Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Distinctive Group

Almost everyone who travels to London puts a visit to Westminster Abbey on their must see list.  I can still remember my very first glimpse of this imposing church back in 1985.  On a visit there it would be hard to miss Parliament Square situated directly across from the Palace of Westminster (better known as Parliament) and right in front of the Abbey.

So, if you've been there you have no doubt seen the array of distinguished gentlemen  who have permanent residence in the square.

There is of course England's most famous Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill in his bulky overcoat and leaning on his cane.

Mahatma Gandhi is there and he's bearing up quite well to the slight chill in the air.

Nelson Mandela now has a place of honor on the square.  He appears to be in perpetual discussion with those that pass by.

You might be surprised to find Abraham Lincoln standing with this group in his famous Lincolnesque pose.

So, if you are visiting that famous Abbey, be sure you pause and say hello to these fine humanitarians.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

El Presidio

In the heart of downtown Tucson is a historic gem, El Presidio de San Augustin del Tucson the original Spanish settlement built in 1775.  It was a fort that was roughly built in the beginning but, grew to 11 acres over the next few years and was surrounded by a tall adobe wall.

The adobe wall surrounding the fort is gone now but this wall on the historic property has been painted with a mural that depicts the colonial life inside the fort back in the 18th century.

El Presidio is open to the public with historic reenactments happening periodically and a museum with artifacts from those early years.  I happened to visit when this group of volunteers were practicing for an event so I got to watch them go through their maneuvers without any crowds around.

The Tucson fort was among the largest of the frontier forts of that era but very little of the old buildings remain.  You can see a few adobe structures on the site.

El Presidio remained in use until the Americans arrived in March of 1856.  The fort was soon dismantled and over time the wall was taken down.  Now it's just a tiny bit of history in the shadow of the downtown Tucson high-rises.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Magic of Travel

When traveling to foreign shores, magical things can happen and a little bit of magic is exactly what happened a few years ago when I traveled to Italy.  My friends and I traveled to Cortona one day to explore the town made famous by Frances Mayes' book (and movie), "Under the Tuscan Sun".

We were headed down the main street toward the Piazza della Repubblica, when I began to notice people dressed in Medieval costumes.  I just thought that some of the local merchants dressed that way to attract the tourist trade.

However, when we arrived at the piazza, it was clear that things were being set up for something special to occur.  My friends and I found an ideal spot high up on a balcony where we could watch what was about to happen.

Soon we saw some elite clergy making their way to the steps of the city hall.

They seated themselves at a red clothed table at the top of the stairs.

Soon they were joined by a group of horn players heralding the beginning of a ceremony.

The horns were followed by some drummers and then there was a long procession of beautifully dressed people making their way toward the steps.  It appeared that the people were broken into five distinct groups and each group had one member carrying a very long white candle.  The candle holders and other ceremonial members took positions on the steps while other members of the groups circled the piazza to watch.  We later learned that the five groups represented the nobility of each Cortona neighborhood during Medieval times.

Next came a group of young people carrying various patterned flags and they began performing a routine of flag throwing and formations.  They had the crowd enthralled by their precision and skill.

While all of the entertainment was going on, the groups of finely dressed citizens were gathered around the piazza watching the demonstrations while behind them were groups of tourists like us who were enjoying something special and unexpected.  

After the performance were complete, each person holding one of those long candles went to the top of the stairs and presented the candle to the bishop to be blessed.

After each of the candles had been blessed, the groups gathered together again and started a beautiful procession back down the street where they had come from.

After doing some research, I learned that this ceremony is part of a larger three day event celebrated around the feast of Saint Margherita.  It begins with the casting of the candles on Friday evening, the blessing of the candles on Saturday and ends with several masses on Sunday that are held in the nearby Basilica of Santa Margherita.  The event takes place once a year and dates back to 1325.

This is one of those things that I wouldn't even have known how to plan for.  We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I feel lucky that we were there to witness such a colorful and symbolic event.  It amazes me that the people of Cortona replicate this event year after year.  Now that is tradition.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Page Springs

Last week I told you a little about the town of Cottonwood, the heart of the northern Arizona wine country.  Today I'm going to take you on a tour of Page Springs Winery, just outside Cottonwood in a hilly area with a lot of volcanic soil.

The winery over looks Oak Creek, that well know stream of water that flows through beautiful Sedona Arizona.  In fact, there is a picnic area right over the creek where you can enjoy some delicious food and an equally delicious glass of wine while listening to the rushing water below you.

And, when I say the food is delicious, I do mean delicious.  I actually stopped here for lunch because I had heard that they had a superb chef working in the kitchen and he lived up to his reputation.  I had the pizza that is called the T & A.  It's made with pesto, roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts and both parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheeses.  Yum...what a treat it was!

After I had eaten, they filled my glass of wine and encouraged me to stroll the grounds and enjoy scenery.  The grounds of the winery are beautifully landscaped with a trails that lead toward the creek and the rows of vines.

My camera and I were drawn to the beautiful, plump grapes hanging on the vines all around.

I was having a hard time controlling my "shutter" finger as I passed row after row of luscious grapes and shady vines.

The rock-lined and and arbor covered path down to the picnic area and the creek was another picture perfect place to stop.

If you find yourself in north-central Arizona, I highly recommend a visit to Page Springs Winery.  The drive to get there is beautiful and the winery itself is one of the prettiest I've seen in this area.  And the food....well...the food is simply exceptional.  It's a perfect Arizona day trip or weekend get-away.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Arizona Wine Country

Cottonwood Arizona is the heart of the Arizona wine county.  Well, the northern half of the Arizona Wine Country.  There is a big section of wine country in the south of our state too.  When I took that road trip last July, I made a two day stop in Cottonwood so that I could explore that area a little bit.  One of the places I visited was the Pillsbury Wine Company official tasting room.  I've mentioned Pillsbury before on my Phoenix Daily Photo site when I first met Sam Pillsbury the winery's owner.

Sam wasn't there the day I visited but, I did pick up three bottles of his tasty wine while I was there.  

The winery tasting rooms are all centered in the old part of Cottonwood in an area that is also home to lots of wonderful shops and galleries.  There was a lot of character in this part of town, including many old stone structures like this bridge I found on edge of the downtown area.

There were also many older homes that have been lovingly maintained.  This one I found especially attractive with all the plants and the wonderful big tree out front.

In the early evening I enjoyed walking along the streets and stopping in unique shops to browse and a few art galleries where I saw some amazing paintings and sculptures.

Finally I settled in at the Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria for some dinner.  They have created a beautiful dining room and a menu with an Italian inspiration.  I had a wonderful pasta dish that I thoroughly enjoyed.  

In a future post, I'll visit another winery that is located a few miles from Cottonwood.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

One Hot Day at the Grand Canyon

When I made that trip to the Grand Canyon back in July, I was mostly interested in experiencing the historic train ride so I only planned on the one day at the canyon.  I've visited the canyon many times before and will most likely be up there again sometime soon.

However, my one day at the canyon this time was hampered a bit the excessive heat that day.  This part of our state usually boasts more moderate temperatures than we see in the southern half but, on this particular day we were having a bit of a heat wave.  The result was that I didn't get to hike as many trails as I would have liked.

To escape from the heat, I enjoyed lunch inside the El Tovar Hotel, a historic hotel that opened its doors in 1905, before the area became a National Park.  It's situated right on the edge of the canyon so the rooms facing that side have some pretty spectacular views.

The rustic interior of the hotel has that wonderful "mountain cabin" feel to it.  It exudes a friendly warmth and a welcoming atmosphere.

Next door to the hotel is the Hopi House, another historic structure that was built in 1904 and is one of many projects designed by Mary Colter inside the Grand Canyon Park.

It was built as a place to market Native American crafts made by Hopi artisans who were the historic inhabitants of the area.  Today it still serves that same purpose and a little stroll through the artwork here was another escape from the searing heat.

Outside the Hopi House is a staging area where Native American performances are available for guest to enjoy.

I saw this colorful group waiting for their turn to perform.

Back on the trail, I saw this young couple making their own photographic memory of this remarkable place.

Hotels, historic structures and traditional performances aside, the true star of this area is still the wide expanse and ever changing colors of that spectacular canyon.  It is a canyon that comes by its "Grand" moniker quite deservedly.