gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Category Archives: Travel

Los Angeles

1

My first trip to California was to the great sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, and it was actually quite a bit as I had pictured it. I’ve heard people describe it as a series of suburbs connected by 5 lane highways, and we certainly used them to get around to various neighborhoods. It was interesting to try to guess how long it would take for us to get to each place; not that we had to do much guessing with GPS, but as a friend of ours there put it, everything is anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes away. We were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to deal with the nightmarish traffic that is attributed to L.A. Maybe it’s not as bad as they say, or maybe we just got lucky!

Our flight got in late, but our introduction to the city at a friend’s apartment in North Hollywood with a beautiful, tropical courtyard was already a nice change from the chilly midwest (our trip was in early May). The first thing I noticed the next morning as we started out with a driving tour through the Hollywood Hills neighborhood was the vegetation. I was so in love with the vegetation – all of the cacti, the variety of palm trees, combined with the sun and blue skies, is bound to raise anyone’s spirits. I also really enjoyed seeing the architecture of the houses, colorful stucco, and tile roofs. Driving up and down the winding roads of the Hollywood Hills was an amazing introduction to L.A. because for me it was the epitome of why we travel – to be transported and immersed into a world different from our own. The houses, their precarious driveways, and the views provided an invigorating look into the rich and famous culture of L.A. I felt transported into a movie!

Next up on the agenda was a hike at Griffith Park, and my were our Midwestern asses not prepared! By all accounts, it’s not a difficult hike, if you can even call it a hike. I’m sure the locals consider it a walk. But living in the Midwest, we are not used to that kind of terrain. It was a beautiful walk though! We stopped by the Griffith Observatory (hello La La Land fans!) and admired its Greek and Beaux-Arts architecture, while eyeing the Hollywood sign in the distance. And to think that I wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign…nope!

The next day we drove to downtown L.A. to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, and The Broad art museum. The concert hall was a sight to behold, as the massive steel structures converged together and gleamed in the light. We couldn’t leave downtown before looking for the Cecil Hotel, which wasn’t as eerie as we had pictured after watching Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix. We also didn’t want to leave downtown before at least poking our heads into skid row. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely sad and shocking. I was surprised by the fact that there are businesses there that people who don’t live in skid row go to, and they just walk past all of the disorder and bleakness around them without blinking an eye – just a day in the neighborhood, conducting normal business. Our last stop in the area was the fashion district, with the seemingly endless rows of clothing stores and vendor tents set up on the sidewalks.

That afternoon we went to LACMA. I love art, so I always try to go to an art museum when I visit a new city. Your eyes are delighted before you even enter, as the architecture of the whole museum campus is enchanting. The bright red steel elements juxtaposed with the stone, and the palm trees hugging the museum’s facade on all sides is worth seeing, even if you don’t go inside. It reminded me of Centre Pompidou in Paris. With an outdoor restaurant and bar, and the iconic Urban Light display by Chris Burden (hello No Strings Attached fans!), it’s a multifaceted gem of a destination. We saw a wonderful exhibition on the artist Yoshitomo Nara, who paints captivating large-scale portraits.

We drove through Beverly Hills and, of course, played Weezer’s Beverly Hills. We walked down Rodeo Drive, stopped into some stores, and pretended that we could actually afford anything there. Rodeo Drive was as I had pictured, with beautiful and glamorous people everywhere, photoshoots taking place on various corners, and a collection of stores that screams capitalism and consumerism. But again, beautiful with the palm trees and fancy cars everywhere you look that most people only get to see in the movies.

We wanted to experience a California beach and the Pacific Ocean, so the next day we went to Santa Monica and Venice. The Santa Monica pier was packed! Walking along the boardwalk was a touristy experience and not something that I would necessarily do again. There was music, there were dogs, there was fair food, and people excitedly/nervously posing with snakes around their necks. We then set our sights on a calmer kind of vibe and walked along the Venice canals – so pretty and relaxing. Venice Beach was only a short walk away and we got to enjoy the water and the sand, and watched surfers do their thing in the Pacific Ocean.

Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset en route to Calabasas for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a gorgeous drive with sweeping views of the ocean, and it started to get more hilly and winding as we got closer to Calabasas. The restaurant was tucked away in the hills and had an upscale cabin feel with a decadent menu featuring wild game. It certainly did not disappoint!

Before our trip, my boyfriend and I did a lot of research on restaurants by category/cuisine and we watched City of Gold, the documentary about food critic Jonathan Gold. Inspired by Gold’s passion for food in L.A., we tried to go to some of the restaurants featured in the documentary. Great documentary!

American Honey & Nomadland

0

I’ve watched American Honey and Nomadland over the past few weeks, both for the first time, and what a happy coincidence that I watched the two in the vicinity of one another. I wanted to see American Honey in theaters when it first came out, but it had a short run at my local movie theater and I missed it. So I finally made a point to stream it at home. After all the accolades that Nomadland received at the Golden Globe awards this year, I was curious to watch it, even though it didn’t really spark my interest previously.

I loved American Honey for its dreamy, whimsical, and intimate glimpse of a facet of life that, while all too real for those living it, is not as familiar to many people. I kept trying to put myself in Star’s shoes, the main character who is so closely followed by the camera throughout the movie. The intimate camera work and focus on the main character reminded me of Blue Is the Warmest Color, another movie which I love so much and is one of my favorites. As I was trying to put myself in Star’s shoes and imagine how desperate she must have felt with her circumstances to go on this cross-country adventure with strangers, I was reminded of how vastly different peoples’ circumstances and experiences, which are beyond one’s control, can be. I admired her bravery and her resolve, even her recklessness, which always somehow ended up in her favor. I loved the music and the lighting that created the dream-like aura throughout the movie, despite its sad, melancholic undertones. Each character so interesting in their own right, making up the troupe of nomads in search of any glimmer of triumph and jubilation – any reason to celebrate as a means to escape their daily grind to get by. Yet they find that their camaraderie and continued pursuit of adventure is perhaps enough to carry on.

What I loved about watching Nomadland soon after American Honey, was the similar attention to landscape and the characters’ surroundings in both, and seeing the nomadic lifestyle from different perspectives due to the difference in age of the nomads. In American Honey, they’re constantly chasing that elusive euphoric feeling fueled by drugs and alcohol. In Nomadland, they’re chasing exploration of land, exploration of self, and bonding with others who harbor the same nomadic lifestyle. The landscape in Nomadland, a central character in itself, is breathtaking, and Frances McDormand’s performance is so simple in some ways, but speaks volumes in its simplicity.

Both movies are about solitude, as a natural facet of our human condition, but also about the strides we make to connect with others. Both are about our relationship with nature and our surroundings, even if that place is not fixed and is always changing as we’re propelled toward novelty and transformation. Both mostly star real people as opposed to actors, which is striking for their performance that isn’t really much of a performance at all.

Paris

0

Seeing these ‘Then & Now’ pictures of Paris by Eugene Atget are striking, showing the parallel between the late 1800s/early 1900s and the past several months as the pandemic has taken hold of the world and forced people to stay at home. I have loved photography since I was in high school and took a few black & white dark room photography classes. I was also in the photography club that met on Fridays after school. I have been in awe of Atget’s photographs since my family took a trip to France for three weeks one summer when I was in high school. His photographs are eerie, majestic, and magical depictions of Paris, laced in fog and devoid of people. He achieved these dreamy scenes by getting up early and taking photographs before the streets swelled with Parisians and tourists.

The present day photos of Paris during the pandemic were taken by Mauricio Lima, who has followed in Atget’s footsteps and recreated the same scenes. The lesson learned from both Atget’s and Lima’s depictions of Paris is that people may need Paris, but Paris does not need people. It stands in its grandeur, with or without its inhabitants and visitors. I don’t quite know what to make of this, whether to be comforted or insulted, but I think we can all rest assured that the magic of Paris can endure and outlast adversity.

Time Out

0

Man coming back from vacation is the WORST. It almost makes me wonder if it’s worth going on vacation because going back to your daily routine is just too hard. But I think it’s a reminder of how important it is to take time off and, if anything, we need to take more time off. What constitutes ample time off is relative to who you ask or where you live. In the U.S., if we compare our time off to most of Europe, it pales. Their standard seems to be 4-6+ weeks off, while we get 2 weeks off in the U.S (if that). But, if we compare the U.S. and Japan, a country that doesn’t seem to have much of a work/life balance at all, 2 weeks might sound like a luxury. In any case, I live in the U.S. and I wish I lived in Europe! If, for no other reason (which of course there are many), for their generous vacation time.

I went to Michigan for a week with my boyfriend over the summer and it was my first week off of work in a year and a half. I realize that complaining about not having enough time off is a luxury these days when I should simply be grateful to have a job. And I am VERY grateful to have a job (for the moment at least). But I think we still need to uphold the importance of time off for one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, if one’s job is labor-intensive.

The week in Michigan was very much needed, and fun and relaxing and all of the things that a vacation should be. We went to Traverse City, Beaver Island, and Mackinac Island. We drove to Traverse City and took ferries to the two islands. It felt quite safe, as everyone wore masks and all of the places we went to provided hand sanitizer. Each place was different and we stopped at some unexpected places along the way, which were lovely surprises!

The setting of Traverse City is beautiful, on a bay of Lake Michigan. It’s a great place if you like water activities – sailing, kayaking, etc., and maybe an even better place if you like wine! There are several vineyards and wineries where you can sample the fruits of the land. We also stumbled upon a cider place called Sutton Bay Ciders that has an incredible view of the bay! Back on track, we went to a winery called Mawby, which specializes in sparkling wine and is nestled in a rolling vineyard. Next stop was Hop Lot, a brewery in a forest-like setting. The beer and pretzel we got were delicious. We explored Leland, a small historic fishing town, and got some amazing smoked whitefish at Carlson’s Fishery.

Back in Traverse City, we grabbed dinner at The Little Fleet, which is a parking lot full of food trucks and a bar that serves very tasty cocktails. The food trucks offer a variety of good eats and it was a fun spot to people watch. There were also lots of dogs all getting up close and personal to get to know each other. We checked out Grand Traverse Commons, which is an old mental hospital that has been converted into shops, restaurants, and apartments. Trattoria Stella was a real treat – Italian fine dining in a wine cellar in the basement of the former mental hospital, with a high quality menu and excellent service.

If you like biking, kayaking, and beer, Kayak, Bike, & Brew is the activity for you! It’s a four hour tour to four breweries and you get to each one by bike and kayak. You get some exercise, try some beers, and meet people on the tour. It’s a fun time!

We stayed at a goat farm Air B&B one night just outside of Traverse City, which was my favorite place that we stayed at. It’s no secret to those who know me that I LOVE goats and that I dream of having a little goat farm of my own someday. So it was really cool to get to spend some time with the goats and run around in the pasture with them. I even got up at the crack of dawn in the morning to watch the milking! The guest suite in the farmhouse was modern, minimal, and clearly Scandinavian-inspired. It was perfect – the kind of place I’d like to call home in my future. The farm also had a couple cows, chickens, and vegetables. Oh, and we were greeted by amazing goat cheese, crackers and jam.

Beaver Island was an experience. It was quite remote, which we knew before going, but I think it was even more remote than we had anticipated. There are a few main roads that are paved and lit, but most of the island is made up of a forest with dirt roads throughout that are not lit at all. Driving on these dirt roads at night felt like we were driving towards our death in a scary movie. We had a very interesting and hospitable Air B&B host who gave us a tour of the island and told us about the island’s history, including its spiritual nature. He even made us breakfast one morning! I don’t know if I would have taken notice of the island’s spiritual presence had he not told us about it, but there clearly seems to be an energy of sorts there. I am not a spiritual person so I can’t say much about it, but there was a special feeling on the island. Our host owns a meadow, Tara’s Meadow, which, after discovering it, is what drew him to stay on the island after visiting out of curiosity for its history and spiritual nature.

The island’s shores are very pretty and serene. The water is crystal clear! The beaches are rocky though. There was plenty of social distancing on the beaches – two to five other people besides us at most. Having a beautiful beach to ourselves was amazing. We made our way from one beach to another around the island’s perimeter, and each one was more beautiful than the last. We went on a couple hikes, and visited Protar’s Home and tomb. Feodor Protar was an Estonian immigrant who became a healer on the island and is highly revered there even now long after his death.  The temperature was a little chilly, despite it being the first week of August, but our Air B&B host told us that it was unusual for it to be on the chillier side at that time of year. So unfortunately the water was cold, but the Beaver Island locals didn’t seem bothered by it. We watched the most beautiful sunset at Donegal Bay, and it was just so colorful and picturesque.

The ferry ride back to the mainland is a little over two hours, but it’s a nice and comfortable ferry. Charlevoix is home base for the ferry, which is a cute town on the harbor, if a bit touristy.

The charms of Mackinac Island stand the test of time. I had been there once before as a kid with my family, and it was mostly as I remembered it. If you haven’t been, or don’t know about it, there are no motorized vehicles on the island. So you have to get around on foot, bike, or horse & carriage! There is something refreshing and endearing about seeing everyone ride around on bicycles and ‘parking’ them to go into shops. I will say that seeing the horses truck along with a carriage full of people or luggage made me sad, but hopefully they are strong enough to handle it. We rented bikes and rode all the way around the island (which is 8 miles), as well as on smaller trails throughout the island. One thing I noticed this time that I hadn’t noticed when I was there the first time was the variety of the island’s landscape and vegetation. I didn’t realize how wooded and hilly it is! It’s beautiful. I wish we would have had more time to explore the island and take some hikes because the trails looked really dreamy. We visited a couple historic forts and Arch Rock.

We stayed at a bed & breakfast that apparently is quite haunted. My boyfriend likes scary movies and stories, so we bought a book about the hauntings of Mackinac Island. It turns out that our B&B is one of the most haunted on the island! Just my luck…I don’t like spooky stories and I couldn’t sleep. We played a really fun and beautiful game of mini golf right on the water at sunset with glow in the dark golf balls. The island was crowded with tourists, but not as much as it normally is. The crowds can be unpleasant, so I’m glad that it wasn’t to full capacity.

On our last day we stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes as we were leaving northern Michigan. It was a rainy day, but we still hiked up to Pyramid Point through a beautiful forest full of birch trees (my favorite). Seeing them in all of their glory made me so happy. The rain and the fog made it all the more magical. The view of the lake from Pyramid Point is also quite stunning, with the vastness of Lake Michigan sprawling out before you. We were really lucky with the weather all week and the last day of the trip was our only rainy day.

Please remind yourself of how important it is to take time off, and unplug and recharge and adventure! I know that I’ll need to continue to remind myself of this.

Virtual voyages

3

One of the biggest disappointments for people amid this pandemic has been the cancelled travel plans and not knowing when we’ll able to plan a trip again in the future. I really enjoyed this article by Reif Larsen in the New York Times advocating for virtual travel since, well, it’s our only option right now. I especially liked his virtual voyage to Charleston, SC with his son because I went there last winter with my parents and we were enamored by its southern charm. His voyage was powered by Google Street View, which albeit is amazing that we’re able to see the world through the lens of Google, it doesn’t compare to being there and feeling the history and beauty around you. I admire Larsen’s creativity in recreating the trip as much as possible, complete with landing at the airport and getting a rental car to navigate through Charleston.

Larsen also identifies why we travel in the first place, which is not only to see places we want to explore, but also, or perhaps mainly, to chase that ever elusive feeling of getting away –

“This is why we travel: to force ourselves to take a breath, to bend space and time, even if just for a moment. We go there so we can come back and appreciate the here.”

The not being able to get away that we’re experiencing right now is wearing down on all of us. In an effort to find new ways to get away, maybe we consider how spending time at home, which we might not normally do, can be our new refuge. Instead of resenting our homes because we have no choice but to be there, let’s try to embrace them and treat them like the humble escapes they can be. I personally love my new lifestyle of spending more time at home and all of the warm cozy feelings that go along with being at home, including endorphin-producing bonding opportunities with pets (who seem to enjoy this newfound abundance of company and time together just as much, if not more, then we do).

A positive effect of the quarantine is a healthier and more sustainable environment, at least for now while many continue working from home and generally staying put more than usual. This certainly makes a good case for virtual voyages rather than contributing to pollution with air travel and car travel.

Larsen also points out that there are other ways to travel other than exploring physical places. Reading a piece of literature can take you on a voyage to a real or imagined place. Or create your own story about whatever kind of magical place your imagination allows. These seem to be lost arts, but worth revisiting in a time like this.

Colorado dreamin’

2

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.

IMG_6951

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

0

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

11231855_10206866019421385_4100164792939446746_o

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.

22tmag-potentino-slide-TWQK-superJumbo

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

0

44BA1FE7-6670-4A9B-BA06-A3CCC52B8CEC

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.

54E93A9B-4FD0-4A96-82F9-A7752E5FD8BC

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

0

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.

IMG_4086

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

IMG_4084

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.

Tradd’s

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.

IMG_3969

City Market

IMG_4018

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.

Beaufort 

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

0

DSC_0336

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.

DSC_0328