gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Category Archives: Travel

Colorado dreamin’

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Although I live in a big city now, I grew up in a small city and have always had an affinity for the outdoors, nature, and that country feeling. This is what drew me to live in a small town in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, and it’s something I long for now that I’m in the big city.

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I went to Colorado a few weeks ago for a bachelorette party and to visit a friend who moved there from Chicago a year ago. We went on a couple hikes at Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. The magnitude of the Rocky Mountains is hard to grasp, and while beautiful and majestic, the rockiness and brown tone makes them feel a bit cold. They don’t, at least for me, elicit a warm welcoming feeling. They’re big and intimidating, and I tend to prefer a greener aesthetic. It makes me realize that what I like about the Berkshires is that because they are smaller they feel cozier, more approachable, and they envelope you with a kind of protective embrace. The distinct change of seasons in the northeast takes the hills on a journey from beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall, to green in the spring and summer, and snow-covered in the winter. But enough about the Berkshires…I don’t mean to take away from the Rocky Mountains, which are magnificent in their own right.

Garden of Gods was interesting because of the beautiful and bizarre rock formations that are a bright burnt orange/red color. It’s fascinating to think about how these rocks formed over time and what gave them the color they so gracefully wear. Prior to going to Colorado I didn’t know that it had some desert characteristics, and not having been to a desert before I was quite in awe of the colors.

Our hike was about five and a half miles long, and while not difficult, we were all feeling the altitude. Although relieved that we didn’t have to fight off any predators, I was a little bit disappointed that the only wildlife we saw included a lizard and a rabbit.

The hike at Rocky Mountain National Park felt much more intimate than the one at Garden of Gods because there were hardly any people on the trail that we chose, which was both peaceful and a bit scary because my mind wandered to the bears that might be lurking around and the fact that it would probably take a while for anyone to find us. Little did I know, the Rocky Mountains are only home to black bears, not brown bears, although there are mountain lions (which didn’t even cross my mind, thankfully!). This hike was only a couple miles long, and while I had adjusted to the altitude by this point, even though we were quite a bit higher than at Garden of the Gods (11,000 feet!), it was a bit more up and down and the trail was much more wooded and felt more secluded. The trail brought us to a beautiful and unexpected valley with a creek, offering the perfect spot for our picnic lunches. The only wildlife spotted on this hike was some kind of small beaver in the creek and it was cute! But I was constantly scared of seeing a bear! The drive to the trail was spectacular on a one way dirt road. We were committed and there was no going back.

My short time in Colorado doing a couple hikes has definitely given me the hiking bug. It made me sad to think that I hardly did any hiking when I lived in the Berkshires, especially since there were various trails a 10-15 minute drive from my house; whereas the Rocky Mountain National Park was an hour and half drive from Denver. Until the Berkshires and I meet again… 🙂

The virtue of place

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Places can take over the destinies of people who live in them. If you learn to listen, they tell you what they need and how to do it.

Charlotte Horton

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This resonates with me as I think about my grandparents’ house in Massachusetts that I helped renovate when I lived there for a year (full disclosure – I did not do the work…we hired contractors). I was only there a short time, but it felt like home almost instantly. Of course, it was familiar to me since I had visited my grandparents every year growing up, but I didn’t always love it. I actually hated going there when I was younger because it was so isolated and my grandparents didn’t have a TV (I couldn’t understand how anyone could function without a TV!), and I felt like there was nothing to do there. I didn’t appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding Berkshires. My connection to the house and to the Berkshires weighs heavily on my mind, especially now, as I was just there for a visit and we are seriously considering selling the house. It’s hard to know how we’ll all feel when that day comes, but for me it will probably feel like giving away a part of me since I have such a love for it.

When I moved there the house was outdated for sure, so doing some renovations was a no-brainer. Some, in fact (like the primary bathroom), had to be done out of necessity because the floor boards were rotting and we felt as though the floor would fall from under us any day. So that was the first major project and it was a total gut. Next up was painting almost every room, which hadn’t been done in decades. In the dining it involved removing the dark brown grass wallpaper (which made the room feel so dark and small), and painting it white. We also replaced the linoleum tile floor with a pretty laminate wood floor. We then gutted the small powder bath. In the kitchen we put a new tile floor in, new granite countertops, a new tile backsplash, new stainless steel appliances, a new sink and faucet, and new hardware on the cabinets. The cabinets are not in perfect shape, but I actually love the stain on them, which goes perfectly with the mid-century modern style of the house. Two bedrooms in the walk-out basement got new laminate wood floors, and we put new berber-like carpet in the family room in the basement. On the exterior, a new roof was put on, and some landscaping was done, like taking out trees and bushes in the backyard to improve the view of the mountains.

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In a recent New York Times Style Magazine article, Charlotte Horton discusses her experience renovating a dilapidated castle in Tuscany built on Etruscan foundations. While my renovation of my grandparents’ was on a much smaller scale than Hoton’s castle renovation, especially because I made modern updates without really considering the period of the house and I didn’t have to worry about restoring anything within a historical context, I can certainly relate to her desire of going back to her family’s roots and setting up her own roots there. I felt like I set up roots in Massachusetts where my grandparents lived for several years, even though their true original roots were in Europe. For Horton it was more than just restoring the castle though. She wanted to have an impact, and still does, on ecology and food – on the way that people interact with and cultivate the land around them and think about where their food comes from. If people can make judgments about their food, she believes, they will be better equipped to make judgments about all sorts of things in life, which we are in dire need of these days.

“Great Wide Open” – Brennan Kilbane

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I went to Williamstown, MA a couple weeks ago (one of my favorite places on earth). On my way there, during the 14 hour Amtrak train ride, I was flipping through Allure magazine and came across an article by Brennan Kilbane entitled “Great Wide Open” about the great outdoors and how we should be spending more time out in it. How fitting considering I was on my way to the beautiful Berkshires. I love being surrounded by inspiring landscape and I feel happiest when there is space to breathe around me, rather than crowded by a city. There’s definitely something therapeutic about the freedom to listen to the birds, smell the manure (call me crazy, I don’t care!), and look up at the sky and admire the stars.

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Kilbane brings to light the staggering statistic that more than half of us spend less than five hours a week outside. He points out the incongruity between how drawn we are to natural products and the aura of the outdoors, and the effort we make to actually spend time outside, which is very little. Research shows that being outside is good for us in every way, from our skin to our brain and our emotional well-being. I guess this explains why I love the Berkshires so much. So let’s get outside!

“If the Great Outdoors had a LinkedIn account, it would be highly connected (happy to introduce you to the most epic sunsets and hiking trails), it would get ringing endorsements from the world’s top scientists (lifts mood! lowers cortisol!), and its stunning profile would be viewed my millions.” – Brennan Kilbane 

Charleston, SC

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On our recent trip to Savannah, GA, we also went to Charleston, SC for a couple days. Initially I was equally excited to see both Charleston and Savannah, but I loved Savannah so much that I was sad to leave it to go to Charleston. So I think that alone clouded my impression of Charleston a bit because I compared it to Savannah rather than approaching it with an open mind.The first thing we did there was walk down King Street, which was perhaps not the best introduction because it felt very commercial and touristy. Our hotel was also not in the best location and it was a bit of a hike to the older more historic part of the city.

Drayton Hall

On our way into Charleston we stopped at Drayton Hall located along the Ashley River. We had an excellent tour guide who was well-versed in researched plantation history, and it was interesting to see it more of a raw shape than other houses we visited on our trip, which have been more heavily restored. The goal at Drayton Hall is geared towards preservation rather than restoration; that is, preserving it the way it was found, not restoring it to a certain historical time period. The grounds at Drayton Hall are beautiful and littered with big old oak trees, one of my favorite things about the south. We walked down to the river and tried to imagine what it was for the Draytons to take in that view everyday when they lived there in the 1700’s. Oddly enough there is an armadillo problem there and they had traps set out around the house. I have never seen an armadillo and I certainly wasn’t eager to see one in the wild while we were there! Apparently they try to burrow into the house at night. We wanted to go to Magnolia Plantation, which is nearby, but didn’t have enough time.

Calhoun Mansion 

In Charleston we saw several house museums, as we did in Savannah. First up was Calhoun Mansion, which is featured in the movie adaption of Nicholas Sparks‘s The Notebook. It serves as Allie’s parents’ home. It is now a private residence after having been condemned and heavily restored, and it’s filled with exotic antiques from all over the world. The owner of the house lives on the top floor and can apparently be seen walking around town with his two whippets (I think?). Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and poised, and after the tour we found out that she’s a only college student! Very impressive.

Walking around all the narrow streets lined with gorgeous houses in the historic district along Battery Park was everything I pictured Charleston to be. And seeing them decorated for the holidays was magical. My mom and I definitely got some inspiration for decorating our house for Christmas since my parents live in an older Georgian style home. Along our walks we saw a flock of guinea fowl waltzing down someone’s driveway (beautiful birds by the way), a couple in a horse-drawn carriage who had just gotten engaged, and beautiful historic house after historic house. We did go past Rainbow Row, but it was different than I had pictured it. It’s a somewhat congested area, and obviously very touristy, but for some reason I thought it was closer to the water.

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View from Battery Park 

Rainbow Row

Nathaniel Russell House

We also toured the Nathaniel Russell House, which was perhaps my favorite, the Aiken-Rhett House, and the Edmondston-Alston House (another favorite). The Nathaniel Russell House has a beautiful staircase and music room, and once again, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable. She spoke in depth about the restoration of the master bedroom, down to the colors, drapery, and bedding. The Aiken-Rhett House is a self-guided tour, which was informative and it was kind of nice to go through the house at your own pace, but I prefer having a tour guide who can interject little anecdotes here and there. This one really highlights the slave quarters, which was definitely hard to swallow. It is also preserved rather than restored, so it felt a bit like walking through a ruin, which was a cool experience. The Edmondston-Alston House is right on the water and has a beautiful  multi-level side porch, which is a very common architectural feature in Charleston. Our tour guide at this one was a very sweet woman who is a transplant to Charleston from the northeast. Not a bad way to spend your retirement…

Aiken-Rhett House

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Edmondston-Alston House

Finding a place to eat dinner that wasn’t $50 for an entree and a two hour wait was a challenge. Apparently the holidays are one of the busiest times for Charleston in terms of tourism, and places were expensive and booked. We did have the best meal of the whole trip in Charleston though, at a place called Tradd’s on Bay Street. It offers a modern American cuisine and I had an amazing gnocchi dish with lobster as my entree. We also got a liver pate to start with and ended with some kind of interesting fruity pastry dessert. The atmosphere felt southern and bougie and I loved it.

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Of course we walked through the City Market in search of sweetgrass baskets, a tradition that has been passed down through generations. There are so many artisans selling their sweetgrass creations and they’re all very sweet. You get to watch them as they weave the baskets, and it’s hard to choose who to buy from! My parents bought a basket and I bought a floral cross (I am not religious but it was so cute I couldn’t resist). It’s also signed by the artisan. There were kids selling sweetgrass flowers on the street, and we bought some of those. Sweet sweet kids. One thing that struck me about Charleston was how foggy it was! It was dramatic at night and we saw several ghost tours around the city around 10 PM one night.

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City Market

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We also spent a morning in Beaufort, SC, which is a super cute little historic town. The waterfront area downtown has a nice walkway with oyster shells embedded in the sidewalk! I was so taken aback because it was the first time I had seen something like that. There are also oyster shells stacked up against the seawall, which was a cool sight. There are some restaurants and cafes along this walkway as well. We ate lunch outside in January! Definitely a first for me…We walked around a neighborhood that had a lot of cute bungalows and we walked through a church cemetery where a mass had just gotten out. It was nice to see locals leaving church. It seems like a tight-knit community. We also walked through a military cemetery that had beautiful uniform grey tombstones with crosses and they were each decked with a wreath for the holidays.

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After Beaufort we went to Hilton Head, SC and we drove for what felt like forever to get to the coast to see the ocean. I pictured Hilton Head as a small quaint island, but it’s actually very suburban and exclusive with gated communities. We definitely weren’t crazy about it, but it was worth the drive once we got to see the ocean. It is spectacular! And it just goes on as far as you can see. Standing on a beach looking out onto the ocean in January was also a first for me…and something I would definitely like to repeat.

Hilton Head 

Savannah by night

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Throughout our trip I struggled with wanting to take pictures with my digital SLR camera, but not wanting to carry it around with me all the time, and not wanting to give up the convenience of my phone, which takes pretty good pictures. Somehow pictures are just more easily organized on my phone, especially with the GPS capability that labels where the pictures were taken.

The night we got back to Savannah after going to Charleston for a couple days we took a walk around Savannah’s squares at dusk, which was so pleasant and relaxing. I took this opportunity to get my big camera out and I got a few good shots. I’m definitely missing Savannah’s warmth and charm right about now as I look out my window at a snowstorm in chilly Chicago.

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Savannah, GA

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I went to Savannah, GA on a family trip for the holidays this year and I absolutely loved it. I’m really beginning to like the south, at least what I’ve seen of it. It seems that every time I go there I like it more and more. Savannah felt historic and charming, and touristy, but not too touristy. The beautiful squares are quiet retreats amid the touristy spots. The weather in late December/early January was amazing, but I think it was unseasonably warm. It was 70s during the day and 50s-60s at night. I will say it was definitely humid and my hair was big the entire time we were there. It never adjusted. It was 77 degrees in Savannah on the day we left and 27 degrees when we landed in Chicago, which felt absolutely devastating. Seeing the planes get de-iced at O’Hare was not the sight I wanted to come home to after a lovely warm vacation.

We did a lot of house museums while we were there, eight in six days! Not all in Savannah, also some in Charleston, SC. My family loves our art and history. I love hearing about the families who built these mansions and the lives they lived in them, not to mention just getting to look at the stunning architecture. Hearing about the slave history was definitely tough though. We did, of course, go to the Mercer Williams House, the setting of John Berendt‘s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and we stood in the dining room where the murder took place.

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Mercer Williams House 

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Statue represented on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, now at the Telfair Academy 

We also went to Owens-Thomas House, Andrew Low House, Telfair Academy, and the Jepson Center. The Jepson Center, designed by Moshe Safdie, is a beautifully light and airy space, inspiring for looking at art. They had a very nice exhibition on Monet to Matisse and an interesting exhibition on Savannah artist Bertha Husband.

Jepson Center

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Andrew Low House 

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Owens-Thomas House

Telfair Academy 

River Street feels a bit touristy, but there are definitely good restaurants to be found there, like Huey’s and Olympia Cafe. We heard Vic’s on the River is supposed to be really good, but we couldn’t get it. And we celebrated New Year’s Eve at Boar’s Head.

Cathedral of John the Baptist 

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City Market 

The city market is a cute area if you’re looking for a place to grab a drink and sit outside and just enjoy your surroundings. SCAD‘s presence around town is sprinkled all over, and they have a cool shop where they sell things made by their students. You can find great gifts there or a souvenir for yourself to remember your trip!

The squares were my favorite part of Savannah. I can just picture walking my dog through the squares if I lived there, and reading a book on a bench while taking in the warmth and greenery. It was amazing to see so much greenery and even flowers in December/January!

Walking down Oglethorpe Avenue I felt like I was in New Orleans. The big old oak trees create a canopy over the street, as they do over the squares too, and the architecture lining the street is just magnificent. The median in the middle makes it feel like the most important street in town. The sense of history and southern pride is definitely well-preserved and you can feel it all around you. The architecture is a mix of Federalist, Italianate, and Neoclassical.

“I wish to belong to it…”

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This is perfect.

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I couldn’t find a digital version of this article from Driftless magazine, so bear with my pictures. Driftless pays homage to the coziness of the Midwest, which I find delightful since I’m from Indiana. “Who We Are at the Edge” by Michele Popadich is an ode to the struggle between the city and the outdoors, which I can definitely relate to after moving to Chicago from a small town nestled in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts (which I absolutely loved)! It’s not that I don’t love Chicago, because I do for its diversity and cultural richness, but man I wish I could go for a drive in a beautiful, peaceful countryside sometimes…escape to a place that allows for reflection and renewal.

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Popadich points out an interesting conundrum of wanting to belong to nature, but feeling like an outsider looking in no matter how hard one tries to be fully immersed in it. I think this is especially true for those of us who live in a city and have to travel to nature for some respite. Perhaps those who live within nature feel more connected to it. Either way, how lovely is it to get away from the buildings and cars and people and pollution, and see some trees and cows and take in the fresh smells of the earth?? Trying to feel as one with nature as possible by absorbing all of its splendor 🙂

The photographs are by Isabel Fajardo. Check out her nature photos, but also all the rest because they are magnificent!

Present vs. Past

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Ok one more shout out to The New York Times Style Magazine Letter to the Editor…for now at least! “Present Tense” by Hanya Yanagihara spoke to me because in it she discusses how different the sense of history is in the U.S. versus other parts of the world. She mentions Rome specifically and its deep history that is literally alive all around you. Growing up in Rome I had the unbelievable fortune of experiencing this everyday, without realizing the magnitude of it at the time.

Any first-time (or hundredth-time, for that matter) traveler to Rome can’t help but marvel at how lightly, and with what matter-of-factness, the Italians live among antiquities: A walk down the street is a stroll across thousands of years; the 2,000-plus-year-old Largo di Torre Argentina, excavated in the late 1920s, was where Caesar died, but it is also where the city’s cats congregate for a sun-drunk loll. Other cities would have placed such a monument in a museum, behind walls and off-limits — here, though, there is so much history that such an approach is impossible. Instead, the Italians have learned that every building, every structure, is a palimpsest, and that their lives within it, superannuated or brief, contribute another layer to its long narrative.

It’s true that Romans walk around their city with ease  and a nonchalantness about their surroundings. I mean how lucky are they to have been plopped there by birth and can call that parcel of this world their home. How lucky was I?? And as Yanagihara points out, Romans contribute to their long, ancient history, in whatever finite way possible.

The oldness of a place like Rome, and the newness of the U.S. is apparent in the way that we, as Americans, approach our daily life, versus the Romans. The impatience and instant gratification of American culture is a testament to this. We don’t have a long history to look back on, and therefore looking forward, with a sense of restlessness, is the only way we know. Romans, on the other hand, take life as a stroll, literally and figuratively. They have such an extensive history to look back on and to reflect on how they got to where they are  now, that they are not in a hurry to go anywhere. I think this is true in the larger scheme of things, but it is also apparent to anyone who visits Rome and has to slow down their pace to match that of the Romans. While this may be frustrating for Americans, I think slowing down is only a positive practice.

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!

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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