ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Gardens, Photography, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Dallas Arboretum – My Breath of Fresh Air

TRAVEL HERE: An Oasis in the Pandemic

I love the Dallas Arboretum. My family has had a long term love affair with it that continues until today. I claim the credit for the original discovery. A friend invited me onsite to look around when it wasn’t even the Arboretum, yet. My mom takes credit for contributing the most to it, because for many, many years she was a faithful docent in the DeGolyer Estate. As my parents’ health deteriorated, she clung to that volunteer appointment for as long as she could, but finally, she felt she couldn’t abandon my dad for so long for such a selfish reason. I’m still a member, visiting as frequently as I can and dragging anyone who will go with me. During the pandemic it was a true respite from the oppression of the regulations designed to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The Garden is Closed?

I confess, we treat the Arboretum as if it were our very own garden. Most of the visits I make with my husband are part of the Sunday afternoon rambles we take together and we just happen to go there spontaneously. My bestie and I will make a little more effort in planning, but it’s usually more of a decision to go on a certain day, rather than at a certain time on that day. As a member, we never have to stand with the general public. We just flash our credentials at the members’ attendant and stroll into the garden.

For instance, I had visitors in January and thankfully we had nice weather, because I took them with me for a visit. Little did I know it would be my last for a while.

I may go several times in one week and then not go again for several months. It’s OK, it’s my garden. When I go, I love to be there for lunch on the patio, but then again, I may just take a walk down the Paseo and then be on my way. When Dallas shut down for the pandemic, so did the Arboretum and it was a shock to my system. It was like the death of a friend you didn’t talk to all that frequently, but you always knew they were there, until they weren’t.

Unfortunately, the shutdown began when the garden was at its best. Every year in the Spring, they have Blooms, a celebration of color. I try to find a reason to be there frequently, because it literally changes from day to day, and each day it gets more fragrant and beautiful. In 2020, it was closed during Blooms.

Timed Tickets

The next shock to my system was timed tickets. It is my garden after all! How could they tie me to a specific date and time? By then, however, I was learning to adjust to a lot of things that I didn’t like very much, so I went through the motions of planning a variety of specific visits – with my hubby, with my bestie, with whoever I could drag there.

And therein lay the next shock. The garden was virtually empty. The female statue above usually has people all over it, trying to get pictures. Professional photographers with all their gear, people with phones, all people with all kinds of equipment snapping shots around every corner. On a normal visit we complain at least once or twice about the crowds. On these pandemic visits we complained because we were all alone and because our favorite dining spots were closed.

The Visiting Statues

During the days of timed tickets, the Arboretum featured Seward Johnson’s “Celebrating the Familiar” Exhibit. Dotted around the garden were a series of very realistic statues. Were you not looking for them, you might have passed by them, assuming they were just another gardener or visitor, but on closer inspection you would discover a very clever piece of fine art. Here’s a gallery of some of the fun and surprising visitors.

Pumpkins and Partridges

When fall rolls around, it is time for Autumn at the Arboretum and that means it is pumpkin time. I’ve documented those orange-hued days many times over in my blog, here for instance. This fall I visited with a young friend and my cameras battery was low, so I didn’t bother with my phone, since I already had so many photos of the DABS during that season.

Even before the pumpkins are all put away, the staff starts setting up for the Christmas Holidays and they have so much going on, I don’t know where to start. There are Holiday Gazebos full of scenes from the ever popular 12 Days of Christmas and a European Village full of faux shops to visit. Usually, Mom’s DeGolyer Mansion is decorated to the max, but alas, during the pandemic season it was closed. The photo below was taken during a previous holiday when masks were not de rigueur.

So, another year of fun is behind me at the Arboretum. Blooms is in full swing, but I keep forgetting I need a timed ticket to go, so I haven’t been yet. Hopefully, soon!

I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind, year-long visit. Next, we’ll visit the Kimbell, over in Ft. Worth, so don’t miss that.

Attractions, DFW Metroplex, Gardens, Real Estate Photography, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

The Pandemic Blues

TRAVEL THERE: 2020 – A TRAVEL YEAR GONE AWRY

A Day at the Dallas Arboretum with timed entry and social distancing

When I got home from our great trip in Arizona, I actually had a year full of travel planned. In May I would travel to New York with my best friend and watch her son accept a diploma for his MFA from Pratt at Radio City Music Hall. I have another friend there I wanted to catch up with and we had lots of museums we hoped to see. Bestie and I were also planning to go to Ohio in August for her 50th High School Reunion. We were hoping to make it a road trip and squeeze in a few sights we hadn’t been able to see the last time we headed that way. Bill and I had plans to visit California to visit family and friends there, because we’d been offered one of those deals that you can’t resist. It didn’t happen.

What Did Happen

My husband and I have been very fortunate during this pandemic. Our health has been excellent and while we have mourned with many friends over their losses, no one in our inner circle of closest friends and family were lost or even suffered greatly from Covid. Sometimes they were inconvenienced by quarantine. Some because of exposure with no diagnosis, some with a positive test but no symptoms and a few who did experience mild symptoms.

Bill was more conscientious about following the protocols than I was. During the first days of the pandemic, I was locked down. He wouldn’t let me out of the house unless he was with me to be sure I followed every suggestion he gleaned from his intensive research. The real estate community was in a panic, so he was out every day, shooting listing photos, videos and drone shots, but he took elaborate measure with himself and our equipment. I wasn’t even allowed to help him unload the car, because everything, including him, had to be sanitized.

On another Arboretum visit Bestie Deborah visits with a faux gardener, another timed, masked and social distanced event.

My bestie kept me sane. We’d take walks, watch TV together or just do some scrapbooking, anything to give me a feeling of normalcy, while Bill monitored our plans to be sure we weren’t participating in any restricted activities, like shopping or eating out. Our first “normal” activity was church, but there wasn’t anything normal about it – no hugs and our seating had been rearranged so that we were properly social distanced, but it was better than watching it on TV.

Like everyone else, we watched the waves of infection. Some people used the downtime for travel, but Bill was having none of that. In our house, he felt as if he could maintain some kind of control over our circumstances. He had no hope of that in a plane or on the road. For awhile, I maintained hope that we might be able to take the trip out to California. I even planned out a road trip itinerary. Unfortunately, I ran into roadblocks. The Navajo nation closed themselves down, which took out most of my road trip plans. It also became apparent that if we were going to travel, California was the worst place to go, because they were virtually shut down. I planned that trip two different ways and didn’t get to use either itinerary.

Our day trip to the Fort Worth Stockyards via the Grapevine Railrooad

Then things got worse in almost every way possible. The whole election mess was a real downer and as Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around, so did a greater number of Covid cases. I entertained myself with planning a holiday road trip, even made all the reservations, but that didn’t work out either. So I settled for a staycation, complete with local museums, a carriage ride through a well-decorated neighborhood and a day trip train excursion. More about that later.

What’s Coming Up!

I did enjoy a few short excursions during the year, so I will share a few of those with you before moving on to 2021. Then I’ll tell you about an idea I dreamed up on vacation and executed in the early days of 2021, which has little to do with travel, but a lot to do with scrapbooking, my other passion.

Being a senior citizen, I’ve gotten my first vaccination and have the second one scheduled next week, but that’s not going to make the pandemic restrictions go away immediately. So, there’s a trip I’ve never shared here – it happened before I started blogging – and I am going to pass it along here. However, it’s a bit of a departure from my usual blog. It’s a play I wrote based on a very difficult trip Bill and I took in the early days of our marriage, inspired in part by Greater Tuna. I’ll share it with you serial style and you should get a big kick form it. The travel frustrations I’ve shared here before can’t hold a candle to that trip. So stay tuned. Even though I haven’t traveled anywhere since February 2020, I have adventures to share.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Fashion, Gardens, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village

TRAVEL THERE: ARTSY FARTSY MORNING

So, I admit I love shopping, but what I love best is buying bargain clothes and shoes.  My favorite price is $9.99.  It’s like a game with me to find gorgeous things that the stores want to give away at ridiculous prices.  There are only a few people I buy for when I am traveling and while I enjoy that, I don’t usually hang out in retail establishments.

Bill is a lot more likely to shop on vacation.  He loves consignment stores and will wander around a shopping mall just to see the architecture.  Since we’re not going to buy anything, I sort of see it as a waste of time, but I accommodate his desires.

When we are in Sedona that all changes.  We both love Tlaquepaque with a passion.  We can’t afford most of it, but we want all of it.  Come along with us.   

What’s Not to Love?

So, to begin with, Tlaquepaque is in Sedona.  We pretty much love everything in Sedona.  Even when we have a pizza and think the crust was way too thin, we enjoy it and look back on it fondly.  Maybe there is something to that whole vortex thing.

Next up, Tlaquepaque is visually appealing.  You do not have to enter a single store to enjoy it.  Wandering among the archways and courtyards, listening to the splashing fountains, smelling the delicious food cooking, people watching…it’s all good.  The architecture is part Spanish colonial, part southwest –  tile roofs, black rod iron ornamentation, brick walkways, desert foliage…all the stuff we like – all gorgeous.

But what’s more, the shopping in fun.  It is perfectly OK to wander around for hours, stopping into shops, some multiple times and not buy a single thing.  Maybe they’re lonely.  Maybe they’re just nice.  Whatever it is, everyone is thrilled to see you.  They greet you and chat you up.  They do not hover over you as if you are about to steal the whole store or try to sell you everything you linger at.  They want your opinion on the goods they are unpacking or will ask you if a particular wall is a good place to hang something.  They will let you try on every ring in the case without huffing or puffing and won’t be the merchandise monitor limiting you to one item at a time.  Here – try them both on, go show your husband, step out in the courtyard to see it in the light.

Some of the stores are also studios, so you can watch someone do whatever they do.  Or there’s a partially finished something that allows you to see how they arrive at finished products.  You smell clay and leather and paints.  You’re just as likely to smell magnolia blossom essential oil, patchouli perfume or burning incense.  

How It Went This Time

Bill made friend in one of the first shops we entered.  He didn’t so much love the merchandise as he discovered the proprietor goes to Egypt every year – so Bill being Egyptian, they had a lot to talk about.  So much so that I had time to discover the bargain of the day – a pair of blue topaz earrings set in silver – but it was that blue topaz that is visually interchangeable with aquamarines, which are my birthstone.  They were quite a bit more than my $9.99 price, but a steam nonetheless.  So much so, that Bill bought them for me!

Then we wandered – for hours.  We barely scratched the surface.  We strolled without any particular pattern.  We had a marvelous time enjoying all the things I just described to you above.  About halfway through, I found a cute shop with unique hand-blown wine stoppers – not cheap, but reasonable.  I’d found the gifts I wanted to buy.

The weather was a little gray and a little nippy, so it didn’t beg us to linger outside or take photos.  Sorry about that.  Bill did fall in love with these pieces in one of the galleries, but they didn’t come home with us.

We could have gone on for hours more, but we had a plane to catch.  El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano was wafting amazing aromas into the courtyards.  We followed our noses and had an amazing meal before heading out to the airport.

Home Again

The drive back to Phoenix was without incident.  We returned our rental car with ease and the shuttle bus delivered us to our terminal without a hassle.  The Southwest plane was on time and the flight was fine.  Our car was right where we left it and we got home with no trouble.  See we can go on a trip without a single hassle.

What’s next?  Right this minute I don’t know.  It’s July as I blog about this February trip and our lives are dominated by the pandemic.  I tried to plan another trip out west during December, but there are so many unknowns right now that I finally gave up.  Stay tuned, though.  You know I won’t be able to stay home!!

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, TRAVEL, United States

Adobe Village Inn

TRAVEL THERE: IN THE SHADOW OF BELL ROCK

This was the view from our window.  Though not immediately identifiable from this angle, with the trees in front of it, the formation to the left is Bell Rock.  On the right is Courthouse Butte.  We were very happy with our accommodations!

It Looked Good and Got Better 

When the GPS told us we’d arrived at Adobe Village Inn, we patted ourselves on the back.  It was located right smack dab in the middle of the most awesome scenery.  From outside, the inn was a lovely adobe home with gardens.  Fountains, a tile roof and various statuary said this was going to be good.  We were greeted by a gentleman who looked like he belonged in a setting just like this and he welcomed us into the home.

We should have taken more pictures.  The living room was spectacular.  Expansive view, tile floor, lovely patio, charming decor and more and more and more.  We were so excited we were almost giggly.

The nice gentleman who looked like he fit right in was actually the manager, not the owner, but he gave us a nice tour and let us to our room.  Our room was great – if not perfect.  There was a fireplace, but it was crowded into a corner.  The only way to get cozy with it was a love seat, crammed into the same corner.  On the other side of the entry was a huge space that was a sort of dressing room/closet combo with bathroom.  I would have preferred more space around the fireplace, but they didn’t ask me.  I’m thinking many of their patrons do sporting things and the big closet space is for storing their equipment.

Further in the room, past the storage/bathroom there was a large piece of furniture, like a sideboard with coffee and such.  On the facing wall was the TV and other electronics.  Then the room opened up to embrace a king-sized bed.  Theoretically, you could watch the TV from the bed or love seat.  In reality, you weren’t there to watch TV and it wasn’t great viewing from either spot.    

They get an A for hospitality.  Snacks were available, the fire was going and nice music was playing.  I gave it a 9.5.  We retrieved our luggage and got settled in.  There was a patio, but the sign said we weren’t supposed to go out there.  Another window, next tot he bed gave us the view above.

In our discussion with the manager we discovered the Inn really was a village.  Besides the several rooms in the home, there were several casitas just up the hill a few steps away.  Wedding ceremonies are often held on the lovely patio and the wedding party stays in the casitas.  Up from the casitas are other full size homes and several of them belong to the inn to be rented out by larger groups.  I highly recommend this facility for a wedding or family reunion or even your next getaway.

The day was getting warmer and the sky was clearing of any threatening clouds.  We climbed back into our Jeep for our next adventure.  I’d seen something on the map that had caught my attention, “Schnebly Road Requires High Clearance Vehicles.”  Our guided 4-wheel expedition may have been cancelled, but we were going to see if we couldn’t find our own adventure. 

Please join us next week for some fun and sun! 

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Photography, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

McDowell Sonoran Preserve

TRAVEL THERE: SCOTTSDALE’S GORGEOUS DESERT GARDEN

Just warning you!  I’m going to rave about the beauties of the desert again. Here’s another warning.  After looking at the map, I’m guess we lucked into arriving at the “Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve”, because the trail head had parking, potable water, restrooms and other facilities, while the map warns most of the other entrances have nothing.  Sometimes the travel gods just love you!

Sightseers Not Hikers 

Trying to locate the Desert Preserve, Bill found an open house he wanted to visit.  We’d visited another open house earlier in the day, one that would be in our price range and confirmed Scottsdale was not an option for us.  The open house close to the preserve as a million dollar beauty you’d get for closer to six hundred thousand here in the Dallas area.  We were definitely just looking.

Arriving at the Preserve, it was immediately apparent we weren’t counted among the usual visitors.  These folks took their hiking seriously.  They had on hiking gear that made us look like the amateurs we were.  They passed us without so much as a nod of the head or any offers to help people who obviously didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing.  We took advantage of the facilities and then headed out on a stroll of our own.

We definitely didn’t have on the right shoes.  There was a trail, but it wasn’t a nice smooth flat space.  It was laced with deep cuts, from rain water (I suppose) and strewn with pebbles and good sized rocks.   After we had gone maybe 50 yards we reevaluated our desire to hike.  It was just about dusk and since we had no idea what we were doing, we decided to just take photos in the picturesque area we’d happened upon.

Of course, the first thing Bill wanted to do was get off the trail and get up close and personal with some of the unusual flora.  Finally, a passing hiker took notice of us and let us know stepping off the trail was a not only a conservationist’s no-no, there was also a pretty strong chance we’d end up snakebit.  I’m not sure why the hiker thought the snakes knew the difference between the trail and non-trail areas, but the vehemence of her warning about the fauna convinced Bill to get back on the not-quite straight, but certainly narrow trail.

Not a lot else went on.  We took a lot of pictures, which I am happy to share with you and then we went back to our car.  Considering our choices for dinner, we decided we wanted to take it easy and use the kitchenette in our casita.  We found a grocery store and went for comfort food – pot pies.  Back at the resort, we put on our comfy clothes and just vegged. 

Now, while we take some down time, you enjoy the photos.  I’ll see you next week for our road trip to Sedona.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

The Last Day of Cruising

Palma de Mallorca, Tapas Walking Tour, Beewi Tapas Bar
Spanish tortilla mushrooms in a sauce patatas bravas and a typical Mallorca sweet cake at Beewi in Palma de Mallorca

TRAVEL THERE: TAPAS TASTING IN PALMA DE MALLORCA

Confession, this is where my travel journal ended.  For some reason I happily journaled all through the trip and just quit after our day on the French Rivera. Another confession, while I blogged about most of this trip in the weeks right after the cruise, life got busy and I took a break that lasted longer than I anticipated.  So eleven months after the cruise, here I am finishing up the last few posts of this trip.  Glad you are still with me. 

Large Storm in a Small Teacup

While traveling is fun, it is also tiring and while traveling with your friends has a lot of benefits, after the trial by vacation we’d been on, it was time to go home.  Everyone needed some personal down time, but it was still a few days away.

One of the things that got my visit to Monaco off on the wrong foot was a scheduled meeting with the photographer.  Bill hadn’t wanted to have a photographer at the vow renewal ceremony in the first place, because he thinks the onboard photography thing is a racket – one that charges entirely too much.  However, the photographer was non-negotiable.  Since he didn’t want the photographer there, he really wasn’t interested in a meeting with them to look at the photos and when it conflicted with his desire to go visit Monaco, well, Monaco won.  I’m so ruled by the things that I am supposed to do, that I wasn’t able to blow off the appointment with as much aplomb as he was, especially since there was no way to contact her and let her know what was going on.  We just stood her up.  I felt bad for the photographer.  She was just trying to do her job.  

Eventually, she got in contact with us and I was able to apologize.  The appointment was reset for this day.  If we had gone in Monaco, then we would have gone on our own and quite possibly would have said thanks, but no thanks, except for perhaps a few as gifts to our friends.  As it was, we ended up with the whole crew of us in the very small space of the photo office and not everyone was on the same page.  It was also the very last moment.  If we didn’t make a decision right then, there would be no photos for anyone.

The photos were beautiful.  The price was astronomical.  Some folks thought that I should have every single one.  Bill was paralyzed with sticker shock.  I just wanted it to be over.  We arrived at a compromise that wasn’t quite what anyone wanted, but we moved on.

The Shore Excursion

Everyone went their separate ways after the photo storm.  We knew we’d be seeing each other at 2:15 for the Tapas Walking Tour.  The meeting place instructions changed and even after we started gathering on the pier, there seemed to be some sort of question about where we were supposed to be.  I think our crew was almost as ready for us to go home as we were.

The good news was our guide was somewhat better on this day.  She loaded us on a bus and delivered us to  Bellver Castle.  It was really just a photo op with a great view of the harbor.  From there, they parked the bus and we set out on foot.

Our first tapas stop was El Pesquero, a sea-side patio restaurant.  The food was delicious and the patio was amazing.  I personally could have just stayed there and been perfectly happy.

El Pesquero was in the shadow of the old cathedral, so our walking tour began there.  We passed lovely plazas and canals along the way and then we arrived at Beewi.  Beewi was just a small cafe with nothing much to recommend it, besides the food and what they served was delicious.  Deb and I agreed the view in the cafe was also quite nice, if you like to look at handsome Spanish men.

Next up was Es Rebost where we were able to order whatever we wanted.  I went for something with beef, since we hadn’t had any of that yet.  Then it was time to head back to the boat, where an absolute delight waited for us.  Come back next week and see what I mean.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Bummed About the Boboli

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S TOO HOT?

If I am being honest and I always like to be, I have to admit the opportunity to see Palazzo Pitti was one of the highlights of my life.  I didn’t realize just how much I was going to love it.  I still regret not seeing the David and the Uffizi Gallery, but the Pitti was pretty amazing.

Heading Outdoors

That’s how I was feeling as we abandoned the Palazzo for the  Giardino di Boboli However, something was happening around me that was going to put a dent in that.  When we disembarked our bus on the edge of Florence’s Old City, it was still the cool of the morning.  It got less cool as we tramped around the city and by the time we got to the Palazzo, we were grateful for the air conditioning.

As we strolled through the Palazzo, the temperature had strolled up the thermometer.  As soon as we entered the garden we were in a stifling hot day.  I wished that the guide had started here, but it was too late for regrets.

We were all taking pictures of the amphitheater at the edge of the gardens when our guide announced it was too hot to see the gardens.  Talking about hot, I was ready for a melt down.  Sure I was happy to have seen the Palazzo Pitti, but I’d given up Michelangelo’s David for this garden and she thought it was too hot. If I hadn’t dumped the guide in the Palazzo, then this was certainly the time to walk away.

Being part of a group that is traveling together gives things a different perspective.  If Bill and I had been alone on this one, I think I might have dumped the guide and the shore excursion.  Bill would have balked, because it was getting time for lunch and he’s a little wary of striking out on our own on foreign soil.  However, this was the Boboli Gardens she was so casually dropping from our itinerary and I was upset.

Off We Go

The rest of my group was all for dumping the gardens.  While I just might have been able to convince Bill to play truant for the balance of the day, after canvassing the others I realized I was in the minority.  I adjusted my attitude and followed the guide out to the Ponte Vecchio.  Not only did we have the scalding heat to contend with, but while we’d been enjoying the Pitti Palace hundreds of tour buses had been belching their passengers into Florence’s Old City and it seemed as if most of them were hanging out on the bridge.

This was the photo opportunity we were promised earlier in the day, but our guide either forgot or didn’t care.  She was speed-walking across the bridge and Bill was none to happy about it.  Every time he lingered to get a photo, he’d look up and see a sea of tourists but not our guide with holding up her sign with the number “12.”  He was none to happy.

Piazza della Signoria

Bill and I managed to keep up with our guide, but only barely.  Once over the bridge, we trotted a few more blocks and found ourselves in the famous Piazza della Signoria.  People who had watched the Medici mini-series (like me) knew immediately where we were.

Guide lady did allow generous time for picture taking in the piazza, but by now it was really hot and we were really hungry.  I was all out of sorts, because I hadn’t gotten to see the Boboli.  Florence was not anywhere close to being  my “most memorable vacation yet,” but everyone else was as hungry and hot as I was.  Not much cheerful chatter was going on.

The day is far from over, but I’ll stop today’s post here.  Come back next week for the rest of Florence.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Pitti Palace is No Pity Party

TRAVEL THERE: WANDERING THROUGH THE GLORIES OF PALAZZO PITTI

For a family which dominated a city for so many years, it’s amazing that nothing is named after the Medicis.  Whatever something was called when they took it over, and they eventually took over almost everything, from the Cathedral to government offices, they continued to use the name the building already had.

In the Palazzo Pitti

Entering the Palazzo was like turning back time.  The rather mundane exterior gave way to so much interior glory that almost a year later I am still trying to wrap my mind around it.  Magnificence is everywhere.  What would be the highlight of the collection in your average museum is just a whatnot on a sideboard at the Medici’s home.

What I am trying to tell you is that every surface, every floor, every wall, every ceiling – absolutely everywhere you look is something glorious.  We started out in some huge hall with larger than life tapestries.

Soon after we were wandering through the hall you see above.  Then we went through gallery after gallery after gallery of some of the most amazing paintings, sculpture and decorative arts you might ever have the opportunity to see.

You have to remember, I’m not exactly a neophyte in the world of art.  I’ve been to the Louvre and the  Jeu de Paume (before its impressionists works were moved to the Musée d’Orsay) in Paris.  I’ve seen all the major museums in London, like the British Museum, the Tate and the Victoria and Albert.  I’ve been to Ludwig’s castles in Germany and palaces throughout Austria.  I’ve spent days in the Cairo Museum and strolled through the Gettys a number of times.  I’ve made pilgrimages throughout the US to see the great houses of the rich and famous from Mt. Vernon to the Biltmore to Heart Castle.  These only scratch the surface and still the Palazzo Pitti blew me away.

This was somebody’s private home.  This was their private art collection.  They weren’t kings or popes or even emperors (with the exception Peter Leopold).  Most of them were Cardinals and Grand Dukes.  Just as they managed to live incognito in Florence without having everything named after them, they lived in this amazing palace as grand dukes and controlled the world without claiming title to it.

Absolutely Awestruck

The good news is, for a little while it didn’t matter that we had a lousy guide. I just wandered through the rooms trying to take it all in.  Though our guide didn’t have much to say, she did sort of usher through the Galleries, always reminding us we had more things to see.

I should have just asked our guide what time we needed to be at the bus and dumped her for the balance of the day.  Nothing else she drug me past in our tour of Florence was as amazing as the Palazzo Pitti. But that’s hindsight.  Though loving every minute of the Palace, I was also very excited about seeing Boboli Gardens.

The gardens are what’s up next, so come back next week and find out what happened there.  In the meantime, I will leave you with these glorious images from Pitti Palace.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Livorno to Florence

TRAVEL THERE: THEY LOST ME AT LIVORNO

This wasn’t my first cruise, so I am aware of the fact gateway cities can be pretty disappointing.  As a disappointment, Livorno did not disappoint.  The day got better, but never as good as I hoped it would be. 

“90-Minute Drive Through the Beautiful Tuscan Countryside”

Newsflash: the highway we took to Florence didn’t take us through the beautiful Tuscan country side.  It was a highway.  We could have been circling Detroit.

Though the Celebrity site did not tell me specifically to be expecting an ultra-luxury bus, the shore excursion I picked was a Celebrity Discovery Collection Event.  According to Dallas’ Celebrity rep, these tours were worth the extra you paid to be a part of them.  Perhaps he didn’t intend to give me the impression I should expect more in every aspect of the tour, but we had a more luxurious bus in Cancun.  The Celebrity vehicle was adequate as tour buses go, but I wished for my Cancun Passion bus.

Our first stop was not Pitti Palace as advertised.  Instead, it was a convenience store. Apparently, we needed a pre-Florence potty stop, so the alarms started going off in my head.  Things were going downhill fast.

The pay phone is just a little bonus.  They have them all over the place in Europe.  Try finding one state-side.

So, riding along in our adequate bus, we soon figured out our guide was no Paolo.  We’re not sure whether she just left her personality at home that day or she simply didn’t have one at all, but after the charming and erudite Paolo, she was a real disappointment.

“Your first stop takes you to the decadent Palazzo Pitti.” 

Well, I’ve already told you about the first stop and it was no Palazzo.  Our next stop was not a Palazzo either.  We’d obviously arrived at some lovely place in Italy, but it was not the Pitti Palace.  No, we were about to hoof it to the Pitti Palace via the rest of Florence.

Initially, this “stroll” wasn’t so awful.  It was nice to stroll among the picturesque by-ways of Florence and when she wasn’t running off and leaving all of us, our guide did have a few salient facts to share with us.  We stopped by the Uffizi Gallery and even though we didn’t get to enter, it was fun to learn it was once the home and workrooms of the Medicis and charming to see the artists setting up.

After a little more circuitous wandering, we came to the famous Ponte Vecchio across the Arno River.  The guide who had been strolling through the city, as if we had hour to linger over every detail, suddenly picked up the pace, at the point I would have been happy to amble.  She assured us we’d get more time on the bridge later.

Though we knew she was no Paolo, we had not yet learned she was untrustworthy, so we continued to trudge along behind her.  Then suddenly, with no kind of signage or gates to tell us, we were at Pitti Palace.  It was a sort of odd palace.  Right in the middle of things, no gate, no moat, just a multi-story facade, and while it was imposing, it was in no way magnificent.

I’ll leave you here for today.  Once inside, Pitti Palace makes up for it’s rather dreary exterior.  Come back next week and we’ll explore the wonders of Palazzo Pitti together.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Libraries, Museums, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Florence Fascinates

TRAVEL THERE: FLORENCE WAS GREAT. TOO BAD THE SAME THING CAN’T BE SAID FOR THE RENAISSANCE VACATION

There is no one more susceptible to great marketing than someone in marketing.  Our shore excursion to Florence is a perfect example of that.  The photos and the copy sent me on flights of fantasy no walking tour of Florence could have, especially with the below par tour guide we were assigned to that day.

What It Should Have Been

The Celebrity website said, and I quote, “Florence, Italy is the birthplace of The Renaissance, and the site of your most memorable vacation yet. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, a profusion of poets, painters, sculptors, and architects flooded into Florence and produced the era’s most groundbreaking artwork. Departing from the port of Livorno, your excursion in Florence begins with a 90-minute drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside those legendary artists once traversed. Your first stop takes you to the decadent Palazzo Pitti. Also known as Pitti Palace, this architectural marvel is one of Florence’s signature monuments. The Palatine Gallery lies on the first floor, and contains a broad collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. Its most iconic piece of art is likely the portrait of Maddalena Doni by Raphael in 1506. Next, you’ll visit the Boboli Gardens. While accurate, the Boboli Gardens are more than your standard garden. Boboli is actually one of the greatest open-air museums in Florence. The park boasts sculptures, fountains, centuries-old oak trees and more. As the garden that inspired European royal gardens like Versailles, there are few better examples of “green” architecture in the world. From here, your vacation in Florence takes you to Piazza della Repubblica, the most beautiful town square in the Tuscany region. This brief respite offers the opportunity to wine and dine before continuing onward to the Signoria and Santa Croce Squares.”

What I Imagined

I envisioned a luxurious bus ride through a gorgeous landscape.  I assumed the bus would drop us off in front of the Pitti Palace.  I hoped we’d have hours to wander all the galleries of the palace and then wander some more through one of the most beautiful gardens on earth.  I was sure we’d need to stroll around a little bit to get to all the sites mentioned, but what’s a little walking, right?  Besides I was so laser-focused on the Pitti Palace it was all I could think about.

What I Gave Up

Florence is a city you would needs days and days to see properly.  The list of must-see attractions is daunting.  Take the Uffizi Gallery for instance, one of the most prominent art museums of the world.  Then there’s Michelangelo’s David, housed in another museum you’ve probably never heard of, but a piece of art I’ve wanted to see all my life.  And the Duomo,  famous as one of the most important cathedrals in the world, for the history that was lived there, for the artworks housed there, but most of all for its miraculous dome.

With all this to look forward to I allowed myself to be distracted by some great marketing.  Don’t get me wrong, Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens are magnificent by any standard, but what they were selling me about the shore excursion isn’t what I got.

So, come on back next week and I’ll tell you how it went.