Category: Uncategorized

While I’m Away

While I’m Away

Hello friends!  I’m winding up an adventurous trip in South America at the moment, which I can’t wait to share with you!  In the mean time, please check out my guest post “15 Best Things to Do in Washington DC” on A Passion and a Passport.

A Must See Painting at London's National Gallery

A Must See Painting at London's National Gallery

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If you visit the National Gallery in London, there is a remarkable painting that you should make a point of seeing.  It is The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, dated 1533.

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At first glance, it seems to be a fairly typical painting of two Tudor-era men, although they are dressed very differently.  The man on the left is dressed in secular clothing, while the man on the right is dressed in clerical garb.

In between them are an assortment of objects, including two globes (one of earth, the other a celestial globe), a quadrant, a portable sundial, an astronomical instrument called a torquetum, open books, a lute with a broken string, and a hymn book.  Hidden behind the folds of the drapes is a crucifix.

There has been much discussion over the years as to whether the juxtaposition of the items in this portrait represent a unification of the Church and capitalism or conflicts between secular and religious authorities.

Perhaps even more interesting than the array of objects and their potential symbolism, however, is the object on the floor at the bottom of the table.  It doesn’t look like much straight on, but when you move to the right of the painting, you can see that it is a skull. This is an excellent example of anamorphosis – a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point (or both) to reconstitute the image.  Watch the skull come into focus here:

The anamorphic perspective was an invention of the early Renaissance.  Perhaps Holbein was showing off his talent at this then-new technique.  Perhaps he wanted to startle people who walked up the stairs past the painting.  Perhaps he wanted to encourage contemplation of life and inevitable death, for the inclusion of a skull is a memento mori, literally a reminder that we all must die.

Whatever the artist’s intentions, the painting is exceptionally well done and full of fascinating details.  If you’re in London, do be sure to check it out.  It’s located in Room 4.

If you’re not likely to get to London any time soon, click here for an interactive image that allows you to get a close up look at different parts of the painting… just click on the area you would like to see in greater detail.

The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom. Telephone +44 (0)20 7747 2885. Admission is free. The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (10-9 on Fridays).  Closed December 24-26 and January 1.

The Baltimore Museum of Art

The Baltimore Museum of Art

A lot of people might wonder, “Why bother going to an art museum in Baltimore when the Smithsonian has so many superb art museums just a little over an hour away?”  Those people would probably be surprised to learn that the Baltimore Museum of Art has quite a lot to offer.

The museum has an internationally renowned collection of over 90,000 pieces of art that spans centuries; from early Byzantine to current Contemporary.  That’s a far cry from its founding in 1914 when it had only one painting – Mischief by William-Sergeant Kendall. Part of those 90,000 items is the largest holding of works by Henri Matisse in the world.

When I visited, I was quite taken with the Antioch Mosaics. In the 1930s, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) joined the Musées Nationaux de France, Worcester Art Museum, and Princeton University during the excavations of the ancient city of Antioch (now known as Antakya in southeastern Turkey). During these excavations, 300 mosaic pavements dating from the 2nd to 6th centuries were found. The BMA received 34 of the finest mosaics from the excavation, most of which are on display.

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But as I stated above, the museum’s collections span many centuries.  There was also Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, which I loved:

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And, for the fan of modern art, you will enjoy the collection of work by Andy Warhol, including the massive Hearts:

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The Baltimore Museum of Art is located at 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218. Telephone 443-573-1700.  Admission is free.  The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Hours vary by day for the remainder of the week, so check the website or call when planning your visit.

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Bucket List: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

Bucket List: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

I’ve mentioned before my love of old cemeteries.  There is one that is pretty high up on my bucket list:  La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Established in 1822, it was the city’s first public cemetery.

La Recoleta cemetery is set in 14 acres, with 4691 vaults, all above ground. Ninety-four of those vaults have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentine government and are protected by the state. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.

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La Recoleta was named as one of the ten most beautiful cemeteries in the world by CNN, and it’s easy to see why:

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The cemetery is the final resting place of many notable people, including Eva Perón (aka Evita), presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy, and an illegitimate granddaughter of Napoleon.

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As you can imagine, there are interesting stories that go along with some of the memorials there.  Take, for instance, Rufina Cambacérès, who suddenly collapsed one evening in 1902 and was pronounced dead at the tender age of 19.  The story goes that a few days after Rufina’s funeral, a cemetery worker found that the coffin had moved within the crypt and the lid was broken in places. Fearing grave robbery, he opened it to find something even worse—scratch marks covering the inside of the coffin, and Rufina dead, hands and face bruised from having tried to break her way out of the coffin.

Rufina Cambaceres at La Recoleta

And, if you’re into ghost stories, there is the story of David Alleno, a grave digger who worked at the cemetery for some thirty years.  He saved his wages for years in order to buy his very own plot in the burial ground. According to the legend, after commissioning an Italian architect to sculpt a statue of him, he put the finishing touches on the precious spot then went home and killed himself. There are rumors that he haunts the cemetery at night, and that visitors can still hear the noise of his keys as he walks the narrow streets before dawn.

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These are just two of the stories centered in La Recoleta Cemetery.  I’m sure there are nearly as many stories as there are tombs.  I hope one day I can go discover more of them myself!

La Recoleta Cemetery is located at Junín 1760, 1113 CABA, Argentina.  Telephone +54 11 4803-1594.  The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.  English tours are available at 11:00 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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Cape May Lighthouse, NJ

Cape May Lighthouse, NJ

The Cape May Lighthouse was built in 1859, but it was actually the third lighthouse to serve Cape May.  The previous two were the victims of an eroding shoreline and are now underwater.

This lighthouse became automated in 1946 and is still operational today.  It is over 157 feet tall, and has 199 steps that you must climb to reach the top.

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The lighthouse has two separate walls. The outside wall is cone-shaped, and is 3 feet 10 inches thick at the bottom, and 1 foot 6 inches thick at the top. The inside wall is a cylinder with 8.5-inch-thick  walls which support the spiral staircase. The walls were designed to withstand winds several times above hurricane force.

There weren’t many photo opportunities inside that staircase, but I did snap this picture as we got to the top… I think this is looking up into the area where the light is located, above the observation deck and off-limits to visitors.

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Once you climb those 199 steps and catch your breath, you might find that you are breathless once again, but this time for a much better reason.  The views from the top of the lighthouse are stunning, even on an overcast day like we had when I was there.

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The Cape May Lighthouse is located at 215 Lighthouse Avenue in Cape May, NJ, inside Cape May Point State Park.  Telephone 609-224-6066.  

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Bucket List: The Marble Caves of Chile

Bucket List: The Marble Caves of Chile

In the Patagonia region of South America, there is a sizable lake stretching across the Argentina-Chile border.  In Chile, that lake is called General Carrera Lake.  In Argentina, it is called Lake Buenos Aires.

The lake, formed by melting glaciers, is incredibly blue.  Combine that with the stunning marble cliffs and caves, and it’s a must see.

Apparently, marble is slightly soluble in water.  Over thousands of years, the lake water seeped into small cracks in the marble cliffs, the cracks grew larger and larger until a system of caves was formed.

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There are also two marble islands in the lake.  One is called Marble Cathedral, and the other (smaller) one is Marble Chapel.

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Beautiful, isn’t it?  This is one of the places that I hope to someday see in person.

If you plan a trip to see the Marble Caves of Chile, here’s what you need to know:

  • Boats can be rented in the nearby town Puerto Tranquilo so you can get an up-close view of the caves.
  • The water level is lower in early spring (early autumn if you’re in the northern hemisphere), and the caves have a more natural hue (brown/gray).
  • In summer (winter for northern hemisphere folks), the water level is higher and the caves are more reflective, giving the marble an eerie blue appearance.
  • Don’t delay.  The area is in danger because a company by the name of Hydroaisen is seeking to build a dam on the Baker River (water from General Carrera Lake flows to the ocean via the Baker River).  The transfer of the energy to the cities would require a construction of new high-tension power lines and one such line is planned next to Marble Caves.

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The Garden Grill at Epcot Center

The Garden Grill at Epcot Center

One night on our trip to Disney World, we found ourselves with a dinner dilemma… we had planned to eat dinner at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. I use the term “planned” loosely — we didn’t have reservations and were advised by the concierge that we would, in fact, need them. I settled for making reservations to eat there several days later, but that still left me wondering where to eat that night.

I called the Disney dining number and The Garden Grill in Epcot’s Land Pavilion was recommended to me. I wasn’t very excited about it, but since it was a character meal I thought the kids would at least enjoy it.

There were two things that made this dining experience different from the others we had at Disney World. First, the restaurant rotates slowly while you are eating. This treats you to changing scenery from the Living with the Land attraction below. Second, some of the foods served are grown right there in the Living with the Land greenhouse.

Maybe it was just because my expectations were low, but it turned out to be one of the nicest meals we had at Disney World! The food, served family style, was very good, and the characters gave us LOTS of attention. We ate kind of late in the day, too, so by the time we were halfway through our meal, most of the restaurant’s other customers had left. Our waitress said we were her only table. She and the characters spent a lot of time chatting and playing with us.

We learned how to tell the difference between Chip and Dale (Chip has a small dark nose, alert eyes, and nice teeth… Dale has a large, redder nose with sleepy eyelids and messed up teeth)

and we learned how to make Goofy ears into Princess Leia style hair buns:

By the time we left the restaurant (and I do believe we were the last ones to leave!) we felt like Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale were old friends.

It was great fun!

The Garden Grill is located in the Land pavilion at Epcot Center, 1510 N Cove Rd, Orlando, FL 32830.  Telephone 407-560-6071.  Hours can vary and the restaurant is closed for about an hour in between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner.  Reservations are recommended and can be made up to 180 days in advance.

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Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Hands down, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is my favorite art museum in the world.  It houses more than 227,000 objects spanning 2000 years of world history.  There are amazing things to see in this museum.  Works by Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, Botticelli, Magritte, and so many other famous artists.

But my favorite aspect of the museum is how it re-creates entire rooms from different times and locations.  Instead of standing on the outside looking in, you are standing on the inside and looking around.  It is a phenomenal way to experience art, an the closest thing to time travel I’ve ever experienced.

There is a Venetian bedroom from the 15th century, a drawing room from New York City in the Roaring Twenties, a drawing room from an 18th century English home, etc.  My favorite is the 13th century French Cloister.  Here, you can listen to the gurgle of water in the stone fountain, gaze up at the dusk-colored ceiling, and look at the patterns of the tiled roof.  I could easily spend an hour or more there, just soaking up the atmosphere.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Medieval Cloisters

The museum also has a phenomenal collection of arms & armor, which Hubs and I both love because so much of it is from our favorite time period of the Renaissance.  Here are a few of the things we saw:

Philadelphia Museum of Art Swords

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There are ancient religious relics, too.  Pre-Renaissance, most art was done for churches.  One of my favorite pieces is a wood statue from 1500-1525 called Christ Mocked and Presented to the People, artist unknown. There was one point when I was in a room on the opposite side of the museum wing, and I looked through the doorway of the room I was in, and this statue was framed within the doorway of its room. It was breathtaking.

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One of my favorite things, though, was Gallery 161, exhibiting paintings by some of the world’s most favorite artists.  There were Monet and Manet, Renoir and van Gogh.  I got to stand right in front of them all, and it was awesome.

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Point of Trivia:  The 72 steps leading up to the museum entrance are known as “The Rocky Steps” because Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps in the Rocky movies.  You can even see a statue of Rocky at the base of the steps.

Climb up those steps, and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty amazing view of the City of Brotherly Love:

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BARGAIN ALERT:  On the first Sunday of the month and Wednesday evenings (5:00-8:45 pm), the admission is “Pay What You Wish.”  There is no set fee for admission.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130.  Telephone 215-763-8100.  Closed Mondays.  Opens at 10:00 am Tuesday-Sunday.  Closing times vary by day; check the web site or call when planning your trip.

Driving in Cornwall

Driving in Cornwall

I could sum up the experience of driving around Cornwall with three little letters — OMG — but that wouldn’t make for good blogging, now would it?

So, first… OMG!  The countryside was beautiful, just stunning!  Rolling hills, breathtaking views of the sea, pastures dotted with cows and sheep, trees arching over the roadways to create a romantic little tunnel.  It was lovely!  See for yourself:

On the other hand, OMG!  I have never seen such treacherous roads in my life.  At one point I commented (in all seriousness) that driving on those roads was like riding a roller coaster.

The smaller roads that connected the villages typically were flanked on both sides by 10-foot high stone walls overgrown with greenery.  We had no idea what we were driving past. Could’ve been a house.  Could’ve been the sea.  Could’ve been a herd of cattle.

Whoever laid out these roads was apparently unfamiliar with the concept of  “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” because there were no straight lines.  The roads twisted and turned, rose up and went down.  You could never be sure what was around the next bend because, well, you couldn’t see that far.

Also, the roads were quite narrow.  I think that maybe two itty bitty smart cars could have passed each other without any difficulty, but for everyone else, it was almost like playing chicken.  Who’s backing up?   Who’s going forward?  Do you need to fold in your rear view mirrors before passing?  On our first full day of driving, we backed up to let another car pass us, and edged right up to the aforementioned 10-foot high wall.  When we started moving again, we heard a hissing sound every few seconds.  Apparently one of the stones in the wall had punctured our tire.  Fun.

Here’s a picture of a typical country road in Cornwall.

Even the major highways were a bit strenuous to drive on.  Instead of having exits like we do in the US, there is a “roundabout” (traffic circle) at every town.  For Americans who haven’t driven in Washington DC before (and even those of us who have), traffic circles can be somewhat bewildering.  Particularly in unfamiliar surroundings.    Add to that the frustration of having to slow down when you’ve just gotten up to a nice speed, and the roundabout came to be something we dreaded.

Thankfully, Hubs did ALL of the driving for us while we were in Cornwall.  He had to get used to driving on the left side of the car, on the left side of the road, and using his left hand to shift gears.  I have to give him props for that.  I would have been terrified.

Bushkill Falls, PA

Bushkill Falls, PA

While visiting friends in the Poconos, we had a small excursion to Bushkill Falls, which prides itself on being the “Niagara of Pennsylvania.” Frankly, I think the nickname does it an injustice. Bushkill Falls, while smaller than Niagara, offers a lot more to the sightseer.

Upon exiting the visitor’s center, a cryptic sign read “CAUTION: You are beginning a mountainside nature trail. All paths and walkways have been left in their natural state to enhance your viewing pleasure. Please use caution! Those visitors with health or heart conditions are recommended to use the main falls trail only. Please refer to your trail map at all times.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that a more accurate sign would have read something like this: “CAUTION! The pathways you are about to tread upon are uneven, steep and/or narrow. Hold onto the hand rail – which may be loose – for dear life. If you are overweight, old, or just plain out of shape, take the shortest route possible.”

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So, without benefit of my alternate truth-in-advertising style sign, we headed on down the trail to see what we could see. But first we had to consult the map and decide which trail to take.

There are four trails – marked on the map in blue, red, yellow and a very hard-to-see green. The red trail, as you can see from the above, is the largest. It promises views of eight different waterfalls and is supposed to take 2.5 hours to complete. The yellow trail is the “popular trail” because it only takes 45 minutes but still offers views of the major waterfalls. The two trails overlap for a large section of their routes – seen there in the middle of the map.

After a brief discussion, we decided that we would all travel the yellow/red trail until the point where they split, then the ambitious, nature-loving men would continue on the red trail while the women and kids would complete the yellow trail and head back to the house.

We heard the waterfall long before we saw it, of course, and when we did get to see it it was nothing short of breathtaking:

We stopped to ooh and aah and take pictures, then headed on down the trail toward the lower gorge falls. At one point we came to a bridge that had a sign reading “LIMIT 6 PEOPLE.” I almost didn’t go on it because, frankly, I just don’t trust other people to be very meticulous about following rules like that. And lest you think I’m paranoid, look what I turned around and saw right after we passed by the bridge:

And let me tell you, my friends, it was a loooooong way down!

So, moving on… we realized that somehow, the yellow/red trail we were on had become the red trail. This left us with the unappealing choice of either traveling back up the way we had just been (a long, mostly uphill hike with scenery we’d already passed) or continuing on the red trail (a longer, somewhat less uphill hike with scenery we had not already passed). We opted for the latter.

Moving on down to the lower gorge area, the water was calmer but no less scenic:

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So beautiful. So calm. The red trail will be fun after all, I thought. But then my newfound serenity was shattered when I saw this sign:

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Oh, have mercy! “For hikers only?!?!?!” Never in a million years would I describe myself as a hiker. In fact, look what I was wearing…

And yes, that is the so-called “trail” that my foot is on. We meandered along, carefully watching our step as we went up to the Bridal Veil Falls, which was smaller but just as pretty as the main waterfall. People were so enthralled with the smaller falls – and, I’m sure, the notion that they were on a more secluded trail – that they were wading into the waters at any opportunity.

After viewing this fall, we went up, up, up. Finally at the top, we were on flat land. I have never been so happy to be walking on flat land in my life! We were treated to an extraordinary view of the valley below, but I didn’t bother photographing it because in my limited experience depth is something that is really hard to capture in a photograph. Also, I didn’t want anything to slow down my progress toward reaching the end of the trail.  🙂

We stumbled off of the red trail some three hours or so after we had started. It was quite an accomplishment, and the scenery made it worth every ache and pain.  I highly recommend this scenic spot… as long as you wear sensible shoes.

Bushkill Falls is located on Bushkill Falls Road in Bushkill, PA. Telephone 570-588-6682. The falls are open for visitors March thru November. Hours vary by season, so check the website or call when planning your visit.