The Getty Center in Los Angeles

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

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.

Electric tram ascends upward to the Getty Center.
Electric tram ride up to the Getty Center.

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.

Click to see panorama of Getty Center.
Click to see panorama of Getty Center.
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV

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.

Desert garden, Getty Center, Los Angeles
The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center.

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.

Rocky stream in Central Garden, Getty Center
Stream flows along a rocky bed in the Central Garden…
A flowering maze of azaleas in the Central Garden.
… then cascades into a flowering maze of azaleas.

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.

Industrial steel parasols bursting with fuchsia bougainvillea.
Industrial steel parasols bursting with fuchsia bougainvillea.

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.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Painting in the Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque, NM
Passionate painting in the Hotel Andaluz

Vast skies and big sun greet us as we step out into the chilly air at Albuquerque International Airport. Here to explore the city – its history, architecture and food – we head to the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque.

The Andalucian region of Spain inspired the hotel’s décor and architectural style.
The Andalucian region of Spain inspired the hotel’s décor and architectural style.
Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque, NM
Unique private alcoves in the lobby.

Hotel Andaluz was originally opened in 1939 by New Mexico native Conrad Hilton, and was the fourth Hilton Hotel ever built. During the last renovation the new ownership incorporated many green initiatives into the building. Furnishings, equipment, and demolition debris were recycled and documented throughout the process. Solar energy generates approximately 60% of the guest rooms’ hot water. Interior finishes have been carefully selected to incorporate LEED approved natural and low VOC emissions products.

Besides being a visual treat the hotel offers comfort on all levels. Our room is spacious, nicely appointed and immaculate.  The lobby is inspired by the Andalusian region of Spain, and has a central area with small, intimate alcoves along one side. Staff is attentive and informed… and the rates are very good this time of year.

This is our first time exploring Albuquerque and we chose to stay downtown in hopes of walking everywhere. We soon learn the city is quite spread out. Uber becomes our best friend.

Contrasting the comfort of our hotel are the number of homeless people we observe as we walk around the downtown area. Not threatening to us but a sad reminder of how many people are falling through the cracks of our society. Doing research for this post I came across an article in the New York Times: Albuquerque, Revising Approach Toward the Homeless, Offers Them Jobs. The city is implementing a work program for those living on the street who are interested. A van goes around and picks up those who would like to work for the day. Participants are paid by the hour and provided a lunch of sandwiches, chips and granola bars. For the city, it represents a policy shift toward compassion and utility.

Albuquerque's historic Kimo theatre.
Albuquerque’s historic Kimo theatre.
KiMo Theater sconce
KiMo Theater Native American inspired sconce.

Not far from our hotel is one of the city’s best known landmarks, The KiMo Theatre, a Pueblo Deco picture palace, opened on September 19, 1927. Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short-lived architectural style that fused the spirit of the Native American cultures of the Southwest with the excitement of Art Deco. Native American motifs appeared in only a handful of theaters, and of those few, the KiMo is the undisputed king. We were fortunate to take in a matinee – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – part of a “Best of Bogart” series.

Kimo Theatre, Albuquerque, NM
Beautiful murals line the stairway of the KiMo Theatre.

The interior is designed to look like the inside of a ceremonial kiva, with log-like ceiling beams painted with dance and hunting scenes.

Albuquerque's Kimo Theatre lobby.
Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre lobby.
Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill
Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill

One of the areas we Uber to is Nob Hill, a mile-long stretch along Central Avenue with shops, trendy restaurants, and nightspots. Central Avenue became part of Route 66 in 1937 as it passed through Albuquerque on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Today new and old businesses share a commitment to the area’s retro style, and the area remains lively in part because the University of  New Mexico occupies over 600 acres along Central Avenue, and serves more than 25,000 students. Nob Hill has been described as “the heart of Albuquerque’s Route 66 culture and also its hippest, funkiest retail and entertainment district”… and is named after Nob Hill in San Francisco.

The Guild, an independent art house.
The Guild, an independent art house.

On a cold winter afternoon, we enjoy a foreign film at the Guild in Nob Hill. A compact, retro-inspired theater screening limited release, international & art-house flicks.

Albuquerque is bordered to the east by the Sandia Mountains. Hoping to get a closer view of these spectacular peaks we plan to ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway—the world’s longest—to the crest, where you can look out over 11,000 square miles of magical New Mexico landscape. Unfortunately, the tram is closed on this Tuesday so we settle for a photo and decide to check out the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

Sandia mountains
Sandia mountains

We read that the Museum’s mission is to serve as America’s resource for nuclear history and science. Exhibits and educational programs convey the diversity of individuals and events that shape the historical and technical context of the nuclear age. Having watched the series Manhattan about our country’s race to build the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos we are intrigued.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
B52 bomber at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.
B52 bomber at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

The Museum tells the story of the Atomic Age, from early research of nuclear development through today’s uses of the technology. In the summer the Museum runs a science camp program within the state, with 300 day-campers learning about robotics, flight, engineering, medicine and general science.

Prickly pear cactus in bloom.
Prickly pear cactus in bloom.

Prickly Pear Margarita’s are on our minds as we wind up the day and leave you with some dining suggestions… all able to accommodate a gluten-free diet.

Fork & Fig Reuben with brussels sprout side.
Fork & Fig Reuben with brussels sprout side.

Fork & Fig – specializing in gourmet sandwiches, paninis and wraps but also incorporates a fine dining element in the quality of their ingredients and creativity. For example, their Rueben… pastrami+shredded pork+green chile slaw+sauerkraut+swiss+russian dressing+marbled rye bread… delicious. And the day we dined a side of sautéed brussels sprouts with bacon and a touch of maple syrup.

Vinaigrette – a salad bistro that raises the “salad bar” with delicious entrée salads. Their perfectly dressed gourmet salads boast innovative flavor combinations from the savory All Kale Caesar to the sweet Nutty Pear-fessor and balanced Salacho taco salad. It’s healthy comfort food that is a pleasure to find when on the road.

Range Cafe on Menaul Blvd.
Fun decor at the Range Cafe on Menaul Blvd.

Slate Street Cafe – Preparing comfort foods in a contemporary style, they work with local farmers to provide the freshest ingredients… local eggs for breakfast and heirloom tomatoes for dinner. We recommend Katie’s Eggs with green chile to begin the day.

Farm & Table – Upscale and regional, offering seasonal menus featuring local-sourced foods. They have a garden and farm stand right behind the restaurant! One of the top restaurants in Albuquerque.

Range Cafe – an Albuquerque landmark serving up southwestern comfort food. Locally owned, family friendly, great service, and quality food… they are open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As a useful guide, consider 100 Things to Do in Albuquerque Before You Die. The author, Ashley M. Biggers, is a writer and editor, as well as a native of Albuquerque. She has covered the city for several local and regional publications. Her book celebrates the top ways to (re)discover the city-from a trip 4,000 feet up on the aerial tramway to a public art walk, and includes places to hike, bike, and paddle… plus, where to dine on dishes prepared by the city’s best chefs.

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

The Whitney Museum of American Art

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.

Approaching the High Line.
Approaching the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.

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.”

Whitney Museum
On the east side the Whitney descends in tiers.

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 restaurant at the Whitney Museum.
Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.

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.

Food truck in front of Whitney
Business is slow for artful food truck in front of the Whitney.

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.

Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr.
Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr. (Courtesy of Nasher Museum of Art)

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.”

View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the High Line from the Whitney.
View of the High Line and the neighborhood from the Whitney.

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!

Children of the Light at Jazz Standard
Drinks all around as we settle in for Children of the Light at Jazz Standard.

Barcelona, Spain – walk, dine, sleep

Barcelona, Spain

“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

Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)
Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)

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.

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Sunroom, Barcelona, Spain
Glorious sunroom at Hotel Praktik Rambla

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.”

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona
Modern and vintage design blend well at the Hotel Praktik Rambla, 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.

Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.
Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.

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.

Young drummers fill the streets for "Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia" parade.
Young drummers fill the streets for “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” parade.
The Arc de Triomf
In 1888 Barcelona hosted the Universal Exhibition, and the Arc de Triomf was built as the gateway to the fair.

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.

The Arc de Triomf
Today, the arch still serves as an entrance to the great Park de la Ciutadella. The arch, with its open surroundings and relaxed environment, is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.

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.

Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.
Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.

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.

shopping, Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain
Window shopping along the Ramblas.
Enticing leather bags.
A window full of enticing leather bags captures my eye as we stroll Passeig de Gràcia.
graffiti, shopping, El Born, barcelona, spain
Colorful graffiti draws attention to this shop entrance in El Born.

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

Picasso Museum, La Ribera district, Barcelona, Spain
Historic outdoor courtyard in the Picasso Museum.

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

Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (phot o courtesy of the Foundation).
Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (photo courtesy of the Foundation).

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.

Cerveceria Catalana - delicious tapas restaurant.
Cerveceria Catalana – delicious tapas restaurant.

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.

Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.
Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.
Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.
Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the 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.

Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.
Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.

“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.

Strolling in Valencia, Spain

Cty of Arts & Sciences, Valencia, Spain
Cty of Arts & Sciences, Valencia, Spain

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.

Valencia's old riverbed park is called the Garden of the Turia.
Garden of the Turia, Valencia’s riverbed park.

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.

Historic bridges carry traffic across the park.
Historic bridges carry traffic across the park.

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.

L'Umbracle, part of the City of Arts and Sciences, is a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia.
L’Umbracle, part of the City of Arts and Sciences, is a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia.

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.

Historic Valencia architecture is a feast for the eyes.
Historic Valencia architecture is a feast for the eyes.
Architecture in Valencia, Spain.
Truly majestic.

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.

Dancing in front of the Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.
Dancing in front of the Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.
Dancers in Valencia, Spain
Young dancers in their colorful finery.

Street scene in Valencia, Spain

pink scooter, valencia, Spain
Sunday ride on the pink scooter?

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.

Graffiti in Valencia, Spain

Valencia graffiti 1_new

Jay snaps this photo for me just before we learn that no photos are to be taken inside the En Transito exhibit at IVAM

Sculpture from the En Transito exhibit at IVAM.
Sculpture from 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.

Oaxaca, Mexico

La Zundunga in Oaxaca, Mexico
La Zundunga a popular spot in Oaxaca, Mexico. (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Oaxaca is another artful city in Mexico on our list to visit – read about the town, some of its culture, food, and nightlife from New York Times writer, Freda Moon…

WITH Oaxaca’s imposing Baroque churches, plant-filled courtyards and shady plazas perfect for people-watching, it’s tempting to see the city as a photogenic relic of Mexico’s colonial past. But Oaxaca City, the capital of one of the country’s poorest states and a college town teeming with students, isn’t quaint or stagnant; it’s a small but dynamic city, still emerging economically from the social unrest that put it in the international spotlight, and crippled its tourism industry, in 2006. That uprising — a protest by striking teachers that was met with police violence and led to a protracted conflict — is now history, but its legacy is everywhere in a streetscape of politically inspired stencil art, which has turned adobe walls and concrete sidewalks into a public gallery. Combined with the city’s long-established studio art scene, a vibrant cafe culture, a mescal-fueled night life and one of Mexico’s most exciting regional cuisines, Oaxaca is as cosmopolitan as it is architecturally stunning.

Link to the full article… 36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico

We are in San Miguel de Allende enjoying the warm sun, beautiful architecture, history, and food. Read about our adventures and take in the great photos…

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Art Exhibits 2012

Manet in Black, Fine Arts Museum

This print, Les Courses (‘The Races’), shows Manet’s drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic. We find ourselves in the middle of the racetrack with the horses galloping straight towards us. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle as the lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling.

“Manet in Black” is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston beginning in February 2012. Edouard Manet’s friend, the poet Charles Baudelaire, described black as the color of the nineteenth century. Manet was a master in the use of black, asserting his bold and subtle imprint on a range of subjects. This exhibition celebrates Manet’s brilliant achievements as a graphic artist. Known as the painter of modern life and the father of Impressionism, Manet was also an exceptionally gifted printmaker and draftsman, among the most daring and innovative of the nineteenth century.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s collection and featuring a selection of some 50 prints and drawings by Manet and related artists—including Rembrandt and Degas—the exhibition spans a variety of subjects, techniques, and styles from throughout Manet’s career.

Bringing forth fresh perspectives on Manet’s art by established scholars, Therese Dolan’s new book – Perspectives on Manet – places this compelling and elusive artist’s painted oeuvre within a broader cultural context, and links his artistic preoccupations with literary and musical currents. Dolan’s collection investigates the range of Manet’s art in the context of his time and considers how his vision has shaped later interpretations. Specific essays explore the relationship between Manet and Whistler; Emile Zola’s attitude toward the artist; Manet’s engagement with moral and ethical questions in his paintings; and the heritage of Charles Baudelaire and Clement Greenberg in critical responses to Manet. Therese Dolan is Professor of Art History and Women’s Studies at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, USA.

Inspired by last years list of promising exhibits, here are some suggestions for 2012:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you will visit this year… it is enriching, educational and inspiring. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica on our Sunday walk.

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.

Callejon Pueblito in San Miguel de Allende
Heading to Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito after our Sunday walk.

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.

Casa Calderoni B & B in San Miguel de Allende
Lovely Bed & Breakfast across the street from Cafe Buen Dia

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 (pollyp@centurytel.net).

Guest Casa on Barranca in San Miguel de Allende
Our charming rental home/casa for the month of January is on Barranca.
Guest casa patio in San Miguel de Allende
And has a sunny spacious patio that looks out into a courtyard.

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.

A colorful alleyway off Barranca.
A colorful narrow alleyway winds its way up from Barranca.
Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende
Looking up at the Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende

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.

Home in San Miguel de Allende
Large old home in San Miguel de Allende.

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.

Downtown street scene in San Miguel de Allende
The vibrant downtown in San Miguel de Allende.
Festival decorations in San Miguel de Allende
Holiday decorations adorn most streets in the downtown area during the holidays.

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.

Mural in the public library, San Miguel de Allende
Mural in the Biblioteca Pública or Public Library.

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.

Sculpture in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
One of several wood sculptures in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
Public laundry in San Miguel de Allende
On the east side of the park, the stone tubs of the outdoor public laundry are still in use.

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.

Found puppy of San Miguel de Allende
We found and fell in love with a sweet puppy - "Pacolita" (photo courtesy of Elisabeth Mention)

Jay is my gifted and patient photographer. He uses the Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with a 3.5x Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lens. There are many old and beautiful churches in San Miguel and the shot below really shows off the wide angle lens ability of the Nikon Coolpix 8400.

Church in San Miguel de Allende
Beautiful St. Paul's Church hosts regular concerts in San Miguel de Allende.

The world is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only one page. – Saint Augustine

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra

Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each year on the weekend after Labor Day, The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe stages the burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra, kicking off the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe. Zozobra centers around the ritual burning in effigy of Old Man Gloom, or Zozobra, to dispel the hardships and travails of the past year.

The Fiestas celebration began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Don Diego de Vargas, who reconquered the territory of New Mexico. Zozobra became part of the Fiestas in 1926, and the Kiwanis club began sponsoring the burning in 1963 as its major fundraiser.

Local artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. – “Will” (1893-1969) conceived and created Zozobra in 1924 as the focus of a private fiesta at his home for artists and writers in the community. His inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster’s came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as “anguish, anxiety, gloom” or in Spanish for “the gloomy one.”

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta! – A.W. Denninger

The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

We know this crisp September evening in Santa Fe is going to be special as we look across at Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, in the large park where thousands of people are gathered and chanting “burn him, burn him”. The lights, music, fireworks, and sense of frenzied expectation make the experience unforgettable. When the moment finally arrives and Zozobra burns into smoldering ash, it is incredible. The idea is that people’s gloomy thoughts disappear – certainly in this dramatic moment that is true.

The oldest capital in the United States, Santa Fe is home to both ancient and modern cultures, Spanish churches, vibrant festivals, and adobe houses. Santa Fe Icons: 50 Symbols of the City Different is an entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes, and little known facts about fifty of the classic symbols that represent Santa Fe. From the Plaza to posole to Zozobra learn about the things that give Santa Fe its character.

Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Horse Sculpture in Lexington, Kentucky
The Thoroughbred Park Sculpture Collection, Lexington, KY

Bluegrass, rolling hills, grazing horses… Kentucky is beautiful. At the entrance to downtown Lexington Gwen Reardon’s collection of sculptures in Thoroughbred Park greets us. The park is a tribute to the thoroughbred race horse, and features thirteen sculptures. Seven life-size bronze race horses and jockeys race toward an imaginary finish line, while in the adjacent park bronze broodmares and their foals graze.

Lexington, which is named for the initial battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, was founded in 1775. Lexington is a small city and easy to get around. We stayed in the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton which is conveniently located on Richmond Road and just minutes from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky Horse Park. Their renovated over-sized rooms feature king or two queen beds and each guestroom is furnished with Flat Screen HD TV. The young woman who checked us in was very friendly and helpful.

After a long day of driving from Maryland, we were hungry and tired. The young woman at the Hilton recommended a restaurant nearby – The Chop House. Jay still raves about the Chop House Pork Chop (bone-in, thick cut) and my filet mignon was tender and perfectly cooked. We both ordered the chopped salad which really hit the spot… crisp romaine lettuce, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, avocado – we chose the Santa Fe dressing – a ranch-like spicy dressing. And good news – The Chop House has a gluten-free menu!

A La Lucie, Lexington, Kentucky
A La Lucie in downtown Lexington, Kentucky

Historically and today, downtown is the center of cultural life in Lexington. The restored 1887 Lexington Opera House features touring professional theater groups, Lexington Philharmonic concerts and other arts performances. Downtown is home to many of Lexington’s most popular and creative restaurants including A La Lucie on North Limestone. We walked by before they were open, but the reviews online are very positive. Asking the owner about a good coffee spot she suggested Third Street Stuff & Coffee. Not only did we enjoy a great cup of coffee (voted best cup of coffee in Lexington multiple times) the whole vibe is creativity… from the 3rd Street Stuff store inside to the fun embellishments on the outside patio, and mosaic on a back wall.

Third Street Stuff & Coffee, Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee, Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee patio
Third Street Stuff & Coffee groovy patio
Third Street Stuff & Coffee mosaic in Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee mosaic

Lexington is home to the University of Kentucky, as well as to Transylvania University, the oldest college established west of the Allegheny Mountains. For art lovers, the University of Kentucky Art Museum comes highly recommended and is home to many American works of art by acclaimed artists such as Alexander Calder, Sam Gilliam, Louise Berliawsky Nevelson and Gilbert Charles Stuart.

A number of Lexingtonians have roots that go back generations. Kentucky writers, most notably Wendell Berry, draw deeply on this sense of place. The stunning Red River Gorge is located in eastern Kentucky (about 60 miles from Lexington) and home to 26,000 acres of untamed river, rock formations, historical sites, unusual vegetation and wildlife. Berry writes about the Gorge, revealing its corners and crevices, ridges and rapids. His words not only implore us to know more but to venture there ourselves. Infused with his very personal perspective and enhanced by the photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, The Unforeseen Wilderness draws the reader in to celebrate an extraordinary natural beauty and to better understand what threatens it.

The nickname for Kentucky is The Bluegrass State. Bluegrass is actually green – but in the spring bluegrass produces bluish-purple buds that give a rich blue cast to the grass when seen in large fields. The gentle rolling hills, and the highly fertile soil are good for growing pasture which makes for good horses.

To learn about the horses and have a chance to get up close, visit the Kentucky Horse Park. On a nice summer day the Horse Park is a beautiful green space to walk around and explore. You will see scores of horses in the fields and barns. Kids can take a pony ride, adults can ride a horse, or the whole family can take a spin on a carriage ride. It’s a working farm with fifty different breeds living on the park’s 1,200 acres.

Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky
Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky

Limestone makes for good horses and good whiskey. Millions of years in the making Kentucky spring water, purified as it flows over limestone rock formations, is perfect for Bourbon distilling because it is free of minerals that affect taste. As we leave Lexington to drive west towards Missouri we decide to detour onto the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and pay a visit to the Makers Mark Distillery outside of Loretto.

Barrel room at Makers Mark Distillery
Barrel room at Makers Mark Distillery with tools of the trade displayed.

The history of bourbon begins in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. The Governor of Virginia at that time was Thomas Jefferson, and he offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky (then called Bourbon county) if they would build a permanent structure and raise “native corn”. No family could eat that much corn, and they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task, so it was turned into whiskey. Kentucky Bourbon is different from other types of whiskeys because of ingredients, aging, the pure limestone-rich water of Kentucky, and the Kentucky crafted American white oak barrels.

Copper stills at Makers Mark Distillery
Gleaming copper stills at the Makers Mark Distillery

Production of Maker’s Mark started in 1954, after its originator, T. William “Bill” Samuels Sr., purchased the distillery known as “Burks’ Distillery” in Loretto, Kentucky for $35,000. The first bottle of Maker’s Mark was bottled in 1958 and featured the brand’s distinctive dipped red wax seal. The distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 16, 1980, listed as “Burks’ Distillery”. It was the first distillery in America to be recognized, where the landmark buildings were in active use for distilling.

The tour of the distillery begins near the stonewalled creek that runs through the peaceful, landscaped grounds, where you’ll hear a brief history of the distillery. Its black buildings feature bright red shutters with a Maker’s Mark bottle cutout. Unlike larger distilleries’ 600-barrel-per-day production, Maker’s Mark crafts its bourbon in 19 barrel batches. This is a free tour and no reservations are needed. Tastings are given in the gift shop area at the end.

Located on the grounds of the Makers Mark Distillery is The Toll Gate Cafe, housed in a toll house built in the late 1800s. Completely remodeled, it has a pleasant atmosphere – historical photos on gray-toned walls trimmed with the traditional Maker’s Mark red. The menu has some bourbon-inspired recipes and we decide to share some bourbon BBQ which is delicious. The perfect ending to our visit and fortifying as we continue to Missouri.

Bourbon’s All-American Roar an article by Mickey Meece in the NY Times talks about the current trend in bourbon and rye and has the winning recipe for a great Manhattan.

Charles Cowdery’s bookBourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey  follows the trail of America whiskey-making from its 17th century origins up to the present day. In his book, readers discover the history of the American whiskey industry, how American whiskey is made and marketed, and the differences among various types of American whiskey. The many fascinating characters who have made American whiskey what it is today are introduced, and a complete tasting guide with 35 detailed product reviews is included.

Seattle’s TEDxRainier 2011 Conference

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 2
One page of my sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Heading off the island Friday evening we are full of anticipation about tomorrow’s TEDx Rainier event. This year’s theme is Gained in Translation: Ideas Crossing Frontiers, featuring over twenty five speakers whose ideas and extraordinary work span across domains and fuel innovations and insights. Followers of TED for years online, this is our first live experience.

Earlier on Friday I received a book I had ordered from Amazon – An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory. I couldn’t wait to get on the ferry with no distractions and go through the book slowly, page by page.

An Illustrated Life, cover
click on book for more info

As Gregory says in the introduction, “a book full of sketchbooks and illustrated journals from all sorts of people who love nothing better than to hunch over a little book and fill its pages with lines and colors”. This treasure of a book has 78 five star reviews out of 84… it is stupendous with creativity overflowing tremendously inspiring.

This was just the creative jumpstart I needed and somewhere along the way from home to Seattle the idea was born to capture the essence of each talk creatively in my sketchbook on two facing pages. So I arrived with Jay at the Conference Saturday morning with sketchbook and pen in hand. The first few moments I had some self-consciousness as the first speaker began… where and how to begin, is anyone watching me??? All the usual fears. Fortunately, I was able to move through the fear, pick a starting spot, realize everyone is mesmerized by the speakers (not me) and plunge into it. By the third speaker there was no looking back, I was totally hooked on my project.

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 1
My second page of sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Jay & I enjoyed many of the speakers, some of the highlights included:

  • Rick Steves‘ frank talk about how global travel brings us together, saying “Fear is for people that don’t get out much.” Rick is a world traveler and author of over 80 very readable helpful books on travel.
  • Amory Lovins on Reinventing Fire – how to transition to zero carbon clean renewable energy by 2050… I liked his quote – “Not all the fossils are in the fuel.”
  • Peter Blomquist on being humbled in his encounters with the kindness of simple traditional cultures. Peter is principal of Blomquist International, focused on organizational development, philanthropy, and global engagement. His words of wisdom – enter humbly, stay for tea, listen and learn.
  • ITGirl librarian Chrystie Hill on how libraries are transforming and evolving in the new world. When kids were asked what they would like in a library where everything is allowed, one replied – to hear the sounds of the forest as I approach the books about trees.
  • Leroy Hood on how insights from the human Genome project are bringing fundamental advances in early diagnosis and treatment of disease. P4 Medicine is his belief – predictive, preventative, personal and participatory.
  • Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis on how focusing on the first year of a child’s development can have stunning effects on the potential of the child, for the rest of life. Dr. Christakis is author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Children.
  • Jenn Lim on happiness. Jenn Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness, a company that she and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) co-created in 2010 to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life.
  • Adnan Mahmud on “Climbing the ladder that matters.” Adnan tells his story about how he came to create Jolkona, a nonprofit that helps people raise large amounts of money through small donation, and receive proof of how the donations helped make a difference for those in need.
  • The three  Interfaith Amigos, Pastor Don McKenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman on religious discord, and how to get along. Their presentation received a standing ovation. It was at once funny, touching and brimming with promise and hope. Their new book is Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith.

For both of us, the most powerful talk was given by photographic artist Chris Jordan. Jordan, a former corporate lawyer, explores the detritus of mass culture, using photographs and images to, at a gut level, convey the impact we are having on the earth. Earlier this year we saw his exhibit – Running the Numbers – at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in  Eugene, OR.

Let’s see I’ve covered the Travel, Sketch, Write areas… now we get to the part about doing all this while eating gluten-free. This trip to Seattle we experienced two new restaurants. Both casual, affordable, gluten-free friendly and yummy.

Friday night we had a late dinner at Uneeda Burger. Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Uneeda Burger is a casual, roadside-style burger shack with seriously delicious burgers. I had the lamb burger special on a gluten-free bun with a side of spicy sweet potato fries while Jay splurged and went with the Whidbey Island Crescent Harbor 100% Wagyu (Kobe) grass-fed beef (additional $3) with caramelized onions, watercress and blue cheese. Both were deliciously juicy and messy and enjoyed with one of their craft-brewed beers. Not a beef eater, not to worry, they have chicken and veggie options.

Saturday at our lunch break two of the student volunteers at TEDx Rainier suggested we try Shultzys. Nothing better than to walk into a busy restaurant and find a quiet seat near the fireplace on a rainy fall day. Jay tried the “Schultzy”, a char-grilled sausage burger made with mild Italian pork, served on a toasted, garlic-buttered roll with grilled onions & peppers – very good subtle flavors. I had the Bratwurst, a mild but nicely spiced pork and beef sausage, served with grilled onions & sauerkraut. Easily gluten-free by eliminating the bun. Very tasty. The service was prompt and our food came quickly which we appreciated given our limited time.  Seattle’s Wurst Restaurant is located at 4114 University Way NE.

I end with a tip from my sweet husband… Looking for an idea for taking your sweetie out on a date? Go to a TED conference. Ideas are hot! Follow up the conference with a nice dinner, in a quiet romantic place, and prepare to have some great conversation. TED talks will inspire, enlighten, and fill you with hope.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR

Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas

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.

Table Mesa Bistro, Bentonville, AR
Table Mesa Bistro in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas

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.

Soldier sculpture in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas
Soldier sculpture in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas

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 Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystal Bridges Museum still under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas

I learn more from an article in The Economist:

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.

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage

Photo of Sigmund Freud's couch by Annie Leibovitz
Sigmund Freud's couch in his study at 20 Maresfield Gardens in London (source: NY Times)

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage charts a new course for one of America’s best-known living photographers. Different from her staged and carefully lit portraits made on assignment for magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Pilgrimage took Leibovitz to places that she could explore without an agenda. She wasn’t on assignment this time and she chose the subjects simply because she was moved by them.

The photography exhibition is presented in conjunction with a new book – Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz, with an introduction by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Here are some notes from the book:

She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.


Leibovitz went to Concord to photograph the site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Once she got there, she was drawn into the wider world of the Concord writers. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home and Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott and her family lived and worked, became subjects. The Massachusetts studio of the Beaux Arts sculptor Daniel Chester French, who made the seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial, became the touchstone for trips to Gettysburg and to the archives where the glass negatives of Lincoln’s portraits have been saved. Lincoln’s portraitists—principally Alexander Gardner and the photographers in Mathew Brady’s studio—were also the men whose work at the Gettysburg battlefield established the foundation for war photography. At almost exactly the same time, in a remote, primitive studio on the Isle of Wight, Julia Margaret Cameron was developing her own ultimately influential style of portraiture. Leibovitz made two trips to the Isle of Wight and, in an homage to the other photographer on her list, Ansel Adams, she explored the trails above the Yosemite Valley, where Adams worked for fifty years.

“From the beginning, when I was watching my children stand mesmerized over Niagara Falls, it was an exercise in renewal,” she says. “It taught me to see again.”

Virginia Wolf's Bedroom, Annie Leibovitz
Virginia Woolf’s bedroom in her country home, which is a few miles from Charleston, England (source: NY Times)

Dominique Browning interviewed Annie Leibovitz, here is an exerpt from A Pilgrim’s Progress in the New York Times:

Gazing at the traces left behind by her favorite artists, traces of their lives, their creature habits, Ms. Leibovitz finds something to nurture all of us — something about integrity, staying true to a vision. She forges a connection to the past that informs the way she is moving forward. “I would encourage everyone to make their own list,” she says. “My book is a meditation on how to live. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but you should always try to do what you love to do.”

Photographs from Pilgrimage will be exhibited at New York’s Pace Gallery, 545 West 22nd Street, from December 1 to 3, and will then be at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, from January 20 to May 20, 2012. Following its presentation in Washington, D.C., Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage will tour nationally.

Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY too

Ohio River, Cincinnati, Ohio
View of the Ohio River from Cincinnati with the lights of Covington, Ky just over the bridge.

Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” ~ Euripides, Greek playwright, c. 480-406 BC. In the ancient tradition of traveling across lands, I find myself stimulated and curious to learn about each area we are driving through or stopping to visit as we traverse the country.

Sitting with our friends on their balcony this first evening in downtown Cincinnati, watching the barges maneuver past each other on the river, we start talking about the Ohio River’s history. During the Civil War the Ohio River, which forms the southern border of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, was part of the border between free states and slave states. “Sold down the river” was a phrase used by Upper South slaves, especially from Kentucky, who were shipped by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. On the flip side, before and during the Civil War, the Ohio River was called the “River Jordan” by slaves crossing it to escape to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. Some research reveals that more escaping slaves, estimated in the thousands, made the perilous journey north to freedom across the Ohio River than anywhere else across the north-south frontier. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, portrayed such escapes across the Ohio and fueled abolitionist work.

Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center located at 50 East Freedom Way. Their mission is to reveal stories about freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.

And while we are on the topic, for those of you who are bicyclists, The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) honors the bravery of those who fled bondage and those who provided shelter. The route passes points of interest and historic sites along a 2,008-mile corridor. Beginning in Mobile, Alabama – a busy port for slavery during the pre-civil war era – the route goes north following rivers through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Waterways, as well as the North Star, were often used by freedom seekers as a guide in their journeys to escape slavery. Upon crossing into Ohio, the route leaves the river to head toward Lake Erie and enters Canada at the Peace Bridge near Buffalo, New York. In Ontario, the route follows the shores of Lake Ontario and ends at Owen Sound, a town founded by freedom seekers in 1857.

Now, back to Cincinnati. Our friend, Judith Serling-Sturm, is a book artist and hand binder who has her studio in the Pendleton Art Center. Judith creates custom books – designing covers with leather, textiles, and artisan-made papers from around the world. Visiting her studio we are fascinated by the exposed bindings and book covers embedded with natural elements, semi-precious stones, and found objects.

Judith Serling-Sturm Book Art
One of Judith Serling-Sturm's handmade books from her "Bill of Rights" art piece.

Built in 1909 for a shoe company, the Pendleton Art Center is now home to over 200 artists. As we walk up the stairs to the eighth story, the building’s history is revealed in the original pine floors, tall arched windows, ancient radiators and fine old doors. Visitors are welcome to studio walks on the Final Friday of each month from 6 to 10pm.

Findlay Market, Cincinnati, Ohio
Findlay Market, Cincinnati, Ohio
Butcher in Cincinnati's Findlay Market
Charles Bare Meats in Cincinnati's Findlay Market

Never missing an opportunity to eat, we head to Findlay Market for lunch. In operation since 1855, this is Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market. First stop is Pho Lang Thang for a bowl of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), and then a cruise around the market checking out the many year-round merchants. Meat, tea, cheese, gelato, wine, fish and seafood… at Colonel De’s we find Raz Al Hanout, a Moroccan blend of spices that Jay enjoys cooking with… and at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports we buy a delicious Fig jam with sesame seeds and anise seed. Dojo Gelato seriously tempts us as we leave the market but still full from lunch and with dinner reservations at Lavomatic Cafe we walk on by.

Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices in Findlay Market
Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices in Findlay Market

Next, knowing Jay’s love of music, Judith takes us over the Roebling Suspension Bridge to Covington, Kentucky to visit Cymbal House. Located at 524 Main Street in downtown Covington. As you can see in the photo this is a gorgeous, highly efficient space. We walk in as a well-seasoned local jazz musician is carefully listening to various cymbals.

The owner is very friendly and explains to me that the size of the cymbal affects its sound, larger cymbals usually being louder and having longer sustain. Heavier cymbals (measured by thickness) have a louder volume, more cut, and better drum stick articulation. Thin cymbals have a fuller sound, a lowered pitch, and faster response. The jazz musician tells us he will be performing just down the street from Cymbal House at Chez Nora – A Rooftop Terrace Bar and Jazz Club. They offer live music five nights a week and spectacular views of downtown Cincinnati and the scenic Ohio River.

Owner of Cymbal House, Covington, Kentucky
Proud owner of Cymbal House in Covington, Kentucky
Main Street, Covington, Kentucky
Main Street, Covington, Kentucky

For dinner we drive to Over-the-Rhine, sometimes shortened to OTR, a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States. Over-the-Rhine was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the United States. Its architectural significance has been compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans, the historic districts of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and Greenwich Village in New York City. Besides being a historic district, the neighborhood has an arts community that is unparalleled within Cincinnati.

Lavomatic Cafe, Cincinnati, Ohio
Welcome to Lavomatic Cafe, Cincinnati, Ohio

Our destination is Lavomatic Cafe, an urban wine bar and restaurant. Blessed with a beautiful evening we chose the rooftop patio for dining. Several of us start with the Seasonal Soup – Gazpacho – made with fresh, local tomatoes and seasoned with smoked paprika. Divine. For dinner, Judy & Peter both chose the Bruschetta Salad with Shrimp, Jay has the Grilled Caesar with Salmon (served with a house bleu cheese dressing), and I decide on the Duck Confit Salad. All delicious and totally enjoyed with a chilled bottle of white wine recommended by our server.

Lavomatic Cafe is a great place to go before or after a show, as it is moments away from Cincinnati Music Hall, The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, The School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Know Theater of Cincinnati.

Our stay was much too brief, so we offer some local tips on dining recommendations from our friend in Cincinnati… thank you Judith!

Casual dining:
Riverside Korean Restaurant, Covington, Ky – fabulous Korean food, extremely reasonable
Lime Taqueria, Covington, Ky – huge organic buritos, inexpensive

Lunch/coffee – inexpensive:
Melt – eclectic deli, organic, vegetarian friendly – casual backyard seating – Cincinnati, Northside neighborhood
Coffee Emporium – great locally roasted coffee and best black bean burgers in Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine
Iris Book Cafe – local sources, vegan friendly, wonderful courtyard in historic Over-the-Rhine

Lunch and/or dinner – moderately priced:
Nectar – seasonal cuisine, casual backyard patio in Mt Lookout, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Honey – farm to table, Northside neighborhood, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Cumin – eclectic world cuisine, Hyde Park neighborhood, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Jean-Roberts Table – casual French, downtown Cincinnati (Best New Restaurant 2011)

Fine Dining:
Daveeds at 934 – farm to table, Mt Adams neighborhood, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Nicola’s Ristorante – Italian – Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine (Best Restaurant 2011)
Boka – Italian, Mt Oaklet, Cincinnati, but moving downtown (Best Restaurant 2011)

Visit Cincinnati Magazine on Best Restaurants 2011 to read their impressions of the award winners, and visit Livin’ in the “Cin” the official travel blog for Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.