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.
From a spectacular sunrise in Vancouver, BC to a cold and gray Frankfurt morning, to a mild but drizzly day in Lisbon, Portugal… we have traveled far over the last 24 hours. Energized from the excitement of our arrival in Lisbon, the adventure begins as we take the City Centre bus #1 to our hotel – Brown’s Downtown. Making our way to the Rossio stop, Jay writes, “the neighborhoods pass, like waves, each with their own character and pulse – palm trees, cars parked on cobblestone sidewalks, ancient tiled facades, monuments at many intersections.” We sense the history and grandeur of Lisbon.
After a siesta and consult with the friendly and helpful hotel staff, we head out for the evening with a loose walking plan and a destination for dinner.
Recommended by our hotel concierge, Populi is a short walk away, and very welcoming as we approach it across the square. Beginning with glasses of red wine from the Douro region of Portugal (graceful, with notes of black cherry), and a burlap sack of focaccia and peasant bread we settle right in. Roban, our waiter, guides us through the menu and we enjoy his friendly conversation. After a plate of charcuteries, Jay has a very nicely cooked and tasty duck risotto with fresh rosemary & thyme. I enjoy lighter fare, a bowl of the traditional sausage, potato and kale soup… potatoes pureed into the broth with little chunks of sausage and a chiffonade of kale – perfectly executed.
At the end of the meal, Roban brings us complimentary glasses of Ginjinha – a delicious Portuguese sour cherry-infused liqueur – popular in Lisbon.
Wandering back to the hotel after dinner, enjoying the fresh air and quiet energy of the city, a sliver of moon appears as we round the corner.
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:
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.
San Miguel is a feast for the senses… the smell of corn tortillas toasting, our first night view of La Parroquia in the Jardin, church bells ringing the hour… Enjoy a sampling of our first week in this spirited and colorful colonial town.
Where is San Miguel de Allende? The city is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in mountainous central Mexico, and is 170 miles from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the emerging insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.
Our good friend and yoga mate, Polly, is the proud owner of a casa and casita in San Miguel. The casa is for rent by the month. We are the first renters and I have only praise for this lovely, comfortable two bedroom house. Located on Barranca just several blocks from the Jardin Principal, we are enjoying the central location and walk everywhere. For information on renting the casa, just email Polly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
San Miguel is known for its picturesque streets with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make an orderly grid.
The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window.
The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
The Biblioteca Pública or Public Library serves as the educational and cultural heart of San Miguel, providing bicultural resources for both the Mexican and foreign population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children and started the first children’s library in her home. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection. More than a library, one can relax and dine at Café Santa Ana; read Atencion San Miguel, the library’s weekly bilingual newspaper which covers local news, issues and events (published every Friday); and enjoy Teatro Santa Ana’s presentations of lectures, concerts, plays and films.
To the far south of the historic center is Parque Juárez or Juarez Park. This park was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the banks of a river in French style with fountains, decorative pools, wrought iron benches, old bridges and footpaths.
This week while walking around the city, Jay and I came upon a lost puppy on a quiet path. After inquiring around the immediate area for an owner, I carried her back to our rental casa. I had read about The S.P.A. (Sociedad Protectora de Animales) in Atencion the day before. I cannot say enough about this organization which exists for the well being of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats in San Miguel and environs. The next day I delivered the puppy to Lynn who had arranged for a foster parent for the puppy until the shelter had room in their new puppy area. After meeting one of the veterinarians who pronounced the puppy very healthy, and speaking with the foster mom, I am very confident this little one will be fine… still it was a tearful goodbye.
Arriving at the Jardin Principal a little before midnight, we excitedly weave our way through the crowd that is high energy and festive. Mexican families and an eclectic mix of foreign visitors fill the square and we all dance or move to the vibrant pulse of the salsa band. We peak into the grand, La Parroquia, decorated for the holidays with lights and greens, where a midnight mass is proceeding with standing room only. The doors of the church are open and sounds of the band mingle with the reading by the priest. A festive soup of sounds.
Merriment is in the air as the plaza continues to fill with folks of all ages and nationalities ready to welcome in 2012, most whirling a two foot long sparkler in the air. At the stroke of midnight the fireworks begin, we gape at the fabulous display, and marvel that we are here.
To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:
Las Vegas, New Mexico is laid out in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings which could serve as fortifications in case of attack. An important consideration in 1835 when it was founded. The town soon prospered as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail which was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We were not familiar with Las Vegas, N.M. Jay’s cousin suggested we stop in as we made our way to her home in Santa Fe. Turns out it was a boomtown in its time, and has more than 900 buildings on the state and National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1969 movie Easy Rider, Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the town where the two bikers ride behind a parade, are arrested for “parading without a permit,” and meet Jack Nicholson’s character in jail. And most of the 2007 Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men was filmed here.
The arrival of the railroad on July 4, 1879 brought with it businesses and people, both respectable and questionable. Among the notorious characters were such legends of the Old West as: dentist Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler.
When the Spanish-American War was declared in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt resigned from the Navy Department. With the aid of U.S. Army Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt assembled an improbable regiment of Ivy Leaguers, cowboys, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Western Territory land speculators. This group of men, which became known as the Rough Riders, trained for four weeks in the Texas desert and then set sail for Cuba. Over the course of the summer, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders fought valiantly, and sometimes recklessly, in the Cuban foothills, incurring casualties at a far greater rate than the Spanish. Roosevelt kept a detailed diary from the time he left Washington until his triumphant return from Cuba later that year, and his account of the battle was published as Rough Riders in 1899.
This September day the town is pretty quiet as we stretch our legs with a walk around the plaza. Many artists now live in the area and we buy a few cards at the El Zócalo Cooperative Art Gallery. A member-operated cooperative gallery on the historic Las Vegas Plaza featuring the work of over 15 diverse local artists. From there we walk over to the historic Plaza Hotel, newly restored and know as the “Belle of the Southwest” when it was built in 1882.
Las Vegas is situated between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and the Great Plains on the other. Nearby are state parks and the 1.6-million acre Santa Fe National Forest, one of the five National Forests in New Mexico. The Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, 6 miles southeast of the city, provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering area for migrating geese, ducks, and cranes.
So ends our quick tour of Las Vegas… we are eager to get to Santa Fe, a little over an hour away, and our base for the next five days.
Leaving family in Missouri we head to Bentonville, Arkansas for an overnight. Yes, this is the home of Walmart and Jay wants to visit their flagship store, Sam’s Club, where they are practicing state of the art sustainability.
We have no trouble getting a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bentonville. A friendly young man checks us in and makes a few suggestions for dining in the historic downtown area of town. Today is Labor Day so the area feels like a ghost town with few places open.
Three restaurants are recommended: Table Mesa Bistro, which offers multicultural dishes featuring seasonal ingredients (fire grilled lamb pita), Tavola Trattoria where they serve excellent Italian food (Kobe meatballs) and is the sister restaurant of Table Mesa, and Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie.
We locate all three in a drive around town and find only Tusk & Trotter open. They have a limited menu in the bar because of the holiday but we have a delicious and satisfying meal. Jay starts with a draft Guinness and then we both decide on the grilled romaine salad and ribs with truffle fries. Jay declares the grilled salad the best he has ever had – light smokey flavor permeating the greens. The ribs are meaty and the fries are wickedly good. And all are gluten-free.
Clueless about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art until our waiter at Tusk & Trotter fills us in, we drive over to the park to take a walk and peer through the fence into the museum construction area. A 120 acres of forests, gardens, and long hiking trails connect the museum with downtown Bentonville. Its patron, Alice Walton, is the descendant of the Ozarks’ first family: her father, Sam Walton, opened a discount store called Wal-Mart in nearby Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. Today Walmart is America’s largest private employer. The Walton Family Foundation gave the museum a $1.2 billion endowment and Ms Walton and the museum have amassed an enviable collection of treasures spanning most of American history.
Crystal Bridges takes its name from Crystal Spring, which flows on the grounds, and from the multiple bridges around which the museum is designed. The architect is Moshe Safdie, best known for his half-brutalist, half-playful Habitat 67 complex in Montreal. Crystal Bridges comprises several discrete but linked structures that meander around and above two spring-fed reflecting ponds, a design that Mr Safdie says is meant to echo the surrounding topography. Much of the museum’s roofing is copper, which currently has the umbral hue of the foliage around it—the leaves dying in autumn, the copper brand new—but which will of course gradually darken, turning a deep rust red and then dark brown before taking on the familiar light green patina in years to come.
And just as the buildings nestle into and hug their surroundings, with few right angles, so the roofs arch and swoop and fall, mimicking the region’s mountains. Trees surround the museum; as they grow they will enshroud it with leaves in full summer and expose it in winter. Crystal Bridges does not look like a traditional Japanese structure, but something of the Japanese aesthetic—simplicity and cleanness of design, reverence for nature, the impulse to build in harmony with rather than atop the natural world—pervades it.
The museum’s collection manages to be both thorough and surprising. Those who wish to see works by major American artists such as Winslow Homer, Thomas Hart Benton and Robert Rauschenberg will not be disappointed. But Don Bacigalupi, the museum director, says that in building a collection at this late date he looked at “identifying new scholarship and new research that led us toward artists and moments less well discovered”. That has inspired a particularly strong focus on women in American art—as patrons, subjects and creators. Janet Sobel, who made drip paintings several years before Jackson Pollock, gets her due. Among the museum’s first-rate collection of portraits, nothing exceeds Dennis Miller Bunker’s sombre, haunting image of Anne Page; and in its contemporary galleries Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s marquetry “Room” is, like the museum itself, a chamber of wonders in an unexpected place.
When the museum opens Nov. 11, many of the paintings will be on public display for the first time because Alice Walton bought them from private collections.