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.

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.

Ireland in September

Photos from Bruni's Article: To Ireland, a Son’s Journey Home (collage courtesy of NY Times)

Those of us who read the New York Times know Frank Bruni as an Op-Ed columnist; I had forgotten he was the restaurant critic of The Times from June 2004 to August 2009. Enjoy this thoughtful salute to his mother and musings on Ireland as he travels the country by car…

I went in mid-September, and I went mostly, truth be told, because it promised spectacular scenery, bountiful seafood and an infinity of pubs, which my traveling partner, Tom, was especially excited about. We covered as much of the country as we could in a week’s time, dipping into Cork as well as Dublin, logging over 700 road miles, lounging beside a lake in the southwest and ambling along a creek in the northwest.

But I also went for a sort of communion with, and investigation of, Mom, who died almost 16 years ago. It was like an adult version of that classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” except that I wasn’t a lost bird asking a kitten, a dog, a boat. I was a grown man asking a country.

Link to the full article…  To Ireland, a Son’s Journey Home

Ireland has assumed a central place in poetry readers minds, due to Nobel Prize-winning poets, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner, Paul Muldoon. Doing a little research for this article brought forth Dennis O’Driscoll. Well known in Ireland and Britain, it seems he is not widely read in the U.S. but considered by some one of the most interesting poets writing in English. I leave you with the first section of his poem – Weather Permitting.

Weather Permitting
by Dennis O’Driscoll

The August day you wake to takes you by surprise.
Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour.
A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage,
towels and children’s swimwear sodden on the line.

Dry-gulleted drains gulp down neat rain.
Drops bounce from a leaking gutter with hard,
uncompromising slaps: and, like resignation
in the face of death, you contemplate winter

with something close to tenderness, the sprint
from fuel shed to back door, the leisurely
ascent of peat smoke, even the suburban haze
of boiler flues when thermostats are set.

You warm to those thoughts as you sit there,
brainstorming ways to keep the family amused,
plans abandoned for barefoot games on dry sand.
Handcraft shops? Slot-machine arcades? Hotel grills?

In truth – manipulating toast crumbs backwards,
forwards at the unsteady table’s edge – you’d prefer
to return to your bed as if with some mild
ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves.

Sláinte mhaith (good health)

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Rich fall colors of Virginia creeper.

Off to Victoria, British Columbia, for three nights to escape phones, computers and all the trimmings that come with working at home. The reality of our sweet retreat sinks in as we park in the ferry lane and seek warmth from our fleece blanket on this crisp autumn morning.

We plan to walk everywhere, exploring Victoria on foot – visually soaking in  the rich fall colors and feasting on the bounty of foods from the farmer’s fall harvest. A poetic time of year, Keats called the autumn – “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. While Albert Camus felt “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Later in the morning the sun is shining brightly as the Washington State ferry (from Friday Harbor, WA to Sidney, BC) glides smoothly across the glassy water. Soon the ferry is passing the mostly barren side of  Spieden Island with its randomly placed ice age boulders. In the early 1960′s the actor, John Wayne, and his business partners imported big game animals here. Their vision was to have a private island for their sport game and hunting hobby. Fortunately, the idea was short-lived and today the forested north side of the island is home to hundreds of European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep.

Passing by Spieden Island on the ferry.

About 75 minutes after departing the San Juan Islands we are slowing for our landing in the port of Sidney, British Columbia. Located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, on Vancouver Island, Sidney is a popular eco-tourist destination, with whale-watching, bird-watching, kayaking and scuba-diving… and a 2o minute drive from Victoria.

Not sure when we last visited Victoria, maybe 6 years ago? In preparation for our trip, and open to the mystery and savings of booking our lodging on Hotwire, I visited their website. After providing the details of our trip (dates of stay, area we want to stay in, how many people) Hotwire provides a list of available hotels in that area with the star rating. The mystery is that Hotwire will only show you the name of the hotel after you have paid for the booking. I prefer 3.5 stars or better, and have read that Hotwire gives the most savings if you use it to book hotels that are better than 3.5 stars (three stars or lower and the savings become small, so you are better booking through the hotel itself). Important note:  Hotwire does not refund, so you want to be pretty sure you will be there!

Atrium entrance to the Parkside Resort & Spa.

I choose a four star hotel for $80 a night, and am very pleased when Hotwire reveals that we have selected Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa. Situated just one block from the Victoria Conference Center and two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the location is perfect for us – we can walk everywhere and enjoy the quiet that sets in just a few blocks from the downtown. Designed, built, and furnished with sustainable development in mind, it is Canada’s first resort hotel built to LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  standards. The grey, charcoal and earth tone palette throughout the hotel helps bring the beauty of the West Coast outdoors inside, and creates a peaceful and calm environment. We thoroughly enjoy our three nights stay in the one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, and balcony overlooking the interior plant-filled atrium.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, BC.

Elegant Victoria retains “a bit of Old England” with its beautiful gardens and historic buildings. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and of the Dominion of Canada, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841.

Blue skies shine through a building façade being saved (and decorated) during renovation.
Fairmont Empress Hotel bee hives.

Overlooking the inner harbor, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the city. On May 26, 2011, the hotel welcomed the Queen Bee and 400,000 honeybees. The bees now live in the Centennial Garden of The Fairmont Empress and will pollinate Victoria’s hotel gardens. In total, ten hives of  European bees will produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants, including world-renowned Afternoon Tea service.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia – “Although the archaeological record is still incomplete, it is clear that native people have occupied Vancouver Island for several thousand years. A tribal village society evolved with an economy based on fishing, collecting and hunting. The abundant marine and forest resources along the coasts supported a culture rich in oral tradition and artistic expression. Two main linguistic families, Salishan and Wakashan, developed and continue to exist“.

The Victoria, BC Conference Center celebrates First Nations artists.
The Gate of Harmonious Interest

In the 1980s, Victoria’s Chinese community entered a period of renewal after a gradual decline over the previous 50 years.  The Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets as a monument to recognize and preserve the Chinese heritage in Victoria for everyone. The Gate is a gift from Suzhou, China, one of Victoria’s sister cities.

Glorious red dragon in Chinatown.

If you walk down Fisgard St. towards Wharf St., make sure to keep your eyes open for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels of Fan Tan Alley have now become novelty stores and souvenir shops.

Victoria is known for its strong support of cyclists and pedestrians and there is an extensive system of paths, multi-use regional trails, and cycle lanes on city streets. We spend much of our time walking around the city, along the waterfront path, and in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC.
Vibrant hydrangea in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park is located in Victoria along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. The 200 acre park was officially established in 1882, after being set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island. The name derives from a small hill overlooking the Strait, which once held navigational beacons. The hill is culturally significant, having been a burial site for the First Nations Coast Salish people, who are the original inhabitants of the Greater Victoria region. Now it provides scenic vistas of the Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

The park is beautifully landscaped and manicured with bridges, lakes and ponds, and an alpine and rock garden. It is home to many species of ducks, birds and wildlife. I read that a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the huge trees, and a large family of Great Blue Herons also nest in a thicket of Douglas-fir trees at the west end of the park. Enjoyed by tourists and locals, the park has woodland and shoreline trails, two playgrounds, playing fields, a petting zoo, tennis courts, many ponds, and landscaped gardens.

A short walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf… a floating boardwalk with food, shops and colorful float home community.

Not to miss is a walk around the Victoria Inner Harbor after nightfall. The Parliament Buildings light up the sky and cast a magical spell over the harbor.

Night falls on Victoria's Inner Harbor.

Attractions in and around Victoria:

  • Alcheringa Gallery – Contemporary Indigenous Fine Art of the Northwest coast, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Museum quality aboriginal art.
  • Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – The museum features contemporary exhibition space and a historic 19th-century mansion called Gyppeswick, and features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 objets d’art, drawn from Asia, Europe, North America, Canada and Japan. There is a permanent exhibit on Emily Carr and her contemporaries.
  • Butchart Gardens – Internationally acclaimed gardens created after Robert Butchart exhausted the limestone quarry near his Tod Inlet home, about 14 miles from Victoria. Still in the family, the gardens display more than a million plants throughout the year.
  • Maritime Museum of BC – Enjoy a rich and vast link to the province’s nautical roots. Among a superb array of artifacts, are fascinating displays on Pirates, Heritage Vessels, Shipwrecks and special exhibits.
  • Royal BC Museum – A great regional museum with an incredible showpiece of First Nations art and culture, including a full-size re-creation of a longhouse, and a dramatic gallery with totem poles, masks, and artifacts. The museum has an IMAX theater showing a variety of large-screen movies.
The Alcheringa Gallery on Fort Street in Victoria, BC.

San Miguel de Allende: La semana cuarta y última

Historical Museum in San Miguel de Allende
Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende.

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.

cat in doorway of house in san miguel de allende
The doorcat keeps watch... notice the cobblestone street.

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.

Laundry blowing in the wind, San Miguel de Allende.
We catch a glimpse of laundry blowing in the wind.

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.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Pura Vida Store/Cafe with the owner, Alicia Wilson Rivero, in the doorway.

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.

Mixta in San Miguel de Allende
Mixta sells unique pieces from local and international artists.

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.

Tacos don Felix Kitchen in San Miguel de Allende
A budding restaurateur in the kitchen at Tacos don Felix.
Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Waiting for our cab at the outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

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!

Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote
Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote and fresh raspberries.

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.

Sheep along the path at Jardin Botanica in San Miguel de Allende
Three sheep surprise us along the path.
Horse grazing, Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
As the sheep head up a side path we notice this horse gazing at us.
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica.
Our last glorious view of San Miguel from up at the Jardin Botanica.

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.

Suites Santo Domingo in San Miguel de Allende
An antique collection off the entry of Suites Santo Domingo.
Suites Santo Domingo courtyard in San Miguel de Allende
We peer into the inviting courtyard of Suites Santo Domingo.

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.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Our breakfast feast at Cafe La Parroquia.

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.

Alleyway in San Miguel de Allende
We pass a mother and her children walking down a colorful alleyway.

“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:

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

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

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

Mexico City International Airport Dining and Lodging

Good news, if your travels require an overnight stay at the Mexico City International Airport, you can be very comfortable. The Hilton Hotel located in Terminal One at the airport has complimentary high speed internet service, comfortable rooms, and an attractive bar and restaurant. During our recent stay the hotel staff was very helpful and told us about several restaurants in Terminal One that had received good reviews. We felt like exploring a little versus staying in the confines of the Hilton.

Mexico City Airport Hilton and dining options
Mexico City Airport Terminal One with the Hilton, Casa Avila, and Bistro Mosaico.

In Terminal One there is a food court with lots of options for quick dining and a few actually looked fairly healthy. Sit down restaurants included a steak house, a mexican cantina, a bistro and a spanish restaurant. Casa Avila was our choice. Out of the fray on a second floor balcony the menu had a nice array of spanish entrees and some good sounding salads. As soon as we walked in we were taken care of in the best sense. An English language menu was presented and care was taken to help me chose an entree that would be gluten-free.

We started by sharing the Mediterranean Salad, a nice balance of flavors with the greens – salty olives & Serrano ham with the sweeter tastes of figs, tomatoes, and apples slices that all came together with a herb vinaigrette. Favorites on the menu include shrimp wrapped in bacon with black rice, paella, and oxtail stew. Some of the dishes are an assimilation of Spanish and Mexican cuisine: seasoned pork tacos, red snapper with clams, squid, and pimento, beef in a green pepper sauce. I chose the Shrimp with Black Rice served on an asparagus cream sauce and Jay decided on the Paella filled with pork, spanish sausage, chicken, mussels, clams and a prawn. A half bottle of a very nice Chilean Merlot recommended by the server made for a lovely meal. Very full we resisted the tempting tray of desserts that was presented.

The next morning we rose early to get a little breakfast before our 3.5 hour shuttle bus ride to San Miguel de Allende on (Bajio Go Shuttle). Bistro Mosaic caught our eye as the menu had a nice selection of egg dishes. Jay was very happy with the Huevos Veracruz he ordered and I went with a simple Spinach Omelette which was fine. My side order of thick-cut bacon was not cooked crispy as I prefer but Jay loved it.

To read our posts from the subsequent visit to San Miguel de Allende, click below:

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.

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.

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Allen's Rocket Motel, Custer, SD
Allen's Rocket Motel in Custer, SD (photo by Brian Butko)

Arriving late in Custer, SD we happen upon the Rocket Motel. Located in downtown Custer within walking distance of restaurants & shops, and with the coolest lobby we have seen so far, we take a room. The decor is black and white with a pristine white cotton bedspread and very fun black & white check curtains in the bathroom. It is as the LA Times says “immaculately maintained 1950’s motel.” Rates start at $70 in summer and $50 in winter, and the Crazy Horse Memorial is just a five minute drive north in the Black Hills.

Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, SD
Crazy Horse sculpture with Memorial in background

As I sit here writing and researching, I learn that the second “night blast” of the year at the Crazy Horse Memorial will be tonight – Sept. 6 – in observance of dual anniversaries; the 1877 death of Lakota leader Crazy Horse and the commemoration of the 104th birth date of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski born in 1908… an auspicious day.

Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Outside on the deck of the Welcome Center is the sculpture that Ziolkowski created depicting the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, seated on his horse and pointing over the horse’s head saying “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. The mountain carving is a very large duplicate of Ziolkowski’s sculpture and is breathtaking to see in person. The size and scale of the mountain sculpture is hard to grasp. Just the head is as big as all of Mount Rushmore. The opening under Crazy Horse’s arm is the height of a 10-story building.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial on a glorious sunny day

Numerous accounts of Crazy Horse exist. Manataka American Indian Council has a brief biography online and Jay has read two books he recommends:

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen, the author tells the story of the treatment of North American Indians since European settlers arrived. Through interviews, attendance at Indian ceremonies and extensive research, he shares details of life for many tribes, both then and now.

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt is widely hailed as a religious classic. Jay read from it as we traveled, and the story told by Black Elk is gripping, powerful, and full of fascinating first person history – growing from young boy to Lakota elder, the narrative includes “you are there” accounts of Lakota life, Black Elk’s visions, his travels to England where Black Elk met the queen, and much more. From the back cover:

This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Black Elk’s remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas’ land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee.

As we leave the Custer area headed for Bear Butte, our next stop is the Sugar Shack just south of Deadwood, SD, located on US Highway 385. Our host at the Rocket Motel spoke very highly of this burger joint and was envious that we would be eating there today.

Sugar Shack in Deadwood, SD
Sugar Shack on highway 385, just south of Deadwood, SD

I go for it and order the “Bubba Burger” – the 1/2 pound homemade burger comes with pepper cheese, grilled onions, thick smokey bacon, jalapenos, and BBQ sauce (they happily serve it without a bun so it is gluten-free). Jay chooses a swiss cheese burger with grilled onions. The patties are juicy and delicious. The story is that the current owner – Kerri “Bubba” Johnston – has changed the recipe slightly since it first opened — all of the employees agree that the current recipe is the best it has ever been – works for us, we are two happy campers!


New York City

Ice pops made from anything brewed: tea, root beer, espresso; markets galore – artisan, farmers, flea, antique; and exploring Brooklyn… here are some fun tips on the big Apple.

New York’s New Frozen Treats

“I HAD never been so grateful to see a banana. Peeled and skewered, just plucked from the freezer, it was nearly smoking from the cold. It was then plunged into molten chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt and slowly twirled under a shower of crushed almonds.”

36 Hours in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, is a destination in its own right. Ideas are where to stay, what to do and where to eat.

Markets of New York City: A Guide to the Best Artisan, Farmer, Food, and Flea Markets

markets of new york cityThis lovely little book is a guide to the traditional, charming and edgy markets of New York City: antique and flea markets, artisan markets, farmers’ markets, seasonal markets, and more. Markets of New York City also includes recommendations for great food in and around the markets and suggested routes for full or half-day excursions.

Singapore for business and pleasure

Singapore is one of my favorite cities to visit. Though I generally visit on business, there is always time for pleasure… and Singapore is a fine place to enjoy dining, night life, lush tropical parks, beaches, and shopping.

Singapore River Boat and bridge
Scene along the Singapore River

Singapore’s legendary efficiency is obvious from the first moments after arrival. You will breeze through customs in a matter of seconds, thanks to their embrace of modern technology.  On the way into town from the ultra modern airport, you may note that cars never go over the posted speed limit. The streets are immaculate as they wind through a veritable garden of paradise. Then the city appears ahead – pristine, luminous, shiny and new.

The Fullerton Hotel with River Kids sculpture
Sculpture surrounds The Fullerton Hotel (in the background)

My destination is The Fullerton Hotel in the downtown financial and arts district. The hotel’s Colonial style belies the cool modern interior, welcome in the tropical heat of Singapore. Built in 1928 on the Singapore river, the Fullerton Building was the centre of Singapore’s commercial, social and official life. It was home to three of the most important institutions of Singapore – The General Post Office, The Singapore Club, and The Chamber of Commerce. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth a visit… there are several excellent restaurants, as well as a first rate international buffet, and a bar that is set amidst the lovely original ceiling and pillars of the old Post Office… and enjoy an evening stroll by the river to enjoy the various sculptures along the way.

Singapore Sculpture Business Men
Fantastic sculpture of business men near the hotel
Singapore Sculpture Three Men
Another fine bronze sculpture in the area

The legendary Raffles Hotel is a short walk away. Immortalized in the novels of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling, the hotel exemplifies Singapore’s colonial-style architecture amid lush tropical gardens. Go there for tea, drinks, or fine dining – including the Long Bar – home of the world renowned Singapore Sling, and the Tiffin Room, which continues the tradition of Afternoon Tea. The Raffles Hotel Museum looks at the history of the Hotel largely in the context of the Golden Age of Travel. This period, spanning 1880 to 1939, saw the rise of popular tourism and coincided with the opening of the Hotel. This was the era when Singapore was known as the “Crossroads of the East“. Museum hours are 10 am to 7 pm daily. There is no admission charge.

Singapore River Tree
Strolling along the Singapore River

My favorite time to shop is at night, to see buildings adorned with garish signs, and people strolling down the streets, chatting with friends, looking for bargains. Though there are numerous places to shop around downtown, if you are shopping for electronics, cameras, and gadgets, consider heading over to “Little India” – a bustling earthy part of town, where you can let your hair down and haggle with the merchants for the big deal of the day. The various pictures on this blog were taken with a camera I bought in Little India – Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with 3.5x 24mm Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lensmy favorite camera, ever!

To fortify you for your evening of wheeling and dealing, follow your nose to one of the wonderful Indian restaurants that are everywhere in Little India. Hidden among the bustle of Little India is Race Course Road . On this tiny lane you will find Banana Leaf Apolohoused in three units of a two-storey shophouse it is most famous for its fish head curry. The restaurant has been open for 30 years, serving both North and South Indian cuisine to locals eager for a taste of great curry, and tourists, like us, who have heard about this a restaurant from an expat friend (thank you Pam!).

Singapore Indian Food
Our feast at the Banana Leaf Apolo

A recent article in the New York Times Travel section, 36 Hours in Singapore, offers up more ideas of things to do and places to stay…

“A long tradition of strong regional cuisine and strict hygiene laws makes for some of the world’s best — and safest — street food. Nowadays most of the hawkers are concentrated in covered food halls so that ingredients are kept cool, and preparation methods and cleanliness can be kept to a uniform standard. At the Maxwell Road Food Center near Chinatown, vendors sell everything from dumplings to onion pancakes to dessert: at Tian Tian (No. 11), try the chicken rice; at Hokee (No. 79), the soup dumplings, and at No. 848, fresh fruit and juice (one, a bitter gourd and honey mix, promises “to reduce heatiness (sic).” Prices are 1 to 8 Singapore dollars.”

Yahoo Travel offers 5 of Singapore’s best restaurants with a view

  • Sky on 57, Level 57 SkyPark Tower 1, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, 10 Bayfront Avenue
  • Level 33, #33-01 Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1, 8 Marina Boulevard
  • Barnacles, Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Road
  • Clifford, Fullerton Bay Hotel, 80 Collyer Quay
  • iL Cielo, Level 24, Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road

And the Lonely Planet Singapore (City Travel Guide) gets good reviews as a handy paperback (200 pages) and written in conjunction with a Singapore resident. The expanded coverage of neighborhoods includes two new walking tours and three new excursions; plus helpful cultural insights & local secrets from a comedian, curator, theater director, writer and scholar. If you have access to a computer the content is updated daily at lonelyplanet.com.


Astoria, Oregon

Sunday morning… hot tea, New York Times… good article in the travel section on the waterfront town of Astoria, Oregon. Good tips on dining, lodging, and things to do. Enjoy the read and maybe a visit sometime.

Astoria, Oregon, Discovers a Waterfront Chic

Astoria Oregon Waterfront
Cannery Pier Hotel, Astoria, OR (photo credit: Leah Nash for the NY Times)