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.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Pub it Took Almost 20 Years to Find

Back in 1999 while I was working in Chicago, I had one of my urges to visit London again and I asked a long time friend of mine who lived a little further south in my home town of Quincy Illinois if she wanted to go with me.  It was just a short five day trip but, she hadn't been before and I was itching to go back so off we went.
My friend was told by one of her work clients that she should visit a pub called The Grenadier.  He said it was the perfect English pub to visit.  I even found the pub marked on my trusty "MapGuide" so it looked like it would be easy to locate it.  I was wrong, we walked and walked in the rain up and down the designated street and saw nothing but homes and a few foreign embassies.  Sadly, we decided to give up the search.  We were disappointed that we couldn't find the place and I was especially disappointed in my usually reliable "MapGuide".
On my next trip to London, I remembered the mysterious pub and once again tried to find the place with the exact same results.  I finally decided that this place must be some secret pub possibly with one of those doors with the sliding window where you have to give them a password to get in.

On my last trip to London just last year at this time, I was in that same neighborhood one evening so I decided to give it one more try.  I walked back and forth on that same street just like I had done before but, this time I stopped at what looked like a driveway leading to a large home shrouded in trees.  At the edge of the  "driveway" was a sign that said "Private Drive".

I thought to myself 'do I dare walk down there?'  I decided the worse that could happen is that someone would tell me to leave so I slowly headed down the cobblestone drive only to find that it curved around a corner that was invisible from the street.  As I rounded the curve I could see lights up ahead and as I approached I saw that it was indeed that illusive pub.

I went inside to find a pub full of people enjoying food and drinks and each other's company.  I went up to the bar and ordered a glass of wine and I told the young lady serving me that it had taken me almost 20 years to find this place.  She laughed and said "yes, it is a hard place to find".  I took my drink and found the only empty stool available near a window and as I sat down.  I suddenly realized that the young lady behind the bar was probably a toddler when my friend and I first tried to find this place.  That was a rather sobering dash of reality that I decided to wash down with my glass of wine.  To make it more enjoyable, I called my friend in Illinois to tell her exactly where I was at that very moment.

The Grenadier was originally built in 1720 as an Officers Mess for the First Royal Regiment of Foot Guards and it is said to be named after a young Grenadier affectionately known as Ceric.

There is a story that says that Ceric was caught cheating at cards one night in September and was beaten to death for his sin.  Apparently the pub experiences some rather eerie supernatural events during the month of September and it is thought that Ceric is paying an anniversary visit.  Because of these events, The Grenadier is listed as one of London's most haunted pubs.  In fact, visitors have been leaving money tacked to the ceiling in a effort to pay back the young Grenadier's debt.

I happened to be there on September 26th and although I don't recall any strange events, perhaps it was that wayward Grenadier who guided me down that "private" drive in hopes that I would contribute to the pool to pay his debt.  That's possible, isn't it?

You can read the full story of The Grenadier by clicking the link to the pub's website above.