Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Narrow Streets of Siena

My hotel in Siena was just outside the walled center of the city so my very first glimpse of Siena although beautiful and oozing with Tuscan charm, gave no hint of what I was going find beyond the gates into the ancient part of the city.

The streets were narrow and yet used by both pedestrians and vehicles.  Fortunately, drivers were careful as they rounded corners and eased their way through the streets.

Every turn on to another street revealed more buildings that have housed families for centuries and are still homes and businesses.

Beautifully adorned grocery stores tempted me with perfect looking fruits and vegetables not to mention the pasta of every shape and size.  If I'd had a kitchen available to me I would have certainly picked up the fresh ingredients for a lovely Tuscan dinner.

Siena has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and all you have to do is walk these narrow streets to see why.  It was the first place settled by the Etruscans between 900 and 400 BC.  Imagine that!  At one time in its history, it was home to 50,000 people.

I found my self wondering what it must have been like to live in the city at that time and every now and then I would run across a person in period clothing adding flavor to my growing imagination.

Siena is the kind of place where it's easy to feel what it must have been like to live in a city more than a thousand years ago.  I'm sure we twenty-first century humans would find it impossible but to those living there at that time it was the normal way of life.

Siena is a magical place that I'd love to explore again one day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Banking on Lunch in the City

After a busy morning walking the wonderful streets of London, my legs told me it was time to sit and relax for a while.  So while wandering along among all those tall and exotic looking buildings in the City of London, I was keeping my eye out for a good place to have lunch and take a break from all that walking.

When I peeked in the open door of The Counting House I knew I had found the perfect spot.

How can a pub be so gorgeous?

I soon learned that what was now a pub was once a bank dating back to 1893.  It was once the home of Prescott's Bank to be exact.  And, the history of the place doesn't stop there.  The original bank building was built on the site of an old Roman basilica with the foundations of this building resting on ancient Roman walls.

I ordered a delicious pasta dish from a very friendly waitress who was happy to fill me in on some of the history of the place.

The bar of the pub sits in the center of the room and was once the place where banking transactions took place.  The domed glass ceiling and the chandeliers all date back from it's financial past.  I especially liked the supports that held up the antique brass foot rail around the bar.

The Counting House proved to be a great place for lunch with a splendid history and some very beautiful furnishings.  Squeezed in between all those glass and steel towers that the City of London is famous for, it was a gem of old world charm.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Real Old West

People who visit Arizona with a craving for some old west atmosphere tend to end up in places like Tombstone  to savor what the wild west must have been like.  However, there are lots of other towns in Arizona that have held on to the flavors of the west without all the tourist traffic.  Florence Arizona is one of those places.

The town of Florence has over 25 buildings listed on the National Historic Register and one of them is the beautiful Pinal County Courthouse.  Built in 1891, this three-story red brick building sits proudly in the heart of the city.  The architectural style is Late Victorian Revival that is topped like a wedding cake with an ornate clock tower.  The only problem is that when it was built, the city ran out of funds and  couldn't afford a working clock so the clock is painted on with the hands permanently showing the time at 11:44.  If you think of that positively, it's right on the money twice a day.

The courthouse has since been replaced by a modern facility on the edge of town but, this building is being restored to serve as government offices.

Main Street in Florence is a treat to explore with many old buildings constructed of adobe bricks still in use today.

The sidewalks are reminiscent of days long passed.

One might pass an antique store or an old saloon that still thrives to this day.  These buildings are all adobe walled and built in what was called Sonoran Style.  Some of them still have the viga and saguaro rib ceilings.

One place is the headquarters for the Rynning's Rangers, an all volunteer force that provides community service in the form of assistance to law enforcement and to keep alive history, tradition and heritage of the Arizona Territorial Rangers and the old west.

The local newspapers, the Florence Reminder and the Blade Tribune are located in this well-maintained historic house.

Most of the other homes in the central part of town are all constructed from adobe brick with a stucco covering and adorned with beautiful old doors and windows. 

Have you ever heard of a the silent film star named Tom Mix?  He was the handsome star of some 291 movies between 1909 and 1935.  In October of 1940, he was driving from Tucson to Phoenix in a 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton and was probably traveling well over the speed limit (if there was a speed limit at that time) when he lost control of the car and it overturned into a wash. He was killed in the accident that was located on a spot about 18 miles south of Florence.  Since then, a memorial to him has been located on the spot and a little roadside rest stop surrounds it. The inscription reads "In memory of Tom Mix, whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterizations and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the old West in the minds of living men."
You won't see any theatrical gun fights or any stage coaches taking visitors for rides but, you will see a little slice of history and you can get a true sense of an old west town by visiting Florence Arizona.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mass Transportation, London Style

Moving people back and forth is the hallmark of any great city and no one does it better than London.  I think pretty much everyone in the world can equate the city of London with those double-decker buses and the infamous "tube".

On my last trip to London, I thought it was about time I learned a little more about how the city developed such a sophisticated and efficient transportation system.  So, I headed to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

The museum explores how London transportation models have evolved over the past 200 years and emphasizes the link between efficient transport and the growth of a modern and thriving city.

The museum got its start back in 1920 when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus for future generations to see.

The museum itself has been located in several places around the city over the years before it found a perfect spot in the center of Covent Garden, one of the busiest places in London.

The collection is arranged in a sort of timeline from the very beginning of public transport with horse drawn wagons and busses to rail systems to motorized busses and then on to the oldest underground network of trains in the world.

There is even a display explaining how those iconic "underground" signs were designed and how their design has evolved over the years.

Another display tells about the fabrics used to cover the seats on the train cars and how the different train lines have different patterns in their upholstery fabrics.  The gift shop even had tote bags and eye glass cases made from the same fabric so you can pick up a little piece of the London Underground and take it home with you.

The buses on display and the underground train cars were all open for exploration.  I spied a lot of children checking out the driver and engineer compartments to see if they could drive one of those busses or trains.

One of my favorite things in the museum was this map that showed where the different underground train lines were actually located so deep under the busy city above them.  A white line would show up outlining the route of the different lines as they were identified above the map.

It is a very interesting museum and is especially appealing to youngsters.  So, if you are a family traveling to London, it's a great place for kids to get a hands-on experience.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Choosing a Hotel in London

Finding a hotel in London is always a bit of a challenge, especially if you are budget minded as I am. Over the years I've stayed in a variety of places from Hilton Hotels to someone's home via Airbnb.   On my last trip to London, I was going to be there for two full weeks so I wanted to find a place that was economical and still be located in a convenient neighborhood.  I got lucky when I found the Imperial Hotel on Russell Square in Bloomsbury.  I couldn't have picked a better location for walking in every direction.

The Imperial Hotel is located on South Hampton Row directly across the street from the lovely Russell Square park and less than a 10 minute walk from the British Museum.  The entrance to the hotel is off of the busy street and in a sort of courtyard away from the heavy traffic.

While my single room was modest in size, it was comfortable and provided everything that I needed.

When I'm on a trip to a cities like London, I'm only in the room to sleep.  There are too many things to do and places to see to sit around a hotel room.

I was on the eighth floor so I had a great view out the window.  

I could even see the iconic "Shard" piercing the sky off in the distance.

The lobby of the hotel was quite elegant in a 1970's sort of way.

My room was all the way to end of this hall.

The public areas near meeting rooms were nicely decorated and quite bright with those big windows that looked out over the street.

I found the little spiral staircase leading up to the second floor meeting area a charming addition.

The hotel offered a breakfast buffet every morning in a huge dining room and although I'm not a "big breakfast" kind of person, I did eat there several times during my stay.  They had everything I could want.

Probably my only complaint about this place were the hotel bars.  In spite of having two very attractive bars, they didn't have a friendly feel and the wine was of poor quality. On the upside, I was in such a great location that finding a nice, friendly place to indulge in a glass of wine in the evening was a simple task.

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.