee. The Osmium Coffee Bar a few blocks away was recommended and we made our way there. We were able to sit in the backyard where all the wooden tables were painted beautifully .

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We took the return to Adams/Wabash. Ely decided that he was no longer with us and needed his own space. We were not the only passengers to be charmed by his subsequent siesta.

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It was time to honour our reservation at Pequod’s authentic Chicago deep dish pizza restaurant. We arrived around twenty minutes early which allowed me the opportunity to do something I had been starved of on the trip so far – look around a bookshop. The large branch of Barnes & Noble called to me from across the street and I escaped from the rest of the party for a few minutes. I did not, however, make any purchases.

Oh, but I could have with more time and money!

We met Joyce and Artie and sat down to dinner. I’ll confess that both Janet and I prefer the traditional Italian thin crust pizza, but there is no denying that our cheese, extra cheese, onion and black olive deep dish version was tasty – and certainly, filling, so much so that we requested a “box” to take back to the house. Jerry and Alicia did the same with their meat pizza. But more of those leftovers in the next chapter.

The final instalment of the day returned us to the Blues Highway theme that had triggered this trip in the first place. Janet, Alicia and I had bought tickets to Blues legend, Buddy Guy’s club, for the evening.

Jerry had expressed his willingness to stay behind at the house looking after the boys. This might just have had something to do with his desire to watch the San Francisco 49ers at the Green Bay Packers live on television in peace.

But if that was the plan, it was thwarted before we even left the house to pick up our Uber. Despite ploughing through what appeared to be hundreds of channels, we could not locate a live transmission of the game. To add insult to injury for Jerry, we discovered that the blues club was showing it on several television sets!

After checking in at the club, we found what appeared to be the only empty table close to the stage – though we may have annoyed a large group of women who had begun to place additional chairs around it as we arrived. Playing dumb was a successful tactic.

I took the opportunity before the outstanding house band, led by singer and guitarist Jimmy Burns, began their first set, and our server arrived with the first gin and tonic of the evening, to look around. Original guitars and photographs of some of the greatest Blues musicians adorned the walls.

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Towards the end of the first set, it was announced that there was a special guest in the house – none other than the venerable owner of the club himself, Buddy Guy, a guitarist revered by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name but a few guitar gods.

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Belying his eighty two years, Buddy delivered a suggestive, knowing and brilliantly phrased performance. He had the entire audience smiling and applauding, in particular holding women young enough to be his granddaughters in the palm of his hand.

If this were not enough of a gift, he agreed to sign t-shirts during the interval between sets. Alicia and I soon joined other starstruck fans in line for this unexpected and thrilling experience.

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It had been a great evening, the perfect ending to a lovely second day in Chicago in the company of our San Francisco family.

The only disappointment? The 49ers went down to the Packers in the last three seconds of the game. In some respects, it was probably a relief that Jerry had not had to witness it.

 

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With the arrival of our “San Francisco family”, following their excursion to Jerry’s relatives in Mount Carroll, the road trip had taken on a new turn. No longer could we do whatever we pleased – we had to consider the needs of others, especially Ely and Aiden. And that was an exciting thought! Another new city with some of our favourite people and a glorious weather forecast!

Mind you, the day started inauspiciously as both Janet and I clambered out of bed, aching in just about every part of our respective bodies. At least momentarily, we were regretting our generosity in allowing Jerry and Alicia, with Ely in a crib, to sleep in the spacious master bedroom with ensuite, while we occupied the cramped second bedroom. Aiden had no such worries, as he had been given his choice of bunk beds, unsurprisingly electing to take the top one.

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After breakfast, we piled into Jerry’s hire car, set the sat nav and headed to the city. A cool but bright Sunday morning, there was little traffic, and we were able to park just a couple of blocks from Willis Tower.

As we stepped out of the car, the glistening windows of the high rise office blocks and the brilliant blue of the sky was a thrilling sight. As one of the displays inside the tower informed us, the world’s first skyscraper had its roots in Chicago. The Home Insurance Building was 138 feet tall when it was built in 1885, incorporating a ten storey steel frame structure.

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At 1,450 feet (442 metres) and with 110 storeys, Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the country, and, after One World Trade Center, the Western Hemisphere (as are the restrooms!). Originally called the Sears Tower, it was renamed in 2009.

As we knew only too well, access to most American attractions warrants a long wait, due more to their popularity than any inefficiency on the part of the operators. But they do try to entertain the paying customers while they wait.

Firstly, there is the obligatory photoshoot where, should you be willing to buy the resulting images, it will set you back $30-40 for large and small photos and maybe an accessory like a key ring or fridge magnet.

Then there is the pre-show, which might entail a short theatre presentation, as we enjoyed in the Ryman Auditorium in Chicago, and/or a series of descriptive tableaux or wall displays. It is cleverly done, and should you genuinely be interested in what you are about to experience, does soften the blow of the lengthy wait.

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However, this does not wash with young children, and Ely and Aiden were soon asking for snacks and refreshments. Fortunately, Jerry had spotted a concession point at the beginning of the line, and was able to assuage their irritation.

Once at the top, aside from the spectacular views, there were more informative and attractively presented plaques celebrating Chicago’s contribution to the world.

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The 360 degree views of the city were spectacular. It is claimed that, on a clear day, you can see four states in one day.

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I reported in the previous post that Ely and Aiden had immediately become attached to the miniature cars found in the house. For the entirety of their stay they could not be separated from their favourite vehicles. Occasional spat aside, they grabbed every opportunity to drive/race them on a smooth service, – even on the walls of skyscrapers!

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We then drove over to Navy Pier, the former military and freight terminal on the banks of Lake Michigan. It had been extensively renovated in recent years, including the addition of attractions such as a musical carousel, wave swinger and funhouse maze, all designed to attract families. Drawing over nine million people a year, it is Chicago’s most visited attraction.

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It is also now home to the Chicago Children’s Museum, though the weather dictated we should continue to enjoy the great outdoors. Besides, admission prices were steep – adults and all children over one year of age $14.95 and seniors (me!) $13.95.

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But before we did anything else, it was time for lunch. Coffees and burgers from the food hall were order of the day. Ely was happy – and his two cars were never leaving his sight!

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The Centennial (Ferris) Wheel cost $16 each. It might have cost another $13 but Ely regressed a year for the afternoon to ensure that he gained free entry. Anyone appalled at such deceit should note that he did barely pass the height restriction test, so comfortably passed for being under three years of age.

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Ely and Aiden loved it.

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Once grounded, however, Ely at least showed signs of flagging.

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From New Orleans through Memphis and Nashville and now Chicago, streetcars and trolleys had been a prominent feature of the cityscape throughout our trip.

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On one of our previous visits to Petaluma, Alicia had prepared just about the best steaks we had ever eaten, and we were eager not to let her go without repeating the treat. This necessitated a second visit to the local supermarket where Ely and Aiden once again left terra firma to be driven round the aisles by Janet – or was that Ely who was driving?

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I am also happy to report that I managed to avoid any further altercation with a wine display stand.

It had been a lovely day with our adopted family from the City by the Bay. Tomorrow, we would even busier with a trip to Millennium Park to marvel at the extraordinary Bean, a ride on Chicago’s cool elevated rail system, dinner at a celebrated deep dish pizza restaurant with friends of Alicia and Jerry, and an eventful evening in a classic blues club.

Phew!

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A confession to begin with.

Although I am as big a fan of Elvis as the next man (or woman), visiting his home at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, has never been on my bucket list. I am not dazzled by celebrity and their personal lives.

But when in Memphis, you ignore it at your peril.

We had booked a mansion and planes package the day before. We took the hire car, which we planned to drop off back at the house before venturing downtown for the evening. As we approached the front desk to collect our tickets, we were greeted by the photograph below.

Aside from his peerless voice, he wasn’t a bad looking lad either, was he?

Our first impression was that of a theme park – we could have been in Universal Studios or Disney’s Magic Kingdom. In fact, the mansion itself, less ostentatious than we had expected, occupied a relatively small part of the 13.8 acre complex.

We took the iPad tour and boarded a shuttle bus from the entrance to the mansion itself. After a ten minute wait in line, we were stepping through the portico into the house. itself.

Graceland, the second most visited house in the U.S. with over 650,000 visitors a year, was a gift from Elvis to his parents, Vernon and Gladys, in 1957. It is a two story, five bay residence with 23 rooms, including eight bedrooms and bathrooms. Although he was on the road a lot, Elvis could not wait to get back to Graceland, and spent as much time there as his personal and musical commitments would allow.

The Mansion Tour includes the living room, his parent’s bedroom, the kitchen, TV room, the Jungle Room, his father’s office, the Trophy Building, the Racquetball Building and Meditation Garden.

The following photographs provide, I hope, a flavour of the style of the principal rooms.

The Meditation Garden was used by Elvis to reflect on any problems or issues that arose during his life. It is also where he, his parents, and grandmother, Minnie Mae Hood Presley, are buried.

I had been warned by friends who had visited in the past to expect a lot of hysterical weeping at his graveside, but there was more a respectful and reverential tranquility about the spot when we were there.

Before continuing the tour, we had lunch at Gladys’ Diner, one of four dining options (another very Disney-fied touch).

One of Elvis’s passions was his car collection. Many of his favourite models can be found at Graceland. Pride of place goes to the 1955 Pink Cadillac Fleetwood, the second he bought after the first had been burned.

Amongst the collection too is the 1956 Cadillac Eldorado, originally white, but repainted purple after he had smashed some grapes on the hood, and a white 1966 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III.


The Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum contains hundreds of artefacts, including gold and platinum records, jumpsuits, movie memorabilia and much more.

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We were planning to revisit Beale Street for a while during the evening, so we proceeded quickly to the plane exhibits.

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Elvis bought a 1958 Convair 880, which he named the Lisa Marie after his daughter, in 1975. Visitors are permitted to walk through the cabin, though not sit on the seats or fiddle with the dials in the cockpit (naturally!).

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As planned, we returned to the house to freshen up and rest for a couple of hours, before calling an Uber to take us back downtown.

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Before hitting Beale Street for the last time, we sought out a highly recommended restaurant on Main Street, Aldo’s Pizza Pies. As always, the service was outstanding, and the server and owner were both astounded by our road trip exploits.

And the pizzas?

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The Trippy Truffle: mushroom cream, button, enoki, portobello, & oyster, mozzarella, fontina, arugula salad with truffle oil dressing, and the Vodka Pie: vodka cream and house made mozzarella.

Divine.

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Beale Street was buzzing as we called in for one last drink in Club 152, one of the more highly rated live music bars.

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A short, and characteristically agreeable, Uber ride returned us to the house for our final night in Memphis (the photograph below is NOT our vehicle).

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We had thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our stay in Memphis: the lovely, spacious suburban house, the music tours and the vibe downtown in the evenings.

But we were now heading for the city that we had both looking forward to the most – Nashville.

Yee-haw!

 

 

 

 

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Santa Fe, or indeed any part of New Mexico, had not been in our original itinerary for this trip. But once we had decided to substitute yet more canyons for a spell of sophisticated southwestern slumming, we had looked forward to our visit to the former Spanish and Mexican outpost with particular excitement.

It was also the one day between leaving and returning to Las Vegas two and a half weeks later that did not involve any driving.

After breakfast in the hotel we walked to the adjacent trolley stop as it was too far even for us, toned and shaped though we were from our hiking exploits in Zion, Bryce and the Arches, to walk to downtown along a busy, noisy ring road. Unfortunately, we saw the vehicle roaring past our stop, and on scrutiny of the timetable, the next bus was not due, this being Sunday, for another 45 minutes. Though it was another clear, bright morning, there was a nip to the air, so standing at the stop for that length of time was out of the question.

So we started walking with half an eye over our shoulders for the next trolley, which duly arrived on time. Alighting just off the Plaza in Palace Avenue we collected maps and entered a French patisserie for coffee and a discussion on our itinerary for the day.

One of the most popular and beautiful cities in the U.S., Santa Fe is renowned for its stunning adobe architecture. Originally made by the ancient Puebloans, such buildings were constructed of blocks of mud, cut from the riverbeds and mixed with grass. Built into walls, the bricks were set with a mortar of a similar composition, and then plastered over with mud and straw. There are several fine examples of public buildings constructed in this way in downtown Santa Fe, including the New Mexico Museum of Modern Art.

Although the steady stream of Sunday services prevented us from venturing venturing over the threshold, we took a stroll round the handsome French Romanesque-style St Francis Cathedral. Besides a fine statue of St Francis of Assissi himself, I was impressed with that of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a seventeenth century Iroquios-Mohawk woman who was scheduled to be canonised in October 2012.

It is not only Santa Fe’s architecture that brings visitors flocking to the city. Few locations in the U.S. can match it for its artistic and cultural scene. Indeed, we came across a number of outdoor art shows, galleries and exhibitions.

We bought some gorgeous western-themed pillowcases and cushion covers from one stall and had another of those extended conversations about our trip with fascinated Americans that were such a feature of it.

The Plaza itself, from which the streets packed with gift and home furnishings stores, cafes, restaurants and galleries spread out, is a lovely space and home to more stalls and public art. The exterior of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the U.S., which runs along one side, is occupied by native americans selling jewelery and other gift items.

Our only reservation about the attractive array of  shops, and one we should not have been altogether surprised about, was that prices were generally high.

After lunch, incongruously you might think in the light of my praise for the Santa Fe dining scene, in Starbuck’s, we took an open-air, single tier trolley tour, which enabled us not only to learn more about the city’s history and many of its most imposing landmarks, but to travel part of the legendary Santa Fe Trail, the nineteenth century transport route that connected Franklin, Missouri with the city, thus opening up the southwest for economic development and settlement.

The tour also included Canyon Road, an artists’ colony that abounded with both open-air and enclosed galleries and workshops as well as attractive restaurants.

The tour, which cost $30, promised “1 hour and 15 minutes of history, sights, stories, and good old-fashioned fun”, certainly delivered on all of those criteria bar the last one. The driver / guide was extremely knowledgeable and informative, but lacked charisma.

After a drink at the Marble Brewery overlooking the Plaza, we returned on foot to Canyon Road for a closer inspection, only to find that most of the galleries were closing. The walk did, however, whet our appetites.

After two successive nights of Tex-Mex food we both craved something different.   The Rooftop Pizzeria in the Santa Fe Arcade on San Francisco Street proved an ideal spot where we were able to watch the sun disappearing over the horizon. Having had the best enchiladas I had ever tasted only two night before, we felt spoilt to be served unequivocally the best pizzas we had ever had, a topping of lobster, shrimp and bacon. We even recommended it to the adjoining table of theatrical locals who were, thankfully, equally impressed.

Another $1 taxi fare back to the El Rey Inn completed a relaxing and enjoyable day. Whilst Santa Fe may not have quite lived up to both our expectations, it had come very close and is somewhere we would wish to explore further.

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Last night I did something I can’t recall having done before in my near sixty years – I ate out alone in a restaurant. I don’t know what that says about me, particularly as I dine out as often – and probably more – than I can afford. Perhaps I am such sparkling company that I am always fending off a queue of admirers willing to share, and be seen to be sharing, a meal in public with me? Yes, of course ………… not. It’s more a case of my being too self-conscious to be seen unaccompanied. 

Until last night.

Having passed a dozen restaurants in Covent Garden, all full, catering for the demands of theatregoers, I spied a spare table at Pizza Express, opposite Charing Cross railway station, and, as boldly as I could in the circumstances, went where I had not gone before, and entered.

I felt some trepidation about the experience, expecting everyone to stare at me and either poke fun because I had nobody to share my meal with or, perhaps worse still, cast pitying glances in my direction. This may be pathetic and irrational, not least in these days when an increasing number of people live alone, but it was, nonetheless, real.

I was met with a beaming smile by Yamina, a delightful and attentive waitress whom, I would hazard, was of middle eastern extraction, and escorted to my table. She removed the “spare” set of cutlery, thereby indicating to my fellow diners that I was truly on my own, and not just waiting for my “date”.

She promptly took my drink order of a large glass of Pinot Grigio. I declined the offer of water, not least because the prospect of having two glasses, and perhaps a bottle too, on the small table before me (and this was before any food had arrived), might prove too much of a temptation for me to spill the contents and expose me still further as a sad hick.

On returning with my drink – which comprised a wine glass AND a carafe (anxiety level spirals) – I ordered dough balls “Pizza Express”, followed by “Padana Leggera”, a thin crust pizza topped with goats cheese, spinach, caramelised red onion and garlic oil, with a veritable forest of rocket engulfing it. Yamina declared that I had chosen the “best” pizza on the menu, with which judgement, despite the absence of at least four varieties of cheeses bubbling in it, I concurred.

The food was good if not outstanding, but then, the last time I looked, Pizza Express was still awaiting its first Michelin star. It is, however, reliable, tasty and relatively inexpensive.  And, having been one of the first pizza chains in the UK, opening its first branch near the British Museum, over 40 years ago, it has maintained its position in the market in the intervening years in the face of growing competition.

Last night, the dough balls were a little dry, although the garlic butter helped to alleviate that issue. Goats cheese and caramelised red onion are a delicious combination, though the profusion of rocket atop it just took the edge off the heat a little more than I would have liked.

The service throughout was excellent. Aside from the ever-smiling Yamina, both the young man who delivered my main course and the woman – whom I presumed to be the maître dit who collected my empty plate – were equally charming and attentive. 

Now, when you have somebody opposite you at the dinner table, you are obliged to engage them in witty, intelligent conversation or, failing that, check your e mails and Facebook accounts together on your mobile phones. When you are alone, however, your thoughts tend naturally to wander over the minutiae of your life. For me, the experience of being in a restaurant, on my own, monopolised my thinking.

One fantasy I harboured that might account for the superb service I received was that the staff might have mistaken me for a food critic. Fanciful idea I know, but my alternating between taking a bite of pizza and scribbling in my notebook, must have appeared odd. Nothing like drawing attention to yourself when you’re trying to be invisible. But, in a way, I was – this article is as much a modest restaurant review as it is an exploration of my psyche. 

Or perhaps their amiability was borne out of pity for my plight of solitude.

(There I go again – it’s no big deal, really. Thousands of people do it every day, and without making such a fuss. Get over yourself).

And besides I wasn’t really alone. I had the company of a six by four foot mirror disconcertingly close to my left cheek, reflecting back my profile. Thankfully, it displayed my better side, though that is not saying much. Inevitably, I cast the occasional glance in it, but for no other reason than to snoop on my fellow diners without staring directly at them. Oddly, they appeared to have no interest in me, my scribbling or my hangups (nothing worse than being spoken about………).

After forty five minutes I paid the bill, leaving Yamina a handsome tip, and strode out into a balmy, bustling Strand where the rush hour with its constant stream of taxis, buses and pedestrians remained in full swing. 

(There, that wasn’t so bad was it? Well, OK, but I think I’ll take my wife next time).

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