Edinburgh: The Scenic 360º

Edinburgh: The Scenic 360º

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Nelson Monument

When we arrived in Edinburg, my husband and I took a cab from the train station to our hotel near the University area. We quickly dumped our luggage in the room, changed shoes and headed out the double glass lobby doors to explore the beautiful city on the shores of the Firth of Forth. There was no plan really, I remember printing out a list of must see’s and figured we’d stumble on something amazing soon enough – the city is, after all, gorgeous with a wealth of historical and natural wonders. We wandered down along the lively Royal Mile then took a detour through an old atmospheric cemetery built on a hill. It was when we reached a clearing at the top that a recent travel review appeared vividly alive directly in front of me,“This small, steep hill scattered with architectural oddities and follies were once supposed to make Edinburgh the Athens of the North,” and I knew exactly where we were: Calton Hill. Oddities work for me, because I prefer the quirky side of history and this was no exception, a jumble of monuments that looked as though they’d been dropped from the sky above, landed hard and created a backdrop to the astonishing views of the area. From here we climbed Nelson’s Monument to the top viewing balcony, and despite gusty winds we enjoyed the scenic 360 of Princess street, the New Town, Leith, Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat.

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National Monument of Scotland, a memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic wars. Never finished, nonetheless lovely, and a popular place to simply hang out and enjoy the views.
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New Town, built between 1767 ~ 1800, is known for its neoclassical and Georgian architecture, and is considered a masterpiece of city planning. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Inspired by a Greek temple of the Four Winds, the Old City Observatory, designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818.
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The official residence of the British Monarch of Scotland, once home to the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots.
Princess Street featuring the distinguished clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel
Princess Street featuring the distinguished clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel

Takeaways from our visit to Edinburgh:

  1. Three days including travel to and from London was barely enough time to scratch the surface of this fabulous UNESCO World Heritage city.  Four or five days would have been reasonable for us, and I’d love to push-off to the Scottish Highlands from here when we return someday.
  2. Edinburgh Castle is a must see, and I highly recommend the free tour. Our guide was lively, kept our interest and educated our group with important history in all of 30 minutes. Don’t miss the charming St. Margaret’s’ Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
  3. We focused most of our time in Old Town. On our last evening we wandered over to New Town for a delicious dinner in the welcoming Olive Branch Bistro, when we sadly realized we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore this lovely half of the city, including the waterfront area of Leith and Dean Village.
  4. In my last post, Climbing Arthur’s Seat, I wrote about Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. If you visit someday, don’t forget to pack your hiking shoes and climb to the top of this beautiful dormant volcano.
  5. My blogging friend, Restless Jo, posted a wonderful piece on Holyrood Palace, Clandestine Cloak and Dagger in Holyrood Palace last September. After reading her post last week, I deeply regretted not making the time to tour this site.
  6. We enjoyed wandering off to the little side streets of the Royal Mile in Old Town to get a feel for the city’s medieval history. My favorite street was Victoria Street, a charming curved road lined with restaurants and colorful shops; and below that the Grass Market, a historic marketplace lined with pubs and interesting architecture…all with a stunning view of Edinburgh Castle from above.
  7. The country’s most popular attraction: the National Museum of Scotland, it’s free and worth at least an hour or so if museums are your passion.
  8. Always do your research, and make a plan so you can use your time wisely…but for me the most important thing about travel is to remember to relax a little when you’re out and about, and to take advantage of the city’s sights, sounds, and especially the views.

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Santa Barbara, Naturally

Santa Barbara, Naturally

Traveling alone has never bothered me, and I often seek out the opportunity to wander through cities almost anywhere in the world. Coastal towns like Southern California’s Santa Barbara are more family and couple oriented, so on this visit I was more comfortable gravitating to the many stunning areas of natural beauty that surround the city.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse was completed in 1929. Its Spanish Moor designed complex is beautiful in of itself, and it offers the most jaw dropping views of the city, mountains and sea from the top of  its 85 foot “El Mirador”clock tower.

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A wealth of natural beauty: Climb into your car and head for the Pacific Coast Highway. Head south on the iconic 101 and take 150 towards Ojai Valley which is known for its hippy vibe, or drive north to the exit for Calif. 1 toward Lompac and experience the stunning Valley of Flowers, a nickname for an area known for producing most of the world’s flower seeds.  For a wonderfully detailed overview of the Santa Barbara area, along with suggestions for travel routes and destinations, you might enjoy reading Road Trip, researched by National Geographic writers.

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The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden deserves its own post, and I look forward to researching and writing one someday soon. Founded in 1926,  the SBBG’s mission is to display native California plants in natural settings. Highlights include a lovely redwood forest, a dam constructed in 1806 by Native Americans, as well as almost 6 miles of hiking trails. It is one of the prettiest gardens I have ever explored, and my visit was one of the most pleasant mornings I’ve spent anywhere, and if I were a local Santa Barbaran, I’d be a member.

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A trip to any coastal town requires a sunset at a favorite beach, so I chose Hendry’s on a busy Saturday evening. I love this photograph because it timeless. It captures a scene that is reminiscent of the 1900s, as well as the here and now, or maybe twenty years in the future. Our pull towards the sea is universal, and I often wonder as we stand there entranced looking far beyond the last breaker, if we’re all waiting for a some signal from the great mother ship.

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Like most places I’ve visited for the first (second, third…) time I felt as though I’d only scratched the surface of Santa Barbara. Next time I (we) go however, it will better planned with a more complete list of things to do. I need to check out the booming arts district and the wine tasting bars representing various local vineyards. And yes, I’ll make sure my husband double checks his calendar and see how he likes this hotel, The San Ysdiro Ranch, which looks to me like the perfect combination of peaceful retreat and vacation resort. While we’re on the subject of fabulous Southern California Beach towns, have you checked out Grace and Frankie on Netflix? Its kind of fun watching this older cast romp around their ageless life issues, and the setting is fabulous. The house where it’s filmed is as big of a star as the cast, and found some fun information on this interesting blog “Hooked on Houses.” Until next time…

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is fun, almost festive, and if you decide to go you’ll definitely never be lonely. My husband and I made the trek one cool Monday morning last fall and were both surprised to find the bridge trail buzzing with other travelers, busy locals, people out for a run, and a few pretty brave bikers. It’s the perfect activity for travelers who like to be outdoors and on the move. And there is no where else in the city where you can take in the beautiful NYC skyline as well as the borough of Brooklyn, the New York harbor and even run into a celebrity or two, all from the unique vantage point of a raised walkway on the top of an iconic suspension bridge.

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“The great appeal of the Brooklyn Bridge
is that the view is all around you”

If you’re in New York and interested in walking across the bridge to Brooklyn, head for lower Manhattan and look for the small park next to the Manhattan Municipal Building, a beautiful Beaux-Arts building and subway station. You can take a cab, Uber or ride the subway to get there, and easily get your bearings by joining the parade of bikers and walkers headed toward the bridge trail, or keep an eye out for signage. The exit off the bridge on the Brooklyn side is a little confusing, but we followed the path on the right which deposited us directly in front of a detailed map of the area. I highly recommend spending some time here! There are so many interesting neighborhoods, each with a unique history to absorb. We found the Dumbo section of Brooklyn enticing for its amazing views of the city, art galleries, restaurants, and interesting shops in repurposed warehouses. Lunch at the famous pizzeria Grimaldi’s almost seems mandatory (it was delicious) before the hike back to Manhattan. If you’re as curious as I was, the acronym for this wonderful neighborhood, “Dumbo” actually stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

The dappled sunlight celebrates the beauty of the Manhattan Bridge and the distant view of the Empire State Building.
The dappled sunlight celebrates the beauty of the Manhattan Bridge and the distant view of the Empire State Building.
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Autumn is the perfect time of year to explore New York City on foot.

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If you happen to arrive or depart lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall/Chambers Street subway station, make sure to look up and enjoy the views of the lovely vaulted ceiling of white Guastavino* ceiling tiles in the south arcade. The white columns and tile detail is truly stunning.  (*Spanish architect who patented the tile arch system in 1885.)

For More Information:

10 Spots in NYC for the Ultimate Skyline Views

Every Trail – Brooklyn Bridge Walk

NYC: One World

NYC: One World

I haven’t been able to spend much time in New York City in the last several years, and never experienced the powerful scene of the post 911 tragedy in person. Print media and images broadcast on television portrayed the horrific impact of the event, but I would have liked to have seen the rebuilding progress in person to offer my respect to the lives lost and to the thousands of people who worked so hard to give aid and rescue.

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My arrival fourteen years later to the World Trade Center depicted a completely different scene. As I write this today I am still humbled by the beauty of the site, and moved beyond words by the memorials to the victims. A peacefulness cloaks the sounds of construction and traffic, yet it still pulsates with a quiet energy.

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In the space where the Twin Towers once stood, waterfalls cascade into two enormous square memorial pools. The pools are surrounded with bronze panels inscribed with the names of all the 9/11 victims, as well as those who were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

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Beneath the tree-shaded memorial plaza is an underground museum with multimedia exhibits that tell the story of 9/11 and its aftermath.

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An impressive observatory on the 100th floor of the newly completed Freedom Tower provides 360 degree views of the city and beyond.

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Views of the three bridges that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.

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Freedom Tower

The new World Trade Center area is lovely. An area designed for reflection and grieving also provides hope for a better world. There is an energy and excitement pulsating throughout the 16 acres of the former Twin Towers. It bounces off the sparkling panes of glass of Freedom Tower, the memorial waterfalls and the dramatic new architecture ringing the area. I love this city, New York, and I’m deeply proud of my country.

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Please do visit One World Trade Center, the Memorial, the Museum and the rest of gorgeous Lower Manhattan. Official website links are found below, for information and tickets. I recommend buying your tickets to the Memorial and Observatory in advance, as the lines do grow very long.

911 Memorial Museum

One World Observatory

The Radical Design of Eiffel’s Tower

The Radical Design of Eiffel’s Tower

People are known for their resistance to change, and most find a preference for things that have been around longer, especially in the cities they call home. The Guggenheim Museum in New York was compared to a lavatory basin by Woody Allen, the Louvre Pyramid was referred to as “a scar on the face of Paris,” and a Londoner declared that the Tower Bridge, built in 1886, was “excellently situated for our ugliest public work.” Ouch! But perhaps the loudest protests over an urban construction project unfolded after the proposed centerpiece to the 1889 World’s Fair threatened the familiar horizon of Paris.

Many Parisians didn’t want to share their skyline dominated by the dome of Les Invalides and the towers of Notre Dame with the unusual skeleton-like design of the Eiffel Tower, and hoped that the “giant eyesore” would be torn down in 20 years as originally planned. They were most likely influenced by some of France’s most famous and powerful artists and intellectuals, who in a letter to the newspaper, Les Temps, protested that this “dizzily ridiculous tower dominated Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing all beneath its barbarous mass.” French writer Guy de Maupassant was openly annoyed by the tower but still went to its restaurant every day. When asked why, he said it was because it is the only place in Paris where one cannot see the structure.

IMG_2667Happily we all know that since its completion in 1889, Gustav Eiffel and his tower won over even its most ardent critics. Paris’s beloved monument is an iconic image of modern times, an enduring symbol of Paris and a remains a great source of national pride.

Interested in the history behind the construction of the tower and the 1889 World’s Fair? Then you will love the highly praised book by Jill Jonnes, Eiffel’s Tower.

 

Also fun to read: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Eiffel Tower.

Back to the Garden, and a Monday Walk

Back to the Garden, and a Monday Walk

Hot summer days, lots of haze and a need for a local escape landed me in the north Georgia mountains to a favorite little garden center where I go to take walks, fool around with my camera and to enjoy the scenery. I like it here because it’s usually a few degrees cooler in the summer, there are lots of paths to hike around the wooded naturalized gardens or some that head off toward the more centralized more formal designs. It’s a friendly environment and the air has the cool freshness that comes from being near the mountains. One of the things I look forward to seeing here are the resident garden cats. They happily hop up from their place in the shade to welcome unsuspecting visitors in a confusing tangle of leg rubbing and twisting around the ankles until everybody’s on the ground for a belly rubbing session. Being on the receiving end of a cat’s love is one of life’s simple pleasures I think.

Every Monday my friend Jo welcomes bloggers to walk along with her on her wonderful travels. This week she showcases the coast of Seaton Sluice, a beautiful rural area where the channel meets the sea in Northumberland England. You can see her beautiful photography here: Jo’s Monday Walk: Seaton Sluice. Meanwhile, I hope you’re enjoying your summer, and wherever you’ve landed make sure to stop now and then to enjoy all that’s beautiful around you.

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My cat friends at Gibbs Gardens made me think of another blog I’d like to recommend. If you are a cat lover, and enjoy horses and the world of equestrian competition, you would like my friend David’s blog, “Through the Viewfinder” His life stories are a joy to read, his photography, wonderful.
Click on the link if you’d like to read more about North Georgia’s Gibbs Gardens.

The Courtyard Less Traveled

The Courtyard Less Traveled

Beyond the Louvre Pyramid lies a courtyard that few people notice during their stay in Paris. It’s just steps away from the crowds lining I.M. Pei’s modern glass entrance, but the Cour Carrée sits nearly empty even during the peak tourist seasons. This section of the museum called the “Old Louvre,” is the original site of a 12th century fortress, and later, a larger royal residence. The handsome buildings surrounding this courtyard were built between the 16th and 17th century, replacing the last external remnants from medieval times.

It’s the perfect place to enjoy the architectural history of the Louvre, especially at night, when the lights enhance the majestic Renaissance structure and interesting sculptures. Take a stroll one evening and study the details, or bring a camera and photograph the nighttime moment. If you’re lucky, you may be serenaded by a roaming musician or two. Luckier still, a night bicycle tour may glide through your photo shoot with their helmets aglow and surprise you with a laser-like light show through your photograph, adding another enchanting memory to your memory book  (above).

Related: Six Things You May Not Know About the Louvre

Big Sur and the Fabulous Mr. Fog

Big Sur and the Fabulous Mr. Fog

My husband and I  woke up in our cozy hotel room in Carmel, California to the clamor from the heating unit under the window, and to a sunless gray sky beyond the checkered window curtains. A single day was our allotted time during a side trip from San Francisco, and our plan to spend it on the coast in Big Sur was threatened by a persistent drizzle and a fog that seemed to float in and out on a blanket of whispers.  A travel article I had read advised not to rush when driving along the stunning stretch of coastline between San Simeon and Carmel, that Big Sur should be explored leisurely so as not to miss the many sites between the curves and valleys.  We  had time constraints, but with this scenic stretch of coastal wonderland at our doorstep, the alternative of choosing another spot for the day was simply not an option. BIGSURBIXBY3There is a certain freedom that comes with the realization that you have 90 coastline miles of one of the most popular and beyond beautiful tourist destinations in the world to yourself, an aloneness that was almost guaranteed by the early hour and gloomy weather. Each mile driven further into “el sur grande” or “the big south” that morning defined the beauty of the area despite the mist that clung to it. The landscape’s tumble toward the sea was so captivating that my husband and I became victims of what I call the stop and go syndrome, the uncontrollable act of pulling over, jumping out of the car, running around in circles in wonder, and repeating every half mile or so. We spent a full day there, which is enough to experience the greatness of Big Sur, but two days would have been perfect.  Here are a few thoughts if it’s on your trip list:

  • Plan ahead. Get to know the area and the highlights. If you’re a hiker, there are a variety of hiking trails, (see Hiking Big Sur) or a tree lover, the Redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park are a must. If you love the ocean…you’ll feel as though you’ve come home.
  • Leave as early as your body clock will allow. Big Sur gets crowded, and if you’d like a little alone time on a bluff overlooking the Pacific you’re more likely to get it at 9:00 am vs. noon.
  • The weather is generally moderate year round, and I can’t imagine the area being anything but gorgeous no matter what the day throws at you.
  • Cell phone service is non-existent for many miles along the Big Sur Coast.  Print out hard copies of directions for your wish list, or screen shot them so you’ll have them handy on your phone.
  • The top attractions are the tops for a reason: Mcway Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Bixby Bridge to name a few.
  • Pfeiffer Beach was my favorite, but the most difficult to find. The long dirt road to the sea is hidden, and we had to pass by the turn off a few times before we realized where to go. Parking is limited and there is a fee, but the amazing views, purple streaked sand, and giant rock formations were awe-inspiring.
  • For lunch, the charming Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant served the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever devoured, and the bakery goods reminded me of a weekend at Grandma’s.
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McWay Falls

“The details, that’s what the world is made of.”

BIGSURLIGHT2 My feature header picture is of Point Sur Lighthouse located on the Northern end of Big Sur. It’s retro vibe reminded me of the 70’s styling of a Wes Anderson movie, one of my favorite filmmakers.  Tours of the park are available on scheduled days of each week. For more information see Point Sur Historic Park and Lighthouse.

We Are Golden

We Are Golden

It’s hard to imagine visiting San Francisco without the great anticipation of a sighting of deep orange steel from the Golden Gate Bridge from almost anywhere you turn. Like the iconic Eiffel in Paris it teases, playfully peeking around street corners and waiting patiently for admirers to view it from the hilltops or from the hazy windows of the tallest of buildings. If I played a game where the rules read to avoid looking at it for an entire visit, I would come up losing. Have I seen it a hundred times? A thousand? I couldn’t possibly keep track. Generous, the structure’s form and color bring out the best of its natural surroundings, and as it reaches gracefully over the bay, the bridge completes the city and makes it whole.  It is timeless.