Friday, March 28, 2014

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery

Two weeks ago I made the short, seventy mile trip southeast of the Phoenix area to visit St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, a place I had only recently learned existed.  After driving an hour and a half across the very dry, moisture deprived desert, I was surprised to see quite a lot of green looming ahead as I passed a row of trees neatly planted along the road.

Between those trees, I caught sight of what looked like a Greek chapel sitting at the very top of a small hillside.  This I learned was St. Elijah chapel looking as pristine on it's desert mound as if it was perched on a cliff over looking the Mediterranean on a remote Greek isle.

I arrived at the parking area already attired in the required conservative dress.  All I needed to add was the head scarf and I was ready to enter the gates.
The monastery was quite busy with guests who were going to stay a few days and a few others like me who were there for a day visit.

I was greeted by a bearded and black-clad monk who gave me a map indicating the path to take and the buildings that were open to the public and those that were not.  He wished me well and sent me off to explore on my own.

The path starts at St. Anthony's Church, a Byzantine style, domed basilica that serves as the main church on the property.

The inside is adorned with icons of saints and brass trim and chandelier.  Almost everything inside the church was brought to this desert location from Greece.

Upon exiting the church, the path leads on to the main courtyard with it's beautiful and quiet gazebo constructed of brick with a domed roof and a fountain in the center.

A little further down the path is St. Nicholas chapel, another example of Byzantine architecture this time produced in stone and tile.  The details on the dome were particularly attractive to me.

A short walk through the orange grove and then the olive grove brought me to the chapel of St. George.  This Romanian style chapel faces a beautiful plaza complete with a fountain and palm trees.

The inside was a beautiful space with gorgeous wood trim and another brass chandelier.

 The Fountain of the Cross dominates a garden area near the chapel of St. George with pathways the radiate out to various locations on this section of the property.  Two more small chapels are at the ends of two those paths, St. Seraphim's Chapel and St. Demetrios' Chapel.

Another path leads to a shake-roofed gazebo with benches inside.  Once again, another quiet spot to contemplate or read.

The front of the gazebo had two statues of the Lion and Lamb on either side of the entrance.

The residents of this monastery have created a little piece of heaven in the middle of the harsh Arizona desert and the contrast makes it a fascinating place to visit no matter your spiritual persuasion.

If you plan to visit, please check their web site for information about dress and the hours they are open to the public.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mexican Food: London vs. Scottsdale

On one very chilly day on my recent trip to London, after spending the day walking from one end of the city to another, I was hungry and very cold when I found myself in front of a restaurant called Cantina Laredo in the Covent Garden area.  It was new and modern looking and most of all, looked warm inside so in I went.

The inside was indeed warm and also friendly and the menu looked very interesting with a lot of familiar dishes.  I started thawing out, unwound my neck scarf and settled in for relaxing meal.

The first thing I ordered was the house made guacamole, made table side just like at many Arizona restaurants.

I watched the server mash the whole avocado and add all the familiar ingredients and when I dug in, I felt warm all over.  It was a little taste of home so far away.

For my entree I ordered the Chicken Mole enchiladas and I was eager to see if those too were as good as the food I'm used to eating in the U.S. southwest.

I was pleasantly surprised.  The enchiladas were beautifully presented and every bit as delicious as those in my favorite Arizona Mexican restaurants.

When I decided to write a post about having great Mexican Food in London, I went to their website to gather some details, I noticed at the very bottom of the site's pages a link to "US Cantina Laredo".  I checked it and discovered that there was a Cantina Laredo in Scottsdale.  That's when I decided I should do a comparison.

The restaurant is located in far north Scottsdale in a very busy shopping area.  The outside is very attractive in a much more southwestern looking building than the location in London.  That I expected.

The inside was warm and modern like the restaurant in London with very tasteful decor and art.

I decided to order the same thing I ordered in London, the Chicken Mole enchiladas but, I skipped the guacamole.

I was just a bit surprised when the plate was placed in front of me with just one enchilada on it but, I thought maybe that was because it was lunch time.  The presentation was nice looking but I thought it was just a little less attractive.  The enchilada itself was good but it didn't wow me like the one I had in London.

In the end I decided that the London restaurant was by far the superior dining experience.  Imagine that, I found a Mexican restaurant in London that is much better than it's sister restaurant located so close to the national origins of it's cuisine.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Walking the Streets of Paris

One of my favorite things to do when visiting another city is to walk with no particular destination in mind, just walk to take in the atmosphere of the place.  I can wander for hours delighting in the interesting things that pop into my view.  Fortunately, I'm gifted with an excellent sense of direction so I never fear getting lost.  I always have a map in my bag just in case I need to identify something.

On one such walk in Paris, I stumbled across this sculpture by Jean Marias' titled "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls".  The sculpture was inspired by a short story by Marcel Ayme.

On another occasion, I happened by a Holocaust Memorial tucked away beneath a tiny park on the very tip of the Ile de la Cite.  It was a beautifully solemn place dedicated to the over 200,000 French who departed Paris from this very location never to return again.

A trip down a side street revealed a wedding party posing for photos.  One more photographer in the background didn't seem to bother them.

A little Smart Car painted with scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia caught my eye……

….as did this gorilla perched on a ledge at the Grand Palais.  I found out he was there to lure people into an exhibition inside but, I didn't go.
 I just kept on walking!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Travel Inspired by a Television Show

At the risk of dating myself, I will admit that I was a huge fan of an old British television show called "The Prisoner".  I have warm memories of staying up late, just me and my dad, to catch the latest episode.  In spite of obsessively watching every episode (and the repeats), it wasn't until many, many years later that I learned that "the village" featured in the show was an actual place and it really did look just like the unique and colorful place I grew to love in the TV show.  That was when the village of Portmeirion in Wales went on my list of places I had to visit.

In 2006, I traveled to London with my best friend David and another friend and while they had their heart set on an overnight trip to Paris, I decided it was my perfect opportunity to visit Portmeirion.  So early one morning the three of us headed off in our separate directions.  I took three different trains to arrive at the station in Porthmadog, the closest station to the village.  A short taxi ride took me to my destination and soon I was checked into a room at the beautiful Pormeirion Hotel pictured above.

I set out to do some exploring and immediately found the famous "round house", the place that was used on the television show as agent No. 6's apartment.  The building now serves as The Prisoner gift shop where pilgrims like me can pick up a souvenir from the old show.

Portmeirion is located on an estuary and I watched the water rise and fall at least three times while I was there.  Above is one of my favorite pictures overlooking the water.

 The village was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, an architect and environmentalist.  It dates back to 1925 and construction continued until 1975.  Williams-Ellis gave the village a Mediterranean or Italianate look that is fanciful in many ways.  It was built mostly from reclaimed materials because the architect believed in reusing materials that had been discarded.

This statue of Hercules by William Brodie sits in the center of the village in a prominent place.

The village is a beautiful place and a perfect spot for a weekend visit.  The hotel was beautifully furnished and dinner in the hotel restaurant was delicious.

Obviously, I'm very happy I went and if the opportunity ever presented itself again, I'd go again.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sleeping in a Pyramid

I'm not a huge fan of Las Vegas but, a couple of years ago I had to attend a conference there and the hotel I was given was the Luxor, that giant pyramid on the Las Vegas strip.  I have to admit, I did enjoy my room with the slanted wall and those elevators that have to jog sideways a little as they get to the higher floors.

The main floor center of the hotel is where the casino is located with all it's noisy machines and busy tables.  Above the casino on the second floor is a sort of play area with amusement rides, restaurants and entertainment venues.

I believe that's sushi bar in the photo to the left.

I do enjoy all things Egyptian so I have to say that I did admire the effort that was put into the interior.  It did give the feeling of a giant temple.   Of course those giant video screens and noisy slot machines wouldn't have been present back in ancient Egypt.  At least I don't think they were.  :-)