30 November 2008

mountains majestic

Foothills of the Andes / Mendoza, Argentina
One usually goes to the Mendoza area for the fabulous Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet wines. But the star of the show is the fabulous landscapes framed by the Andes Mountains dividing Argentina and Chile. This shot was taken not far from a major road between Argentina and Chile which runs through Mendoza. The city is a frequent stopover for climbers on their way to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. In 2008, National Geographic listed Mendoza as one of the top 10 historic destinations of the World. Go!

29 November 2008

a tuscan glow

Piazza dei Miracoli / Pisa, Italy
Pisa was perhaps most beautiful to me at night. The warm street-level lighting against the earthy Tuscan colors of the architecture brought a soft glow to the city. Evening is when the city truly comes alive. During the day it seems fairly utilitarian but by 19.30 the streets are full with sidewalk cafes and endless trattorias humming with activity - such is Italy - such is Europe. New York City is like this - but sadly many urban centers in the US simply shut down at night as people flee to the suburbs. And just to note; this shot was taken by the leaning tower which is fairly deserted at night as it's somewhat removed from the center. However, the Borgo Stretto area was teeming.

28 November 2008

welcome to zooland

Mid-Town Manhattan / New York, New York
From Thanksgiving week through New Years, Manhattan (and in particular mid-town) is an absolute zoo and to be avoided at all costs - unless, of course you are a tourist visiting the Big Apple. And if so, then the multitude of crappy souvenir stores populating the Times Square area are for you. While it is a huge boom to the city's economy and merchandisers rely heavily on this pre-Christmas commercial season, as a resident it's a good time to stay local and take advantage of what your neighborhood has to offer. Enjoy!

27 November 2008

'tini time

Thanksgiving Day / New York, New York
This Thanksgiving we are hosting a house full of family and friends. And what better way to celebrate the holiday than with a signature drink - our own Pumpkin Pie Martini. Should you wish to join us, read on:
  • take one martini glass and wet the rim with vodka
  • dip into pulverized graham crackers to dust the rim
Mix in a martini shaker with ice
  • 1 part Stoli Vanilla Vodka
  • 1 part Hiram Walker Pumpkin Liqueur
  • 1 part Silk (soy) egg nog
  • splash of Disaronno
  • dash of cinnamon
Strain into martini glass and top with a dollup of whipped cream.

Happy Thanksgiving!

26 November 2008

a falling star

Via Sant'Apollonia / Pisa, Italy
This hotel, located in the center of Pisa on a street not far from La Torre di Pisa, is typical of the many small family-operated hotels that you will find in Pisa - and throughout most of Italy. They are quaint, very friendly, slightly tattered around the edges - and have big neon signs that leave nothing to the imagination as to what sort of commerce might be taking place behind the rustic walls. This one is quite proud of its apparent three star rating - even if that rating may have been achieved 25 years ago. Honestly, who would ask them to dim a star from their beautiful neon.

25 November 2008

fashion interpreted

Selfridges @ The Bullring / Birmingham, United Kingdom
This is just such an odd and interesting building (a department store, of all things) but when you read from the designer's website, you begin to understand - or not. From FUTURESYSTEMS: "The fluidity of shape recalls the fall of fabric or the soft lines of a body, it rises from the ground and gently billows outwards before being drawn in at a kind of waistline. It then curves out again and over to form the roof, in one continuous movement. The skin is made up of thousands of aluminium discs, creating a fine, lustrous grain like the scales of a snake or the sequins of a Paco Rabanne dress. In sunlight it shimmers, reflecting minute changes in weather conditions and taking on the colours, light and shapes of people and things passing by - an animate and breathing form." The structure is particularly striking shot against this dynamic and turbulent late autumn sky.

24 November 2008

doctor dolittle

Lungano Antonio Pacinotti / Pisa, Italy
Have you ever wished you could gab with the gulls? I approached them with a pleasant but apparently unconvincing "buongiorno". They didn't buy into it. I then suspected they were chattering about the lone kayaker on the Arno River that had just passed them by so I suggested with a snicker what an easy target he'd be for a guano drop. They stayed put. And the lovely weather - that's always an easy conversation starter - but they looked at me strangely as if to say "it's Italy, it's always beautiful .. stupid tourist". Stupid gulls.

23 November 2008

lean on me

La Torre di Pisa / Pisa, Italy
I've just returned to Birmingham from a weekend in Pisa, a city of about 100,000 people situated at the mouth of the Arno river which runs down through its center. The city is young, lively and very Italian. Much of the youth can be attributed to the University of Pisa with a student body of nearly 60,000. And Friday evening I found out just how lively it can get - having randomly stopped in a bar and consumed too many sambucas with fast-made friends including two Argentinean sisters (one was the bartender - the other? well, she was just fun) who have lived in Pisa the past 20 years - and a group of their friends. Oh, and the photo - obviously it's the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is one of many works of art and architecture in the city's Piazza dei Miracoli or "Square of Miracles", to the north of the old town center. And perhaps best of all, the weather saturday was brilliant sunshine requiring nothing more than shirtsleeves.

22 November 2008

stalag 13

Auschwitz I / Auschwitz, Poland
This was not the set of Hogan's Heroes, the American television comedy from the mid/late 60's set in a German prisoner of war camp known as Stalag 13 during the Second World War. This is indeed the harsh reality of Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp which served as the administrative center for the whole Auschwitz complex - the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. Opened in 1939 on the site of an old Polish army barracks, the camp was initially used for interning Polish intellectuals and resistance movement members, then also for Soviet Prisoners of War. Common German criminals, and other "anti-social elements" of society were also imprisoned there. In 1940, the German began sending Jews there, as well. At any time, the camp held between 13,000 and 16,000 inmates; by 1942 the number reached 20,000.

21 November 2008

1 800 spice

Wharf Road / St. George's, Grenada
Grenada is known as The Spice Isle because it is a leading producer of several important spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, and especially nutmeg are grown on the island, providing almost 20% of the world spice supply. All are important exports with the island being the world's 2nd largest producer of nutmeg. It seemed that everyone we encountered while wandering the streets of St. George's was wanting to sell us some sort of spice. In 2004, after being hurricane free for almost 50 years, the island was directly hit by Hurricane Ivan. Ivan struck as a Category 3 hurricane and caused 90 percent of the homes to be damaged or destroyed. Also especially hard hit were the churches - when we were there in May 2007 many were still without roofs.

20 November 2008

the hands of time

York Minster / York, England
I love the cathedrals of Europe. They are incredibly imposing structures, dominating the local skyline (at least before the infill of modern development). And the interior spaces are truly breathtaking. York, a very charming walled city founded by the Romans with a rich Viking history, has one of the best. The York Minster is a Gothic cathedral with parts of the structure dating back to the early 1200's. It is the second largest of its kind in Northern Europe with the largest being the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. The cathedral also has two bell towers - one of the things I love most - with one bell (Great Peter) weighing over 10 tons. Hearing church bells is very calming to me and brings back good memories of being at my grandmother's as a child, lying in bed and listening to the church bells on the quarter hour from Westminster College.

19 November 2008

creole colors

City Centre / Fort-de-France, Martinique
As an overseas department of France, Martinique's culture blends French and Caribbean influences with the city of Fort-de-France often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. While I've yet to get to Paris, I expect there are some pretty substantial differences between the two! Typical of the Caribbean islands, the architecture though simple in form can be eye-popping in color.

18 November 2008


Sonora Desert Museum / Tucson, Arizona
A typically beautiful day in the desert - dry, hot and brilliantly sunny. And the shadows formed by the sun shining overhead through the trellis work at the museum's welcome center made for some fun, almost schizophrenic patterns. I always find the desert environment very hospitable - the dry heat of the daytime, the cooler evenings temperatures, the dramatically different landscape (from my norm anyways) - all contribute. And sun - 365 days a year!

17 November 2008

let the sun shine

Parasol on Mulberry Street / New York, New York
Oh, and another thing about Birmingham - all it does is rain, rain, and rain some more. I honestly don't know how the Brits tolerate it day after day. I'm here a week and I find it totally depressing. Really. I need sunshine in my life - without it I begin to get very moody. Yesterday I went to see a very funny comedy at the cinema, took myself out for a lamb kabob lunch ..but by mid-afternoon I was very antsy and just wanted out. Please - let the sunshine.

16 November 2008

good eatin'

MacDougal Street / New York, New York
One of the things I miss being in Birmingham is the good eatin' offered pretty much anywhere in Manhattan. While Birmingham has excellent curry houses - and my favorite restaurant, a Persian place called Shiraz is right across the street from my apartment - I can't get excited over typical British cuisine. Come on now ..bangers & mash ..kippers ..scottish eggs ..steak & kidney pudding. While driving to the office the other morning, I was listening to a local Birmingham station on the car radio and the most popular "make at home" dinner based on user call-in was liver & onions. Ugh. Give me the Bleeker/MacDougal St area of the Village any day.

15 November 2008

japanese lanterns

Gardens @ House on the Rock / Spring Green, Wisconsin
I've always loved Physalis alkekengi, more commonly known as the Paper Lantern Plant. My first memories of these as a small child were at my grandmother's house in western Pennsylvania. She had a pond by her house that was full of goldfish and frogs and when we'd go visit I couldn't wait to get to the pond - fascinated that there were goldfish swimming freely - not in a bowl! Growing along the edges of the pond were clumps of japanese lantern plants that in the Fall displayed these beautiful orange seed pods. I remember opening a few up and finding a large perfectly round berry inside each one. It's funny as I'm sure these grow everywhere but her pond is the only recollection that I have of them - which is fine because when I now see japanese lanterns, they are associated with lots of good memories.

14 November 2008

on peregrine wings

Peregrine Winery / Queenstown (Gibbston Valley), New Zealand
Peregrine Winery is located in the Gibbston Valley just outside of Queenstown, an area known for its pinot noir grapes. We visited a number of wineries but Peregrine was, by far, the most architecturally inspiring. The sweeping roof lines of this protective canopy against the mountains of the Southern Alps and the Kawerau Gorge were dramatic. The concrete area is actually a terraced roof, where views of the Kawerau Gorge are framed under the translucent canopy floating overhead which is made of deeply corrugated composite glass-fibre sheeting. This floating 460 foot long roof is not just an architectural nicety; it effectively eliminated the need to allow for snow loads on the building below, and removes most of the solar heat gain from the production rooms (also below), where stable temperatures are critically important. Digging the barrel room and the fermenting chambers into the ground assists in temperature control, requiring the use of less energy. I've seen this alot in wineries in both New Zealand and Argentina - using the naturally cool underground for fermenting and storage - not so much in the States. All in all, a very nice job of blending the built environment into an otherwise beautiful and unspoiled landscape.

13 November 2008

neo-classical bigness

Carmelite Church / Warsaw, Poland
The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and of St. Joseph commonly known as the Carmelite Church is a beautiful neo-classical style Roman Catholic church built 1761-1783. The present church is the second building to have been situated on this prominent site in Old Town, erected over the site of a wooden church originally constructed for the Discalced Carmelite order in 1643 and burned down by the Swedes and Brandenburg Germans in the 1650s. This impressive facade was built in a style typical for the reign of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, with dominant columns supporting the cornice. The interior is typical of the opulence associated with the Rococo style and has a magnificent main altar, abundant gilding and amazing stucco ceiling decorations. And fortunately, during World War II the church was saved from deliberate destruction by the retreating German forces and was only slightly damaged. I love church architecture - especially of this style - big, beautiful and fun.

12 November 2008

hey bartender

New York Bar / Port Elizabeth, Bequia
I'd like to introduce you to Roni, the friendliest bartender in Bequia. She's a beautiful woman with a wonderfully mischievous smile - who got us deliriously drunk. We met a friend from NYC in Bequia who was working Peace Corps on St. Vincent. It was a fun afternoon on an incredibly laid back and beautiful island. Word of warning - Sunset VSR (very strong rum) , distilled on neighboring St. Vincent, is 84.5% alcohol. From the distiller "The robust youthful spirit of this rum has a delectable flavour. Local enthusiasts drink it straight or with a chaser, while others prefer it with a mixer such as fresh coconut water, fruit juice or cola. It can also be used as a food preservative and is ideal for rich fruit cakes." Yeah - right - also works well as an embalming fluid. I'd place it right up there with jet fuel.

11 November 2008

cathedral of crowns

Katedrála sv. Martina / Bratislava, Slovakia
The Cathedral of St. Martin's is situated at the western border of the historical city center below Bratislava Castle. It is the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. It is known especially for serving as the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary beginning in 1563. On 8 September 1563, the Crown of St. Stephen was placed on the head of Maximilian II, son of Emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg. In total, the coronations of 11 kings and queens plus 8 of their consorts took place here between 1563 and 1830. The tower is topped by a huge gold-plated representation of the Crown of St. Stephen and was placed there in 1847 following the recovery of the tower damaged by lightning and then a subsequent fire, to commemorate the cathedral's glory and importance as a coronation church. St. Martin's has existed, in one form or another, on its current site since the early 1200's taking on its present semi-Gothic appearance in the mid-1800's.

10 November 2008

sunday with a view

Central Park West & Central Park North / New York, New York
Yesterday was a beautiful Fall day in NYC with lots of sunshine, colorful foliage and temperatures in the upper 50's. This was the view from our living room window looking out onto the northwest corner of Central Park with the upper east side and mid-town Manhattan in the background. Days like this are to be cherished as it won't be long before the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. Hopefully it will hang on through Thanksgiving but the reality is that Winter is just around the corner.

09 November 2008

amazonia under glass

Schmetterlinghaus / Vienna, Austria
Set in the greenery of the Hofburg Burggarten and encased in an Art Nouveau greenhouse, lies Vienna's Schmetterlinghaus, a tropical wonderland of colorful butterflies in as authentic of a rainforest environment that you'll likely find outside of Amazonia (or at least within Austria). The Schmetterlinghaus covers little more than 3,000 square feet of ground, but you can still find more than 150 different species, with about 400 individual butterflies fluttering around at any given time. The temperature remains at a steady 26 degrees centigrade, and the air humidity around 80 per cent. It was a warm and pleasant escape from the brisk November chill in the air.

08 November 2008

transylvania trek

Râşnov Fortress / Râşnov, Romania
The old fortress, which sits high above the Transylvania countryside serving as a citadel, is located at about 10 miles from the city of Braşov and about the same distance from Bran. Bran, by the way, is the site of Dracula's Castle, or at least the one heavily marketed as the home of the character in Bram Stoker's Dracula, which has led to persistent myths that it was once the home of Vlad The Impaler. Nevertheless, this is not true. Though we did purchase an excellent bottle of vodka at "Dracula's Castle" - complete with the requisite blood dripping down its neck. Anyways, Râşnov Fortress was built in the 14th century by the local Saxons and was meant to protect them from invaders and protect the Burtzenland's south eastern border, just 10 miles away. It has been recently renovated and is now one of the best preserved fortresses in Romania. It also offers incredibly breathtaking views of the surrounding Carpathian Mountains.

07 November 2008

recycled virgin

El Panecillo / Quito, Ecuador
El Panecillo is a hill located in the city at an altitude of about 9,895 ft above sea level. You can drive or climb to the top - we drove - the views were incredible, as you would suspect. An aluminum monument to the Virgin Mary, standing an additional 135 ft, is located on top of El Panecillo and is visible from most of the city of Quito. In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was commissioned to create the monument which he made of approximately 7,000 pieces of aluminum. The figure stands on top of a globe, stepping on a snake which is classic Madonna iconography. What is not so traditional, however, is her wings. With her brilliant (and at times blinding from the intensiveness of the sun) aluminum shell, she serves as a beacon watching over the city appearing as though she could take flight at a moment's notice.

06 November 2008

deco en el distrito federal

Apartment Building Near Torre de los Ingleses / Buenos Aires, Argentina
Art Deco is probably my favorite style of architecture. And what more beautiful place to experience it than in Buenos Aires - definitely one of my top favorite cities in the world. The early 20th century was a period of rapid growth for the city with the population jumping from 1.5 million inhabitants in 1914 to over 3.5 million in 1935. This growth stimulated new construction; much of it in the Art Deco style which was a popular international design movement from the mid-20's until about 1940. It affected not only architecture but also the visual arts such as fashion, painting, the graphic arts, and industrial design. And while many design movements have political or philosophical roots or intentions, Art Deco (for the most part) was purely decorative. It is considered a more eclectic, softer and stylish form of modernism; a period of forward-thinking experimentation which took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

05 November 2008

it's a new day - it's a new dawn

Riverside Park / New York, New York
It's all good. As President-Elect Obama so eloquently spoke last evening "This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were." There is a renewed energy - a new focus - that has been missing for far too long. It is indeed a new day. Culminating, for me, last night as I walked into our building at 1am from a celebratory evening in New York City to have my doorman spontaneously hug me.

04 November 2008

your moment is now

72nd Electoral District / New York, New York
It's an historic day. Make sure you are a part of it. Vote. Now.

03 November 2008

big yellow taxi

South Street Seaport / New York, New York
Forget about hailing a cab on the streets of New York City - head for the waters, young man! New York Water Taxi connects you to neighborhoods, parks and other attractions all along the East Side, West Side, Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn waterfronts. There is even a free Ikea Express, which runs from lower Manhattan direct to the relatively new Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Shop til you drop - as long as it will fit in your blue Ikea bag. They also offer a "hop on - hop off" service in the warmer months which is a great way to cover the sites of the city while enjoying the views from the water. New York Water Taxi operates a fleet of 10 vessels and every vessel except for the American Princess (which is a monohull) is a catamaran.

02 November 2008


Ben & Jerry's Cowmobile / Waterbury, Vermont
What would a trip to Vermont be without a stop at Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory in Waterbury. In 1977, lifelong friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield completed a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making from Penn State University achieving perfect scores. In May 1978, with a $12,000 investment the pair opened an ice cream parlor in a renovated gas station in downtown Burlington, Vermont. The innovative flavors, made from fresh Vermont milk and cream, combined with large portions of whatever extra ingredients they felt like adding on the day of making, redefined ice cream as we know it today. But apparently too much milk and cream in the eyes of PETA who, in September 2008, sent a letter to Ben & Jerry's suggesting that in order to prevent cruelty to dairy cows they should use human breast milk in their ice cream. Ben & Jerry's applauded PETA's animal-friendly consciousness and then politely told them to go suck tit. Oh, and what do you call a cow that has just given birth? De-calf-inated, of course.

01 November 2008

tom tom trickery

Essex - Charlotte Ferry / Essex, New York
Yesterday afternoon we drove up to Burlington, Vermont. I've been several times so I was fairly confident in knowing the way but we had the Tom Tom GPS navigation system running nonetheless. Zooming up the Northway, north of Albany, I came to the exit where I usually veer off and head northeast towards Vermont. But my buddy Tom Tom strongly encouraged me to stay straight ahead on the Northway another 130 or so miles. I didn't really think much about it at the time because I've always been amazed when it takes me on short-cuts, etc that I'd otherwise never have discovered. After several more hours of driving, I began to get a bit fidgety knowing that there was a large lake called Champlain between us and where we wanted to be. And then - the large lake was suddenly 15 feet from the front bumper. It had brought us to a ferry crossing without ever asking us if we indeed WANTED to use a ferry. What if the ferry had not been running - we would have had to reverse direction and easily add another 3-4 hours onto our drive. Fortunately, we made the 6:30PM ferry. Humorously, in gabbing with other carloads crossing with us, the majority had also trusted their GPS system and ended up in the same predicament. Ah ha! Tom Tom went for the trick instead of the treat.