Sunday, April 23, 2017

Truth or Consequences

When I went to visit Spaceport America, (I posted about that visit here) the closest town to the site is a place called Truth or Consequences New Mexico.  Located in the southwest of the state, it's a sleepy little town that the Interstate Highway system bypassed many years ago.   I arrived mid-afternoon and since my tour of Spaceport was early the next morning, I checked in to the local Holiday Inn and decided to explore the town.

When I was a little kid, my family used to take "road trip" vacations and I recall traveling through this town with the funny name sometime before Interstate 25 breezed right by it.  With the exception of some colorful paint jobs, the town looks much the same.

Back in the day when television was just starting to become a household fixture a man named Ralph Edwards had a TV game show called Truth or Consequences.  In 1950, he made an on-air promise to air one of his TV shows from the first town to rename itself Truth or Consequences.  The town of Hot Springs New Mexico took him up on the challenge.  They renamed the town and Ralph Edwards upheld his part of the bargain.  In fact, he aired his show from the town the first weekend of May for the next 50 years.

There really are hot springs in T or C (all New Mexicans refer to the town as T or C) and it's still a popular weekend escape for many residents of the state.

In fact, I was surprised to find a large lake and quite a lot of sailboats a little way out of town at a place called Elephant Butte Lake.

Just look at all those sailboats.  Not a sight you expect to see in the desert southwest.

I decided to have dinner at a local restaurant rather than one of the well-known chain restaurants located near the interstate.  I chose this colorful place called Latitude 33.  (It looks like it's not open, but it was.)  They served an interesting selection of Asian food.

The place was busy while I was there but, clearly I was the only stranger in the place.  Everyone else was greeted by their name as they came through the door.

The town of Truth or Consequences may be just a blip on the map or a refueling spot for most people but, I enjoyed my short time there exploring the colorful, old-west atmosphere and bringing back a few childhood memories.  It's slow-paced lifestyle was a perfect unwind after the long drive down from Santa Fe.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bridges of Venice

When a city is made of islands that are floating in an Adriatic lagoon, there are bound to a lot of bridges needed.  Such is the case for the splendidly beautiful city of Venice.  Some of those bridges are well know like the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal pictured above.

At least one bridge has a legend attached to it.  Such is the case for the tiny Bridge of Sighs pictured above.  It connects the Doge's Palace (where one might be tried for a crime) to the prison cells (where one would serve their sentence).  The legend says that prisoners would cross this bridge and look out one of those tiny windows and sigh at their last glimpse of Venice.

There are more than 400 bridges in Venice connecting the islands and spanning those watery streets.

They come in a variety of shapes and materials.

You will see some with neatly plastered sides creating a smooth arch.

Some are made of wrought iron and have a more modern utilitarian look.

Quiet bridges make the perfect place for a gondolier to take a break and check his emails.

The bridges also make the perfect place to stand and take a picture and if there happens to be a lady with a colorful umbrella, even better.

Some bridges are sporting greenery that has volunteered to grow along the sides.

And some bridges are so pretty that even a local resident can stand at the window to admire them.

Bridges, canals, plazas, and gondolas, there is an endless supply of things to photograph in one of the most famous cities on the planet.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Queen of Time

I have been shopping at Selfridges in London on past trips but I didn't know anything about the history of that great store on Oxford Street.  Then, last year I watched a television series called "Mr. Selfridge"  about the life of Harry Gordon Selfridge so a visit to that store had a lot more meaning on this last visit to London.  Did any of you see that show?  What a fascinating man.  Selfridge was an American who had made a career in retail at Marshall Field's in Chicago, another grand department store.  When he felt his career had taken him as far as it could in Chicago, he decided to start his own store in London using the more "American" version of department store retailing.  He built the store in phases between 1909 and 1926 and his brand of retail sales became such a success that it was copied by other big stores in the city.

Selfridge always had some new idea that would put his store in the forefront of the news.  In 1931, he commissioned a clock to be created by sculptor Gilbert Bayes and installed over the front doors of his magnificent store.  The sculpture was called the Queen of Time and was made of bronze with a polychrome finish.  It is a stunning piece of art that is as beautiful today as it was when it was first unveiled.

But not wanting to just stand outside and admire the clock, I decided a little retail therapy was in order so I went inside.

Selfridges has the second largest retail space in London after Harrods.  It boasts the largest shoe department in the city with over 4,000 pairs of shoes at any given time. My kind of place!

After browsing that shoe department, I had a wonderful lunch at one of the many restaurants inside the store.  I knew there were quite a few places to eat so I asked a sales clerk for a recommendation and she didn't steer me wrong. I had a delicious salad at Aubaine, a French Bistro.

After lunch I did some more shopping around the store and found myself on the lower level looking at kitchenware and cookbooks when I spotted Harry Gordon's Bar & Kitchen.

I couldn't resist so I treated myself to a glass of champagne while admiring the portrait of Harry Gordon Selfridge as he looked before losing his place at the helm of the store he created.

If you watched the "Mr. Selfridge" series, you know the story.  He was a genius at retail marketing but he had a little problem with gambling and women that led to his loss of control of the store.  However, his store has survived.  Actually, it has thrived and it still bears his name.  That certainly says something for his ingenuity and marketing prowess.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Visit to Stonehenge

I first learned about Stonehenge when I was in grade school and I was immediately hooked.  When I learned how far away it was, I was a bit disappointed thinking I would never get to see it in person.  During my childhood, air travel seemed like an impossible hurdle.  Little did I know that one day I'd be flying to and from work assignments.  Back in 2000, I made my very first visit to Stonehenge when I took my dad on a trip to London.  It was his first trip to Europe.

When I visited London last year, I made a point of going to see Stonehenge again.  This time I took a train to Salisbury and then the "Stonehenge Bus" from the train station.  It was very easy but, it did confuse me a little bit.  I had some pretty distinct memories of how the roadway and parking area looked and nothing on this trip matched up.  I remembered a tiny little brick building that was the visitors center and a walkway that went under the highway and over to the monument.  On this trip, there was a huge parking area and a huge visitors center and all of it was so far from the monument, it required a shuttle to drop visitors close to the site.

After doing a little research, I learned that back in 2013, the road was actually moved as part of a conservation effort.  Regardless of my confusion over roadway changes, the magic of Stonehenge still remains.  Visitors can't get up close to the stones but with the help of the telephoto lens, I can take a closer look.

I can even see how neatly those top stones are fixed to the standing stones.  It remains a bit of a puzzle as to how those ancient people built such an amazing structure.

I walked the path all the way around the structure contemplating its purpose and imagining what it looked like when it was first built.

As I made my way around the path, I spotted a kite flying in the sky above the stones.  I didn't see any of the visitors flying a kite so I'm not sure where it came from but I think it adds another element of mystery to an already mysterious place.  Can you see it up there to the left in the photo above?  I'm very happy that I made a second trip to Stonehenge.  It makes no difference if you take a day trip on a bus or take the train to Salisbury, the magic of Stonehenge is worth every minute of the experience.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Piccolomini Library

Adjoining the Siena Cathedral by a narrow passageway is a small room called the Piccolomini Library.  My eyes must have gotten as big as saucers when I entered this room.  The sheer exquisiteness of this tiny space is hard to describe and even harder to convey in my humble photos.

The room contains illuminated displays of choir books and.... surrounded by frescos by Bernardino di Betto which were probably based on designs by Raphael.  The visual impact of the frescoes is quite spectacular.  

The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena's favorite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini who eventually became Pope Pius II.  That is certainly something for the community to be proud of.  
In the middle of the library is the famous "Three Graces".  It's a Roman copy of the Greek original.

Everywhere I looked in this tiny room was a visual feast including the ceiling.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Siena's Beautiful Cathedral

One of the things I wanted to see while in Siena Italy was the magnificent cathedral.  I had heard from other travelers that it was one of the most beautiful in all of Italy and I have to say, it lived up to that description.

So after climbing up and down the narrow streets of Siena, we rounded a corner and there it was in all of its dazzling beauty.

Both the exterior and interior are constructed of a combination of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes.
Since the color "burnt siena" was named for this city, it was hard to believe that at one time black and white were considered the symbolic colors of the city of Siena.

The facade of the Siena Cathedral is capped with a glowing mosaic of the Coronation of the Virgin with two smaller mosaics over the two side doors.  And, those mosaics are surrounded in all directions by statues of saints and lace-like adornments.

Inside the cathedral, my eyes were immediately appreciative of the symmetrical black and white stripes of the walls and the columns.

The molding around the nave of the church contains 172 plaster busts of popes starting with Saint Peter and ending with Lucious III.

The round stained glass window in the front of the church dates back to 1549 and represents the Last Supper.  The vivid colors belie their long years on display.

I found myself drawn to the inlaid marble floor which is said to be one of the most ornate in Italy.  The inlaid marble covers the entire floor of the cathedral with panels of different sizes telling stories from the Old Testament.

The Cathedral of Siena was truly the most beautiful church I saw on my trip to Italy.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Resort with Some History

One recent July, I decided to take a long drive around the very southern part of my state of Arizona.  I traveled to many towns that I don't visit very often.  Late in the afternoon I pulled into the Tubac Golf Resort on the spur of the moment and checked to see if they had any rooms available.  They did and at summer rates that were too good to pass up.  So, after settling in to my rather sumptuous room, I decided to do a little exploring.

At the time, I didn't realize that I had stumbled on to such a historic place.  The resort sits on a piece of property that was once part of a very large ranch and that ranch dates back to 1789.  In America, that's a very long time ago.  The land was granted to Don Torbio de Otero by King Charles IV of Spain.  This was at a time when the Spanish ruled parts of the southern half of our state and Mexico.

In 1853 the land was brought into the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase.  By this time, the ranch was being run by Otero's grandson who traveled back to Mexico and learned how to raise cattle.  He returned to the ranch and introduced cattle to the property, making the ranch the home to one of the largest cattle empires in Arizona.

Remnants of the ranching days still remain on the property like the above silo and old wagons and other relics of the era.  The property remained in the Otero family until 1941.

In 1959, a group of businessmen headed by singing legend Bing Crosby, acquired the ranch and began the operation that is today the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa.

The new owners were careful to preserve the historic integrity of the land and buildings on it.  Today, the influence of the original owners can be felt throughout the property.

When I went to dinner at one of the restaurants on the property, I had a spectacular view of the golf course and the beautiful mountains in the distance.  I'm not a golfer but, I can see why any avid golfer would be drawn to such a beautiful place to play the game.

I would have to warn those golfers that they will have to play around a few cattle who still roam the property.  I've been told that the cattle tolerate the golfers and the golfers are careful not to drive any balls in their direction.