A Lighthouse Near Portland, Maine

Welcome to Portland Head Light

Welcome to Portland Head Light

Maine is famous for its lighthouses and one of the most photographed lighthouses is just a few miles (and a world away) from Portland, Maine. Since 1791, Portland Head Light has watched the craggy shores of Casco Bay roughly five miles from downtown Portland.

A Visitor Looking out to Sea

A Visitor Looking out to Sea

I happened to visit this lighthouse in early July and both the history and stunning location make Portland Head Light a find. Located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in Fort Williams Park, this amazing sight is free to visitors. Trails throughout the park look over Casco Bay and visitors can view the stunning blue seas, experience the wind and think back to what it must have been like to be a lighthouse keeper in the late 1700s before modern technology.

Another View

Another View

During the main tourist season, this lighthouse includes a gift shop with nautical and lighthouse-themed souvenirs, as well as a friendly museum, which for a two dollar fee, traces the history of both the lighthouse and the remains of Fort Williams. The museum, which is the former lighthouse keepers’ home, includes a timeline and an interesting account of what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper. Exploring the museum, I learned that Maine currently has fifty-three lighthouses and the museum includes a current coastal map. From Portland Head Light looking out to sea, as an added bonus, visitors can also see another privately-owned lighthouse which was constructed in 1905.

The 1905 Lighthouse

The 1905 Lighthouse

Memorials are delicately hidden around Portland Head Light including a rock commemorating the wreck and the rescue of the crew of the “Annie C. Maguire” which was traveling from Buenos Aires and crashed along the ledge of the lighthouse on Christmas Eve, 1886. This vessel was traveling in clear weather and the cause of the crash was unknown.

In Memory of the "Annie C. Maguire"

In Memory of the “Annie C. Maguire”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used to walk from Portland to visit Portland Head Light as he was friends with the keepers. It is believed that Longfellow used this lighthouse as the inspiration of his poem, “The Lighthouse”, and I could almost visualize the movement of ships during Longfellow’s time.

A View from the Cliff Walk Trail

A View from the Cliff Walk Trail

A somber memorial also remembers the victims of the U.S.S. Eagle-56, which was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats just nine miles southeast of the lighthouse in April, 1945. Sadly, this was the greatest loss of U.S. Navy personnel in New England waters during World War II.

Trails are located all through this park (be sure to take the Cliff Walk high above the seas crashing) and come dressed for winds off the Atlantic Ocean regardless of the time of year. I loved looking out to sea and watching flocks of ducks trying to navigate the choppy waters. On the day I visited, sailboats and lobster boats were gliding through the area. Flocks of butterflies were floating above a well-tended monarch butterfly garden, and manicured lawns with colorful flowers surrounded the lighthouse and trails. Picnic tables are everywhere so be sure to bring a snack to take in the spectacular million dollar views.

Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden

Donations for Fort Williams Park

Donations for Fort Williams Park

Lighthouses are a part of the tapestry of New England scenery and Portland Head Light is one of the stars. For visitors to the Portland area, be sure to set aside some time for a visit to Portland Head Light. This lighthouse is a shining beacon of Maine nautical history.

Portland Head Light
1000 Shore Road
Cape Elizabeth, Maine 04107
Phone: (207)799-2661

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From Welfare to Comfort (Texas)

Ingenhuett Log Cabin

Ingenhuett Log Cabin

Sometimes the best surprises are not far from home.

In two small towns in the picturesque Texas Hill Country, I stumbled on two great locations off the beaten trail from the masses of tourists that visit Fredericksburg, roughly thirty minutes away. For visitors to the Hill Country looking for an amazing meal, as well as a memorable hotel stay, be sure to visit the Welfare Café in Welfare and Hotel Faust in Comfort.

Welfare Café

Welcome to Welfare

Welcome to Welfare

First, be sure to have a good map before heading to this café as I frankly thought I was lost. This café is really remote but down a lonely road weaving through ranches and even a flash flood gauge common to west Texas, is the Welfare Café, offering excellent food and trading on the German heritage of this area.

Welfare Cafe

Welfare Cafe

Eat at the Welfare Cafe

Eat at the Welfare Cafe

Welfare was originally a homestead founded in 1848 and by the late 1800s, the town of Welfare had grown to 275 residents. Unfortunately, this prosperity didn’t last as the early 20th century saw Welfare impacted by drought, fire and the Great Depression. The town nearly died until two buyers from San Antonio bought the original post office, turning this into a café in 1998. A goat barn (which is used for weddings and special events) was built from the remains of Welfare and added to the property in 2005.

Barn on the Property

Barn on the Property

From the moment I stepped into this restaurant, I was floored by what was inside. The old post office is still visible and even the cubbyholes have some mail inside. Roughly ten tables in a relaxing, simple setting are inside the restaurant with walls decorated with antique cooking canisters, musical and cooking instruments, and many historical photos of Welfare. I was shocked by the music as French jazz was playing along with Cole Porter. I felt like I had stepped into another time and place—almost like a speakeasy that only locals know about. The restaurant also offers another eating area and garden outside in back, with beautiful views of the barn and Hill Country.

Inside--Notice the Post Office Sign

Inside–Notice the Post Office Sign

Talking to local diners, the menu has expanded over the years but the menu still sticks to German food and local crops. Menu options include artichoke schnitzel, jager schnitzel, chicken with wine and jalapenos, and spätzle with sausage (which I loved). Appetizers include kaseplatte (an assortment of cheeses) and aufschnitt (an assortment of cured meats). The food here is outstanding, authentic and definitely worth the drive off Interstate 10. The wine list is also generous with several local Hill Country wines included.

Meal at Welfare Cafe

Meal portions are huge and come served in a large bowl. I tried to save room for dessert and the café focuses on the local German culture and regional produce like Fredericksburg peaches and blackberries. On the day of my visit, dessert options were peach cobbler, blackberry or strawberry cheesecake or apple strudel. I ordered the peach cobbler (I am hungry thinking of it now) but sizes also come in a big bowl and are large enough for two or three people. Some of the locals were watching me tackling my cobbler and asked me: “Did I do it”? I think I disappointed them as I couldn’t eat the entire gigantic dessert.

I was lastly surprised to hear German spoken both by some of the locals and the chef in the cafe. I felt I had stepped into something secretive and special that had been passed around Hill Country towns. Welfare Café is first-rate food sprinkled with history in the fields of the Texas Hill Country.

Welfare Café
223 Waring Welfare Road
Welfare, Texas 78006
Phone: (830)537-3700

Hotel Faust, Comfort, Texas

Amazing Hotel Faust

Amazing Hotel Faust

A few miles north of Welfare off Interstate 10 lies the town of Comfort which has been a settlement since 1854. Also settled by German immigrants, this town of roughly 2,300 people is now mainly known for antiques. For visitors looking to explore the area, a 130-year old hotel sits on the town’s High Street offering eight rooms with a chance to experience Texas history.

Comfort, Texas

Comfort, Texas

Hotel Faust Interior

Hotel Faust Interior

The original part of this hotel was built in 1880 by Alfred Giles of San Antonio, with the hotel expanding in 1894 a few years after the railroad came to Comfort. All of the hotel is original except for a log cabin which was added to the property in the back. The log cabin, called the Ingenhuett Cabin in honor of the original hotel operators, is a true log cabin from the 1820s which was moved to Texas from Kentucky.

Another Log Cabin View

Another Log Cabin View

I have wanted to stay in the log cabin for a long time and finally was able to book a night (weekends are especially busy). This cabin, like the hotel itself, is beautifully maintained and I loved the private porch as well as the thick wooden walls and brick flooring. The cabin is very comfortable for one or two people and I wondered about the cabin’s history and how many people in Kentucky originally lived in one room.

Very comfortable room and stay

Very comfortable room and stay

Inside the Cabin

Inside the Cabin

The room itself is relaxing, cozy, well air-conditioned (critical to a Texas summer) with a quiet backyard. The hotel added special touches to the room including a welcome mat, porch chairs, wine corker, cookies and even a coloring book for adults to just unwind and enjoy being in the Hill Country. Breakfast is available for guests and there are also options for visitors for lunch or dinner within Comfort (try High’s Café and Store across the street for lunch).

The hotel grounds include rocking chairs on the front porch (I enjoyed sitting on the front porch and watching the shops across the street) as well as a gazebo on site, with thoughtful touches like a fan, bug spray and candles for surviving a Texas summer and comfortable chairs. The resident cat can often be found sleeping in the gazebo reflecting the relaxed atmosphere of this hotel.

Gazebo

Gazebo

I was also amazed that the hotel includes even an electric charging station in front for electric vehicles.

This hotel is something meaningful and historic and a step back in time to another era when visitors were coming to Comfort by railroad. The grounds are peaceful, the staff is friendly and this hotel is a chance for visitors to experience something different than the usual box hotel chains. I loved my log cabin stay, along with having a little taste of Texas Hill Country history.

Hotel Faust
717 High Street
Comfort, Texas 78013
Phone: (830)995-3030

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Thai Food in a Traditional London Pub

Welcome to The Churchill Arms

Welcome to The Churchill Arms

Visitors to London are always faced with the “sticker-price shock” of eating in one of the world’s most expensive cities. I remember on one of my first visits of being horrified at the price of two pounds for one cookie from a bakery in a very touristy area. If I find a restaurant that’s reasonably priced, delicious and memorable, that is the basis of a blog post to share.

In a very pricey part of London is a pub with a hidden surprise, as The Churchill Arms serves unexpected Thai food inside a traditional British pub. Located not far from the Notting Hill Gate tube station, The Churchill Arms has been in business since 1750. This pub was apparently popular with Winston Churchill’s grandparents during the 1800s and was thus given its current name following World War II.

The Churchill Arms

The Churchill Arms

The food at The Churchill Arms was recommended to me by some friends and to my amazement, this pub serves some of the best Thai food I’ve ever tasted, at prices of roughly 8.50 pounds per plate—a great bargain by London standards. One plate will easily serve as a full meal. Visitors to this pub will not expect that in the back is almost a gardening shed with live plants covering the ceiling and walls, along with pictures of Bangkok’s Grand Palace and other Thai landmarks mixed in between to decorate the restaurant area.

Plants everywhere

Plants everywhere

Tables are tightly packed together as lines will be waiting for this delicious food which includes Pad Thai (Thai noodles), rice dishes, various curries (including duck), stir-fried dishes including Pad Prik (stir-fried with onions) and Pad Ped (stir-fried with red chili) as well as one of my favorites, Pad Priew Waan (or basically a stir-fry of sweet and sour sauce, meats and vegetables). Be sure to try the prawn crackers or spring rolls for side dishes as both are good. Visitors are given the option on most dishes to choose meats (usually pork, chicken, prawns or beef) or to opt for vegetarian.

Pad Priew Waan with Prawns

Pad Priew Waan with Prawns

The atmosphere in this pub is relaxing, with a fireplace lit in the main pub, while in the back gardening restaurant area, lanterns hang from the ceiling and framed butterflies are everywhere. Even a large poster of English gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, hangs on the walls.

Inside the pub

Inside the pub

I have been pleased to see mainly locals eating at this pub during the times I have visited. For visitors to London, this pub is just a short distance from Kensington Palace and an easy walk (and a great break) from sightseeing. Visitors may have to wait for a table (this pub is popular) but service is fast, friendly and efficient.

More plants in the restaurant area

More plants in the restaurant area

The Thai food at The Churchill Arms is authentic and a treat that a visitor would not expect in a traditional London pub. With a mix of London’s River Thames meeting Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, the end result is fantastic mix of two cultures. When someone asks me the question as to where to eat for a good value in London for a sit-down meal, my enthusiastic response is The Churchill Arms.

The Churchill Arms
119 Kensington Church Street
London W8 7LN
Phone: (0207)727-4242

 

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The Artistry of Quilts in La Grange, Texas

Texas Quilt Museum

Texas Quilt Museum

Big surprises can be found in small towns. For visitors traveling on Texas Highway 71 between Houston and Austin, a side trip to visit the Texas Quilt Museum in La Grange is a must.

Housed in two buildings which date from the early 1890s, these buildings originally housed a furniture store. Over the years, occupants included a J.C. Penney distribution center, as the buildings themselves slowly fell into disrepair. Luckily, the founders of this museum (which has been open since 2011) saw the potential of this historic site. This museum contains three galleries of stunning quilts from around the world, showcasing various themes and designs.

Original furniture store owners

Original furniture store owners

The museum is brightly lit with large windows, original wood flooring as well as brick walls and high ceilings. Architects will be impressed at how well these buildings are restored with an interior that showcases the quilts to their best advantage. Included in the displays are some photos from the original furniture store in 1893 so visitors can see the changes.

Quilt exhibitions are changed quarterly and include both regional and international quilts. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed. During my visit, I was especially moved by a quilter from Australia who had constructed a pattern called “Eager to Learn in Afghanistan”. This design was a quilted replica of a photo of two Afghan schoolgirls, trying to get an education while living in a tent. The pattern was so lifelike that I found myself really moved, thinking about the daily struggles students face in Afghanistan just to go to school.

Large windows for light

Large windows for light

Designs on display included eight intricate quilts from a British group, the Magna Carta Quilters, who made the quilts as a commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. These quilts were split into four medieval patterns and four more modern legacy patterns. I was amazed to see such intricate detail as even the writing in the proclamations, as well as the details of the coats of arms, could be clearly seen. It was hard for me to imagine how long it must have taken this group to assemble such creative work. This artistry was also replicated on the backs of the quilts as a modern mosaic of the River Thames between the towns of Windsor and Staines, England was mapped in blue and green.

Other designs currently on display include several wildlife quilts (with some for sale—I had a soft spot for an Anchorage-designed polar bear) as well as a variety of other themes. One quilt depicting ballet dancers from the National Cuban Ballet was so intricate that the walls displayed in the quilt even included stitched graffiti about Fidel Castro. I felt as if I was looking at a photo instead of a quilt. Another quilt I loved was based on a Civil War wedding quilt and the traditional layout was colorful and bright.

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Benches are well spaced throughout the museum for visitors to sit and enjoy the designs, with classical music in the background. Admission is $8.00 and facilities include a small gift shop as well as a library.

Next door to the museum is a garden, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, which depicts a typical Texas “town garden” during the period 1893-1930. Gardens of this period were multi-purpose as (1) herbs were grown for cooking, (2) herbs could be used for medicines, and, (3) a cutting garden would allow for bouquets. One part of the garden would generally include “pass-along” plants which were plants for the gardener to share with friends and family. Texas women spent a lot of time in their gardens in this period.

Grandmother's Flower Garden

Grandmother’s Flower Garden

A garden view

A garden view

The Texas Quilt Museum is open Thursdays through Sundays. Visitors should time when to best visit as during Houston’s International Quilt Festival (generally in late October or early November), busses transport visitors between Houston and La Grange. I was told by one volunteer that during the Festival, the museum may have up to 250 visitors at one time. When I visited in January, the museum was quiet and I had a great time looking at each quilt in detail.

In the garden

In the garden

The Texas Quilt Museum is a labor of love, displaying the craftsmanship of champion quilts in a serene setting. For visitors traveling between Houston and Austin, be sure to save some time to see this museum in La Grange. The treasures housed inside are made with pride and care.

Texas Quilt Museum
140 West Colorado
La Grange, Texas 78945
Phone: (979)968-3104

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A Visit to Idaho’s Magic Valley

My 50th State

My 50th State

It has always been on my bucket list to visit all fifty U.S. states. For years, I saw the list shrink down to three and the past two years the list had shrunk to one remaining state being Idaho. For whatever reason, I always seemed to miss visiting Idaho–even coming as close as Yellowstone National Park but never making it across the Wyoming state line.

After watching air fares for some time and on the recommendation of a friend, I decided to book a cheap fare to Salt Lake City, renting a car to drive to Idaho’s Twin Falls area. At long last, I was going to enter my final remaining state.

As I headed north in Utah to the Idaho state line, I started seeing cars with license plate holders which read “Idaho—Powered by Potatoes”, as this is a state famous for its potatoes.

With just two days to explore, I decided to experience Idaho’s Magic Valley.

Twin Falls, Idaho

I.B. Perrine Bridge

Visitors driving south into Twin Falls on Route 93 are in for a pleasant surprise. Just before approaching the town of Twin Falls (and changing counties), signs will alert drivers of a scenic overlook, where the earth opens up into a 486 foot drop. I had no idea I was on the top of a spectacular bridge, the Perrine Bridge, sitting high above the Snake River Canyon, with a bright green river below.

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This bridge is popular with BASE jumpers from around the world as the bridge is the only U.S. manmade structure where parachutists can leap from the top of the bridge into the canyon without a permit. Winds in this canyon can be severe and there have been stories of BASE jumpers whose parachutes get tangled in the bridge.

Perrine Bridge

Perrine Bridge

I was also surprised to learn that this canyon was where the stunt motorcyclist, Evel Knievel, tried to jump the Snake River Canyon in September, 1974 (unfortunately, he wasn’t successful).

On immediately crossing this unexpected scenery, a helpful visitors’ center is located on the south side of the canyon with lots of information on sights in the area. Visitors may also want to stop along the canyon for a glass of wine at a restaurant, Elevation 486, which has amazing views of both the bridge and the Snake River below. Elevation 486 serves “pub grub” including pizza, burgers and even green bean fries, as well as Pacific Northwest wines and local beers. If the weather is nice, there are relaxing seats on the patio for a view with an unmatched landscape.

View from Elevation 486

View from Elevation 486

Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake Parks

Just east of Twin Falls (follow the signs on Falls Avenue) are the parks of Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake.

Driving back a country road with farms and homes, tourists are not going to expect what lies ahead as the road suddenly enters the Snake River Canyon. Entering the parks, visitors will start with an observation point of the Shoshone Falls, which are 212 feet high and 950 feet wide. Nicknamed “the Niagara of the West”, these falls are not commercialized and I was surprised by how quiet and peaceful these falls are.

Shoshone Falls

Shoshone Falls

Displays around the falls include a history of the Snake River Canyon, which was formed in the Great Bonneville Flood, a six-week flood which occurred roughly 11,000 years ago. Interestingly, Utah’s Great Salt Lake is all that remains of Lake Bonneville from thousands of years past.

Shoshone Falls includes trails as well as a quiet picnic area with a view of the falls. For a relaxing “coffee with nature”, stop at Java Espress in Twin Falls, a local Idaho chain with first-rate coffee. On a cool summer morning, I took my coffee to the falls, and spent roughly an hour just looking at the stunning scenery below.

Lookout Point at the Falls

Lookout Point at the Falls

Dierkes Lake Park is on the way into the descent to Shoshone Falls and includes hiking trails, a playground for kids, and even a small beach. Scuba divers and kayakers will both be in/on the lake.

Dierkes Lake

Dierkes Lake

Admission to the Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake is $3.00 per car and well worth the trip. I was amazed at the size of Shoshone Falls and as the adjacent land was donated to the City of Twin Falls in 1932, these falls will not be built up like Niagara Falls. The atmosphere is relaxing, silent and colorful.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Until visiting the Twin Falls Visitors’ Center, I didn’t realize the National Park Service had different sites not fall from Twin Falls. Located about 80 miles northeast of the city, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve gives visitors an idea of what life on the moon might be like. This preserve includes the remains of lava flows as recently as 2,000 years ago, and the black, brittle lava sharply contrasts against the surrounding landscape. It’s hard to believe that there is any vegetation or wildlife as the stark lava looks bleak.

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon

The Oregon Trail even went through this area to avoid hostile Shoshone Indians via “Goodale’s Cutoff”, which was the cutoff through the lava section of the trail. It was hard for me to imagine how covered wagons could navigate such hostile terrain.

More recently, in 1969, NASA’s Apollo astronauts (Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan and Joe Engle) studied volcanic geology here prior to preparing for their moon missions.

Desolate Landscape

Desolate Landscape

Craters of the Moon offers a visitors’ center including films on the types of lava, as well as displays including the history of how this location became a national monument in 1924.
Tourists can explore hiking trails as well as experience lava tube caves (which require a permit). Ranger-led tours are offered throughout the day.

As always, being a big fan of the National Park Service, I was impressed with the surprising scenery as the remains of spatter cones, lava, and craters did seem like being on another planet.

Rudy’s – A Cook’s Paradise

Before leaving southern Idaho, I wanted to bring home some souvenirs of my visit back to Houston. On the recommendation of some Twin Falls’ locals, I was referred to Rudy’s in downtown Twin Falls. For kitchen fans, this store is an unexpected treat.

Rudy's

Rudy’s

With two rooms packed floor to ceiling with kitchen cookware and gadgets, I had no idea there were some many things available for cooks! Rudy’s advertises as “A Cook’s Paradise” and there seemed to be every type of cooking gear imaginable.

In the very back of the shop, Rudy’s also features local beers and Idaho wines. The owner was helpful in suggesting some picks which I brought back to Houston (hint: try Idaho’s Cinder Viognier wine).

Rudy Wines

Rudy’s also offers special evenings including musicians, an open house on Twin Falls’ First Fridays, and cooking classes. I could spend hours just exploring the different cooking gadgets, which come in every color and size one can imagine. Like children in a candy store, Rudy’s is a candy store for cooks.

Idaho is low-key and keeps its scenery hidden for its locals. I had troubles finding guidebooks on Idaho but don’t be deceived—there is a lot to see. Information about Idaho almost seems to spread by “word of mouth” and I almost hesitate to publicize a good thing. Being undiscovered, uncrowded and scenic, the visit to my last state was memorable.

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The Wonders of Automobiles in Turin, Italy

Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile

Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile

In the Lingotto area of Turin is a car museum that combines Turin’s history of manufacturing Fiats with the humans’ love of the automobile. In a sleek, grey, ultra-modern structure, the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile offers something for everyone. With three floors of exhibits and vehicles, this museum combines history, art and auto design with a common thread of how history and the times have impacted vehicles.

Entry Hall

Entry Hall

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Entry to the museum is 12 euros and exhibitions start at the top floor, working downward. Exhibits include displays on the world’s first self-propelled vehicles, solar-driven cars, breaking speed barriers and how history has impacted auto production.

With Italian design and well-written bilingual exhibition descriptions in Italian and English, this museum is a find. Exhibition rooms include cars with chandeliers (basically, a high-end vehicle stable), how World War I and World War II impacted vehicle manufacturing and even exhibitions of vehicle production in the former Eastern Bloc, as search lights eerily follow visitors looking at the East German Trabant. The fall of the Berlin Wall is included in the Trabant display design and the screams are scary.

Trabant

Trabant

Exhibitions include how cars were impacted during the “Roaring Twenties” with films and photos of dancing the Charleston as well as gangsters’ need for vehicles.

A 1936 black Mercedes-Benz is on display with photos from Germany in the background. Looking at the car and the grainy black-and-white photos gives visitors a foreboding of World War II. I stopped to think about what was going on in Germany at the time as well as what would sadly happen in the next few years.

An exhibition on the Great Depression includes photos of the 1929 Great Stock Market Crash, along with resulting bread lines. A 1932 Austin Seven is included in this particular exhibit for the few who could afford vehicles.

Austin Seven

Austin Seven

A U.S. military Jeep is included in the displays in remembrance of the Allies marching through Italy.

Large cars from the 1950s are featured as well as vehicles decorated in a “flower power” motif from the 1960s “Summer of Love” (along with music of the times). Exhibits include record albums showing how cars were prominently featured in album covers.

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Muscle cars and the globalization of vehicle manufacturing are included in the exhibitions. Local pride and love of Fiat (the “T” in Fiat stands for Torino—the Italian name for Turin) is evident throughout the museum.

One room includes a range of beautiful sports cars and I almost felt like James Bond being given my latest “toy” from Q.

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This museum is not a typical car museum with rooms full of cars with little information. The Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile instead represents Italian design at its best and with a mixture of history, art and extensive exhibits and information. I easily spent several hours looking at various displays (and I know nothing about cars). Both car lovers and those who know nothing about automobiles will equally enjoy this museum.

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For visitors to the museum arriving by Metro, the subway ride from central Turin (Porto Nuova) to Lingotto will take no more than ten minutes. The signage outside the Lingotto Metro station, however, is not clear but be sure to walk away from the former Fiat factory and turn towards the River Po. The museum will be about a five or six block walk, right along the river.

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The Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile is a fitting representation of Turin’s pride in manufacturing. A monument befitting local history in Turin’s industry, this museum represents Italian design at its best.

Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile
Corso Unita d’Italia 40
10126 Torino, Italy
Phone: 39-11-677666/7/8

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A Church and Coffee Beans in Rome, Italy

The Church

The Church

During the winter, it’s quieter in Rome with fewer tourists than during the high season. I have been coming here for years as there is so much to see that it is almost overwhelming. On a recent visit in late February, 2015, while tourists were around, there were fewer crowds than I’ve seen in the late summer. Outside the major tourist draws, in smaller churches and restaurants, visitors can avoid the masses of visitors.

In this post, I wanted to reference two locations that tourists may miss but are highly worth a visit. Rome is one of my favorite places and it’s always nice to find places that are unexplored and memorable.

Chiesa di Sant’Andrea al Quirinale

The Church of Saint Andrew at the Quirinale is near the President’s house in central Rome and may not look like much from the street. Thanks to a recommendation by my brother, I made a stop here and liked the church so much I visited twice.

This church is a Baroque church and was built over the site of an earlier church. The rebuilt structure was constructed in 1658 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini who had the patronage of Pope Alexander VII, who wanted to use the church as a Papal chapel. For those readers who have been to the Vatican, Bernini is famous for designing the colonnade for St. Peter’s Square.

To me, what makes this church especially interesting is that on entering, visitors will note the elliptical shape of the sanctuary, which is unusual. The church’s dome is vibrant, separated into ten zones and decorated with rich golds and sculptures. The altar is framed by pink marble columns and reflects the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew.

Altar

Altar

Throughout the church are quiet chapels and for a memorable Italian experience, I lit a candle in the Chapel of the Crucifix. The sculptures throughout this church are ornate and intricate. Bernini designed many of the church’s decorations and decided where most statues would go.

The church has limited seating but with few tourists around, the sanctuary is peaceful. Be sure to pay attention to the details of the marble floor and the ceiling décor.

Church Chapel

Church Chapel

Behind the altar is an entrance to the first floor which will almost seem like a wrong exit. For two euros, visitors can gain access upstairs to see the rooms of Stanislao Kostka, who died in these rooms in August, 1568. Saint Stanislao Kostka is a popular Polish saint and the rooms themselves include vibrant red walls, tapestries and a sculpture of this saint. On a rainy day in Rome, I almost had the rooms to myself.

Statue of Stanislao Kostka

Statue of Stanislao Kostka

Informational guides in different languages are available for a donation in the room behind the altar. Photos are allowed as long as no flash cameras are being used.

The church is closed on Mondays and during the winter, open limited hours during the remainder of the week. To me, this church was an architectural feat as the elliptical design seems unique to fit a small space. I especially loved the dome of this church and would recommend a visit for any tourists in Rome.

Chiesa di Sant’Andrea Al Quirinale
Via del Quirinale 29
Rome, Italy
Phone: (06) 47 44 801

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe

Readers of this blog will be aware that I love coffee and sweets. For a uniquely Roman coffee experience, Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe is a must. This coffee bar has been in business since 1938, which is hard to even imagine as this is prior to World War II. Located in a hidden, quiet piazza between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, this shop is filled with locals and easy to miss. Visitors will smell the aroma of coffee as they approach the café.

Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe

I discovered this shop purely by accident as I happened to be in an antique print shop, Nardecchia, in Piazza Navona, when the very kind owner pulled out a brown paper bag and asked in English if I would like to try some chocolate-covered coffee beans. Without a doubt, these are some of the best coffee beans I’ve ever tasted. With the language barrier on both sides, I pulled out a map and the owner put an “x” of where I needed to go. From the moment I tried the coffee beans, I was on a mission to find Sant’Eustachio. Be sure to buy several bags of the chocolate-dipped Sant’Eustachio coffee beans (chicchi di caffe) as this is an incredible Italian taste sensation. I brought several bags home and am already regretting that I can’t buy these in Houston.

This coffee bar will be packed no matter what time of day. Walls are filled with coffee beans, coffee tins, vibrant yellow coffee cups and saucers with the Sant’Eustachio logo, a stag’s head, and other gifts. I had to laugh that carry bags are available in English with a slogan “If you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen” which I thought was funny.

Walls of Goodies

Walls of Goodies

Visitors to this shop will need to pay first and then approach the coffee bar with their receipt. I went several times and tried the gran caffe and cappuccino. Many choices are available including caffe d’elite (a small coffee) or moretto, which includes cocoa and milk. The shop will be filled with customers but the chaos is organized, as people move to let visitors approach the bar. I heard people mention the signora Americana and nicely move over so that I would have a spot at the bar. Drinks are served quickly and the stacks of cups and saucers behind the counter is amazing.

Lines of Happy Coffee Drinkers

Lines of Happy Coffee Drinkers

Sant’Eustachio is open early until very late and always seems to be filled with happy coffee drinkers. This café is packed with locals with few tourists which is also a good sign. If the weather is nice (and the timing is good), six tables are outside in the piazza to enjoy a coffee experience and soak in the history and architecture of Rome.

For me, Sant’Eustachio is some of the best coffee I’ve had in Italy and the chocolate-covered coffee beans are something I will always remember. I can’t recommend Sant’Eustachio enough and there is a reason this café has been in business for nearly eighty years.

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe
Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82
Rome, Italy
Phone: (06) 688 02048

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Art and Sweets in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Chocolates at Kakawa Chocolate House

Chocolates at Kakawa Chocolate House

In the cold and quiet of early January, local Santa Fe residents have reclaimed their town from the masses of tourists found during the spring through the fall. Bargains are available, popular restaurants won’t require reservations or long waits, Christmas lights are still up and light ice and snow add a layer of beauty to this early 1600s desert town.

I have been coming to Santa Fe for years and my favorite time is the off-season in the winter, when the beiges of the desert mix with a grey-white sky. This part of New Mexico can be described as “O’Keeffe Country” where the artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, first came to paint in 1929.

New Mexico is also known as the state where restaurants immediately ask the question “red or green” depending on your chile favorite (green in my case), but I found two surprising treats in Santa Fe—chocolate elixirs and creative donuts.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Near Santa Fe’s Plaza, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum celebrates the Wisconsin-born artist who later adopted New Mexico as her home. This museum is smaller, but the films, art and docent talks will make visitors wanting to learn more about a prominent American artist.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Admission is $12.00 and visitors should be sure to watch two introductory films: “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life in Art” and “Houses of My Own” about Ms. O’Keeffe’s life. The first film is narrated by actor Gene Hackman and tells of the artist’s struggle to be taken seriously as a female artist, as Ms. O’Keeffe began painting in 1915. Her initial abstract art was displayed in the photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s (who she later married) New York City Gallery “291” but she struggled to be understood. Critics didn’t comprehend her initial abstract art which upset Ms. O’Keeffe.

The artist moved on to instead painting themes of flowers, and later bones and desert scenery when she discovered the vast colors of Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, New Mexico. Georgia O’Keeffe loved the open spaces and colors of the West. When she lived in New York with Stieglitz, painting in areas like Lake George, New York, didn’t appeal to her as the landscape was too green. The desert, with its vast array of colors, fascinated Ms. O’Keeffe and she felt at home.

Outside the Museum

Outside the Museum

The museum contains several galleries with photos of Ms. O’Keeffe and it is interesting looking at how different photographers cast the artist in a different light. The walls include photos taken by Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams.

Ms. O’ Keeffe’s artwork can be found throughout the museum including her vibrant flowers and my personal favorites of her desert scenes. The museum includes a reconstruction of Ms. O’Keeffe’s art studio (which is surprisingly simple) as well as photos of the desert views from her home. The artist especially loved the Pedernal Mountain which has a prominent place in some of her paintings. The exhibits also include some paintings from Ms. O’Keeffe’s travels around the world and I found the artwork from Asia particularly unusual.

Georgia O'Keeffe

If a docent talk is available, be sure to make time to learn more about Ms. O’Keeffe who not only struggled to be understood, but faced challenges of making it as a female artist in a man’s world. In January, there are few tourists around and our docent talk had just seven people.

The museum includes guest exhibitions as well as a gift shop, which features books on Ms. O’Keeffe, posters, calendars, jewelry and various gifts.

I have been to this museum several times and could visit over and over. The vivid colors of artwork on display make visitors want to take a road or hiking trip into the desert to discover a scenic part of New Mexico so loved by the artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
217 Johnson Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Phone: (505)946-1000

Kakawa Chocolate House

It’s chilly in Santa Fe in January but a short walk from the galleries on Canyon Road is a very special treat. Located in a small adobe house, Kakawa Chocolate House serves tasty, rich drinking chocolates (elixirs) in a blue and white china cup. Serving sizes come in three ounces or six ounces with recipes based on both historic and recent creations. For chocolate fans, this is serious chocolate served in a similar size to a cup of espresso. Be sure to ask for a glass of water on the side.

Kakawa Chocolate House

Kakawa Chocolate House

The staff is enthusiastic in helping to make selections. The most popular flavor is the American elixir which is made of 72 percent chocolate along with almond milk, which is delicious. I couldn’t have just one.

Other flavors include Zapoteca (100% chocolate, coconut and sugar), Chili (100% chocolate, chili, coconut and sugar), Chai (72% chocolate, almond milk and chai tea) and Rose Almond (100% chocolate with herbs, spices, nuts, flowers and chili). Ask the staff what is available on the blackboard and they will quickly determine what chocolate suits each visitor best.

Chocolate Elixir--oh so good

Chocolate Elixir–oh so good

This house is small but a great surprise. With blue curtains, roughly ten tables and a casual atmosphere, this is the place for visitors with a sweet tooth to indulge.

Other offerings include brownies, ice cream and chocolates. I had to take some chocolate with orange peel and cherry truffles with chili for my walk through Santa Fe. Elixirs are also for sale to take home.

In a city of “red and green”, sometimes a special taste is something completely different. For a hot chocolate that is truly memorable, be sure to stop by Kakawa Chocolate House for an amazing experience.

Kakawa Chocolate House
1050 E. Paseo de Peralta
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Phone: (505)982-0388

Whoo’s Donuts

Early morning at Whoo's Donuts

Early morning at Whoo’s Donuts

In a simple strip center on Cerrillos Road, visitors to Santa Fe will want to experience donuts with an unusual taste. Made from scratch daily, these donuts are irresistible and feature flavors like blueberry lavender blue corn (definitely worth trying), cranberry glazed, vanilla cake, orange glazed, and apple cider (my favorite).

Open every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., donuts are available until the daily batch sells out. I was in Santa Fe for a long weekend and am embarrassed to admit that I was parked outside Whoo’s Donuts every morning just as the shop opened for breakfast.

The inside of Whoo’s Donuts is comfortable and relaxed, with fluffy chairs and a decadent case of donuts on display. The cost of two donuts will run roughly $3.50.

Donuts for sale

Donuts for sale

With flavors that I have never come across before, these delicious, lightly sugared donuts, make for a special experience.

For visitors around the Plaza who don’t have a car, be on the lookout for coffee shops with an owl logo on the door, as these shops also sell Whoo’s products. I noticed several coffee shops not far from the Plaza selling Whoo’s.

For a snack that shouldn’t be missed, Whoo’s Donuts should be on any Santa Fe itinerary.

Whoo’s Donuts
851B Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Phone: (505)629-1678

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A Quiet Refuge in Vancouver’s Chinatown

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In the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown lies a peaceful garden reflecting characteristics found during the Ming Dynasty. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a tranquil retreat in the core of a downtown commercial district.

Welcome to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Welcome to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

For an admission price of C$12.00, this garden is a representation of a scholar’s garden, including an intimate courtyard filled with waterfalls, ponds and ducks. Leak windows, which function by “leaking in” air, light and scenery, are scattered throughout the garden and each design is different. The garden also includes a pavilion as well as a scholar’s study. Visitors enter through the China Maple Hall which is a formal reception hall designed without nails, screws or glue.

A sample of a leak window

A sample of a leak window

Walking through the garden, the courtyard includes a ting, which is the representation of a mountain. The quiet and stillness is an escape into another time and place. The garden also balances the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, as the dark roof tiles are a vibrant contrast against the white walls. The difference between the black and the white is stark.

The scholar’s study and courtyard is in the remote part of the garden and I was surprised to learn that this room was for both men and women. The four-way test of a good scholar was to ask the following questions:

1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial for all concerned?

Scholar's Study

Scholar’s Study

In the scholar’s room are rocks on display called gongshi, which are Chinese scholar rocks. These stones are unusual as they are rare rocks that show a unique aesthetic form.

Visitors to the garden can either view the grounds on a self-guided tour or guided tours are offered throughout the day. The guides are friendly and will find visitors throughout the garden.

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Included in the garden is the Hall of One Hundred Rivers, which is a great introduction to Chinese culture. Included in the hall is information about Mah Jongg (and how to play) as well as a delicious, hot pot of Chinese tea for all visitors. My favorite part of the hall was some sample brushes and templates on display of how to paint calligraphy, which is much harder than it looks! I tried one of the samples and I’m afraid my character didn’t look anything like it was supposed to. Some of the symbols visitors can try to replicate are the symbol for tea (cha) or the symbol for bamboo (zhu). The hall is also filled with Chinese music and provides a great overview of Chinese history, including a monthly art exhibit.

Hall of One Hundred Rivers

Hall of One Hundred Rivers

My attempt at calligraphy

My attempt at calligraphy

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is located in central Vancouver and is easily walkable within downtown or the garden can be accessed a short walk by subway from the Stadium station.

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This garden is a step into centuries long past and a stunning reminder of the beauties of hidden gardens. Visitors will be moved by this peaceful retreat in the heart of a bustling commercial Vancouver neighborhood.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
578 Carrall Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 5K2
Phone: (604)662-3207

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A Taste of Autumn in Boston’s Public Garden and Gibson House Museum

 

Autumn Colors in the Public Garden

Autumn Colors in the Public Garden

It was my first New England fall, something I have wanted to experience for years, to see the vibrant, rich colors of a New England autumn. Living in Houston, we have a few cold days but the trees are either green or have dropped their leaves. It’s the time of year in the Northeast that I miss as a child growing up, when the air is crisp and the colors are like a painting canvas.

Public Garden

Since 1837, Bostonians have been visiting the Public Garden, a quiet escape in the heart of Boston. I have been different times of year but the fall is particularly special. Like a Van Gogh painting with rich brushstrokes, the colors of the trees in the park are spectacular. I was excited that empty picture frames were scattered around the Public Garden where locals and tourists alike were taking photos. I felt like I was part of a painting with the deep oranges, yellows and reds.

Statues are scattered throughout the park including a dedication to Robert McCloskey’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” which I loved as a little girl. I have seen the ducklings dressed as Pilgrims or in Red Sox gear during the World Series. Children (and adults) enjoy these statues and visitors often sit on the ducks taking photos.

"Make Way for Ducklings"

Boston’s proud history in the American Revolution and Civil War is depicted within the park as well as a special monument commemorating the discovery at Massachusetts General Hospital that inhaling ether makes a patient immune to pain.

An angel statue in a quiet corner of the garden is dedicated in memory to Boston philanthropist George Robert White, which is a beautiful spot in the park.

In Memory of George Robert White

Frequent benches are scattered throughout the park with various dedications to residents who loved the Public Garden. I could sit on these benches for hours watching the world go by.

During the spring and summer, the Boston swan boats, which have been operating for over 130 years, transport visitors around the lake. I remember getting a postcard of the swan boats from my aunt and uncle as a little girl so I was interested in the Public Garden from a young age.

Lake with Fall Colors

Evenings in the Public Garden are a great chance to relax and people watch. Wedding parties are often photographed on the bridge, I have seen couples dancing along the lake, and, I have heard either jazz saxophonists or classical violinists play by the lake. As the sun sets in Boston, be sure to head to the Public Garden to witness a taste of Boston with special memories.

Bridge in the Public Garden

The Public Garden is free. Dogs should be on leases and no skateboarding is allowed in the park. This Garden is a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of Boston’s Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhoods. Any visitors to Boston should include the Public Garden on their list.

Gibson House Museum

I am a big fan of historic houses and in Boston’s Back Bay (just a couple blocks from the Public Garden) is the Gibson House Museum, which sits discretely among a row of brownstones.

Gibson House Museum

The house was designed by Edward Clarke Cabot with construction completed in 1860. Hourly tours, which occur in the afternoons Wednesday to Sunday (be prompt for tour times), tell the history of the Gibson family, which is fascinating.

The house was purchased by Catherine Gibson, as she was trying to find a suitable wife for her son, Charles Hammond Gibson. Mr. Gibson eventually married and had three heirs: Mary Ethel, Charles Jr. and Rosamond. Charles Jr. was the last occupant of the home (passing away in 1954) and his eccentricity meant that the home was kept as it was in Victorian times. Charles Jr. did not feel the need to modernize and wanted things to remain as they were when he was a child.

Another view

Visitors to the home will first be stunned by the entry way, as the Victorian wallpaper is original. Before electricity, the gold prints in the wall coverings were meant to reflect the light from candles. The décor in the entry is kind of gaudy which is what Victorians liked. Be sure to also notice the beautiful antique grandfather clock in the entry which still chimes on the hour.

The tour begins on the first floor which includes a dining room, with the table set for dinner like what would have been acceptable in the late 1800s. I enjoyed hearing about the worn carpeting as visitors to the house can see where the servants stood as parts of the carpet are worn. Lace curtains also cover the windows as in the Victorian age, deliveries to the houses were from the back alleys. The residents did not want to watch the “comings and goings” of the horses and carts delivering goods.

Delivery Alley

On the second floor, visitors will see the men’s and women’s parlors as it was customary that the two groups would retire to separate parlors. The two parlors definitely reflect different tastes but include carpets and glassware from Asia. Scattered around the men’s parlor are letters from the White House and Buckingham Palace, as the intent was to show visitors to the home famous connections.

Before heading to the third floor, be sure to look up and see the ventilation shaft as very few of these shafts remain. The tour description about how ventilation was handled is interesting.

On the third floor are two bedrooms—one decorated in a Japanese style while the other bedroom was converted into a study. Charles Jr. was a heavy smoker and be sure to look at the ceiling in the study as the coloration has turned brown from cigar smoke. Visitors should also be on the lookout for a missing portrait. Charles Jr. had a falling out with his sister, Rosamond, and removed her picture from the wall. Visitors are able to see the original coloration of the wallpaper outlined by the previous portrait.

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On this floor is also the bathroom that was installed in 1902. This bathroom is very basic and before hot water, servants had to carry water up and down the stairs. This home has a lot of stairs so I can’t imagine would it would be like hauling buckets of hot water up several flights.

The tour ends with visitors experiencing the ground floor where the servants worked. The stove is from the 1880s and the laundry room is…well…antique. I can’t imagine how Mr. Gibson’s servants were still doing his laundry in the 1950s as the facilities are basic at best. For fans of “Downton Abbey”, the servant bells are lined across the wall in the kitchen and I felt a little like being in a movie set.

Admission to the Gibson House Museum is $9.00 and tours leave promptly on the hours of one, two and three. Photos are allowed inside, but only without a flash (which is difficult with the dark Victorian interior). I stumbled onto this house a few years ago and have visited several times since. It’s a step into the Victorian era in the middle of a very busy neighborhood. I love this house and learn something new every time I explore this museum.

Gibson House Museum
137 Beacon Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Phone: (617)267-6338

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