Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nicaragua and Costa Rica

This is a picture I took in Nicaragua, featuring Central American machismo in full force.  The guys are VERY flirty there, but as you can see, from my experience, it was always in good fun and respectful.

On a more serious note, here are some more cool pics I took on that trip...

This guy wasn't so flirty.  We had stopped at his friend's table to get a watch repaired and I was pretending to take pictures of the repairer.  But I found the yellow shirted man's expression much more intriguing.

This is Tamarindo, Costa Rica

There's a bit of a story behind this trip (isn't there always?).  I am also an artist, and I'm always looking for good pictures to paint.  I found some beautiful ones of cats, and asked the owner for permission to paint them.  We got to be friends, and it just so happens she lives in Switzerland.  So that summer, I told her I wanted to visit her in Switzerland.  She replied "I'm jealous, I want to go somewhere!" Long story short, we agreed to meet in Costa Rica.  It was an amazing trip!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The zen of travel

I was recently reading a post from Wandering Earl , and he wrote about why he loves to travel.  Here are my thoughts on why I love to travel...

I love to travel for so many reasons, but if I try to distill it down to the root of what appeals to me, it is the state of zen, that awareness of ‘now’, of living fully in the moment. Travel just naturally puts me in that state of mind. Of course it can be achieved anywhere, but I have to discipline myself to remember to do so. When I’m wandering a back alley of Florence, or trekking through a valley in Yosemite, I can’t help but be completely aware of all my senses, and to fully revel in them. Every moment is a celebration.

Experiencing full awareness at the Vatican : )

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Atlanta Garden Tour and Spa Weekend

I recently went with a friend for a girls' spa weekend and garden tour in Atlanta.  We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, previously known as the Mansion on Peachtree.  I chose this hotel partly because it made the top 25 hotels in the nation on, and also because it was one of the few hotels in Atlanta that had a wet lounge in the spa, meaning there was a hot tub, sauna, showers, and steam room along with an indoor pool, all freely available to guests until 9 pm every day, although the staff leaves at 7 pm.

The dining room at Mandarin Oriental Atlanta

The garden tour was spectacular, as it was in 2011.  The Georgia Perennial Association hosted it.

Here are some highlights from the spa and from the garden tour.  

If you view my video on youtube, you will see other uncut videos.  I did a complete walk-through of the spa  on video for those of you curious about the layout.

A girlfriend and I went on the Atlanta Perennial Association's Garden tour and decided to make a spa weekend out of it. We chose Mansion on Peachtree and were not disappointed. We stayed in room 1502 with two double beds. The room was comfortable and had nice views. I would have loved to get a room with a window tub, but they had none, although they were willing to give us a free upgrade, so be sure to ask for that! The hotel was very quiet and relaxing, but our main mission was to relax at the spa.

 As soon as we arrived we went straight there. I had a french manicure, which was very well done. I'm rough on my nails, and five days later, as I write this, they look great! My friend had a massage and pedicure that she was very happy with. We sat in the whirlpool, steam room and sauna and enjoyed $20 hamburgers on the outdoor terrace. There are a couple things I think they could do to improve this spa. The relaxation room was open with no door, and the hairdryers were loud. The whirlpool and pool needed a good scrub. And to get to the pool from the spa, you have to go out to the spa lobby, get on an elevator, and ride it down 3 floors to the pool. I love it when hotels have a hot tub by the pool, and this establishment did not have that. BUT, you could walk outside the pool to the terrace and enjoy the views of the hotel's lovely English garden. 

Also, it's nice that the spa is available free to hotel guests even if they don't book treatments, and I spent many hours there just relaxing and enjoying the amenities. I also enjoyed the spa showers - they provided facial cleanser (which was actually a menthol scrub that you don't want to get in your eyes!), shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash along with free razors. The only other thing I missed that I enjoy at other spas is scented ice washcloths. The bottom line is, despite these areas for room for improvement, I would highly recommend this place for a girls' spa weekend! 

It's affordable if you share a room with a double bed - we had tons of room. The turn down service at night was a nice touch with a floor mat and slippers provided. Just be sure to bring your own refreshments - as with most places, the in room goody bar was expensive - $5 for a mini bottle of soda!!! The beds were beyond wonderful with pillowtop mattresses and clean white duvets.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kauai, Hawaii

I went to Hawaii by myself, fresh after a break up.  Originally, I was supposed to go on this trip as one half of a duo, but when he backed out, I decided to go alone.  If you haven't ever tried traveling alone, TRY IT!!!! It was an amazing experience and I met people I would not have otherwise met.  I ended up spending one whole day with two retired teachers who came to Kauai often and so got to experience it on a more local level.  I met another guy who was a homeless hippy who painted beautifully and kept notebooks just like Leonardo da Vinci (and he looked a bit like da Vinci, in fact!)  Several Europeans stayed at my hostel, and I hung out with them and learned about where they were from and their different perspectives about life.

Plus, I got a lot of inspiration for some paintings, such as...
These cows started out staring at me from a safe distance of several hundred yards away.  One would take a step forward (slowly), then another, then another, until after 20 minutes of them inching towards me, they were right up at the fence trying to get a sniff.  I couldn't resist painting them!

This is Queen's Bath, another place I couldn't resist painting...

What I loved about Kauai is that one can drive a car down any random road and inevitably will find a hiking trail that leads to some magical little place one can call all your own, at least for the moment, like this pic above.

Most of the beaches in Kauai were very empty.  This one was near Princeville.  I found another one that was at least a mile long one morning around 9 am, and not another soul there.  It was GORGEOUS! (That was close the end of the road near Na Pali Coast State Park)

Rope swing at the beautiful Kipu Falls

Waimea Canyon (see the waterfall to the right?)

Kauai is home to the wettest spot on earth, they say.  This picture is the result of another random hike down a trail I found whilst out poking around with my rental car.

At least someone was getting a little love in Kauai!

Just one of the spectacular beaches

There are random waterfalls everywhere.  When it rains, they start flowing from the mountain tops.

For lodging, I stayed at the hostel in Kapaa.  It was fun, and there were people from all over the world staying there, including the permanent house-guest/Leonardo da Vinci clone.  Plus the guy that was managing it at the time had a style aesthetic close to that of the artist formally known as Prince.  He regaled me with stories such as how he dressed as a Playboy bunny for a halloween party and everyone thought he was the shizzle.  He said all the girls wanted to grab his little 'poof'.  I bet!
  But if I went back now, I think I'd stay at Waimea Plantation Cottages for a more authentic experience.  For more luxurious places, check out Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa or St. Regis Princeville Resort.

Best Beaches: Poipu Beach, Hanalei Bay, Kalihi Wai Beach, and Makua Beach


Monday, April 9, 2012

Pictures from Florence Italy

As an artist, you'd think my favorite thing about Florence was all the amazing art at every turn.  But I think one of my favorite things about Florence was how the buildings glowed in the late afternoon sun.  The light was magical!  

 Another favorite way to enjoy the city was to wander down random alleys.  I came upon this colorful display of vegis during one such foray.

 But the architectural masterpieces ARE breathtaking.  I took this photo from the hotel's breakfast area where I stayed.  We could have thrown a stone across the alley from our room and hit the Duomo.  The video below demonstrates...

I climbed to the top of the Duomo - the video below shows how big it really is.  How did they build such masterpieces that long ago?

The Arno

In Florence, people live their day to day lives among museum worthy art.  I loved the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the extraordinary.  

Lunch by Ponte Vecchio

Dinner by the infamous Piazza Signoria, which dates back to the 14th century and is where Savanarola was executed.

Ponte Vecchio

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Charleston South Carolina Garden Tour 2012

Every Spring there are tons of garden tours to choose from in Charleston. Although the gardens we toured on this trip were not as spectacular as those we saw on the Atlanta Perennial Garden Tour last year, we still enjoyed a delicious day.  By the way, it's not too late to partake of the Atlanta tour - it's May 5-6, 2012.  There will also be more garden and house tours in September and October in Charleston.

This was my favorite garden.  It was once owned by John Blake in the 1800s, and is now owned by an architect named Mark Maresca, who lovingly restored the gardens back to their parterre design.  He was kind enough to explain to me that when he first bought the house, the area you see in the picture above was covered by dirt.  Upon digging it up, the original design of the garden was revealed.

As we walked through the neighborhoods, we saw many amazing houses and gardens along the way.  I loved the stain glass in this place.

This was hands down my favorite plant on the whole tour.  I took a picture and showed it to several garden experts, and none of them knew what it was.  Once I got home I googled it, and this is a "White Giant" Calla lily.  I am so buying one!

I love gardens, but my favorite thing about Charleston is the horses.  The driver of this carriage stopped right by us and explained the house we were standing in front of was the most expensive piece of real estate on the Charleston market right now, going for 20+ million.  We couldn't see it from the street due to all the magnolias in front of it, but apparently it's a showplace, complete with ballroom.  Here's the plaque outside...

You can read it more easily by clicking here.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I wish I was flying now!

This plane flying into the sunset over my house made me itch to go somewhere. Where next??

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Girls' Weekend - Amelia Island Ritz Carlton

 When plans fell through for a trip to Miami Beach, I remained determined to sit my derierre on a beach SOMEWHERE, and not just any somewhere, a NICE somewhere.  I flipped through my "1000 Places to go Before you Die" travel bible and landed on the Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island.  I rounded up a couple girlfriends and off we went for a girls' spa weekend.

Although Amelia Island has a relaxing vibe now, it wasn't always so.  Its history is full of stories of slave trading, pirates, and land battles; 8 different countries have claimed it throughout its history. Now, the island is a gracious host to newlyweds, serious golfers, families and luxury hounds (that would be me).  Fernandina Beach is Amelia Island's go-to town for history buffs.  It boasts both the oldest saloon in Florida (Palace Saloon) and the oldest hotel in Florida (Florida House Inn).  Restored Victorian houses turned Bed and Breakfasts, quaint shops, and Fort Cinch round out just a few reasons for reserving at least half a day to explore beyond your comfy beach chair (although it was tempting to never leave the beautiful Ritz grounds).

The Palace Saloon claims to be the oldest saloon in Florida, where pirates tipped one back between their marauding adventures.

The grounds of the Ritz Carlton are gorgeous.  Take a video tour and imagine yourself there!

The grounds were beautifully manicured and featured several pools, including an indoor pool and a kiddie pool with little waterfalls for tykes to cavort under.  During the day, the large outdoor pool area featured live reggae music.

Kiddie pool video

The indoor and outdoor pools

Beef Tartar appetizer at Salt restaurant (Look at that perfectly poached egg!)

Salt is the fine dining restaurant at the Ritz.  The lowest priced entree was $35, so I opted for an appetizer and a side.  I had the beef tartar and a side of spinach.  Our waitress was very friendly and didn't blink an eye when my dining companions did the same.  My bill was $25, without wine or dessert.  If I would have added those, dinner for one with an entree could easily have gone over $80.  But you get what you pay for.  After a traumatic let down at Husk in Charleston, it was wonderful to experience food that, while not flamboyantly creative, was REALLY well done.  Just be prepared to pay.

Lots of fun for you shell lovers out there!

As for any self respecting girls' weekend, the crowning glory of the trip was our day at the spa.  I almost melted into the massage table during the heavenly hot rock treatment, which after the automatically added gratuity, was about $170.  The signature treatment, developed by a on site masseuse, is the "Heaven in a Hammock" massage.  It sounded wonderful but I didn't try it.  The other two ladies in my group got a massage with Propolis, a substance created by bees they claim to be good for your immune system.   The ladies were sighing with delight when they got through.  If you choose not to have a treatment, the facility is still a wonderful way to spend the day for $25.

The spa facilities just kept going and going, with two relaxation rooms, an indoor wet lounge featuring a jacuzzi with a waterfall, an outdoor co-ed private pool and yet another jacuzzi with a waterfall (see picture above), a sauna, steam room and well appointed treatment rooms.  Ammenities included cucumber iced face towels, tea, flavored water, nut mix, apples, and pretzels free for the taking.  The pool area has access to the outdoor restaurant.   

The beach was clean, wide, full of great shells, and quiet.

Amelia Island is a perfect getaway for families, couples, golfers, history hounds, girlfriend getaways and honeymooners.  They were setting up for a wedding the day I left and I saw a couple brides flitting about.  There's also golf nearby, so there's something for everybody!  One thing I would have done if I had more time is to take advantage of the hotel's rental bikes.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Best of my travel to Zurich Switzerland and Rome Italy

I am also a painter, and one day, when I was looking for pictures to paint, I made a discovery that would have a huge impact on my life.

 I found Karin's cats.  Karin lives in Switzerland, and she posts beautiful pictures of her cats on Webshots.  I was so excited when she gave me permission to paint her Siamese.

This is my painting of Karin's Kennedy - he's a HUGE character

We began to correspond, and after a year of knowing her, we decided to take a trip to Costa Rica (to be posted later).  I've always wanted to travel to Switzerland to see the Alps, so a couple summers later I invited myself to meet her, the cats, and her amazing country.  We threw in a visit to Italy for good measure, and here are the fruits of our travel labors...
There's Karin doing ONE of the things she does best, taking pictures!

Europeans sure know how to do yumminess.

We took the train from Zurich to Rome through mountains.  The alps were so mysterious, wrapped in mist.

Pinch me, I'm in Rome??!!

Nuns by the Forum in Rome

The smallest country in the world - the Vatican - they even had their own little post office

We went to Florence next, but I'll save that for another post.