Driven from a desire to make their growing collections and programs accessible to more people, in 1983 the J. Paul Getty Trust purchased more than 700 acres in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Selecting Richard Meier as architect for the Getty Center project plans evolved for a six-building campus that would bring together their programs and provide an architectural landmark for L.A.
Visiting the Getty Center is an experience that engages all the senses, and the excitement begins with the electric tram ride from the parking garage up to the hilltop campus. The brief ride is a visual treat with unfolding vistas of the campus above and the cityscape below.
The open expanse of the Getty Center’s Arrival Plaza is welcoming – full of sunlight, nature and art – and grand at the same time. Art, architecture, and gardens beckon you forward.
The Center’s main buildings rise along two intersecting ridges, providing an amazing vantage point from which to view the city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.
The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Center houses European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography from its beginnings to the present.
From the start, the Getty Center was imagined as a place in which gardens, and other outdoor spaces would be as integral to its overall character as the architecture. The exuberant gardens among the formal buildings bring the Center to life. Various plantings cast interesting shadows, bring fragrance to the scene, and add color to the palette of beige buildings.
The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center, a hot and arid zone, is unexpected. The plants are common in Southern California, but the composition of cactus, aloe, and succulents is exceptional. By using efficient irrigation techniques and more drought-tolerant plants the Getty has been able to cut water use by more than 30 percent.
The Central Garden is the creation of Robert Irwin, who called it “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.” Visitors descend into the garden along a zigzagging walkway. Underfoot, coursing down a rocky bed, a stream interrupted by waterfalls flows. The stream, whose sound varies at each crossing of the path, finally cascades over a stepped stone wall into a reflecting pool with a maze of 400 azalea plants.
One of my favorite features of the Central Garden are the parasols of bent industrial-steel bars overflowing with fuchsia bougainvillea. I love the inventiveness and whimsy in Robert Irwin’s Central Garden design – a living masterpiece.
There are plenty of places to eat, from elegant dining in the Restaurant, to casual meals, coffee, and snacks. And several shops… the Main Store is found just inside the Museum Entrance Hall and offers the widest offering of books, gifts, apparel, stationery, and jewelry, along with a selection of children’s books and toys.
We are enjoying our souvenir, Seeing the Getty Center and Gardens, a visual tour of the Center with beautiful color photographs, and enjoy lending it to friends who have yet to experience the Center.
The Center is open daily except for Monday. Admission is free; parking is $15 per car.
Walking to the Whitney Museum on a mild winter day is a treat. Eager to be out and about in Manhattan, we begin our trek from The Marcel at Gramercy Hotel on East 24th Street near Gramercy Park. Walking down 23rd we make our way to the High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side that will deliver us to the Whitney.
The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.
Italian architect and engineer, Renzo Piano, designed the new Whitney Museum. From a piece in the New Yorker I read:
“He (Piano) expressed pride in the startling mismatch of the museum’s eastern and western fronts”. On the east, the building descends in tiers—“to bring down the scale,” he said—toward the historic low-rise buildings of the neighborhood. The side that faces the river is “more massive, more strong,” Piano said. A truncated-pyramid profile with jutting banks of large windows, it “talks to the rest of the world” from an attitude of confident majesty. Immodestly, but with proof in the product, the architect cited the elements that he had sought to incorporate in the design: “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light—an immense rich bouillabaisse.”
Popular even during the week on a winter day, we wait in line outside for about 20 minutes to enter the Whitney. Observing the action in the Museum’s restaurant Untitled we decide to begin with an early lunch. Occupying a long, narrow space with glass walls on three sides, the restaurant, like the rest of the museum, was designed by Renzo Piano.
Untitled is a new restaurant from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and its menu is inspired by the seasons and the creative environment of the museum. While waiting we look through his cookbook – V is for Vegetables – delicious doable recipes with short ingredient lists and color photos, designed for home cooks.
Sitting at the Untitled bar, lunch was delicious and social. Our waiter was knowledgeable and guided me through what turned out to be a fairly gluten-free menu, and highly recommended their acclaimed chocolate chip cookie (entirely gluten-free). Turns out the recipe was born when pastry chef Miro Uskokovic took it upon himself to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie – one combining a soft, gooey interior with a toothsome, crunchy exterior. Playing with varieties and ratios of sugar and butter, he settled on a combination of brown and white sugar with clarified browned butter. Then, to see if the cookie could be made gluten-free on special request, he tested the cookie with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The result? The staff actually preferred the GF version.
The Whitney Museum of American Art was born out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942. Today the Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
At the time of our visit a special exhibit – Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist – caught my attention and was the highlight of my visit. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) was a bold and highly original modernist and one of the great visual chroniclers of twentieth-century African American life. As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”
Savoring Motley’s paintings of jazz and blues, we end our day at Jazz Standard. Home to world-class jazz, warm Southern hospitality, and award-winning Southern cuisine and barbecue. Finding the setting intimate and comfortable we settle in to enjoy Children of the Light, two-thirds of the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. The music is clear and beautiful. Acoustic sound with some electric touches, simple but also majestic. Danilo Perez is the excellent pianist, John Patitucci is the great bass player and Brian Blade is called “one of the best drummers in this moment”. Amazing day… and only a 10 minute walk back to the Marcel at Gramercy Hotel!
“Barcelona bubbles with life in its narrow Barri Gòtic alleys, along the pedestrian boulevard called the Ramblas, in the funky bohemian quarter of El Born, and throughout the chic, grid-planned part of town called the Eixample. Its Old City is made for seeing on foot, full of winding lanes that emerge into secluded squares dotted with palm trees and ringed with cafés and boutiques. The waterfront bristles with life, overlooked by the park-like setting of Montjuïc. Across the city, the architecture is colorful, playful, and unique. In this vibrant city, locals still join hands and dance the sardana in front of the cathedral every weekend. Neighborhood festivals jam the events calendar. The cafés are filled by day, and people crowd the streets at night… If you’re in the mood to surrender to a city’s charms, let it be in Barcelona.”
~ Rick Steves
Late afternoon sunlight greets us as we walk out of the Barcelona Sants train station. Having just traveled up the coast from Valencia by high speed train we are tired but relaxed. Excited to grab a cab and get our first glance of Barcelona as we travel across the city to our hotel on the famous Las Ramblas Boulevard.
Months before we decide to visit Barcelona I am visiting one of my favorite blogs – Remodelista – and read this:
“The next time you’re in Barcelona, soak up the city’s infamous architecture by staying in the Praktik Rambla, a budget design hotel housed in the historic Casa Climent Arola building. Constructed in the beginning of the 19th century by the Spanish architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (the Sagrada Familia was his commission first, as in pre-Gaudi), the grand building with is modern interiors allows you to immerse yourself seamlessly into the spirit of Barcelona.”
The Hotel Praktik Rambla renovation design conserved the original Art Nouveau elements of the building, such as the mouldings, the high ceilings, the mosaic floors (original 19th century tile work), and mixed them elegantly with parquet floors, modern lamps, vintage bathrooms, large, comfortable white beds, touches of design and elegance and, above all, loads of comfort… four days of elegance, comfort, and quiet are ours at a very reasonable rate in February.
Saturday morning we hear, then see, “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” – Barcelona’s biggest annual festival for children. The festival takes place at many venues all over Barcelona but it is mostly in the Ciutat Vella – old city of Barcelona. The program for the Santa Eulalia festival includes many typical Catalan traditions like parades with “gegants” and other fantasy figures.
One of the many things I enjoy about travel is the way I become immersed in the city and area I am visiting… researching the story behind what I am seeing to satisfy my own curiosity and share in my writing.
The history of the Arc de Triomf began in late 19th century when it was built for the World Expo of 1888, which Barcelona hosted. The arch was designed by the noted Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca. The design by Vilaseca stands out from other well-known triumphal arches, in particular the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Instead of using sandstone or marble, Vilaseca decided to build the arch using red bricks.
Using bricks as the main material is a typical feature of the rather unusual architectural style the arch is built in. The arch is inspired by Muslim architecture, in particular the style is known as “Mudéjar” which emerged during the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula. The style was created by the Moors and Muslims who remained in the area after the Christians had recaptured and repopulated the whole Iberian Peninsula.
Walking up Passeig de Gràcia we get our first taste of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s work – La Pedrera.
Situated on an asymmetrical corner lot, this large apartment building was immediately dubbed “la pedrera,” or “the quarry,” because of its cliff-like walls. There are various theories regarding the source of Gaudí’s inspiration – from ocean waves to a variety of specific mountains, even a mountain crest with clouds. This unique limestone building appears sculptural, with undulating curves, and black iron balconies that contrast nicely with the lightness of the limestone.
La Pedrera or Casa Milà was constructed between 1906 and 1912. Due to its unique artistic style and heritage value it has received major recognition and in 1984 was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.
Barcelona is a city made for walking, a visual aesthetic feast. Window shopping and people watching are a delight… as is the casual search for the next cafe in which to enjoy a coffee, snack on some tapas, or sip a glass of wine or beer.
The Museu Picasso in Barcelona is rich in regard to work from the formative years in the life of the artist, up to the Blue Period. Young Picasso’s genius is revealed through the over 4000 works that make up the permanent collection, and it was stunning to see his level of accomplishment as a teenager. Opened in 1963, the museum helps us realize his deep relationship with Barcelona, one that was shaped in his adolescence and youth, and continued until his death.
The museum occupies five adjoining medieval stone mansions on the Carrer de Montcada. The original palaces date from the 13th-15th centuries, undergoing major refurbishments over time, the most important in the 18th century. Today the elegant courtyards, galleries and staircases are as much a part of the experience as the collection inside.
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” ~ Pablo Picasso
The Joan Miró Foundation opened to the public in 1975. Interest in a museum began after Miro’s exhibition in Barcelona, in 1968. Several figures from the art world saw the opportunity to have a space in Barcelona dedicated to the his work. The museum’s exhibits give a broad impression of Miró’s artistic development, and in accordance with his wishes, the institution also promotes the work of contemporary artists in all its aspects.
Designed by Miro’s close friend, the architect Josep Lluís Sert, the Foundation was designed in accordance with the principles of Rationalist architecture, with different spaces set around a central patio in the traditional Mediterranean style and with Sert’s characteristic skylights.
“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.” ~ Joan Miro
Our go to place for tapas in Barcelona is Cervecería Catalana. Recommended by the hotel, it is considered one of the best places in the city. You can find all kind of tapas and “montaditos” (food on bread). The cold tapas are on display and you can order hot tapas from their menu. Several mornings began with breakfast at the bar – enjoying a tortilla (Spanish omelette) and the patatas bravas (fried potatoes served warm with aioli and a spicy tomato sauce – fantastic). The large dining area is bustling and its fun to see what others have ordered. Service is skillful and helpful… located on Carrer de Mallorca, #236.
Los Caracoles was recommended by a fellow foodie we meet at Catalana. He visits Barcelona often and especially enjoys the rotisserie chicken at this old family restaurant located nearby in the Gothic district. Cave-like with dark wood, murals, and tiles, we pass through the bar, then kitchen, on our way to one of several dining areas.
After sharing a house salad, we enjoy the roast chicken and lamb ribs – both finger lickin’ good, and enhanced by the elegant setting and professional service.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
Note: Spain’s RENFE rail system offers senior travelers 60 and older the Tarjeta Dorada (“Gold Card”). With the Tarjeta Dorada, you will save 25 to 40 percent on train tickets, depending on the day of the week you travel and how far in advance you buy your tickets. You can buy your Tarjeta Dorada at a RENFE station for 5.05 Euros; it will be valid for one year.
Arriving in Valencia, after touring Granada and Seville, where we were steeped in history and ancient architecture, we experience our first taste of contemporary Spain. As a city, Valencia has uniquely combined its history, dating to the year 138 BC, with innovative and avant-garde buildings and ideas.
After a catastrophic flood in 1957 which devastated the city, the Turia river was divided in two at the western city limits. Valencia diverted its flood-prone river to the outskirts of town and converted the former riverbed into an amazing ribbon of park winding right through the city.
The old riverbed is now a lush sunken park that allows cyclists and pedestrians to travel across much of the city without the use of roads. The park, called the Garden of the Turia, has numerous ponds, paths, fountains, and flowers.
Marking the park’s eastern extreme is Valencia’s strikingly futuristic City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias) designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish neofuturistic architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter.
The complex, including an aquarium, museums, and opera house constructed over the past 15 years, is intended to help Spain’s third-largest city become a world-class tourist destination, and to
fire up the masses with enthusiasm for the arts and sciences. The breathtaking structures are enough in themselves to lure visitors in the millions. You don’t have to be an opera or science buff to enjoy a day here – in fact if you’re on a tight budget you can just wander around this incredible city without even buying an entrance ticket.
History and all its glory is never far from view, and heading back into the city center we find ourselves in a glorious sun-filled square filled with palm trees and old majestic buildings.
Sunday morning we set off on foot to slowly make our way across town to IVAM, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern. Purposefully passing the Cathedral on the way, we find the area filled with locals, observing and performing traditional dances.
Valencia is a large city with over 800,000 inhabitants. In the historical center are a labyrinth of cobble stone streets, very walkable and visually engaging. Next to intact or restored buildings are ruins and vacant spots often walled off for future development or restoration. These blank walls are a canvas for a the city’s street artists.
Jay snaps this photo for me just before we learn that no photos are to be taken inside the En Transito exhibit at IVAM…
You may also want to check out the New York Times, 36 Hours in Valencia, Spain, for more artistic and culinary innovations in this sunny city.
The Royal City of Alhambra sits proudly on a hill above Granada. It is known as one of the most important architectural structures of the Middle Ages in Spain and the finest example of Islamic architecture left in the western world. Visiting on a cool, rainy day at the end of January it held our attention for the entire afternoon.
Water, rare and precious in most of the Islamic world, was the purest symbol of life to the Moors. Coming from the deserts of the south, the Moors celebrated water and its abundance in their new home.
The Alhambra was once a city of a thousand people and covers an area of over 32 acres. Its enclosed by more than a mile of walls reinforced by thirty towers, many of which are in ruins.
The Generalife was a retreat where the monarchs of Granada could relax, away from the bustle of the court. Yet close enough to the palace to attend to any urgent matters that might arise.
The Alhambra’s Palacios Nazaries, the Moorish royal palace, was built mostly in the 14th century.
I read that space in the Alhambra is open, like in the desert. The Courtyard of the Lions isn’t a house with a garden, but a garden containing a house. Refreshing water flows from the mouths of the twelve white marble lions.
The Tree of Life crowns the line of inscriptions written around the wall. This type of plasterwork motif spreading downward from an apex is an allusion to the inverted tree that sustains the celestial bodies in the heavens and buries its roots in paradise.
After an amazing afternoon at the Alhambra, our brains totally saturated with history, our bodies damp and chilled, we return to our slice of history – Hotel Casa 1800 Granada. Located at the foot of the Alhambra, in a charming Old Granadian house from the XVII Century, we are ready for a siesta.
Originally a 10th century palace built for the Muslim governor, The Royal Alcazar (Real Alcazar), is still used today as the Spanish royal family’s residence in Seville. Retaining the same purpose for which it was originally intended, as a residence of monarchs and heads of state, it is the oldest palace in Europe still in use.
Moorish architecture is a variation of Islamic architecture. There are many motifs, or repeated patterns, in Moorish architecture – different styles of arches, calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative tiles.
Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, the Royal Alcazar consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. Within the walls and gardens you can experience the historical evolution of Seville.
Moorish architecture is named after the Moors, North African people who conquered the Iberian Peninsula and many islands in the Western Mediterranean beginning in the 700s. The Moors controlled what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Pyrenees region of France for hundreds of years. The Moors were Muslim and influenced by the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East.
In Rick Steves Spain, you’ll find an inviting mix of cities and towns, including the lively cities of Barcelona and Sevilla, and the Andalucían countryside. We appreciated the self-guided walks through the castles, cathedrals, and villages – very helpful, informative, and fun!
During our travels in Portugal and Spain, I wrote other blog posts, click on each title below to view photos and read about our adventures:
The Real Maestranza bullring is a landmark in Seville and in Spanish bullfighting.
With its impressive Baroque facade, one of the bullring’s most unique features is the slightly oval shape of the ring. This 18th century arena can hold 14,000.
Above the matador’s entrance to the ring is seating for the Royal family.
Heading down to the stables… there are no bulls, horses, or bull fights this time of year.
The Chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Caridad, where matadors pray before entering the ring.
The Real Maestranza bullring has a small and interesting museum where we learned more about the world of bullfighting through the exhibitions of costumes, photographs, posters, and paintings. Our guide explained that bull fighting has historically been controversial in Spain, and was banned in Barcelona a few years ago.
Finishing up our tour early evening, we went for a walk around that area. Walking around Seville is a pleasure – a feast for the eyes.
Heading to Hotel Casa 1800 we catch our first glimpse of the magnificent Seville Cathedral. Legend has it that when they tore down a mosque of brick in 1401, the Christians re-conquering Spain said, “We will build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen.” Taking about a hundred years to build, it is the third largest church in Europe, and the largest Gothic church in the world.
The next morning we rise to sun, clear blue skies, and make our way to the Cathedral… take a stroll with us…
The tomb of Christopher Columbus is located inside the Seville Cathedral in Spain. It was designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida. Originally installed in Havana, it was moved to Seville after Spain lost control of Cuba.
Harvest time in the Cathedral’s Patio de los Naranjos (oranges).
Spectacular views as we make our way up the 308′ high Giralda (bell tower). There are no stairs but a gently sloping ramp which ends just below the belfry. It is one of the very few buildings of Islamic Spain left unscathed by Christian intervention, and it is said that the Castillian king, Ferdinand III, rode to the top of the bell tower on horseback on the day he entered Seville on horseback.
In the distance is the Real Maestranza, Seville’s historic bullring, which we will visit tomorrow…
Gourmet tapas bars are the current trend in Seville and plentiful in our Santa Cruz neighborhood. Young staff at the Hotel Casa 1800, where we are staying and highly recommend, suggest two tapas bars near the hotel – both delicious – and for paella the more traditional, Cuna-2 Restaurante.
La Azotea is a stylish, small restaurant, with good service and delicious food. Innovative and beautifully presented tapas are the norm. Our first night in Seville we are spoiled by their tapas… a beautiful roll of salmon tartare, grilled octopus on a potato puree, rice triangles filled with crayfish and cheese. We return another morning for a comforting american style breakfast of omelet, meats, bread (including gluten-free).
Our last night in Seville we dine at El Pasaje. Another gem for tapas, small and cozy with an outdoor terrace in the rear of the restaurant which is enclosed and heated for the winter. Another feast of tastes is enjoyed… artichokes with almonds and ham in a vinaigrette, octopus with rustic potatoes, grilled salmon with a tasty sauce, and chicken masala with black rice. We drink glasses of the house Rioja – inexpensive and delicious (most wines by the glass are 3 to 4 euros in Spain).
On the other end of the dining spectrum is Cuna-2. Housed in a four-story mansion designed by the great Ánibal Gonzalez. It’s been beautifully restored – a cool mix of old world beauty and ultra modern designer furniture that creates a uniquely stylish ambiance. Lovely tapas and traditional entrees like paella (which we enjoyed), are attractively presented in a number of pretty moorish tiled small dining areas flowing from a fountained central courtyard. Service was impeccable, friendly and informed. Their lovely roof terrace and cocktail bar would be a glorious in warmer weather.
Lisbon is described as a safe harbor – one of the remaining havens in Europe for sophisticated culture and relaxation in a time of tourist destinations. This time of year anyway, there are no parking lots full of tour buses, and reservations are easy to get or not needed. Walking miles each day around the city’s steep and often narrow streets has been a delight. Day and night we have felt very comfortable and safe exploring.
Few places in the world can pride themselves on maintaining the tradition and artistic use of tiles. Each group of “azulejos” (from the Arab word azzelij meaning small polished stone), as they are called in Portuguese, tell a story or portray a tradition. They are used to decorate interiors, whole facades of buildings, churches, and streets.
‘The best way to travel is to feel’ Pessoa wrote, ‘so feel everything in every possible way.’ Pessoa was born in Lisbon in 1888. The story is that apart from his high school years, which he spent in South Africa, he lived in Lisbon without a break, without taking public holidays, without traveling abroad. Instead inventing many lives (and cities) out of his own. Pessoa spent a lot of his time in cafes, where he wrote and drank a lot . He died in 1935, aged 47.
Strolling back to our hotel after dinner we come across the lookout that evaded us during the day… in the distance is the Castelo de Sao Jorge – tomorrow’s destination.
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~ Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho was cited in a New York Times travel article – Favorite Streets in 12 European Cities. Closed to traffic, painted a cheerful shade of pink it is Lisbon’s most bustling new party strip… and it is near our one of our favorite food markets – Mercado da Ribeira.
Off to Victoria, British Columbia, for three nights to escape phones, computers and all the trimmings that come with working at home. The reality of our sweet retreat sinks in as we park in the ferry lane and seek warmth from our fleece blanket on this crisp autumn morning.
We plan to walk everywhere, exploring Victoria on foot – visually soaking in the rich fall colors and feasting on the bounty of foods from the farmer’s fall harvest. A poetic time of year, Keats called the autumn – “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. While Albert Camus felt “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.
Later in the morning the sun is shining brightly as the Washington State ferry (from Friday Harbor, WA to Sidney, BC) glides smoothly across the glassy water. Soon the ferry is passing the mostly barren side of Spieden Island with its randomly placed ice age boulders. In the early 1960′s the actor, John Wayne, and his business partners imported big game animals here. Their vision was to have a private island for their sport game and hunting hobby. Fortunately, the idea was short-lived and today the forested north side of the island is home to hundreds of European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep.
About 75 minutes after departing the San Juan Islands we are slowing for our landing in the port of Sidney, British Columbia. Located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, on Vancouver Island, Sidney is a popular eco-tourist destination, with whale-watching, bird-watching, kayaking and scuba-diving… and a 2o minute drive from Victoria.
Not sure when we last visited Victoria, maybe 6 years ago? In preparation for our trip, and open to the mystery and savings of booking our lodging on Hotwire, I visited their website. After providing the details of our trip (dates of stay, area we want to stay in, how many people) Hotwire provides a list of available hotels in that area with the star rating. The mystery is that Hotwire will only show you the name of the hotel after you have paid for the booking. I prefer 3.5 stars or better, and have read that Hotwire gives the most savings if you use it to book hotels that are better than 3.5 stars (three stars or lower and the savings become small, so you are better booking through the hotel itself). Important note: Hotwire does not refund, so you want to be pretty sure you will be there!
I choose a four star hotel for $80 a night, and am very pleased when Hotwire reveals that we have selected Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa. Situated just one block from the Victoria Conference Center and two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the location is perfect for us – we can walk everywhere and enjoy the quiet that sets in just a few blocks from the downtown. Designed, built, and furnished with sustainable development in mind, it is Canada’s first resort hotel built to LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. The grey, charcoal and earth tone palette throughout the hotel helps bring the beauty of the West Coast outdoors inside, and creates a peaceful and calm environment. We thoroughly enjoy our three nights stay in the one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, and balcony overlooking the interior plant-filled atrium.
Elegant Victoria retains “a bit of Old England” with its beautiful gardens and historic buildings. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and of the Dominion of Canada, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841.
Overlooking the inner harbor, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the city. On May 26, 2011, the hotel welcomed the Queen Bee and 400,000 honeybees. The bees now live in the Centennial Garden of The Fairmont Empress and will pollinate Victoria’s hotel gardens. In total, ten hives of European bees will produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants, including world-renowned Afternoon Tea service.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia – “Although the archaeological record is still incomplete, it is clear that native people have occupied Vancouver Island for several thousand years. A tribal village society evolved with an economy based on fishing, collecting and hunting. The abundant marine and forest resources along the coasts supported a culture rich in oral tradition and artistic expression. Two main linguistic families, Salishan and Wakashan, developed and continue to exist“.
In the 1980s, Victoria’s Chinese community entered a period of renewal after a gradual decline over the previous 50 years. The Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets as a monument to recognize and preserve the Chinese heritage in Victoria for everyone. The Gate is a gift from Suzhou, China, one of Victoria’s sister cities.
If you walk down Fisgard St. towards Wharf St., make sure to keep your eyes open for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels of Fan Tan Alley have now become novelty stores and souvenir shops.
Victoria is known for its strong support of cyclists and pedestrians and there is an extensive system of paths, multi-use regional trails, and cycle lanes on city streets. We spend much of our time walking around the city, along the waterfront path, and in Beacon Hill Park.
Beacon Hill Park is located in Victoria along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. The 200 acre park was officially established in 1882, after being set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island. The name derives from a small hill overlooking the Strait, which once held navigational beacons. The hill is culturally significant, having been a burial site for the First Nations Coast Salish people, who are the original inhabitants of the Greater Victoria region. Now it provides scenic vistas of the Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington.
The park is beautifully landscaped and manicured with bridges, lakes and ponds, and an alpine and rock garden. It is home to many species of ducks, birds and wildlife. I read that a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the huge trees, and a large family of Great Blue Herons also nest in a thicket of Douglas-fir trees at the west end of the park. Enjoyed by tourists and locals, the park has woodland and shoreline trails, two playgrounds, playing fields, a petting zoo, tennis courts, many ponds, and landscaped gardens.
A short walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf… a floating boardwalk with food, shops and colorful float home community.
Not to miss is a walk around the Victoria Inner Harbor after nightfall. The Parliament Buildings light up the sky and cast a magical spell over the harbor.
Attractions in and around Victoria:
Alcheringa Gallery – Contemporary Indigenous Fine Art of the Northwest coast, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Museum quality aboriginal art.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – The museum features contemporary exhibition space and a historic 19th-century mansion called Gyppeswick, and features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 objets d’art, drawn from Asia, Europe, North America, Canada and Japan. There is a permanent exhibit on Emily Carr and her contemporaries.
Butchart Gardens – Internationally acclaimed gardens created after Robert Butchart exhausted the limestone quarry near his Tod Inlet home, about 14 miles from Victoria. Still in the family, the gardens display more than a million plants throughout the year.
Maritime Museum of BC – Enjoy a rich and vast link to the province’s nautical roots. Among a superb array of artifacts, are fascinating displays on Pirates, Heritage Vessels, Shipwrecks and special exhibits.
Royal BC Museum – A great regional museum with an incredible showpiece of First Nations art and culture, including a full-size re-creation of a longhouse, and a dramatic gallery with totem poles, masks, and artifacts. The museum has an IMAX theater showing a variety of large-screen movies.
Different articles and books concerning India are crossing my path recently and bringing back many memories. January of 1997 I visited India with a group of 12 women. Our host was one of my social work professors – he taught us “group therapy” at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, but confessed to being terrified of the idea of leading 12 American women around his homeland of Southern India. For three weeks we traveled together from Chennai (then known as Madras), the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the state of Kerala on the south-west coast. Sadly, I did not keep a written journal, fortunately my photos bring back many memories.
My professor generously planned several visits to his family’s homes. I remember at one uncle’s home during our first few days in Madras, there was a computer and we took turns writing one email each – to our husband, parents, whomever. In mine I distinctly recall telling Jay that the sights, sounds, and smells of India were all new. Comparable to no other place I had visited. An orgy for the senses!
Some other writer’s travel articles that I have enjoyed reading lately…
Traveling in Kerala is as easy and rewarding as a glide through its backwaters. In this excerpt from an article first published in Lonely Planet Magazine, are the highlights, from coconut palm-lined coasts to elephant and tiger reserves… A Perfect Trip to Kerala.
Traveling on an Indian train is a reason to travel all by itself. India’s rail network is one of the world’s most extensive and the prices are very reasonable… How to Book Trains in India.
And some books to read on your plane, train, or sofa…
In India Calling, author Anand Giridharadas brings to life the people and the dilemmas of India today, through the prism of his émigré family history and his childhood memories of India. He introduces us to entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and religious seekers, but, most of all, to Indian families. Through their stories, and his own, he paints an intimate portrait of a country becoming modern while striving to remain itself.
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport.
Let’s end with a quote from Will Durant (American philosopher, 1885 to 1981) ~
India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.
The Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende is one of many “regional museums” of Mexico. It was the home of Ignacio Allende, who was a principle protagonist in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. The structure, built in 1759 with Baroque and Neoclassical elements, is located next to the San Miguel parish church, La Parroquia. The museum focuses on the history of the local area from the prehistoric period to the present, especially the area’s role in Mexico’s national history.
The first floor has exhibits about the founding of the town, its role in protecting the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. Although it was a route motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures. I really enjoy the upper floor which has exhibits related to the family of Ignacio Allende and rooms preserved as they were when he lived here.
If I have not mentioned this before, San Miguel de Allende is a city to be explored on foot, so I recommend you bring comfortable shoes because the streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks uneven stone with frequent steps.
Cobblestones are stones that were often used in paving early streets and the word derives from the very old English word “cob”, which had a range of meanings, one of which was “rounded lump” with overtones of large size. “Cobble”, which appeared in the 15th century and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth “cobbles”, gathered from stream beds, that paved the first “cobblestone” streets.
This is our last week in San Miguel and we have a list of things to do and see before we leave. One of mine is to visit the LifePath Center and the Pura Vida Store/Cafe on Pila Seca #9. My friend, Polly, brought me a gift of their decadent flourless chocolate cake, and I want to visit myself and check out the other gluten-free goodies!
Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center. She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products. She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to. The day we visit I find two deliciously healthy and moist gluten-free muffins – one carrot and the other banana.
LifePath is a center for personal growth and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. It has served the international community for over a decade, and offers programs for learning, healing, and retreat in their centuries-old villa.
Also on Pila Seca Street, just across from LifePath, I come across a wonderful little shop which sells a unique array of one-of-a-kind merchandise. The store opened in July 2007 with the philosophy of supporting artists and exposing people to an eclectic mix of local, national and international products. Their collection includes distinctive jewelry, interesting furniture, clothing, creative greeting cards and a variety of home decor and furnishings.
Our friend, Elisabeth, suggests we dine at Tacos don Felix (15th Fray Juan de San Miguel) before we leave, so Friday we hail a cab and venture out of the historic district. We arrive at the restaurant on the early side and easily get a table for four. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and local ex-pats. Hungry for some veggies we start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots are piled on the platter. Known for their tacos we all get the taco sampler. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish-style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and the owners young son is very official in his white jacket. After dinner the hostess happily calls a cab for us.
As I look in the cupboard to see what needs eating before we leave early next week, I discover a bag of Pamela’s Gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix. Brought along in my suitcase from the U.S. I decide this mix is not getting a roundtrip ticket. Besides I have a few other acquisitions to pack… So, I decide to bake a Lime Poundcake (following the directions on the bag, but adding lime juice and making it dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter). We are having a little dinner party so Jay gets creative with the fresh blueberries – cooking them briefly in tequila and a bit of agave… the result is outrageously delicious!
Today we take our last Sunday morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary three sheep surprise us as we round a curve on the path.
Walking down the hill into town for breakfast we spot Suites Santo Domingo on Callejon Santo Domingo 16. Elisabeth has friends coming who are looking for a place to stay so we venture in and look around the lovely property.
Our walks always end with breakfast and today we go to Cafe de la Parroquia. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses this morning. Delicious fresh mini baguettes come with a wonderful avocado salsa or butter and & jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf. Many varieties of egg dishes are on the menu. We enjoy scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, scrambled eggs with chorizo, a green drink and fresh carrot juice. The service is very good and the owner stops by to thank us for coming in.
As our month in San Miguel comes to its conclusion I will remember the joy of discovery in coming to a new place ~ the visual beauty of this historic city and the quiet dignity of the Mexican families that live and work here.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”Author, Bill Bryson
To read posts from our first three weeks in San Miguel de Allende, click below:
Entering the Saturday Organic Farmers Market one of the first things we notice is an outdoor dining area under the shade trees filled with people eating. Then the aromas of tortillas and gorditas frying on the griddles. Two Mexican families are cooking and serving up a storm of tacos, tamales, quesadillas, and huaraches – their tables covered with earthy brown pottery pots of all sizes filled with beef in red mole, guacamole, lamb stew, chicken in green sauce, chorizo and egg, grilled onions, spinach, beans… we quickly decide that this is the place to have Saturday brunch.
Before or after filling your stomach there is the rest of the market to discover. A row of organic farmers selling their fresh vegetables – our weekly list includes avocados, kale, chard, tomatoes, cilantro, radishes, and a beautiful bag of mixed salad greens. Then there are the bakeries with delicious homemade desserts, breads, donuts, pastries, and pies. Other booths are selling natural skin care products made from distillations of cactus, wonderful small batch dark chocolates with ginger or orange, colorful embroidered pillow covers, rugs, and jewelry.
One of the food stands is Via Organica where they sell fresh organic eggs and other foodstuffs from their store. We visit Via Organica store during the week to restock on organic fresh vegetables, pick up freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. During our stay in San Miguel they had several viewings of the film, Food, Inc., which lifts the veil on the U.S. food industry, exposing how our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.
2 medium avocados
5 tablespoons of cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey OR 6 dates, pitted and soaked (to soften, if necessary)
3 tablespoons coconut milk or water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
In a food processor or heavy-duty blender – puree avocados, cocoa powder, honey OR dates, coconut milk, vanilla extract and orange zest until smooth. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt. Serves two.
Surprisingly good and best made a day ahead so the flavors meld.
Gluten-free, dairy-free & vegan.
p.s. While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:
Each Sunday since our arrival in San Miguel de Allende we begin the day with a morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop 1.5 km northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary we come upon this fantastic tree decorated with cactus hearts and skulls (perhaps an homage to Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead).
Heading to town after our walk, an artful old structure exposes its bones.
A favorite activity is strolling around the city with camera in hand. Today we seem to be attracted to a certain yellow/gold color vibe.
January 21 is General Ignacio José de Allende’s birthday (January 21, 1769 – June 26, 1811). He was a captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement, and attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. In 1811 Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason. Each year his birthday is celebrated with a parade and all day festivities at the Jardin Principal.
To add an elegant and distinctive touch to a horse’s appearance, many of the riders create a design on their mount’s hindquarters. The most common of these designs, which are known as quarter marks, is the checkerboard pattern. A horse bearing quarter marks indicates that the owner has gone the extra mile in grooming and care.
We take a respite from the days festivities to have breakfast and shop at the Saturday Organic Market, where along with great vegetables and foodstuffs, we come across the local domestic violence booth. A blog post focused on the Market will be posted soon…
From the market we head to the Jardin Principal where, amid all the birthday festivities, a wedding is under way at La Parroquia.
Well into the evening the festivities continue with various musical guests, a full military symphony and choir.
Our day comes to a satisfying conclusion at Cafe Rama, Calle Nueva #7. Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relax with a bottle of wine as we received a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger… then a sensuous dessert finale of cappucino creme brulee and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. Muy Bueno.
Note: Cafe Rama was able to accommodate my gluten-free needs without any problem.