Big City Tales

Petit Palais is BIG on Artistic Details

May 23, 2018
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As the building that houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, the Petit Palais is big on artistic details that make for a lovely viewing experience of its glorious exterior, spacious galleries, and elegant garden courtyard.

The Petit Palais is located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris along Avenue Winston Churchill and is directly across the street from the Grand Palais. The two structures were originally constructed as exhibition halls for the 1900 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle). The nearby Pont Alexandre III deck arch bridge, which reflects the aesthetic of the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, was also built at this time as part of the city’s preparations to welcome (and wow!) the world.

Designed by French architect Charles-Louis Girault, the Petit Palais is constructed of stone, steel and concrete and its exterior Beaux Arts style features numerous sculptures and other decorative elements such as a massive central archway topped by a dome, free-standing columns that frame a series of tall windows, and flower beds and fountains around the grounds.

The interior rotunda and main galleries were intended by Girault to be especially grand with vaulted ceilings, marble walls and tiled mosaic floors used to enhance the beauty of the art on display, notably the larger-than-life Gloria Victis statue created by French sculptor Antonin Mercie that stands proudly in the main entrance.

The rotunda’s dome and gallery ceilings are embellished with a series of allegorical paintings and carved niches. Spiral staircases with wrought iron railings connect the upper and lower galleries and add another level of elegance and charm.

The collections of the Petit Palais include paintings, statues, tapestries, religious icons and other art objects dating from ancient times to the 19th century. The works of many prominent French artists such as Monet, Fragonard, Poussin, Delacroix, Courbet, Cezanne, Gaugin and Rodin are celebrated along with other European masters such as Rembrandt, Modigliani, Durer and Rubens.

The inner courtyard, also designed in the Beaux Arts style, is a masterpiece in and of itself for its symmetrical forms that include coupled columns, gilded bronze statues, and high relief sculptures. The lush garden is full of trees, shrubs, bushes and flowering plants with paths, ponds and fountains surrounding it.

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Lose Yourself in the Loveliness of the Louvre

May 17, 2018
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Whether it’s the mysterious Mona Lisa, the colossal Coronation of Napoleon, the passionate Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, the wondrous Winged Victory of Samothrace, or any of its other monumental masterpieces, there are countless ways to lose yourself in the loveliness of the Louvre.

Classical Meets Contemporary

For me, the love fest with the world’s largest and most-visited museum actually starts with the building’s expansive grounds that border the Right Bank of the Seine River and run along the charming Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

From the glorious Tuileries Gardens to the grand Carrousel Triumphal Arch that lead into the museum’s main courtyard, Cour Napoleon, classical architecture and sculptures abound and are then strikingly juxtaposed against I.M. Pei’s contemporary glass and metal pyramids that mark the central entrance into all wings of the Louvre.

While there are numerous sculptures carved into the Louvre’s facade, there is only one statue that stands in the Cour Napoleon and it is Bernini’s brilliant equestrian statue of Louis XIV (The Sun King), which is a lead cast of the original Carrara marble version. Bernini was a sculptural genius and this statue showcases his talents in being able to manipulate stone and create a sense of flowing garments and natural movement.

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Grand Louvre Pyramids

Although highly controversial due to their sleek, modern looks, the Louvre Pyramid (exterior) and The Inverted Pyramid (interior) are undoubtedly two of the Louvre’s star attractions and certainly succeed in creating a sense of intrigue (or repulsion) for visitors depending on their artistic preferences.

Despite the initial outcry of purists who felt the pyramid designs were inconsistent with the classical French Renaissance style of the original buildings, there has been no negligible impact to attendance figures. On any given day, crowds continue to throng to the Louvre to take in its many marvels.

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Four Fabulous Levels of Loveliness

With 38,000 objects on display at any given time, the Louvre collection spreads over four levels starting from the basement entrance and continuing up for three floors.

Basement

The galleries in the basement include works of Islamic art; French, Italian, Spanish and Northern European sculpture; Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; and  sections dedicated to the history of the Louvre and remnants of medieval vaults dating back to King Louis IX.

One of the highlights from the Egyptian gallery is The Crypt of the Sphinx, which is a half man (pharaoh’s head) and half animal (lion’s body) rose-coloured granite sculpture.

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First Floor

Venus de Milo is on full display in her resplendent glory in the Greek antiquities gallery on the first floor. Other galleries on this level include Oriental, Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; French, Italian, Spanish and Northern European sculpture; and African, Asian, Oceanic and Native American art.

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Second Floor

Decorative arts such as floor to ceiling tapestries, table-top statuettes and ceramic vases take up half of the second floor; the other half is divided between Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; French, Italian and Spanish painting; and Italian drawings.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is located on the second floor, as well as the museum’s largest painting, The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese, which famously depicts the Biblical story when Jesus turns water into wine. (Note: Expect to feel like a crammed in sardine when viewing the Mona Lisa and hold your camera steady as there will be plenty of jostling about and jockeying for position to get a picture of da Vinci’s famous lady.)

Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People is an outstanding historical piece on display in the French Painting gallery. Many works by Jacques-Louis David are also found in this gallery, including The Coronation of Napoleon, Oath of the Horatii, and The Intervention of the Sabine Women.

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Third Floor

Drawings and paintings from French, German, Flemish and Dutch artists are featured on the third floor.

Some of the works from early German and Dutch masters include Erasmus of Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger, Self-Portrait with Thistle by Albrecht Durer, and The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin by Jan van Eyck.

Flemish and Dutch Baroque paintings from the likes of Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony van Dyck, and Jan Vermeer also adorn the third floor gallery walls. Among their well-known works are The Medicis Cycle by Rubens, Charles I at the Hunt by van Dyck, and The Lacemaker by Vermeer.

Planning and Pace Pays Off

Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, seeing all of the Louvre is going to take more than one visit. The key to conquering the Louvre is to have a strategy in place. With a little bit of pre-planning and commitment to sticking to a steady pace once inside the museum’s hallowed hallows, your efforts will be rewarded in seeing a dizzying array of some of the world’s best art.


Feel the LOVE for the Philadelphia Museum of Art

May 15, 2018
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Sitting high on a hill at the end of the beautiful Champs Elysees-inspired Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it’s easy to feel the love for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

With its Greek temple facade and iconic 72 stone steps made famous by Sylvester Stallone during the filming of the first Rocky movie, the building’s design elements and physical surroundings are glorious and set the stage for the glories that lie within. (Note: The view of downtown is pretty spectacular from the museum’s East Entrance, which  overlooks the parkway as well as Eakins Oval, a traffic circle where the Washington Monument and its fountains are located.)

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After sufficiently admiring the city skyline and greenery of the parkway, head inside for more jaw-dropping beauty.

The museum’s collection includes Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh, Japanese Footbridge by Claude Monet, and several other notable Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from the likes of Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and their contemporaries.

Sculptures, South Asian art, and cultural period rooms are other prime museum features along with modernist pieces by French artist Marcel Duchamp, and American historical works from the Shakers and Pennsylvania Germans.

Flying High Like Rocky and Feeling the Brotherly Love

Yes, after a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you’ll be flying high like Rocky and feeling Philly’s brotherly love. BTW, the Rocky statue is located at the base of the stone steps (known locally as the Rocky Steps) leading to the museum’s East Entrance, and the LOVE statue is found in John F. Kennedy Plaza near the starting point of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, so be sure to include these must-see Philly landmarks as part of your museum excursion.

 


The Vastness of the Vatican Museums

May 14, 2018
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Vatican City State may be the smallest state in the world but it contains one of the world’s largest (and most-visited) museums. With over 50 galleries and 22 separate collections comprised of over 70,000 eclectic works, the vastness of the Vatican Museums extends from its marble floors to its vaulted ceilings and all through its long, winding corridors that lead to lavish chapels and the private papal chambers.

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Renaissance Masterpieces

From Michelangelo to Raphael, the walls and ceilings of the Vatican Museums are adorned with works completed by some of the greatest Renaissance artists.

Sistine Chapel

While best known for Michelangelo’s dazzling painted ceiling and his iconic altar wall piece, The Last Judgment, the Sistine Chapel is full of other frescos completed by other accomplished Italian artists such as Botticelli, Perugino and Signorelli.

The art work on the chapel’s side walls is divided by tiers and includes (from bottom to top): painted draperies and papal crests, biblical scenes from the lives of Moses (Old Testament) and Jesus (New Testament), portraits of popes, the ancestors of Christ, and the prophets. The ancestors were painted by Michelangelo in lunettes, half-moon shaped spaces above the chapel windows, as part of his commission for the chapel ceiling. Michelangelo also painted the prophets that are situated between the lunettes and alternate between male and female figures.

The main theme of the ceiling is the Book of Genesis and includes nine of its stories such as the Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood. The ceiling covers over 5,000 square feet and contains 300 larger than life painted figures.

Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello)

Commissioned by Pope Julius II, the Raphael Rooms are located in the Palace of the Vatican and are part of the papal apartments that are open to the public.

Raphael and members of his workshop painted a series of frescoes in four rooms covering a variety of themes.

The largest room is the Hall of Constantine (Sala di Costantino) that celebrates the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

Fittingly, the theme of the Room of the Signatura (Stanza della Segnatura) is wisdom and it was used as a library and tribunal meeting room. One of Rapahel’s most famous frescoes, The School of Athens, is found in the philosophy section of the library.

The other two rooms are the Room of the Fire in the Borgo (Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo), which highlight events in the lives of Popes Leo III and Leo IV, and the Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro, which depicts the theme of Christ’s heavenly protection over the Church.

Classical Sculptures

In addition to highlighting the works of cherished Italian artists, the papacy has also showed a great appreciation for art from other historical civilizations, particularly Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan sculptures.

The Pio Clementino Museum includes Greek and Roman sculptures such as The Belvedere Torso, The LaocoonThe Three Graces, and Sleeping Ariadne.

Contemporary Art

Thanks to the efforts of Pope Paul VI, who was interested in bridging a gap between the papacy and contemporary culture, the Vatican Museums include some 8,000 pieces of art dating from the end of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The works in the Collection of Modern Religious Art come from renowned Italian and international artists such as de Chirico, Balla, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Chagall, Matisse, Dali and Picasso.


Discover Western Canada & the World at Glenbow

May 7, 2018
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From the outside looking in, the unassuming facade of Glenbow Museum belies the treasures contained within it that eagerly await to be explored. Indeed, with a diverse array of permanent exhibits celebrating the likes of Aboriginal customs, the history-shaping contributions of pioneering Albertans, the beautiful landscape of the prairies and Rocky Mountain parks, and the religious artifacts of ancient Hindu and Buddhist cultures, visitors are guaranteed to discover Western Canada & the World at Glenbow.

Located along Stephen Avenue Mall in downtown Calgary, Alberta, close to the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, Glenbow boasts over a million historical and contemporary pieces in its extensive collection and prides itself on creating an immersive experience for patrons. Permanent exhibitions are supplemented with three special exhibitions each year, which typically feature works from international artists.

Gallery highlights include:

Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life

This gallery tells the story of the Nisitapii (Blackfoot-speaking people) and some of its prized artifacts come from the Siksika Nation, including a tipi and various items of clothing, footwear and ceremonial gear.

Mavericks

The province of Alberta was built on the backs of many adventurous and enterprising individuals, 48 of which are showcased in the Mavericks gallery. From ranchers to oil explorers to politicians and activists, Alberta’s most intriguing and influential people are duly honoured for their roles in cultivating the province’s unique heritage.

Picturing the Northwest

Whether it’s the grassy plains of the foothills, the rugged terrain of the mountains, or a bronco busting cowboy hard at work, images of life in western North America are captured in paintings and sculptures dating back to the 19th century.

Art of Asia

One of the most peaceful and powerful areas in the Glenbow is the Art of Asia gallery that contains numerous Hindu and Buddhist religious artifacts such as masks, paintings and sculptures in various mediums (stone, wood and metals).


No Time for a Siesta in the South of Spain

May 5, 2018
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While a mid-day or late afternoon break is a long-standing tradition in many European and Mediterranean cultures, given the sheer amount of beautiful sights to behold and historical stories to soak up there is truly no time for a siesta in the south of Spain. Si amigos, a trip to the provinces of Andalusia and the heralded capital cities of Cordoba, Granada and Seville promises to be a jam-packed experience so plan to catch up on sleep mas tarde.

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Cordoba

Once upon a time, Cordoba was the largest city in Western Europe and for many centuries was the Islamic capital of Spain.

Under the rule of the Moors, a monumental mosque called the Mezquita was constructed in the city centre and it served the Muslim faithful until the Christian conquest of Cordoba in 1236 resulted in the building being converted into a cathedral and a main altar (Capilla Mayor) and choir loft being added. To the credit of the Christian conquerors, who appreciated the exceptional beauty of the Mezquita, the bulk of the mosque remained intact to be admired by generations to come.

Other highlights in Cordoba include the Puerta del Puente memorial gate and the Callejon de las Flores, Cordoba’s most photographed street, where many homes are adorned with potted plants on their patios and balconies that are perfectly presented in delightfully bright and cheery colour-coordinated designs.

Mezquita – Great Mosque of Cordoba

Considered to be one of the best examples of Moorish architecture, the Mezquita features a 54-metre high belltower (Torre Campanario) that provides an inner view of the mosque’s courtyard, as well as a panoramic city view. The mosque’s interior is noted for its striped arches that have the look of a forest of date palm trees and are supported by decorative columns.

The overall architectural design was ground-breaking for its time in that it was largely considered to be quite simple compared to the likes of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque in Damascus. Simple or not, the Mezquita dominates Cordoba’s skyline and is particularly spectacular at night when a one-hour sound and light show takes place.

Puerta del Puente

Originally the main city gate, the Puerta del Puente (Bridge Gate) was first constructed during the rule of Phillip II in the late 16th century.

The primary goal of the gate was to help facilitate the flow of people and materials in and out of the city, but there was also an aesthetic purpose to help in an overall city beautification effort. Shaped like a triumphal arch, the Renaissance design also features columns and carvings on both of its sides.

The gate now functions as a memorial and is situated on the northern end of the Roman Bridge close to the back entrance into the Mezquita.

Callejon de las Flores

Not many city streets have their own website, but the Callejon de las Flores (Street of the Flowers) does have one and for good reason: it’s one of Cordoba’s most visited spots and one of its most beautiful.

Although it’s not a very long or very wide street, tourists clamor to it in droves to take in a residential gardening spectacle like no where else in the world. Winding through narrow cobblestone lanes and surrounded by white-washed walls decked out in a riot of terracotta pots boasting brilliant hues of pink, purple and red flowers, Callejon de las Flores delights the senses at every turn.

Granada

Welcome to the last stronghold of the Spanish Moors and the land of a thousand castles, where the Alhambra palace and fortress stands out for its intricate Islamic art and exquisitely maintained gardens and fruit orchards at the nearby Palacio de Generalife.

Like Cordoba, Granada also features many Christian monuments and heritage sites such as the Capilla Real, the royal resting place of Spain’s Catholic monarchs, and the Cathedral of Granada that was built over top of the Great Mosque of Granada after the fall of the Nasrid dynasty in 1492.

Alhambra

Before it was re-built as a palace for Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Yusuf (Muhammad I), the first ruler of the Emirate of Granada in the 1300s, the Alhambra served as a small city fortress. The emir had a grander vision for the complex, including taking full advantage of its forested mountain location to create a visual spectacle around the theme of “paradise on earth” that would ultimately continue into the interior space of the palace.

Even though the structural design of the exterior is purposefully simple and plain, the interior showcases elaborate Muslim art forms such as geometrical patterns, arabesques, mosaics, wood ceilings called alfarje, and ornamental vaults called muqarnas. Other interior design features include a central courtyard, columns, fountains and reflecting pools.

Some of the main structures within the Alhambra include the Court of the Lions, Court of the Myrtles, and Hall of the Ambassadors. The Court of the Lions is the main courtyard of the Alhambra that was added by Muhammad V and is noteworthy for its blend of Moorish and Christian aesthetic elements, and its central Fountain of the Lions that was a marvel of hydraulic engineering in how water flowed from the basin and spurted from the mouths of the 12 marble lions around the fountain’s base.

One of the best vantage points to take in the full glory of the Alhambra is from Mirador de San Nicolas. Along with being an ideal spot to take a sunset shot of the palace/fortress and appreciate the trees and Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding it, Mirador de San Nicolas is a popular hangout for local buskers showing off their performance talents.

Palacio de Generalife

Originally connected to the Alhambra via a covered walkway across a ravine, the Palacio de Generalife was the summer home of the Nasrid rulers.

The design of the peaceful country retreat nestled in the Cerro del Sol hillside includes a central courtyard called the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Water Channel) that is decorated with mosaic stone walkways, flowerbeds, fountains, colonnades and pavilions, and the Jardím de la Sultana (Sultana’s Garden) that showcases the style of a traditional Persian garden from Medieval times.

The Palacio de Generalife and Alhambra are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Capilla Real (Royal Chapel)

Given the historical significance of Granada to the Reconquista era, which marked the return of Spain to Christendom, the city was chosen by Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II as the final resting place for them and their family members. They decreed in 1504 that a royal chapel be built in Gothic style and be dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. In addition to elaborately carved tombs, the interior features a treasury of paintings and other works from Spanish, Flemish and Italian artists.

Cathedral of Granada

Boasting a Gothic foundation with both Renaissance and Baroque design elements, the highly unique Cathedral of Granada is the fourth largest cathedral in the world. The interior of the cathedral features a large main altar in a circular format along with several chapels, and a high dome decorated with stained glass windows and sculptures depicting various religious stories and themes. The cathedral’s exterior is noteworthy for its triumphant arch design with three high arches decorated with marble reliefs, and its three carved wooden doorways.

Seville

Similar to Cordoba and Granada, Seville’s architecture reflects the best of Moorish and Spanish design elements. From the stunning Real Alcazar to the sprawling Plaza de Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa, the city is a living piece of art bursting with colour, texture and technique.

As much as Seville celebrates its glorious history in the epic Catedral and Giralda bell tower, it has also opened its arms to modern structures such as the Metropol Parasol (Las Setas de la Encarnacion).

The past and present blend seamlessly in Seville, and culture also abounds with flamenco dancing, bull fighting and tapas sampling making the city a top “must see” destination in the opinion of many travel guide reviewers.

Real Alcazar

The Real Alcazar is a mixture of Christian and Mudejar architecture and is considered to be one of the most beautiful attractions in Spain.

One of the main features of Real Alcazar is the Palacio de Don Pedro, that was built for King Pedro of Castile in the late 1300s. The palace layout includes the Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens) containing a central reflecting pool, sunken garden and surrounding reception rooms; the Salon de Embajadores (Hall of Ambassadors) that is the most elaborately decorated part of the palace where King Pedro’s throne was located; and the Patio de las Muñecas (Courtyard of the Dolls), where the royal family resided.

Plaza de Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa

Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, the Plaza de Espana and Parque de Maria Luisa are prime examples of Spanish Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival architectural styles.

The Plaza de Espana was the main exhibition area and was constructed of bricks and decorative tiles. The plaza includes fountains, canals and footbridges inspired by Venetian designs. The tile work is extensive and was used to create regional maps and historical scenes from all of Spain’s ancient provinces.

The Parque de Maria Luisa is an inner city garden oasis that features tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, as well as plenty of flora such as palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and decorative flower beds.

Catedral and Giralda

The Seville Cathedral is the world’s largest Gothic church and legend has it that church and city leaders intended it to be so beautiful and grand that it could not be replicated. From its highly ornate facade to its vast interior that has the longest nave of any church in Spain, the world’s largest altarpiece, and contains some 80 chapels, the Seville Cathedral is also notable for being the site of royal baptisms and burials, as well as being the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.

The Giralda bell tower stands 104 metres tall and the view from the top offers one of the best panoramas of Seville. The tower is decorated with tiles that change colour according to light conditions in the sky and it is topped with a weathervane, known as El Giraldillo, that represents the concept of faith. The Giralda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an iconic symbol of Seville.

Metropol Parasol

Located in the old quarter of Seville, the Metropol Parasol is the world’s largest wooden structure and is shaped like gigantic mushroom parasols, which are intended to emulate the vaulted arches of the Seville Cathedral and the leafy branches of ficus trees growing nearby.

The Metropol Parasol contains four levels and includes a museum that showcases Roman and Moorish artifacts found on site during construction, a large Central Market, an outdoor plaza/performance space, and panoramic terraces.


The Sights and Wonders of South and Western Australia

May 1, 2018
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In a land where the Gold Coast and Great Barrier Reef attract travelers in droves to its north and eastern shores, the sights and wonders of south and western Australia are sometimes sadly overlooked. This blog shines the spotlight in the direction of lesser known cities such as Adelaide and Perth that rival the likes of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and are major urban centres in their own right where beaches, parks and other top-notch amenities are just waiting to delight intrepid Down Under explorers.

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Adelaide

Surrounded by lush vineyards and beautiful coastal beaches, Adelaide is also known for its Mad March festival season, wildlife parks and reserves such as Kangaroo Island, and a vibrant culinary scene featuring a diverse array of international cuisines. Another main attraction is the Adelaide Oval, a world-renowned cricket venue that is heralded as much for its landscaped grounds and pedestrian-friendly plaza as it is for its immaculately maintained stadium turf and seating capacity of 50,000.

Wine Country

With more than 60 wineries in the Adelaide Hills region alone, it’s easy to understand why Adelaide is referred to as one of the great wine capitals of the world. The cool climate in this area offers ideal growing conditions for grapes that produce Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines, and opportunities for tastings and food pairings are plenty. Local favourites include Mt. Lofty Ranges Vineyard, Pike & Joyce, The Lane Vineyard, Shaw + Smith, and Ashton Hills.

Beach Scene

Whether heading north or south along Adelaide’s long coastline, most beaches are within 30 minutes to an hour of the city centre. Glenelg is a popular family-friendly destination that is also known for its trendy boutiques and cafes located on Jetty Road. Henley and Brighton beaches also offer a variety of shops and eateries along with ample space to park a towel and grab some rays. Semaphore Foreshore is lauded for its long and wide beach that is bordered by sand dunes and provides an ideal location for the annual Adelaide Kite Festival. The Semaphore Jetty is a popular landmark that extends 585 metres into the Gulf of St. Vincent. Other local attractions include a vintage 1920s carousel and an old-fashioned steam locomotive that runs along the scenic Semaphore to Fort Glanville Tourist Railway.

Festival Line-Up

Be it theatre, dance, music, visual arts or comedy, Adelaide is the place to check out a plethora of annual festivals and events. During the month of March the city is a veritable festival frenzy with a line-up that includes the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Adelaide Film Festival, Adelaide Festival of Ideas, Adelaide Writers’ Week and WOMADelaide, the latter a multicultural celebration of music, arts and dance held at the Adelaide Botanic Garden.

Perth

Boasting an average of 8.8 hours of daily sunshine, Perth is the sunniest capital city in Australia that also prides itself on offering a unique blend of urban living in the heart of a natural setting. Skyscrapers in the Central Business District make for an impressive skyline that is minutes away from trendy hipster communities, the shores of the Indian Ocean, as well as one of the world’s largest inner city parks. Perth has also gained recent Instagram fame due to a camera-friendly marsupial called the quokka that is only found in Western Australia, and seems to take great pleasure in posing for selfies.

Urban Appeal

Cafes, clothiers and cultural establishments abound in Perth neighborhoods such as Northbridge, Leederville, Mount Lawley and Subiaco.  The Elizabeth Quay district features apartments, office buildings and retail outlets along the waterfront. Barrack Square is home to the Swan Bell Tower, a set of 18 bells contained in a copper and glass tower that stands 82.5 metres high. Other public art in the area includes the Spanda and First Contact sculptures, the latter is a five-metre bird with its wings stretched on a boat. First Contact was created by a local Indigenous artist and depicts how the Noonjar people viewed the arrival of British colonists on their sailing boats.

Cottesloe Beach

Similar to Adelaide, the beaches in Perth stretch for miles along a gorgeous coastline but they are have the added attraction of crystal clear turquoise water that pops against the light coloured sand. Cottesloe Beach is known for its cafe scene, Norfolk pine trees, and an annual art exhibition called Sculpture by the Sea that takes place in March. The outdoor gallery begins at the sea wall and works are found along the sand, in the water and continue north toward a grassed sculpture park.

Kings Park and Botanic Garden

Bushland meets the inner city at Kings Park and Botanic Garden, a sprawling 400 hectare natural oasis in the heart of Perth. While admiring the city skyline, waterfronts of the Swan and Canning Rivers, and peaks of the Darling Ranges, visitors can wander native bushland walking trails, gardens and parklands. Kings Parks also celebrates aspects of Aboriginal and European history, as well as contemporary culture. The Botanic Garden contains 3,000 species of flora unique to Western Australia, and is lauded for its horticultural and conservation efforts.

Rottnest Island

Located 19 kilometres south of Perth, Rottnest Island is a quick and quiet natural get-away destination offering a car-free environment, six distinct habitats, 60 beaches, coral reefs, salt lakes, historical buildings, and the aforementioned quokka, referred to as the “happiest animal in the world” because of its penchant for smiling and grinning for pictures. Rottnest Island is a wildlife protected A-Class Reserve that promotes the simple pleasures of life and encourages sustainability from water recycling and renewable energy initiatives.


Get Your Country On in Tennessee

April 27, 2018
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As the likes of Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, and other one-time aspiring country music artists can attest, the best place to get your country on is in Tennessee. Aside from the numerous recording studios and production companies, there’s just something about the general ambiance and physical setting that draws wanna-be cowboy/girl crooners to the state like flies to honey and fills them with sweet inspiration.

Whatever the country superstar chart-topping formula actually is, there’s no denying that it works. Some of the most memorable toe-tappin’ and foot-stompin’ melodies with both tear-jerkin’ and spirit-liftin’ lyrics have their roots in the heartland of Tennessee. Grab your hat and put your best boots on…this blog explores the state’s two main cities of Memphis and Nashville and their respective attractions, which there are plenty to sing praises about.

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Memphis

Elvis Presley may be known as the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ but he grew up in Memphis and was a fan of early country artists such as Hank Snow and Roy Acuff. He also enjoyed hillbilly music made popular by radio star Mississippi Slim, and he liked to hang out around the blues clubs located on Beale Street as a young teenager in the early 1950s. These influences would ultimately result in Presley becoming a pioneer of the rockabilly genre that fused country music with rhythm and blues. Within a few years he was well on his way to fame and fortune and, once he hit the big time, he needed a home befitting of a star, and one that would keep his fans at a safe distance.

Graceland

Presley bought Graceland Mansion in 1957, which was originally a farmstead situated outside of the city limits. As Memphis grew, suburbs surrounded Graceland and the mansion become a city landmark and pilgrimage destination for legions of The King’s fans while he was alive, but particularly after his untimely death in 1977 when the exterior fence line became a shrine. The property lay dormant for a period and was then converted into a museum and opened to the public in 1982.

The entrance to Graceland off of Elvis Presley Boulevard is a wrought-iron gate shaped like a book of sheet music, with green colored musical notes and a silhouette of Elvis. Visitors are free to walk around the grounds and visit the Meditation Garden where Elvis is buried along with his parents and grandmother.

After a recent expansion effort, there are 14 new exhibits and attractions to take in across the street from Graceland, including Presley Motors Automobile Museum where the star’s famous Pink Cadillac is on display. A new AAA Four-Diamond luxury hotel called The Guest House at Graceland was also built and features 20 Elvis-themed specialty suites.

Beale Street

In addition to Graceland, The King is also honored down on Beale Street, the home of the blues in Memphis and where Elvis honed his craft. A large bronze statue in Elvis Presley Plaza captures a young Elvis doing his rockabilly thing and wearing an outfit that he likely would have purchased from Lansky Brothers, his favorite Memphis clothing store.

Stax Museum

In addition to being a hotspot for the blues, rockabilly and rock’n’roll, Memphis celebrates soul music at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The museum is modeled after an old recording studio and includes artifacts such as the Soul Train dance floor, a Cadillac El Dorado owned by Isaac Hayes, and an old Mississippi Delta Church that depicts the gospel roots of soul music.

Nashville

Welcome to Music City, U.S.A. where the Grand Ole Opry House and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum delight country fans with concerts and artifacts galore.

Opryland

The Grand Ole Opry House is located a short drive from downtown Nashville and is visited every year by fans numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The Opry seats 4,000 and shows are performed every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from March through November.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is one of the world’s largest hotels and is known for its cascading waterfall and atrium containing over 8,000 plants, and its indoor river that transports guests on flatboats for a one-quarter-mile ride.

Country Music Hall of Fame

Known for unique architectural features such as its bass clef exterior shape, windows that look like piano keys, and a rotunda that mimics a grain silo, a water tower and a drum kit, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum also contains the largest collection of country artifacts in the world. The latter distinction earned the museum the nickname of “Smithsonian of country music” that the main exhibition called Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music proudly showcases. Inductees into the Hall of Fame are immortalized in bas-relief portraits cast in bronze that are mounted on plaques shaped like musical notes and are then hung in the 70-foot-high rotunda.

Music Row

Legendary musicians such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson are also celebrated in Nashville museums, and there are numerous recording labels, instrument shops and honky-tonk bars to take in. The heart of Nashville’s entertainment scene is located in the historical district called Music Row where RCA Studio B, Nashville’s oldest surviving recording studio, still stands.

 


Double the Fun in Minnesota’s Twin Cities

April 25, 2018
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No matter the time of year and no matter how long the stay, visitors to Minneapolis and St. Paul are guaranteed to have double the fun in Minnesota’s twin cities. The cosmopolitan heart of the state serves up the glitz and glamour of urban living all within a gorgeous natural landscape surrounded by parks, rivers and lakes. Yes, city meets country in Minneapolis-St.Paul and the twin cities offer the best of both worlds with copious amounts of things to see and do.

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Minneapolis

Situated on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota and is home to many Fortune 500 companies, including Target, U.S. Bancorp and Xcel Energy. The downtown skyline features skyscrapers, high-rise buildings, museums, and sports stadiums that delight by day and dazzle by night.

The IDS Center and Capella Tower are the tallest buildings in Minnesota and are part of the Minneapolis Skyway System. The Skyway is the world’s longest continuous system of enclosed footbridges that connects buildings in an area encompassing 80 blocks and offers pedestrians a year-round climate-controlled environment.

Museums are plentiful in Minneapolis and art patrons can take in classical and contemporary offerings. The Weisman Art Center, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, showcases early 20th century American art, as well as ceramics and contemporary art. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden contains 40 installations, most notably the Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain.

Minneapolis is a haven of professional sports teams and there are three major stadiums in the downtown core: U.S. Bank Stadium, home to the Minnesota Vikings; Target Center, home to the Minnesota Timberwolves & Minnesota Lynx; and Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins. Go Teams!

While technically located in the suburb of Bloomington, the Mall of America (MOA) is only a 15 minute drive from downtown Minneapolis and is just minutes away from the international airport. With 520 stores and 60 restaurants, an amusement park and aquarium, and a mini-golf course, MOA is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the United States and is visited every year by millions of people.

St. Paul

St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota and the State Capitol Building was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, and also inspired by the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Atop the south entrance sits a magnificent gilded sculpture called The Progress of the State that features a quadriga, an ancient chariot drawn by four horses abreast. The horses represent earth, wind, fire and water. The women leading the horses symbolize civilization, and the man driving the chariot represents prosperity.

Similar to its twin city located across the Mississippi River, St. Paul offers plenty of arts, entertainment and sporting options. The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts hosts theater and opera productions; while some of the most-frequented museums include the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The Xcel Energy Center is home to the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League, and the city will soon be cheering on the Minnesota United FC when the new soccer pitch is finished.

Other city attractions include the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory that is open year-round, and James. J. Hill House, a National Historic Landmark that was built in 1891.

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Belles of the Southern City Ball

April 24, 2018
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When it comes to the culture and history of the Deep South in the United States, I “ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie” when I say that some of the finest belles of the southern city ball are found in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Granted, these states and their municipalities are regrettably also synonymous with the dark side of Dixieland, but a past tainted with slavery, segregation and racial tension has made way for a present and future based on freedom, integration, equal representation, and harmony.

Ethnic diversity is a definite hallmark of these regions that is reflected in opulent and grandiose architecture, quaint public squares and gardens, and succulent and delectable lip-smacking cuisines drawing upon European, Native American and African influences.

Visually stunning seaside and mountain locations and picturesque back road country trails also add to the southern charm.

Here’s a look at three of my favorite spots in the American South: Asheville, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.

Asheville, North Carolina

With the Blue Ridge Mountains providing a majestic visual backdrop and serving up a pleasant climate, the city of Asheville, North Carolina has long had a magnetic effect on its visitors. It certainly captured the imagination of businessman and philanthropist, George Vanderbilt II, who basically fell in love with the place at first sight and subsequently set about to acquire a significant chunk of land to build a one-of-a-kind country home.

Vanderbilt envisioned a chateau-style French Renaissance estate complete with 250 rooms, formal gardens, water features, and a working village to support the day-to-day operation of the home and contribute to funding the family’s philanthropic efforts. He came up with the name Biltmore, which is derived of “Bildt,” the Vanderbilt’s place of origin in Holland, and “More”, Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land.

Built in the late 1800s, Biltmore Estate remains the largest privately-owned home in the United States and features four acres of living space with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, along with an indoor heated swimming pool, bowling alley and a gymnasium. The lushly furnished and elaborately decorated interior was matched by the expansive grounds that originally encompassed 125,000 acres and included a large terrace to house the Vanderbilt statue collection, an Italian-themed formal garden, a bowling green, a conservatory for orchids and palm trees, and an outdoor tea room.

Following Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his widow found it difficult to manage the estate on her own and her daughter and son-in-law stepped in to assist. At this time, a section of the grounds was sold to the government and turned into an undisturbed national forest. Later on during the Great Depression, the family was persuaded to open the estate to the public to help further defray operational costs and encourage tourism to the area. The idea worked and today Biltmore Estate is a cherished national historic landmark, and is one of Asheville’s most popular attractions.

Charleston, South Carolina

Founded in 1670, Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and is known for its rich history and unique culture and cuisine that draws upon English, French, West African, and regional southern influences. The city is home to America’s first landscaped gardens, first museum, first theater and first municipal college. Charleston is also where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

Historical landmarks include the United States Custom House, the Market Hall and Sheds, the Exchange and Provost, the Dock Street Theatre, the Calhoun Mansion, and Rainbow Row.  More recent city attractions include Waterfront Park and the Pineapple Fountain, and the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, which is the longest single cable-stayed bridge in North America.

Arts and architecture feature prominently in the city and Charleston prides itself that its skyline is laden with steeples vs. skyscrapers, earning it the nickname of ‘Holy City’. Some of the most well-known churches include the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the French Protestant Huguenot Church.

Charleston hosts many annual festivals, the most famous being the Spoleto Festival USA that is held in late spring and is internationally recognized as the best performing arts event in America.  The festival provides a venue for established and emerging artists to showcase their talents in the realms of opera, dance, theater, classical music, and jazz.

Southern comfort food is served up morning, noon and night in scrumptious dishes such as shrimp and grits, buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken, and She Crab Soup all washed down with a glass of sweet tea. Some brunch establishments also provide live Gospel music to entertain diners and allow time for proper digestion before indulging in the next southern treat.

Savannah, Georgia

Fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will undoubtedly be familiar with some of Savannah’s hot spots and quirky characteristics. It’s a city where cemeteries, voodoo priestesses and ghost stories come to life within the confines of America’s first planned city, and one of its most beautiful.

Part of what makes Savannah a ‘pretty city’ are the 22 squares that are located in the historic district. These mini-parks each have a distinct look and vary in size and purpose with some being playgrounds and others being home to monuments or fountains. Larger parks also add to the city’s green appeal. Forsyth Park consists of 30 acres and contains a Confederate Memorial statue, and a large French-inspired fountain. There are also plenty of walking paths, sports facilities and playing fields.

Other European influences found around the city include Bonaventure Cemetery, the Telfair Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the latter of which is dubbed the ‘Sistine of the South’ and is lauded for its French Gothic architecture, massive murals and eye-catching stained glass windows.

Situated on the Savannah River, the city’s waterfront area brims with restaurants, shops and offers opportunities for a stroll along the cobblestone on River Street or a riverboat cruise aboard the grand old Georgia Queen. One of Savannah’s most famous statues, Florence Martus (or the ‘Waving Girl’) is located in Morrell Park along the waterfront. During her lifetime, Martus was known as the unofficial greeter of all ships coming into and leaving the Port of Savannah, and apparently did not miss a single vessel in 44 years of service.

Paula Deen is another of Savannah’s formidable females who made her mark in the culinary field, first as a lunch delivery and catering service provider and later as a restaurant owner. Lady & Sons on West Congress Street offers a daily Southern Buffet complete with fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, soft-shell crab gumbo, among other mouth-watering fixin’s.


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