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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Hiking Arthur’s Seat

Hiking Arthur’s Seat

With a Fitbit strapped firmly to my wrist my husband and I tracked our second day in Edinburgh via steps, 23,000 total – 9,000 of which marked our hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat and back down again with a few detours along the way. The crown jewel of Holyrood Park in the form of an ancient volcano marks the highest point of the mountain at 251 M above sea level, giving incredible views of the city below and of the richly patterned countryside. I read that it was the most popular attraction in Edinburgh, and of course now I know why.  It’s a fun and moderate hike for both visitors and locals, and is completely void of typical tourist trappings. Here you get a true taste of the entire country, a microcosm of Scotland’s scenery, as the landscape within the former volcano includes crags, moorland, marshes, glens, lochs and fields. I fell in love with the wildflowers dotting the paths up and down the mountain and the tall bright green grasses swaying in the breeze. Even the soil was beautiful with its rich hues of reds and plums. My favorite part of the climb was the obvious destination, Arthur’s Seat, where there was a festival-like atmosphere of people from all over the world celebrating their mountain challenge and reach to the pinnacle. Strangers became friends here, lots of photo ops and smiles and an informal bond that forms when sharing a great moment. After all, we did just finish climbing a dormant volcano together!

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Tips for Climbing Arthur’s Seat:

  1. Depending on your fitness level you can make the climb to the top in 30 to 45 minutes, but allow extra time for exploring. We were in the park for almost 3 hours.
  2.  Bring your camera! (I always bring a plastic bag as a quick cover in case of unexpected rain.)
  3. Take along a bottle of water.  *One commenter noted that he “Ate bread and cheese with a good friend on top of this majestic wonder.”  I do like that sound of that!
  4. Wear comfortable shoes. Hiking boots aren’t necessary, a good pair of running shoes or trainers are fine.
  5. Within the park you can also visit St. Anthony’s Chapel – a 15th century medieval chapel, Salisbury Crags – a series of 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline as well as Duddingston Loch – a fresh water loch rich in bird life.
  6. The trails are marked and easy to follow, however, you can pick up a map from the Park Information Centre.
  7. Work up an appetite? Try something healthy at the charming Hula’s Juice Bar at the bottom of Victoria Street in Old Town.

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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

Malibu Blues

One of the highlights of Malibu is the Point Dume Nature reserve, a truly stunning stretch of coast featuring a rocky promontory that juts into the sea. The vast and beautiful Zuma Beach lies to its immediate North. Sea lions dot the rocks, and in the winter months (December through April) Point Dume is the best beach in Los Angeles to spot the Pacific gray whale annual migration from the Bering Sea in Alaska to Baja California Sur, Mexico. There is a cliff side hike with ocean views that my daughter and I wanted explore after reading that the experience will take your breath away and soothe your soul at the same time. A Yelp reviewer described it best:

“Ah, it never gets old to drive up the 1 and bask in the serenity that Mother Nature has blessed the California Coast with. Easy parking. Easy Walk. So much 360 degree beauty, you’ll want to put it on your bucket list.”

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Point Dume is a California State Preserve located 18 miles west of Pacific Coast Highway, along Cliffside Drive. Operated by Los Angeles County, it is overseen by the lifeguard branch of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and was named after Padre Francisco Dumetz of Mission San Buenaventura by George Vancouver in 1793. The beach was officially named “Dume” after the misspelling of Dumetz’s name on an 18th century map was never corrected!

Trailhead Address:

27807 Pacific Coast Highway

Malibu, CA 90265

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.

On the Edge of Morning

On the Edge of Morning

 

Three crowded expressways, a couple of darkened blocks through Hollywood, one steep drive up what seemed like a small mountain range later, and I had finally reached my 5:30 am destination at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The unknown perils of wandering alone in a dark park across the country from my home were quickly erased from my mind once I entered a parking lot busy with cars and saw the mix of hikers, walkers and photographers milling about as though it was their lunch hour break on a sunny afternoon. No longer a believer in new year’s resolutions, I began 2015 with one promise, to get up more often for the sunrise. A daily routine so simple for many people is a chore for this confirmed night owl, and when I do try to crawl out of bed by 6:30, the sun fun is long over.

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Alone in Los Angeles for a few days, I spent a few too many hours fretting about whether I should just do it, get up in the tired hours and drive across the city in the dark to a place I’d only been once before in the daylight, to practice photography on the edge of morning. Funny how one internet article stands out among many others as a voice of reason, with concise instructions on the preparations for the best sunrise photography. So I followed the advice and encouragement of a virtual stranger, and before I settled in the night before, I filled the rental car with gas, put my tripod in the trunk, charged the camera battery, loaded empty memory cards and double checked the driving directions.

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I’m still learning the ins and outs of photography, but at this point should be a little more on my game with the technical aspects and a master of the manual settings. Once I get going however, I tend to get distracted by the beauty of a moment, the quirks of the people around me, and this trip was no different. I became both intimated and awestruck by the roller bags filled with camera equipment and compact car sized lenses around me, and lost focus once I realized that the space I claimed overlooking the city was the one worth waiting in line for. Not enjoying the performing under pressure feeling, I gathered up my tripod and backpack and began the hike up the Hollywood Hills to gain a quieter perspective on the arrival of the new day. Along the way I passed dozens of walkers trekking back down, and like the slow dawn around me, I realized that they had already made a “get up before sunset” resolution, ignored the misery of rising in the dark having already discovered its rewards and joys. Their connection with the world was evidence. Cheerful good morning greetings and the smiles I received propelled me forward to fulfill the New Year’s promise to myself, and to finish my pre-dawn photography journey that morning, and if I stick with it, many more to come. Bring it on, sunrise.

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Happy Morning People

 

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Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles  January 8, 2015

Hiking Shorts: The Pacific Blues

Hiking Shorts:  The Pacific Blues

The Pacific Ocean is often described in varying shades of blue, the 16th century navigator Magellan, on what must have been a calm day at sea, called it peaceful {pacifica} and the name stuck, and depending where you’re swimming it’s either warm to the touch, icy cold or tolerable enough to surf in for hours, and I never thought it more beautiful than one spring afternoon viewed from the Ocean Trails at Ranchos Palos Verdes, south of Los Angeles, California.

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The Ocean Scenic Trails that lead to Rancho Palos Verdes Beach, located beneath the Trump National Golf Club, are well-marked and easy to navigate.

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A friendly local directed us to the most scenic trail to the ocean, this steeply pitched grade which tossed us down the zig-zag in a wild jog to the bottom.

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A moment of slight panic with the realization that the only direction back to the car was UP.

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Had I been a better planner, we would have arrived when the tide was at its lowest to explore the tidal pools. The high tide crept up to the cliffs, exposing mostly rocks, which made it difficult, but not impossible to maneuver.

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Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films were partly photographed on and off the dramatic coast of Palos Verdes Peninsula. It must have been a kick to see the Black Pearl looming in the distance, and interesting to follow the daily production of hovering helicopters filming for overhead shots.

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Pacifica.

If you’re interested in the Ocean Trails, information on directions and parking is available via: Palos Verdes

Hiking Shorts: A Beautiful Ruin

Hiking Shorts: A Beautiful Ruin

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Atlanta, Georgia morphed into a thriving modern city despite the double whammy of destructive a civil war in 1864 and a great fire in the early 1900’s.  What wasn’t destroyed in the war, was likely consumed by flames from the later fire. The lack of architecture from this time period haunts me, I like to embrace the past with my eyes, feel it with my fingertips, and it was in part the reason for my choosing to hike the Red Trail in Sweetwater Creek State Park last weekend, a vast wooded park located just west of downtown Atlanta, known for its civil war and Cherokee history. About a half mile into the hike, it was both exciting and sobering to find the towering civil war ruin from my research, nestled peacefully beneath the canopy of trees along the glistening white-water rapids of Sweetwater Creek, both rewarding my curiosity and offering a history lesson about a tranquil area belied by its violent past. My search for remains of civil war architecture brought me to the same sandy banks of the creek where the Union Calvary approached the New Manchester Factory textile mill during the 1864 campaign, ordered it closed, and burned it a week later along with the small surrounding town. The employees, all woman and children, faced a life of hardship when forced to leave and head north, many of them to fend for themselves in towns already crowded with refugees.

The site’s painful history was palpable, and with my mind buzzing I turned to explore further when suddenly the atmosphere shifted slightly, and in a ripple, rows of dull-eyed soldiers marched forward intently toward their destination in a haze of hot summer dust, brushing through me, invisible. The sound of their boots hitting the ground was lost in the laughter from children darting among the rocks, distant conversations lilting lightly in the wind, the muffled tap of my own shoes hitting the dusty, uneven path, until each step fractured the image into a dull melancholy shadow.

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The remains of the five-story structure is now protected by a border of chain link fence, limiting access for safety and preservation, but also limiting angles to take pictures. In order to lighten my load for the hike I had switched my camera lens to a small portrait lens, which I enjoy for landscape photography. It captured the dreamy quality of this elegant structure that is slowly and inevitably being reclaimed by its woodland environment. Nature has a way of softening life’s hard edges, of soothing old wounds.  I discovered that a hike in the midst of this process had become a compelling history lesson.

For more information on The Sweetwater Red Trail, and to view beautiful photography of the area see Atlanta Trails.