Sunday, December 28, 2014

Southern California Wineries

I bet when you think of California wines the first thing that comes to mind is Napa and Sonoma and maybe the Russian River area.  That northern California area is a mecca of fine wine.  However, southern California also has a great wine growing area and many beautiful wineries to visit.

The Temecula Valley area is inland, east of San Clemente.

There are some very beautiful wineries both large and small in this area and many opportunities for wine tasting, dining and enjoying the views.  One of the larger wineries is the South Coast Winery Resort & Spa pictured to the left.  The grounds and buildings at this winery are beautiful making it a lovely place for a weekend getaway.

The area looks a lot like it's northern counterpart with rolling hills and rows of grape vines in every direction and you don't have to drive far to hop from one winery to another so you can savor all the lovely wines along the way.  (With a designated driver, of course.)

At the Callaway Vineyard and Winery, you can enjoy a tasting in their very large tasting room, lined with barrels.  They had an amazing variety of wines available to taste.

And when you step outside the Callaway Winery, you will see more wine barrels lined up neatly along the patio making a perfect photo opportunity.

At Miramonte Winery you will be introduced to Mira, this very mellow black giant; a beautiful Newfoundland.  She greeted us warmly with a wag of the tail but decided not to get up.  She must be quite used to the steady stream of visitors on their way into the spacious tasting room.

The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association has a great web site listing all the wineries in the area and providing trip planning information and self-guided tour maps.  Check it out here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Inside the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Exploring the inside of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum leads you to a wonderful array of artifacts and interesting displays and models to depict what life was like back in the time of the Pharaohs.  You will also notice that the museum is quite different from most museums.  For one thing, there is no gift shop.  You heard correctly, there is no obligatory retail space that you must pass through before exiting the museum.  There is also no cafe or food service.   However the large collection of antiques spanning the pre-dynastic time through Egypt's early Islamic era, are wonderfully displayed and explained.

These clear glass vessels amazed me. The one in the center is called a Double Unguentary because it was designed to hold cosmetic unguents or ointments.  I had never seen one of these ancient glass containers that was so clear and well preserved.  This one dates back to the year 390.

I also enjoyed seeing this painting that was done by the museum's founder, H. Spencer Lewis.  Not only was he a philosopher and explorer, but, he was also a very talented artist.  This painting depicts the creation of the famous bust of Nefertiti.  (The museum has a replica of the bust on display in one of the galleries.)  Looking at this painting makes me feel like I'm a witness to history.

The museum also has many casts of different Egyptian statues that reside in much larger museums across the globe.  The statue to the left of Sekhmet, the healing goddess is one example.  This goddess would have been  called upon when someone was ill.

The cast was acquired in 1938 and is made from the original located in the British Museum.

I enjoyed taking the guided tour of the museum's replica of an Egyptian tomb.  The museum created this burial chamber based on authentic tombs discovered in the hills of Egypt.  The guide explained the paintings on the wall and pointed out where the sarcophagus would be located and where all the supplies designed to sustain the afterlife would have been placed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Museum Entrance

One of the reasons that I wanted to visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose California was because of the unique architecture of the buildings and the gardens around the museum.

Unfortunately, my visit on December 5th was on the heels of six days straight of rain in parched northern California. 


The gardens had taken quite a beating from mother nature's deluge.  The grounds were just a bit disheveled from the watery hammering they had taken but, the groundskeepers were busy cleaning up the fallen leaves and branches.

Garden fountain

Rosicrucian Temple

All of the buildings were carefully designed to look like different Egyptian temples.  The one above is designed like the Temple of Dendera while the museum (top photo) is designed like the Temple of Amon at Karnak.

The entrance above invites the visitor to step into the garden area and enjoy the quiet paths that lead all around the property.  

I'll post more about this place next Sunday!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bandstand on an Island

Forest Park is easily one of the biggest treasures in the city of St. Louis Missouri.  At a total of 1,293 acres it is one of the largest parks in the country and is roughly over 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York.  One of my favorite features in the park is the Nathan Frank Bandstand located on an island in Pagoda Lake.

The original structure was a wooden pagoda built in 1876 at the time the park was dedicated.  The original Asian style pagoda fell into disrepair and was declared unsafe in 1911.  Before it could be renovated, it blew over in a storm and was damaged beyond repair.

St. Louis lawyer Nathan Frank donated the funds to build a new structure in a classical Renaissance design made of white marble with bronze railings and ornaments.  Since 1924 it's stood looking elegant and stately in its place of honor on the small island in the lake.

The photo above was taken on a recent trip to St. Louis.

This photo was taken on a very cold and rainy day back in the mid 90's.  I took this photo through the window of the car to give it that misty, watery look.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

1004 Portraits

Earlier this month I posted a photo of the Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park.  That fountain with it's 1000 faces of Chicago citizens projected on glass bricks is by artist Jaume Plensa.  On my trip to Chicago in late September, I found another sculpture by the same artist.  I found out later that there were actually 4 sculptures scattered throughout the park which is why Plensa named the installation "1004 Portraits".  He added four more faces to the 1000 he features at Crown Fountain every day.

The installation celebrates the 10th anniversary of Plensa's  Crown Fountain.  The sculptures are portraits of young girls created in cast iron and resin.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Millionaire's Love Story

Who would have guessed that the longest operating hotel in the United States could be found in Chicago Illinois?  I knew that the Palmer House held historical significance for the city but, I didn't know that it started as a love story.  Potter Palmer was a wealthy business magnate when he was introduced to Bertha Honore by his former business partner Marshal Field.  Bertha was a wealthy Socialite some 23 years younger than Potter but, her strong personality and desire to succeed swept Palmer right off his feet.  When they became engaged, Palmer had a hotel built as a wedding present to Bertha for her to decorate and manage on her own.

The hotel opened for business in September of 1871 but, as fate would have it, just 13 days later it burned to the ground in the great Chicago fire.

Palmer was determined to rebuild and was able to secure a $1.7 million dollar loan on his signature alone and the hotel was rebuilt using mostly iron and brick.  When it opened again in 1873, it was advertised as the world's only fire-proof hotel.

Bertha used her knowledge of fine art to decorate the hotel with garnet studded chandeliers, impressionist paintings, and a ceiling fresco painted by French artist Pierre Rigal.

Conrad Hilton bought The Palmer House in 1945 for 20 million dollars and it thereafter became known as The Palmer House Hilton.

From 2007 to 2009, the hotel underwent a complete renovation at a cost of 170 million dollars.  The historic aspects of the hotel have been painstakingly restored so that it still has that old world elegance and charm while providing all the modern amenities to its guests.  You can see in the top photo how the ceiling fresco is illuminated by the crystal chandeliers and in the last two photos you can see how the peacock elevator doors shine like new.

One interesting note is that the Brownie was invented at the hotel when Bertha asked that a special dessert be created for ladies attending the 1893 worlds fair.

I highly recommend that you take a look at The Palmer House Hilton the next time you are in Chicago.  If you don't stay there, just pop in for a drink or maybe a brownie.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rooftops of Paris

There is something distinctly charming about the rooftops of Paris.  So much so that earlier this year, Delphine Burkli, mayor of the 9th Arrondissement led the charge to have the rooftops of Paris designated with World Heritage status.

The rooftops are mostly made up of zinc and slate and are dotted with thick chimney pipes that make their endless lines and angles almost abstract in nature.

In fact, photographer Michael Wolf was inspired by the city's iconic architecture to create many photos of the rooftops in a series of abstract forms.  You can view some of his shots here.

On my last trip to Paris with five other friends, we rented a flat on the upper floor of a building in the beautiful San Germaine area of Paris.  It was a perfect location, close to Notre Dame, The Louvre, and the expansive Luxembourg Gardens.  The apartment had two tiny balconies just big enough for two people at a time, but in spite of that tiny space, we took turns stepping out there to view the rooftops at least once a day.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain is another large scale art work found in Millennium Park in Chicago.  It consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool.  Each of the towers project video images of the faces of a variety of Chicago citizens on the inside wall of the towers.  (You can see one of the images in the photo above.)
The fountain was designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa and is a modern take on the traditional gargoyles found in fountains where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.  Plensa designed this fountain to project the faces on LED screens and having water flow through an outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths.

I'm not sure the children who love to play in the water ever even notice the faces above them.  They are just having fun splashing and running through the water.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Magic Castle

This is another old photo that I've scanned from my archives.  The Magic Castle in Hollywood is the private clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts.  Luckily, my niece, Kim who now lives in Missouri is a magician and several years back she took me and her parents to The Magic Castle for dinner and a show.  The castle itself sits atop a hill in a grand building that was once a home to a banker, Rollin B. Lane who happened to own most of the land that is now Hollywood.  The home was built in 1909 and the Lane family moved away in 1940.  The home got divided up into apartments and and by 1960, it's fate was uncertain.  That is when Milt Larsen purchased the place to turn it into the private club it is today.  The doors were opened on January 2nd, 1963 and it's been operating ever since.  I enjoyed getting to experience this place that so few get to see.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

That toddlin' town...

At the end of September, I went to Chicago to attend the wedding of good friends.  The wedding was on the roof top garden of The Public Hotel located on the Gold Coast just a few blocks north of all that shopping along Michigan Avenue.  The wedding was in the evening and it gave me a perfect opportunity to capture a sunset shot across the Chicago skyline.  What a fantastic view!

The hotel is the home of the infamous Pump Room, a gathering point for the rich and famous of the 40's, 50's, and 60's.  The hotel restaurant has retained the name but, the decor has changed dramatically.  I had dinner here a year ago when I was in Chicago and I can assure you that the food was excellent and the service fantastic.  I snapped the above photo in the late afternoon before the dinner crowd had arrived.  On the lower level of the hotel there are two walls of photographs, floor to ceiling, of the many celebrities that dined at the Pump Room during it's hey-day back when the hotel was called The Ambassador East.

The above photo shows the bar of the Pump Room.  I love that minimalist look.

Everything about this hotel is elegant and modern.  Staying there made the weekend even more special than it already was.

There is a Wikipedia history of the Pump Room that lists some of the many famous people who frequented the place.  Just click the link.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Waterlow Park

Back in January I posted about my visit to Highgate Cemetery on my last visit to London.  You can see that post here.  In order to get to Highgate Cemetery I had to take the tube to the Archway station and then take a bus up the hill two stops and get off at Waterlow Park.  Then a walk through the park led me right to the entrance of the cemetery.  I didn't expect that the park would be such an inspiration for photo taking but, it was.

Along the path, I passed beautiful trees, some of them decked out in brilliant fall colors.

Next, I saw a gorgeous pond reflecting those same fall colors and serving as home to several types of water birds.  I learned that the pond is fed by a natural spring that gave this area a water supply back in the 16th Century when the rich and famous discovered this area and built grand homes here.  The park itself incorporates some of the gardens from those old homes into the park area.  It is said that the gentry were attracted here by the clean air and the views looking over the city of London.  If I close my eyes, I can imagine a very hazy view with many chimneys piercing the sky and all spewing coal and wood smoke.  The air up here must have been far superior.

The walk through this park was extremely pleasant and there were many people out enjoying a stroll in the park with their families and pets.

As I rounded a curve in the path, I could see the entrance to Highgate Cemetery looming large at the end of the path.  After my tour of the the old part of the cemetery, I was actually looking forward to a more leisurely stroll back through this beautiful and quiet park.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Wedding Cake House

The Wedding Cake House in Kennebunk Maine is said to be the most photographed house in the state of Maine.  It's official name is The George W. Bourne House and it was built in 1825 by Bourne who was a shipbuilder.  Bourne spent most of his life adding the the embellishments of this house and it's those embellishments that have given it the name Wedding Cake House.  It's still a private residence but, it was opened to the public once back in 2005 as a fund raiser for Hurricane Katrina relief.  I was only passing through Kennebunk back in the late 90's, but this house caught my eye and I had to turn around and go back to get a photo.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Dream that Won't Come True

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to one day fly on the Concord.  From the moment I first heard about this airplane, I always thought that one day I'd have the opportunity.  Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.  However, I did get to see the inside of one a few years ago when I was visiting New York and decided to tour the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.  There is one positioned on the deck that can be toured.

I've had several encounters with the aircraft when it was flying.  On my very first trip to Europe, I saw passengers boarding one as my plane was taxing at Heathrow airport.  In 1986 I visited the Worlds Fair in Vancouver British Columbia and it happened that while I was there, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was making a quick visit to the Great Britain pavilion and the Concord she was on made a slow circle around the city giving everyone on the ground an opportunity to watch it go by.  Also in the late 80's, I worked with a woman whose husband treated her to a trip to Paris, flying over on the Concord in time for dinner.  All of these events further fueled my dream of one day crossing the Atlantic aboard this Dreamliner.

The inside of the aircraft is much smaller than you might imagine.  There is only room for four seats across and very little headroom.  If you are tall, you will have to duck a bit.  There were only 20 of these planes built and only 14 were ever in commercial service.  British Airways and Air France each had seven.  It could fly to destinations in less than half the time it took other jets.  The fastest recorded time was on February 7, 1996 when a flight flew from New York to London in 2 hours and 52 minutes (aided by a strong tailwind).  That alone is worth dreaming about.

On the tour of the one on display on Intrepid, you get to take a peek inside the cockpit.  There are quite a lot of dials and gauges in there but, pilots who flew this plane have remarked how it handled beautifully and how they loved flying it.  

The Concord was retired in 2003.  The decision to discontinue commercial flights was made for economic reasons.  The planes were extremely expensive to fly.  The decision was further bolstered by the crash of one of the planes in 2000 and then the 9/11 attack on the U. S. in 2001 created a serious downturn in the aviation industry.  When Airbus decided to discontinue maintenance of the aircraft, it's fate was sealed.

To make my visit to see the Concord a little bit ironic, when I got to the airport for my flight home, my U.S. Airways flight was taking off from the former "Concord" gate.  The signs designating that gate are still visible.

One thing that struck me when I was writing this post was that as far back as the late 50's and into the 70's when they were testing supersonic flight, I remember hearing that sonic boom every now and then.  Do you remember hearing that sound?  That's a sound that I haven't heard in many years.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Southern California Mountain Retreat

Julian California is locate in San Diego county in the mountains outside of San Diego.  It's economy is mostly based on tourism and agriculture because it's a perfect summer weekend retreat.  The town is high enough to be much cooler in the summer than most of southern California and high enough that it gets snow in the winter.

The town is full of little shops and lots of restaurants, lodges and hotels to accommodate the summer crowds who have headed to the mountains to cool off.

It's become known for it's pies!  Many Californians drive up for the day and have a slice of pie at one of the many restaurants.  They might even take a pie home with them.

It's a small place but if you are looking for a particular business, you can consult this sign to point you in the right direction.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A meal to remember...

The Cava de Cano winery is tucked in the suburbs of Mendoza Argentina and was once the home of the area's governor, Don Guillermo Cano who established Mendoza's first wine festival in 1935.  The current owner Claudio Mellimaci renovated the property and turned the cellar and other rooms into dining rooms.    Imagine walking down this vine covered path and entering that door at the end to find a dining room already laid with meats, cheeses, vegetables and other appetizers.  It was one of those "wow" moments.

The table was so full of wonderful treats, we didn't know where to begin.  But wait, this was only the appetizer.  The grand meal was yet to come and each course was served with a selection of the wonderful wines of Cava de Cano.

I think we might have been there for 3 hours enjoying the huge and delicious meal of roasted meats, pasta, salads, and of course, fabulous empanadas.  All those noble wines served with each course just added to the pleasure.

As we rolled ourselves out of there and back to the car, we passed this very picturesque wall made of wine bottles.  I have a cropped version of this photo framed and hanging in my kitchen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sculptures of Treviso Italy

This statue is hidden away in a small courtyard outside of a clothing store in Treviso Italy but, I learned that it has a very interesting history.  It is called La Fontana dell Tette and it was originally built in 1559.  The story states that in honor of each new mayor, the fountain would spew red wine from one breast and white wine from the other breast for three whole days.  The public could drink as much wine as they wanted during those three days.  At some point in it's history, the statue was considered a bit of a bad influence so it was moved to a museum for a while before it found it's way to this location in more recent years.  Today it spews fresh water and passers-by can drink from it....if they dare.

In the canal in Treviso there are several sculptures that blend well with the water.  This one is of a mermaid who appears to be mimicking the pose of the statue above.

In different places you can see fish sculptures popping up out of the water too.