John’s Articles

Florence in the Rain: The Genius Renaissance Artists of Lorenzo de Medici, Part-1.

View of Florence from Boboli Garden, Florence, ItalyStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Historic Florence (Firenze), the seat of passionate Renaissance artistic creativity, more than five-centuries have passed, and yet the art stays vibrant and engaging. Knowing there was a chance of rain, my wife and I hoped a visit in mid-March might avoid the summer crowds. Unexpectedly, walking in the light Spring rains added to the ambiance, with glistening rain-soaked cobblestones providing high relief for the architectural marvels of the 15th century. The tour groups were probably thinned relative to Summer, but Florence’s attraction was too compelling to dissuade visitors. Approaching the trip, I pondered how best to experience such an enormous cornucopia of artwork. I had three questions: i) why did Florence play such a prominent role in the early Renaissance; ii) why Florence, and not elsewhere; and iii) what fueled this explosive creative artistic expression in Florence? Browsing for answers, I came across “Magnifico” by Miles Unger. His fact-filled biography of Lorenzo de Medici answered many of my questions and helped me contextualize the upcoming trip.


Florence in the Rain: The Genius Renaissance Artists of Lorenzo de Medici, Part-2.

Sunset on the Arno River in FlorenceStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Continuing from Part 1, where my wife and I walked the Spring rains in Florence to view the Palazzo Medici, the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Uffizi Gallery. With the rain gone, we took advantage of our skip-the-line tickets to gain early entry to the Accademia Gallery.



Inspiration at Jack London State Historical Park

Jack London, Jack London State Park, Glen Ellen, Sonoma, CaliforniaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

As a child growing up in the Midwest, Santa brought me two treasured books, “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”, both written by Jack London. I read and re-read those books, loving the vivid accounts of Alaskan scenery and the exploits and travails of the wolf heroes. Those wonderful books were written more than 110 years ago, but they still resonate for me today. Along with “Sea Wolf” and “To Build a Fire”, the books catapulted Jack London to fame and fortune in 1902-1906. As a child, I had no idea my family would move to the West Coast, or that life would eventually lead me to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or that Jack London was a Bay Area native son. Visiting Jack London State Historical Park near Glen Ellen in Sonoma Valley was a revelation in many respects. It showed me how Jack, a local gritty Gold-Rush-era boy from a humble background in Oakland, worked hard, took risks and learned to make good for himself. Most of all, I was struck by his quotations, which were on display in the museum at the park. Those quotations showed a reflective, socially responsive and philosophical man with a tremendous depth of character developed over his short 40 year lifetime (1876–1916).


On the Mendocino Coast, a Frolic on the Rocks

Sailing ship wreck Frolic Cove, Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse, Mendocino Village, Mendocino County, CaliforniaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

In 1850, Frolic, a sailing ship bound from China to San Francisco with cargo for the Gold Rush, ran on the rocks near Point Cabrillo on the Mendocino Coast. Frolic gave birth to Mendocino, but that’s only part of the story. The present-day village culture continues to embrace good frolicking. For a weekend getaway, my wife and I visited Mendocino Village and the nearby town of Little River. I discovered coastal history that is now invisible to the naked eye.


Calaveras County for Mining, Hiking, Biking, Wining, Dining, Fishing, Camping and Jumping with Mark Twain’s Frogs.

Ironstone Vineyards, Calaveras County, Gold Country, Sierra Nevada Mountain foothills, CaliforniaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Gold country in the Sierra mountain foothills is just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Francisco. For my wife and I, a Calaveras County roadtrip was a big question mark. Having been, we now know that Calaveras County has a gold and copper mining history, but today is a mecca for hiking, biking, wining, dining, golfing, fishing, camping, river rafting, gold panning, spelunking, and even vodka, gin and whiskey tasting at a local distillery. With a group of friends from San Francisco, we traveled to Calaveras for an education. We experienced quality wines, amazingly grand vineyards, gourmet dining, a beautiful local country club, and quality lodging. We viewed stunning old-growth forests and many artistic renditions of Mark Twain’s jumping frogs of Calaveras County. So, for our next road trip, instead of turning North to Healdsburg, Napa, or Sonoma, we can now consider, instead, a turn to the East to revisit Calaveras, particularly since there is so much there to do and see that invites further exploration.


Angel Island escapes into nature, spectacular views and California history

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island State Park, Marin County, San Francisco Bay, CaliforniaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Longing for a little recreational travel experience and a brief break in the pandemic humdrum, an Angel Island escape beckoned. My wife and I had been to the island twice before but hadn’t fully explored its history or beauty. With spring wildflowers reportedly in bloom, an outdoor adventure seemed perfect since Angel Island State Park is one of the largest (1100 acres) and most easily accessible escapes in the San Francisco Bay Area for nature, expansive scenic views, and the important role the island played in early California history. The Angel Island State Park is the largest nature reserve in the San Francisco Bay Area. It offers back-country trail experiences and tram and self-guided walking tours.



A venerable San Francisco comfort zone closed but didn’t succumb

The Top of the Mark, InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco, CAThe Top of the Mark, an iconic landmark, is reopened.

Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.

First opened in 1939 and open for 80 years, this iconic San Francisco landmark was closed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a comfort zone for servicemen and women shipping out to the Pacific in World War II, also the Vietnam and Korean wars. As my wife and I recently discovered, the venerable Top of the Mark is reopened with a new generation of comforts. Positioned at the very top of downtown San Francisco’s highest hill (Nob Hill), the 19th floor of the Mark Hopkins hotel, affectionately known as the Top of the Mark, has given patrons dominant views of San Francisco since its opening. The newly reopened Top of the Mark offers post-pandemic comforts including live music with dancing on Friday nights, light appetizers and, signature cocktails. To support and nurture local businesses, the menu now includes cocktails prepared with Hanson organic wine-Vodka from Sonoma, which is paired with Kollar specialty chocolates from Napa.


A Safe Get Away to Hawaii’s Big Island

Hawaii Big IslandStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Lyrics recorded by The Animals in 1965 have been running through- my mind lately.“We gotta get outta o’ this place, If it’s the last thing we ever do, We gotta get outta o’ this place, ‘Cause girl, there’s a better life for me and you”. Leading me to memories of Hawaii’s Big Island. Our impromptu Big IsIand trip in 2020, just before Covid-19, began to percolate. We could still do that trip safely today.



Two Roads to Paradise on Maui

Beach in Wai’anapanapa state park, Maui, HawaiiStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

In these difficult times my thoughts invariably turn to positive life-enhancing travel experiences. Mind-wandering often takes me back to two roads to paradise on Maui, one on the Road to Hana and the other on the Pi’iliani highway. Those two roads to paradise were stress-free and fulfilling for their sensual tranquility.



In Germany the Carl Duisberg Japanese Garden

Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.

A little green emerald gem lies buried within a sea of smoke stacks and chemical manufacturing plants at the Chempark home of Bayer AG in Leverkusen near Cologne (Köln) in Germany. Chempark is home to the little miracle of Bayer aspirin, but it had another surprise in store for me when I visited on a business trip a few years ago and came upon the Duisberg Japanese Garden.



Marin Headlands: Just Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge from Travis Marina, Fort Baker, Marin Headlands, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, CaliforniaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Living in, or visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, we are blessed with the boundless beauties of nature. Water, landscapes and terrain create splendid views on a daily basis. Seasonal changes bring puffy white clouds in winter to foggy mists in summer. Whatever the season, Marin Headlands at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge brings breath stopping vistas, good cardio-hikes and most of all, a complete escape from everyday concerns. Early morning or late afternoon before sunset, the land is still. It’s a place of constant change, of solace and stimulation, at once an escape from reality and an immersion into wonder.



Venice For The Weekend

Accademia Bridge, Venice, ItalyStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

On an island in a shallow lagoon, Venice came to dominance by sea power and now the power of the sea is threatening its very existence. My wife and I arrived in Venice two weeks before the catastrophic Acqua Alta (high water) tides that submerged Saint Mark’s square under more than five feet of water. The rushing sea wrought havoc with local merchants, restaurateurs and hostlers and damaged priceless works of art in Saint Mark’s Basilica. Vladmiro Cavagnis, a fourth generation gondolier, said: “It’s a city full of history. A history that, little by little, with water, will end up like Atlantis. People are destroyed, anguished, sad. They see a city that is disappearing.” (Alex Horton, Andrew Freedman – The Washington Post –  November 15, 2019). The November 2019 flood was the worst in the 700 years of recorded history at Saint Marks Basilica.  Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister, described the disaster as: “..a blow to the art of our country. While it’s still too early to quantify the extent of its havoc, chances are it will leave indelible marks.” (Marianna Cerini, CNN –  November 16, 2019 ).



Athens For The Weekend

The Temple of Athena, The Acropolis, Athens, GreeceStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Athens has long been a favorite of my wife and I, especially since it was our first international trip together as a couple. Somehow every time we land in Greece, Athens is only a stopover on our way to somewhere else. But why love Athens? For us, Athens is full of lovely historic sites, wonderful ethnic foods, good local wines and great cultural diversity.



Russian River Rendezvous

View of Sonoma Coast AVA, Russian River, from Thomas George vineyard in GuerenvilleStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Hurry up and drop your bags. We’ve been waiting for you”, urged Jersey Tom from the door of a white van. Thinking we were on time, but observing a full van, my wife and I quickly dropped our bags in the lobby of The Applewood Inn and rushed to take our seats. After our leisurely drive from San Francisco to Guerneville neither of us expected to be late for our Russian River rendezvous with friends, wine, river, trails, kayaks, art, cuisine and more wine. Positioned in the Sonoma Coast AVA, the Pinot Noir grown, crushed, fermented and aged (French Oak) in the Russian River Valley has its very own unique award winning features that are well known to judges and connoisseurs alike, (the Chardonnay is also star quality). We had a long weekend ahead of us with plans to enjoy it to the max.  AND, Yes! The Russian River, survivor of fires and floods, is fully open for business, with the river inner tube rafting just starting. Lucky for us,  it is not too busy yet.



Yangtze River Cruise in the Three Gorges.

Three Gorges Cruise on the Yangtze River, Chongqing, ChinaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

A Yangtze River cruise was never high on my list of travel options, but it should have been. China in my mind’s eye was distant, elusive and ancient – yes – but also under-developed and an emerging second world country. Oh, how wrong I was. After a few days on the Yangtze River with my wife and our travel companions, my incredible ignorance was corrected.



Revisiting The Bund in Shanghai with Harry and Selma.

The Shanghai Bund as viewed from the Vue Bar at the top of the Hyatt Hotel, Shanghai, ChinaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Shanghai was where my Great Uncle Harry died and my Great Aunt Selma was imprisoned during World War-II. A Yangtze cruise offered my wife and I the opportunity to revisit their incredible lives. They lived in Shanghai from 1928-45, through the roaring twenties into extravagant thirties and then the 1937 Japanese invasion of World War-II. Harry didn’t survive the war, but Selma did. She lived in Laguna Beach, California to age 95 and shared her life and letters with my Aunt Connie who authored a family biography entitled “Selma’s Saga.”



Tongjing Hot Springs Resort – a Three Gorges diversion on the Yangtze River in China

Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Travelers to China often tour to Beijing (one of the oldest cities in the world; the Great Wall), Xi’an (Terracotta warriors), Chongqing (Three Gorge Yangtze Cruise) and Shanghai (The Bund), but they usually miss the hidden beauty of a rest-stop resort located just outside Chongqing city. Well known to locals for centuries in the Ba-Yu region as Wuling Wonderland, Tongjing Hot Springs Resort is an award winning hot springs spa resort. Located about a half hour drive (30km/19 miles ) from the Chongqing Jiangbei International airport (CKG) near the confluence of the Yangtze and Yulin rivers, the natural hot springs and mountainous landscape of the “Small Three Gorges” are a treat for the senses and especially the tired-traveler-body. My wife and I stopped there for a little overnight restorative jetlag R&R after the long flight from the US West Coast (13 hrs.) and before a Three Gorges Yangtze River tour.


Yucatán immersion cruise: culture, history, archeology and cuisine.

Yucatán immersion cruise: culture, history, archeology and cuisine,Tulum Castillo, Yucatan immersion cruise, Tulum, Quintanaroo, MexicoStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Taking a page from Anthony Bourdain: “Travel is not reward for working, it’s education for living.” For me, who had never visited the Yucatán, my notions of luxury beach resorts or dense jungles filled with vine-encrusted Mayan pyramids and relics of lost civilizations needed some travel-education. As I found out, neither notion was completely correct and there is a lot more than just archeology and beaches in the Yucatán. My wife and I opted for a wide-ranging Yucatán immersion cruise-safari offered by Victory cruise line. Our Yucatán outreach safari took us from the Caribbean in the east across the full width of the Yucatán peninsula to the Gulf of Mexico in the west.


Road to Machu Picchu: Ollantaytambo to Aquas Calientes

The Andes, Ollantaytambo, Peru, The Road to Machu Picchu, Cusco region, PeruStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

This is the third article in a series entitled “Road to Machu Picchu.” My wife and I thought our visit to Peru was a once in a lifetime experience but the experience may have changed our minds. We began our visit to the Inca Sacred Valley in Cusco. While there, we went to the COSITUC main office  and obtained tourist tickets to all 16 archaeologic sites and museums including the ticket needed to gain entrance to Machu Picchu. In the first article (Cusco to Pisac – Part One) we talked about our drive from Cusco through Chincero and Urubamba, to reach our destination for the night in Pisac. In Part Two we experienced the high Andes culture in Pisac’s Sunday market and explored the Inca Intihuatana and gateway to the Amazon at Kantas Ray. In this final article I cover our journey by car to Ollantaytambo and from there by train to Aquas Calientes which lies in the river valley directly below Machu Picchu. It is the departure point for buses to Machu Picchu.


Road to Machu Picchu: Pisac in Highlands Peru

Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.

Our journey into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, on the road to Machu Picchu, began in Cusco and, with our driver, my wife and I stopped to experience the Thursday market in Chincero and the Ceramica Seminario in Urubamba before finally reaching our destination for the night in Pisac (Cusco to Pisac – Part One.)  As we approached Pisac, we thought it was late in the afternoon, but after checking into the hotel we discovered that the long days in the Southern latitudes had fooled us: instead of 5 PM it was close to 8:30 PM. Hurrying, we found the hotel restaurant still open, but with the ovens already extinguished the choices from the grill were limited.

Croatia Island Cruise in the Adriatic Sea

Katerina Lines Futura, Dalmatian Island cruise, Croatia, Aegean SeaStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

There are more than a thousand Croatian islands in the Adriatic sea” our Katarina Line cruise director told us, “but we only have time to visit Korčula, Hvar and Brac. For more, you have to come back.” By the end of our short four night cruise, that is exactly what my wife and I hope to do – and hopefully soon. Spectacular white clouds filled the sky. Tranquil turquoise ocean water welcomed swimmers. Sparkling sandy beaches lured sun-bathers. Ancient Venetian forts and old cities with narrow cobblestone lanes beckoned walkers. Fine dining, fresh seafood and wonderful Plavac Mali; (Croatian pronunciation- [plǎːʋat͡s mǎli]), red, and Pošip, white, wines tickled and warmed the palate – what’s not to like?


Croatian Wine Tasting in the Dalmatian Islands

Croatian Islands cruise, Venetian Fortress in Hvar Old Town, Hvar Island, Croatia, Dalmatian Islands cruise, Katerina LinesStory and Photos by John Sundsmo.

On a recent Katarina Line cruise of Croatian discovery, we learned that wine makers in the Dalmatian Islands have left an indelible mark on the fine wines produced in California, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. Remarkably, throughout wars, conquest and droughts, the islands of the Adriatic Sea, (East of Italy and South of the Alps), have produced fine wines for 2,500 years. Galleys and sailing ships transported that wine up and down the Mediterranean throughout Greek (500BC) and Roman times well into the 14th century. Greek writer Athenaeus wrote 18 centuries ago about the high quality of Croatian wine especially those coming from the islands of Hvar and Korčula.


Cusco to Pisac in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Sacred Valley of the Inca, Chincero, PeruStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

In Cusco, Peru (elevation 11,152 ft.): As we walked into the hotel lobby, Javier, the manager, greeted us in excellent English, “how was your flight from Lima?” I answered, “Fine, just a few bumps and an amazing view as we landed.” “Yes, the valley is beautiful this time of year but a month ago everything was very green. The view from our rooftop garden is very good. Will you have some tea? We recommend a special tea to help with the altitude.” My wife asked, “what’s in it” thinking it might be caffeinated. “Just coca leaves to help with the altitude sickness.” My scientist brain was quickly thinking, how much cocaine might be in coca leaves and how it might affect me. “Sure, I’ll try it.”…..


Icelandic Viking Democracy – “Althings” (AlϷings) at Ϸingvellir

Lake Ϸingvallavatn, Ϸingvellir, IcelandStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

As an American I never really investigated my Swedish/Norwegian/UK heritage. That all changed after a spur of the moment decision to fly to Iceland for a week. My pre-trip research told me that Iceland was colonized about 870 AD by Ingólfr Arnason, a Viking from Norway. Why I wondered, would a family uproot itself from a stable comfortable home and set out on a 900 mile voyage in an open boat to a land of ice and snow. As a child of the nuclear-holocaust-be-prepared-60s, I always wondered what tools it would take to survive in a hostile world.


Old Harbor Reykjavik and its Maritime Heritage

maritime heritage, Old Harbor Reykjavik, Iceland, wooden fishing boat, harborStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

As our plane came in for a landing at Reykjavik Keflavik International Airport on Iceland I looked out over the rocky volcanic landscape onto the unforgiving North Atlantic Ocean. From my reading of Iceland’s maritime heritage, I knew Icelanders fished year round. As a sailor I knew that a man overboard in winter had about ten minutes before losing consciousness. Having taken a fair number of risks on the water myself, I wondered what it would take to get me out in January or February aboard a frail wood Icelandic boat. Sitting comfortably in my warm airline seat, I realized only one thing – survival.


Greek Wines from Sonoma

Georgos greek wine captures the spirit of wines produced on the island of Santorini, GreeceStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

A memorable few years ago my wife and I visited the Greek islands of Santorini and Paros. There we encountered some unique and equally memorable ancient varieties of Greek wines.




Willits Whistlestop Weekend

Willits The Heart of Mendocino County California; sign given to the city by Reno, NVStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

You’re moving where? – Willits – where’s that?,” my museum guide, Dirk, told me his personal story as he shuffled me around the County Museum and Roots of Motive Power exhibits and gave me a thumbnail history. It seems Dirk’s friends in Santa Rosa didn’t understand his decision to up and move to Willits more than 25 years ago, nor did they, or I, really appreciate what that quiet, friendly little Mendocino County town has to offer.  I learned from Dirk that Willits, in the early 1900s, was a whistle stop on the Northwestern Pacific railroad line. The trains started with a railroad ferry from the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco and steamed north to Sausalito to join with rails that ended hundreds of miles away in the booming lumber town of Eureka.


Road to Death Valley Meditation

Panamint Valley, Road to Death ValleyStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

Symbolic of new beginnings and new life, wild flowers are just beginning to be seen in the deserts of California. While experts don’t expect another super-bloom like 2016, the heavy winter rains will undoubtedly bring abundance of color late into April. No place is more emblematic of life resurrected than Death Valley where blooms are already showing in the southern regions of the national park. To dodge the wild flower traffic, my wife and I visited the park in December and collected some tips.



Find Your Happy in Mendocino County

Find Your Happy in Mendocino County, sssh, the wine is talking in Mendocino County, California, Taste of Mendocino CountyBy John Sundsmo.

The catchy logo of Mendocino County, “Find Your Happy,” was on display at the recent Taste of Mendocino  held at San Francisco’s Fort Mason. With vintners, fresh press olive oils, craft whiskey, goat cheeses, gourmet appetizers, coffee and luxurious resorts all competing for my attention, I soon found myself feeling quite happy. The venue provided a good opportunity to review some fine Mendocino County wines and upcoming events. In the interest of sharing the Mendocino “Happy” vibe, what follows is a list of some Taste of Mendocino participants (with links), along with wine tasting destinations and a short calendar of upcoming events in Mendocino County.  Hopefully, with the following tips, you too will “Find your Happy in Mendocino County.”


Exploring the Cheshire Ring Canals

Macclesfield Canal, Exploring the Cheshire Ring Canals, Cheshire, UKStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

Exploring the Cheshire Ring Canals: “Wheer yo’ fro’?” said the man in tweed as he and his spaniel blocked my canal path.  Quickly twisting the words in my mind, I deduced he either properly identified me as a foreigner or he thought I was a local and wondered where I was walking from.  Taking the last first, I answered “Bugsworth Basin.”  Now he had me, my California through-the-nose accent was a dead giveaway.  “American are you?”  now in proper English.  “And you are from Lancashire,?”  I said.Aw’r (I were) but now I live here near Disley.”…


Caribbean Cruising

Caribbean cruise, Holland America Lines Half Moon Cay island in the Bahamas, Caribbean visited from the ship ms Nieuw AmsterdamStory and Photos by John Sundsmo

“Welcome to Half Moon Cay population 45, five miles long and 2.5 wide” our Bahamian nature guide said. As she led our small group off the sandy road into the island’s dense shady vegetation, we had periodic glimpses of white sand beaches, lagoons and our cruise ship lying offshore. Walking in the balmy warm weather, we knew we’d made the right decision….




Napa Valley’s Liana Estates Opens

Napa LianaStory by Lee Daley with Photos by John Sundsmo and Lee Daley

Napa Valley’s Carneros AVA adds another winery to its map with the opening of Liana Estates. The winery fulfils a long cherished dream of its founders, Lisa and Ariana Peju of the Peju Province Winery family. Liana Estates is an experience-focused winery providing visitors with immersive experiences that embrace each of the five senses. The focus will be on offering an ever-changing selection of high-quality wines and bubbly while connecting visitors to the breathtaking scenery of Napa Valley and San Pablo Bay. This fall, several immersive experiences will include wellness activities like yoga, culinary classes and chef-centric vineyard dinners paired with wine selections. While these experiences are growing in popularity in Wine Country, Liana is eager to offer guests unique all-inclusive experiences that both stimulate and soothe the senses.


Cuba Libre? Documentary on Cuba Travel History

Che Guevara Mural, Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba, fifties carsStory by John Sundsmo with Photos by Lee Daley

In Cuba Libre? filmmaker Dick Jordan uses archival film footage and interviews with five travel journalists to re-introduce Cuba travel to American audiences.  Presented at local venues in the San Francisco Bay Area, the film is also currently posted on You Tube and Vimeo.  See links in the article.






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