gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Category Archives: Travel

Austin, TX

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I went to Austin, TX a couple weeks ago, making it my second time to Texas after going to Houston last Fall for a friend’s wedding. My primary reason for going was to support three friends who participated in the BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin over the course of two days (a big feat if you ask me)! For one my friends this was his second ride, but this year he was joined by his wife and a friend. The event is a fundraiser for MS research and each rider has to raise $400 in order to participate. The funds all go to the National MS Society and they raise millions of dollars because they have 10,000 + riders and some raise more than the required amount.

This type of fundraiser/bike ride doesn’t just take place from Houston to Austin, but in other parts of the country as well, like Minnesota, Illinois, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and the list goes on. I was really touched, inspired, and all things emotional that my friends participated in this ride because MS is something that hits close to home for me. It was definitely hot in Austin and we felt it while we were waiting for them to cross the finish line, but at least we got to hang out in the VIP MS tent. My mom and one of my best friends, who happens to be the sister of my friend who was riding, went with me and we made signs to wave at the finish line. It was amazing to see them cross that line and they were exhausted, but already planning training for a triathlon! They rode with Team Karbach, so of course there was beer waiting for them after they finished, courtesy of Karbach Brewing Co. After the ride we went out for BBQ, where I tried beef brisket. I got fatty and lean, per the waiter’s recommendation because I had no idea how to order, but next time I would probably only get lean.

While in Austin we also went out on 6th Street (of course) to a place called Easy Tiger. It definitely wasn’t a crazy bar, like many of them on 6th Street, and it had a really cute outdoor area next to a creek with strings of lights overhead. We went to the Zilker Botanical Garden, which was beautiful. It was so peaceful and I wish we had more time there. We visited the Graffiti Park and I bought a couple cute little prints from an artist. I was sad to hear that the graffiti wall is being torn down and relocated. We had a very short amount of time at the Blanton Museum of Art, but I liked what I got to see of it. They have a big contemporary Latin American art collection. We walked around The University of Texas at Austin campus, got breakfast tacos at Torchy’s (which apparently is a staple), walked around the vintage and luxury shops on South Congress, got ice cream at Amy’s (also a staple), and of course took pics at the I love You So Much mural. Right before heading to the airport we toured the State Capitol building, which was beautiful and we had an excellent tour guide. I learned a lot about the history of Texas that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know before.

We also went to Waco for a morning, which was amazing! See my post about Magnolia Market here.

I liked Austin, but I don’t think it’s a city I would want to live in. I almost preferred Houston, which I’m scared to admit because I feel like Austin is thought of as a really fun, hip city in Texas and Houston is not…haha. I just really liked the museum district in Houston, Hermann Park, Rice University, and Discovery Green. Next time I go to Austin, I would want to see San Antonio because it’s so close, and definitely go to Waco again!

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Magnolia Market / Waco, TX

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So I had one of the best days of my life this past Saturday…at Magnolia Market in Waco, Texas! Honestly, I think it’s the happiest place on the planet. Everyone there is just so happy to be there, and the employees are very friendly. I have found that to be true of all the people I met in Texas actually (but I can’t speak for all of Texas of course). Anyway, back to Magnolia…I went to Austin to support my friends who were riding in the BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin and took advantage of Austin’s proximity to Waco. I mean, I couldn’t be so close to Waco and not go! More about Austin and the bike ride in my next post.

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We arrived to Austin late Friday night after our flight was delayed a couple of hours as we just sat on the tarmac due to a disgruntled passenger. We got to our hotel around 1 in the morning, at which point the hotel no longer had a room for us because it was too late and they had to ship us to a different hotel. We finally got to the bed around 2 and had to get up at 5:30 to catch the 7 AM bus to Waco. Needless to say we tired, but getting up wasn’t hard because we were so excited to go to Magnolia. My mom went with me, which was really special because Magnolia is a place that exudes family.

We only had 3 hours in Waco before catching the bus back to Austin so we used our time wisely. We didn’t go to their new restaurant, Magnolia Table, because it’s a three mile shuttle ride away from the main complex and the wait time can be long. Oh well, next time! So we had breakfast at the bakery and the cupcakes were amazing! The outdoor seating area is very pleasant and reminds you of a French cafe.

After breakfast we went to the main store and spent about an hour there. It’s big, with two floors and lots and lots of people. So it takes a while to go through all of it, take everything in, and make final selections for what to buy. There were definitely some things I picked up right away, but others that I thought about while walking through and went back to pick up (which is not easy because there is a bit of path/flow that people follow throughout the store). I obviously got one of their signature Linen candles, a few wooden kitchen things, a T-shirt (super soft!), a beautiful little necklace made by an artisan in Nashville, TN (which I’ve worn everyday since I got it), the Spring issue of The Magnolia Journal, a couple body products, and a cute little metal Magnolia sign.

Then we went to the Seed + Supply store, which is much smaller and less crowded, but still adorable. They have several food trucks in the big outdoor area and my mom and I got crepes!

Sadly, it was time to go. I was so so happy to be there and it was absolutely worth the trip from Austin, even if just for a few hours. It’s definitely not my last time there and I’d love to see it decorated for Christmas. I also want to explore more of Waco and drive around to see the various houses that Chip & Joanna have renovated. Until next time, Magnolia!

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A weekend getaway in the Berkshires

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What is it about getting away for a few days that helps you put things into perspective? Getting out of your bubble, the space you occupy, and the actions you perpetuate on a daily basis to clear your mind and refresh…refresh in the sense of either confirming certain convictions, or taking a different path with a new mindset.

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I went to the Berkshires this past weekend with my mom, as the two of us often do, but this time two of my best friends drove in from Boston for a couple days. I absolutely loved getting to share a place that I hold so dear to my heart with two people that are also close to my heart. It was interesting to hear their reactions to Williamstown because they are city people and their main observation was how quite it is. Too quiet. But I love the quiet. I love the peace and tranquility and the smells. I guess it just feels like home. They definitely also recognized how nice it was to get away from the city though, and how different the pace of life is – like stepping back in time away from the modern world.

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The first thing I did early Saturday morning before my friends arrived was go to my favorite little goat farm that I used to visit when I lived there – Mountain Girl Farm. I’ve had a long-standing love for goats and it’s no secret to those who know me well that I dream of having a goat farm someday. I am completely happy when surrounded by goats. Hence the million repetitive pictures you’ll see below…

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I promise I did more than just frolic with goats while I was in the Berkshires. I got to take my friends to my favorite restaurant in North Adams, MA called Public, which is a tourist attraction and brings some urban flair to the country, both in ambience and food selection. We went for a couple walks in the fields because luckily it was sunny and warm. I took them to my favorite coffee shop in Williamstown, Tunnel City Coffee, where the baristas still remember me even though I haven’t been a regular in 4 years since I lived there. And I took them to the Clark Art Institute, which is a magnificent world-class art museum tucked away in the hills. We also had a meal, more like a feast, at home with a good family friend who happens to be a chef (among other things).

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It was hard for my mom and I to leave this beautiful place we love so much (and I didn’t want to go back to the city), and I think we came away from the weekend with an even greater love for it and sense of connection to it.

 

Houston, TX

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I went to Houston last weekend for a good friend’s wedding and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it, since people have told me that it’s not the nicest city. Granted there may be other factors that play into my favorable impression given that I was there with close friends and for a happy occasion, but there’s something about that southern hospitality that just feels so welcoming. I had a similar feeling when I visited Atlanta and New Orleans, so I think I just like the south. People seem so much more laid back and relaxed than in the Midwest, or at least more so than in Chicago. The weather at this time of the year was amazing, of course, but I’m not sure I’d be saying the same thing if I went there in August…

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The downtown has a sweet little park called Discovery Green, which was nice because it wasn’t crowded. It was so relaxing to have beautiful green space in the middle of a big city and not feel claustrophobic with lots of people around. The Museum District is convenient if you’re a museum-goer like I am because they are all clumped together and you can easily walk from one to another. Some of them are even free! Near the Museum District are Hermann Park and Rice University. Hermann Park is huge and it includes the Houston Zoo, which I wanted to go to but I definitely didn’t have enough time. I did make it to the Museum of Fine Arts, which has an impressively varied collection and is housed in a magnificent modern space. The art lover in me always wants to go to the primary art museum when I visit a new city. I also took a stroll around Rice University and I was blown away by how beautiful it is. It’s full of Romanesques architecture, which feels very Spanish-inspired and Mediterranean. The architecture, combined with the cypress trees scattered about, made me feel like I was in Italy. Speaking of trees, there were palm trees everywhere – something I’m definitely not used to seeing and I loved it!

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We had an authentic Mexican brunch at Chuchara in Midtown the morning after the wedding, which featured cuisine from Mexico City. I know it was authentic because the groom is from Mexico City and he had great recommendations of specific things to order. I got a Café de Olla (Mexican coffee with cinnamon and chocolate), which I loved! It also came in a really cute terra cotta pitcher that I wanted to take home with me.

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My friend explained that Midtown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Houston, which makes sense given its narrow streets. The restaurant is situated in what seems like a residential area, which gives it a very homey feel. This is the area that reminded me most of New Orleans.

My visit to Houston was a good introduction to Texas, with the help of a friendly and knowledgeable tour guide (my friend)!

Open House Chicago 2017

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Open House Chicago is this wonderful annual two-day weekend event where about 200 sites around the city are open and free to the public. It takes place in October and I went for the first time this year. Although we’ve been blessed with beautiful weather fairly late into the Fall, the Open House weekend was cold and rainy. I did my research on all the sites that were of interest to me the week leading up to Open House and I a long double-sided list of sites I wanted to visit. Sadly I only made it to 8. The sites are all over the city and I mostly made it to the sites I wanted to see downtown and in Logan Square, since that’s where I live and they were very easy to get to. The thing about Chicago is that it’s a big city and it’s not the easiest to get to different neighborhoods without a car, especially if they’re far out from downtown. Chicago does have a good public transportation system, but if you have to transfer between L lines, it can take quite a long time to get to where you’re trying to go.

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My first stop was The Robey in Wicker Park, which is a new chic hipster hotel in the Northwest Tower at the six corners intersection. It houses a hotel, restaurant, a lounge/coffee shop, and two rooftop bars, one on the 6th floor and one on the 13th. The 6th floor rooftop even has a small pool (a very small pool) but both offer nice views of the city. And I loved the feel of the lounge/coffee shop on the 2nd floor. It’s definitely a cool place to bring a laptop and do some work, with a nice little view of Wicker Park.

Then I made my way downtown and my first stop was the London House, but due to the long line I just missed the cutoff to get in. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go there for a drink sometime to take in those sweeping views of the Chicago River and the magnificent mile. So then I went to the Hard Rock Hotel in the Art Deco Carbide & Carbon Building, which was beautiful, but not much of it was open for the tour.

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Carbide & Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel

Next was the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist designed by Harry Weese. The church is a prominent structure along the Chicago River with a unique circular Mid-century Modern design. The interior is laden with concrete supports and ceilings, Italian travertine walls, carpet, and velvet seats. Most of the building is taken up by an expansive semicircular room where their services take place, with a massive organ as its focal point.

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Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist

I made my way down LaSalle Street to City Hall where I got to sit in the room where the city council holds their meetings, which was a very cool experience! These meetings are open to the public and I wish I could go to one but they are always held while I’m at work. Then I went to the Federal Reserve Bank, which has a beautiful lobby and a money museum. I learned that it’s the oldest running Federal Reserve Bank in the country, which was surprising to me. I assumed the Federal Reserve Bank in New York would have been the first. The Wintrust Bank, which is right across the street, has an even more beautiful lobby if you ask me. It was truly stunning and I especially liked the Art Nouveau paintings in the frieze, lining the walls in the center of the lobby. I also got the see the vault in the basement, which was a bit eerie and smelled like old paper.

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Wintrust Bank

My last stop downtown was the Chicago Board of Trade building. It’s one of my favorite buildings in Chicago, but after being inside I have to say that I prefer it on the outside. The Art Deco lobby is very stylish, but it’s too dark and stark for me. It just doesn’t have a warm and inviting feeling; I found it to be cold and intimidating. The exterior, however, watches over the city with an earnest eye at the end of LaSalle Street. I always love when I’m on Wacker Drive and I look down LaSalle and see her comforting presence. The statue standing on top of the building is the goddess Ceres sculpted by John Storrs in the Art Deco style. I didn’t know this, but apparently the statue is faceless.

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Chicago Board of Trade

If the weather hadn’t been so blustery that day I might have made it to more sites in other neighborhoods. But it’s also hard to take everything in and appreciate it all, so maybe keeping the list of sites to see on the shorter side is the best course of action. There is always next year’s Open House to see more!

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen – Spring Green, WI

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My parents and I took a mini summer vacation a couple weeks ago to Spring Green, WI to see Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Taliesen. The complex consists of his home and studio, as well as some boarding residences for students in his architecture school. We like to see as many FLW houses as we can because my dad is an architect and teaches architecture, and my mom and I are art lovers. I also did an internship with the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust in Chicago, so it’s always interesting for all of us. After having seen many of his homes in the Chicago area, what struck me about Taliesen was the beautiful setting in the hilly Wisconsin countryside. The integration between interior living space and the natural world that surrounds it outside, which is a central design concept for FLW, is very present at Taliesen. From the courtyard-like feel in front of the entrance to the house (perhaps inspired by his trip to Italy), to the wall of windows and doors opening out to a balcony on the other side of the house, which overlooks a series of hills, the beautiful Wisconsin countryside setting is very much felt both within and outside the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Asian influence also makes a statement in both the home and studio, as large Japanese silk tapestries take center stage on various walls. The room I liked the most was the living room because it felt so spacious with open space in the center of the room and built-in seating/benches along the walls around the periphery of the room. Apparently FLW had dinner parties every Friday night, complete with musical entertainment (for which he designed a music stand that could accommodate three musicians). He also designated a chair for his daughter who played the harp. His affinity for his daughter is also evident in her “little apartment” upstairs, which is accessed either through a lofty space above the bedroom he shared with his wife, or by its own separate staircase off the great room. The intention behind this was that she could perform puppet shows for him and his wife anytime she wanted.

There are different tours that one can take at Taliesen and the one we took was two hours long. Very comprehensive! We had a sweet and knowledgeable tour guide, but my favorite part may have been the resident cat who followed us around for part of the tour 🙂 I leave you with some wise words to live by from good ol’ FLW himself.

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“But the thing about a great beauty is that no matter its age or condition, it could still turn and give you that look and send the heart aflutter.”

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“I looked around at the stately villa, the murmuring fountains and, yes, even at the overgrown grass. Rome had its issues. The degradation was real. But the thing about a great beauty is that no matter its age or condition, it could still turn and give you that look and send the heart aflutter.”

I have to remind myself to admire the beauty in my surroundings, even if it’s not always initially apparent to me. I also have to be reminded to allow myself to be pleasantly surprised by the beauty that I might encounter unexpectedly. This New York Times article about Rome by Jason Horowitz resonates with me since I was born in Rome and lived there for the first eight years of my life. But I have to say, in disagreement with the author, I always found it beautiful and never wanted to leave. Rome was the best playground a child could ask for. But I will say, now that I live in Chicago, IL, I resonate with the author’s notion that we must seek to see the beauty even in the chaos or dilapidation that’s around us. I love Chicago as a city for all that it has to offer, but at the same time, the city just gets me down on a daily basis. Relying on public transportation for your commute isn’t easy, especially in the dead of winter. The hustle bustle lifestyle with everyone scurrying around in a hurry and forgetting to be nice to one another just isn’t for me. I find myself craving a much more laid-back kind of life. The architecture downtown juxtaposed next to Lake Michigan is beautiful, but other parts of the city that tourists don’t see where the average Chicagoean actually lives can be dirty and graffiti-stricken. So, faced with all this unpleasantness of city life, I often struggle to find the beauty that I once so admired about Chicago.

Horowitz’s evaluation of various neighborhoods in Rome as he searched for an apartment all over the city reminded me to try to appreciate the little intricacies and charms that each neighborhood of Chicago holds, especially since I don’t get to see them everyday. I like how different each neighborhood is and how diverse the city is. So maybe what I need to do, taking a lesson from Horowitz, is take the time to visit different neighborhoods, as he explored Rome, and experience each one for the unique things it has to offer. And maybe I just need to take a harder look at the small things in my everyday encounters with the city to remind myself what makes Chicago the beloved city that it is by so many.

 

 

A little voyage to Paris

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“Three Perfect Days in Paris” by Boyd Farrow

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I was on a plane last week, one of my least favorite places to be since flying makes me anxious, but this article about Paris that I came across in the Hemispheres magazine made it much more enjoyable. And although flying makes me nervous I have to say I love watching the landing as we’re approaching the destination and I don’t think it’s necessarily solely because I know I’ll soon be safely on the ground; it’s just such a cool view from up there. Anyway, I was completely engrossed in this article and the flight was more pleasant because of it. I went to Paris one summer when I was in high school and it is every bit as magical as Boyd Farrow recounts in his travelogue. It definitely transported me back to my visit there and makes me want to go back to go to some of the places he mentions. And how about the photographs…I especially like the one of the three Parisians basking in the light of their beautiful city. They look like characters from a French movie (Jules et Jim by François Truffaut,  The Dreamers by Bernardo Bertolucci, and Band of Outsiders by Jean-Luc Godard come to mind). I’m just waiting for them to break into that infamous dance scene at the cafe in Band of Outsiders. 

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These are some of my favorite quotes from the article to give you a sampling of the delight that’s in store for you:

“I sit down with my giant cheese and watch as people file in and light votives or stealthily angle their phones for the ultimate shot: a selfie with Jesus.”

“By the time we leave, I’m so relaxed I hail a cab standing in the middle of the street. The driver looks terrified. Now, if I could only remember where I put my room key.”

“Everywhere here has a real community feel. You tend to keep an eye on your neighbors’ kids; you know your butcher, baker, and florist. In most big cities, people don’t live like that anymore.”

“In Jacques Genin’s showroom-size chocolate shop on lively Rue de Turenne, a loved-up couple agonizes over a chocolate display as if choosing an engagement ring. I’m agonizing too, over how many kirsch caramels I dare take from the sample jar.”

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And I just love the way the article ends, tying in the iconic kiss photograph by Robert Doisneau. So romantic…

“As I thread my way through the crowd, a young Frenchwoman bumps into me, spilling wine down my shirt. Being English, I apologize. She smiles, kisses my cheek, and disappears. Okay, so it’s not a Robert Doisneau moment, but it’s not a bad way to say goodnight to the city—the Eiffel Tower to the west, its sparkling light show reminding us that the clock has just struck 12.”

I’ll stop here so that you actually read the full article because it’s such a treat! Thank you, Boyd, for transporting us to the magic that is Paris.

 

Paris Can Wait

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Can Paris wait? I think most of us would agree it cannot. This consensus that I’m assuming is shared among those in the plot of the new movie starring Diane Lane, Paris Can Wait. Reminiscent of another travelogue starring Lane, the popular Under the Tuscan Sun, this genre really seems to suite her well. She is a classic beauty and there is a carefree, sexy ease about her that makes her the perfect travel companion, even if only through a screen. You hardly see any shots of Paris but at the very end because the movie traces the fragmented journey to Paris, but the places they stop along the way are points of interest in their own right. Lane’s trip to Paris is not with her husband, as one might imagine, but with her husband’s business partner who happens to be a Frenchman, played by Arnaud Viard. Need I say more about the fact that he’s a Frenchman and all the stereotypes that go along with that…he is charming, flirtatious, spontaneous, a womanizer, and let’s just admit, a little selfish. Despite all this, there is a genuine connection between him and Lane, which makes her feel appreciated and desired in a way that she hasn’t felt by her husband in a long time. Classic…

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The movie is full of scenes of delectable food and artistic shots of whatever Lane sees that she’d like to capture with her old school digital camera. She certainly does have an eye for composition of the unique things she comes across on her trip. There are sad moments as you learn more about Lane’s life, and there are funny moments as she saves the day when their car breaks down on the way to Paris. What I particularly liked was her relationship with her daughter (who we never actually see) because it reminds me of my relationship with my parents – we share the same name, we are both only children, and we are both very close to our parents.

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The movie definitely accomplishes evoking travel envy, as I left wanting to take a similar trip, even full of all the obstacles. I also love Lane’s summery linen outfit (seen in all three of these pictures), as well as her seductive evening dresses. Usually Paris can’t wait, but I suppose it can if it means going on a spontaneous adventure like this one.

Arthur Frommer on the healing power of traveling to Europe

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As often happens in my household, old papers, magazines, and brochures pop up because my mom is constantly going through things in an effort to downsize. I recently came across a travel magazine entitled “Planning Your Trip: Europe ’95.” That’s right, it’s from 1995. In it is an article by travel expert Arthur Frommer on his love for traveling to Europe because of its restorative power. I strongly identify with what he has to say, as I also find traveling to Europe rejuvenating, and just a few lines will give you a sense of why:

Some people take pills to restore their energy. I go to Europe. Some people go out dancing to lift their spirits; I go to Europe. To me, a week or so in the Old World is a restorative more powerful than any regiment of diet, medicine or exercise ever devised. It does me good to turn my back for a time on familiar scenes, and head for the gentler, slower, more traditional life of Europe. 

He goes on to talk about the old world charm, which more than simply being an endearing quality of Europe, actually truly connects us with history in a way that we cannot experience in the U.S. because of its young age compared to Europe – “This communing with the past – so much a part of the European travel experience – provides solace, and a sense of human connection and continuity that awes me.”

Featuring a picture of Café de Flore in Paris, one is reminded of the slowness of life in Europe and the afternoons spent at the café with an impeccable espresso or cappuccino and good conversation.