Category Archives: architecture

doorways of old san juan

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Just back from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and it’s all about the doors in Old San Juan.

My upcoming post will explore the spectacular beaches and unique history of Vieques Island, but for now, I’ll share a sample of the many shapes and bright colors of las puertas hermosas I found walking the streets and alley ways in Old San Juan.

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Often behind the doors are gorgeous courtyards.

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The colors of the houses are candy for the eyes.

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landscape-inspired design at canadian museum of civilization tells a story

Just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario, a visit to the Canadian Museum of  Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec – if only to experience its exterior and Grand Hall architecture and design – is well worth it.

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The museum’s limestone exterior curving forms represent the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, opened in 1989 and overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings, was designed by landscape-inspired architect Douglas Cardinal. Without a single word, it tells, or rather shows, visitors stories of Canada’s history, its native people and culture.

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

In his Design Statement, Cardinal wrote that the building would “speak of the emergence of this continent, its forms sculptured by the winds, the rivers, the  glaciers.” Four natural features are  abstractly represented in the Museum’s form: the Canadian  Shield, the Glaciers, the streams formed by the melting  glaciers, and the Great Plains that stretched before the  receding glaciers.

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The outdoor water pools represent receding and melting glaciers

Inside the Grand Hall with views of the outside water elements, look up at the ceiling and you find yourself at the bottom of an enormous canoe. The oars become part of the walls (It took me to two visits to distinguish this).

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A dozen towering totem poles are placed around the perimeter of the room. It is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

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Looking up finds you at the bottom of an enormous canoe

A wonderful sculpture located in the Grand Hall , the Spirit of Haida Gwaii by British Columbia artist Bill Reid, represents the Aboriginal heritage of the Haida Gwaii regions in Canada.

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Per wikipedia, it features Haida mythological figures in the canoe that represent the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival – the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, but depend on one another to live.

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While the museum’s main collections – particularly the First Peoples Hall – are vast and satisfying and revealing of Canada’s history , an interesting hands-on Children’s Museum is also housed here where young ones can receive a “passport” and experience different world cultures (a ride on the Pakistani Bus was a favorite). To learn more, you can visit an architectural tour slideshow  featured here on the museum’s web site.

48 hours in montreal

The only place I know offering francophone culture so strongly this side of the Atlantic is in Montreal, Quebec – an island city in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Montreal is a lively, international destination which offers much in history and architecture, arts and culture, festivals and dining.  We recently visited the city for a few days and found enough time to explore some of its best spots.

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Old Montreal

old Montreal

City Hall

 

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

A Great Night Sleep

Positive reviews from the NY Times Travel section prompted me to book a medium room at the hip and classy, no-snob boutique hotel, Le Petit Hotel,  in Old Montreal.

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

Comprised of only 24 rooms and a lobby café, the hotel is housed in a beautiful 19th Century building on the quieter, more residential side of Rue Saint-Paul Ouest. Its helpful staff provide you with excellent services, and gave us good suggestions during our stay. Tips: Request the well laid-out top floor/street view room and indulge in the (included) delicious breakfast offerings, especially the pain au chocolat and perfectly-brewed cappuccino. Online promotions are available and business travelers can receive room discounts.

Eats and Drinks

Hands down, our favorite dinner experienced in Montreal was at the fashionable Restaurant Holder on Rue McGill (order the veal or salmon), thanks to a tip by our hotel staff.  I’m told you also can’t go wrong with lunch at the busy but delicious Olive and Gourmando if you can handle the crowds (we couldn’t wait). You can’t leave Old Montreal without experiencing an evening drink on a rooftop terrace.

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The rooftop terrace at Hotel Nelligan on Rue St Paul is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset with views of Notre Dame. Get there by 9 pm if you want to snag a table. Just look out for the characteristic Eastern Canadian summer thunderstorms, as we experienced a downpour minutes after this picture was taken.

Getting Around by Foot, Bike and Metro

If you stay in Old Montreal, there is no better place to walk the streets – or get lost –  and soak in its history and architecture. Make sure you look up. Like in Europe, some of the best architectural details of a building are found in the direction of the sky.

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One of my favorite buildings is the Royal Bank of Canada building, where my mother worked in the early 1960s. In fact, I can proudly thank the influence of Montreal on my mother – and her bank teller friend – for my French name. Banking ceased only about a year ago. The inside of the building and the ceilings are breathtaking.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

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Notre Dame is a centerpiece of the old city.

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame

To get further out to fashionable neighborhoods like the Plateau, grab a metro map and a day pass (9 Canadian dollars).

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Or you can rent a Bixi Bike – the public bike share system – to ride  along the old Port and a grab a view of architectural landmark Habitat 67, a model community and housing complex  designed by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for the World Fair in 1967.

Habitat 67

Habitat 67

If you are ambitious, you can get a closer look at Habitat 67 and other architectural icons like Biosphere by riding your bikes from Old Port to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Don’t repeat our mistake by aborting an attempt to reach the island via the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which looked shorter in distance from Old Port than it was.  Instead ride the opposite direction on the bicycle parkway.  This would be done best with a day bike rental, as opposed to a Bixi Bike, which charges you if you exceed a 30-minute time usage period.

Hike up Mont Royal

A hike up Mont Royal is lovely and a good way to walk off those morning pain au chocolats and rooftop terrace drinks,  and the view at the top is a nice reward. You can grab the #11 city bus back down to deliver you to Avenue Mont Royal, where you can find a metro station back to Old Montreal or wherever else you’d like to go.

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View from Mont Royal

View from the top of Mont Royal.

View from Mont Royal.

The Arts for Free (imagine!)

The permanent collection at Montreal’s Musee des Beaux Arts is always free. Please note special exhibitions are not, but on Wednesday nights tickets are half off. We visited the Museum’s current exhibit, “Utterly Breathtaking”  featuring Dale Chihuly’s large-scale, nature-inspired blown glass.

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While below the city surface, Francophone/Anglophone tensions are nothing to laugh at (unless you are Sugar Sammy, see my past post here), visiting Montreal offers travelers a uniquely bilingual, culture-rich experience in a place well-deserving of its lively reputation. Its residents seem to have a less- North American, more-European sense of enjoyment of life and leisure and we’re glad  we caught some of it there too.

(Please note Bringing Travel Home is not sponsored by any person or organization.  Both my travel and writing are independent.)

100th tour de france kicks off in corsica

In honor of today’s start of the 100th Tour de France on the Mediterranean island of Corsica – I am reposting my last feature on this beautiful and favorite island of mine.  Enjoy! – BTH

A trip most memorable was when our daughter was three months old, we were living in Italy and we took our first family vacation to the beautiful and natural island of Corsica.

We (and our car) hopped a traghetto from Savona, Italy to Bastia on the island of Corsica, France. (Today’s Tour de France stage begins in Bastia.)

Heart pajamas were a good choice that day, as they smoothed an unfortunate and unnecessary encounter with police at a routine traffic stop on our drive down, due to a mix up with our car maintenance papers. (Even armed Italian policemen won’t resist a cute baby.)

We loved Bastia, with its surprisingly urban city feeling on an otherwise natural island. There we got a great feel for the unique Corsican character which is sprinkled with a little Italian and a little French, due to a history involving both countries. Corsica was under Genovese rule until  1729 when the Corsicans revolted and enjoyed independence for a short 40-year period, later ceding to France in  1769 . They still have an uneasy relationship with mainland France and Bastia has been the target of bomb explosions by Corsican militants.

Ferries arrive to Bastia’s port – the 100th Tour de France kicks off in Bastia today.

We drove down the Eastern coast of the island to Santa Giulia. There, at the recommendation of friends, we rented a villa at Les Toits de Santa Giulia  and every morning went for a swim in the nearby bay.  The beaches there and nearby were beautiful in  September, and the sparkling water and red rock formations were breathtaking.

the bay of Santa Giulia

La plage de Palombaggia was the most unforgettable beach (and likely the coolest place I’ve nursed a baby.)

the beach and beautiful red rock formations at Palombaggia

The nearest town, Porto Vecchio, offered a delicious bakery and creperie, just in time to remind us we were in France, as it’s easy to forget with so many reminders of Italy. Porto Vecchio has always been a “remember when?” moment, when we purchased a much too expensive International Herald Tribune to satiate my english language news craving, and driving off, watched each of its pages fly off the top of the car, where I had left it. (I blamed it on new mom mushy brain).

A highlight was the drive down to Bonifacio, at the southern most point of the island.

Citadel and cliffs of Bonifacio

The reconstructed and renovated citadel was originally built in the 9th century along with the foundation of the city. Bonifacio is known for its chalk-white limestone, sculpted in unusual shapes by the ocean. Not a stroller-friendly town, baby was put in the carrier and we explored this town on foot. Standing on the cliffs, we could see Sardegna.

white limestone cliffs of bonifacio with sardegna in the distance

This year we won’t make it back to Corsica, but we are researching islands not far from it, closer to the Italian coast and in the Tuscan archipelago. Whatever the weather when we arrive, my first order of business will be to jump in and take a swim in my most favorite sea of all.

grand island mansion

Nothing surprised me more over the weekend than visiting for the first time an Italian Renaissance-style mansion in the heart of the Delta in Northern California, east of the San Francisco Bay.

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It was the perfect Sunday drive along the Sacramento River to meet family members for brunch. The house, situated on the riverfront, has 58 rooms and four levels and is the largest private residence in Northern California.

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According to the brochure, the mansion was designed in 1917 by renowned San Francisco architect J.W. Dolliver  for Louis Meyers and his wife Audrey, daughter of Lubin of the Weinstock Lubin department stores. It served as Meyers’ centerpiece for his fruit orchard empire and for entertaining guests who arrived by riverboat. Meyers was a orchardist and you can still see wide sweeping fields of pear trees surrounding the mansion and the surrounding town of Walnut Grove.

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Outside, the grounds are nice – with fountains and statues and a great big hill for the kids to run down.

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It has been restored by the original architect’s great-nephew, Terrence Black. Inside there is a funny feel of  luxurious period furnishings and European artwork likely not from the original private residence, but rather to transform it into a wedding location ( it is used primarily as an event venue). But several rooms including what I assume is the original private bowling alley and home theatre with beautifully carved wooded seats are a thrill to see. There is even a Hemingway Hunt room which serves as a bar lounge, with deer heads and furs on the wall.

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I’m not clear if Hemingway ever stayed here, but I imagine that in the 1920s, bars called Hemingway were en vogue.

The house has been featured in National Geographic, Architectural Digest and Sunset Magazines.

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Rather than pity a bygone era and beautiful home taken over by corporate events or weddings (didn’t the real Downton Abby do the same?), I rather enjoy imagining  a Mr. and Mrs. Meyers escaping San Francisco on riverboat, to the laid back country delta and surrounding orchards. A welcome break from the city, then and now.

The Grand Island Mansion is open for public viewing when it serves Sunday brunch on select weekends. Otherwise it is used for private group reservation. Private tours are also offered.

fine art photography for europhiles

Our home is a collection of old and new. When returning to the states after living in Europe, we shipped many of our favorite things that held sentimental value from our time spent there. Our yellow modern Italian couches and other furniture pieces, dishes, artwork such as framed antique maps, books, and, naturally, our Alessi favorites, as I describe in this past post.

But what had become a challenge was an update to our artwork. Over our modern Italian couches and near several framed black and white photographs, hung a fresco-like painting of Siena on canvas purchased in Italy. It held sentimental value but felt old-fashioned. In fact, much of today’s European and Italian design is more modern than those Americans promoting Tuscan kitchens would like to believe. Our Northern Italian friends have the latest in glass tile, and favor clean lines, modern art and appliances over a traditional look. While we have many traditional items in our home such as a large french-style kitchen pine table, it became clear it was time to update this piece of art on the wall. But how? How does a Europhile – lover of history and things old – accomplish this?

I found my solution last month, while perusing the shelves at our local bookstore downtown for Christmas presents. Above the books, I discovered artistic photographs displayed around the room. The art show was featuring the work of Northern California photographer Dee Conway.

"Room in the Louvre", Dee Conway

“Room in the Louvre” Dee Conway

Several sepia-colored prints from photographs featuring European  architecture that appeared to be near or around Paris caught my attention. (The photos are archival prints on watercolor paper from a film negative).

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Dee Conway

Dee Conway

Dee Conway

One photograph in particular, shot wide angle by Conway from a circular window looking out onto the Louvre’s back courtyard produces a peaceful effect with its shadows, texture and clouds.  Quite large and framed in light wood, the photograph – for me – feels so familiar and represents why views like these in Europe never fail to catch my eye and keep me gazing; they fill my soul and spirit when I’m there. I never tire of it.

"The Louvre", Dee Conway

“The Louvre”, Dee Conway

One of her framed photographs has taken the place of the Siena fresco and, with the addition of a few Missoni-style, brightly-striped couch pillows, our room has been updated with the most perfect effect.

All photos by permission of Dee Conway photography at http://deeconway.com/

flying south

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My mother in law, who lives in Canada, likes to describe how – like the Canada Goose –  she flies south each winter to escape the cold.  We took her lead recently and escaped the chill of Northern California to the warmer climate in the sleepy beach town of San Buenaventura, California – or rather the shortened “Ventura” – where we have friends.  (Curiously I have found that the word “Patagonia” – the outdoor clothing and gear company founded in Ventura –  and “Buenaventura” share the same number of syllables. Nonetheless, the city name got the the chop a long time ago.)

Ventura is a sleepy seaside and surf town. The area feels off the beaten track and we enjoyed exploring it.

Mission San Buenaventura, (1782), named for St. Bonaventure of Tuscany, is the ninth and last mission founded by Junipero Serra in California.

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The gardens feature flowers and plants typical of the climate in Southern California. I’ll admit this girl from the north is envious of the colorful and lush landscaping possibilities here.

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We took a whale watching tour with Island Packers out to the Channel Islands.

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We missed the annual southern migrating gray whales that day (pregnant mothers arrive in the area first, then juveniles, followed last by the males) but experienced a pod of about 75 dolphins  jumping and splashing around the boat. And this New Years Eve sunset was a special treat on our return to the harbor.

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Ventura’s city hall is beautiful. This is the view looking down from it to the shore, with the iconic palm trees lining the street.

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The flagship Patagonia store in its historic building is not to be missed for some high-end outerwear shopping.

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We welcomed 2013 tasting some of the best $1.25 carnitas tacos in nearby Carpinteria where we also discovered by chance a lovely bluffs nature reserve  and a beautiful and long sandy beach without crowds. Some of the tallest and skinniest palm trees I’ve ever seen line its small downtown and we twisted our heads back to peer up at them. The local surf shop had just the pair of Havaianas sandals I was looking for.

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Soaking in the Southern California sun we came down for, we watched the surfers to the beat of the crashing waves.

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