Archive of ‘Scenes from our travels’ category

Soaking up the sun and finding inspiration

| Fine jewelry, Jewelry, Scenes from our travels

A few days before the close of 2016, we had the pleasure of spending a few days in the sunny island of Puerto Rico. It was a welcome break from the snow and cold and a chance to soak up the sun and recharge.

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 We were greeted by blue skies and the blue green waters of the Atlantic. We could feel ourselves immediately relaxing. The island was first settled in 1509 by the Spanish led by Juan Ponce de Leon. The present site of San Juan was founded in 1510 and was  given its formal name  of Puerto Rico de San Juan Bautista in 1521.  It is the second oldest European established capital in the new world, the first being Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

The remnants of its colonial past is evident in the walls of the city and its two forts that stills stands guard over the city. In days past, the forts constituted the first line of defense against hostile powers who would storm the city and take its riches.

Nowadays, its a popular spot for those who want to take a stroll, and take in the magnificent views of the sea.

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By day, we shared the historic downtown with the numerous daytrippers from the many cruise ships that make this port, a must stop in the Caribbean. All of us were walking around holding our cameras and phones in front of us, trying to capture the vibrant colors that adorn the traditional colonial houses and buildings.

Blue, yellow, violet and pink, every hue was present and it was fun trying to capture that.

Business establishments are on the first floor while families still lived in its upper floors.

At night, once all but the few who chose to stay the night were gone, it was possible to catch glimpses of the families that still live behind the wrought iron balconies and lace covered windows.

The best surprise of the trip was discovering a strong local and thriving artistic community. Yes, there are a number of American style malls but there are also a good number of stores carrying only local artists and featuring only local and handmade crafts and goods.

Take this store which proudly refuses to carry anything other than their own handmade Panama hats…

Or this one store which carried a number of pretty bags, among other things. On the day we were there, we got to meet the artist.  Its a big family undertaking, she told us. Her mother and daughter help her make the bags and her other daughter sells them in the store.

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 Here is a small sampling of her work.

img_7989One gallery I loved featured art work  showing the wonderful old doors of San Juan.
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But my favorite discovery was a tiny shop that also housed a jewelry school.  Nothing touristy about this shop. When I stepped in, I was among residents who were having their jewels cleaned or repaired. This picture is a small sampling of the work of either professors or students of the school.  Their work features gems and stones, silver, gold, and even enamel

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 Needless to say, this was the place to find the perfect souvenir to take back home.

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Throwback Thursday: La Dolce Vita

| Scenes from our travels, Throwback Thursday, Travels

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Hello friends, for this Throwback Thursday post, I thought I’d share a few photos from our last trip to Italy. As a vacation destination, its hard to beat Italy. There is so much culture and history for culture buffs, gorgeous views, be it of the city or the countryside, delicious food and wine and of course, who can resist gelatos? It truly is one of my favorite places to visit.

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This time around we thought we’d visit Florence. This city which is synonymous with Medici dominance has a lot going for it.  It is a fairly compact city with most major historic sites within walking distance. To fully appreciate its charms, one must come many times, the better to take in all it has to offer. 

There is of course no shortage of churches to visit, most notably the Duomo of Florence with its gorgeous facade made entirely of marble.  The view from its rooftop is impressive which is somewhat a consolation because its’ interior is (funnily enough) not as impressive as its exterior.

For beautiful frescoes and art, it is the Church of Santa Croce that you must see.  One can easily spend hours in this church, marveling at everything.  There are as well a number of prominent people buried in this church,  notably Michaelangelo.

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For much of Florentine history, the Piazza de Signoria has been the gathering place of its people.   Fra Savonarola gave his incendiary speeches here and it is likewise here that he met his fiery end.  Nowadays, it is crowded with camera toting tourists and the cafes that throng the Piazza are full.  While we were there, it was the site of a vintage car exhibit which drew as many people as the Uffizi galleries, not far from the Piazza.

20140724-100022-36022157.jpgA visit to Florence wouldn’t be complete without strolling through the Ponte Vecchio. At least to try to stroll as much as you can given the huge crowd that always seems to be on the bridge!  Crowd or not, the view of the Arno river from the bridge is beautiful.  To capture this view of the Ponte Vecchio, cross over to one of the other bridges.

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The Ponte Vecchio is lined from one end to another with jewelry shops, all proudly carrying on the Florentine tradition of goldsmithing and jewelry making.   The bridge however wasn’t always the site of such pretty objects.  In its earlier history, the Ponte Vecchio was the home of numerous Florentine butcher shops.  In 1593,  Duke Ferdinando I of the Medicis moved the goldsmiths here in an effort to boost the city’s beauty and in order to attract higher end customers.   Now, its impossible to imagine the bridge without all the jewelry shops, so entrenched are they here.20140723-084137-31297508.jpg

This is but one shop among the many that crowd the bridge…

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It wasn’t on Ponte Vecchio however that I found my own personal souvenir to take back with me. On one of the tiny side streets that radiate out of the Duomo, I found a tiny jewelry workshop.  Consigli di Anna  had a beautiful display of jewelry which of course, I could not resist. It turns out that the owner Anna has been making jewelry for 25 years in this tiny shop.  Her work mostly uses natural stones and gems and she still makes every piece herself. Her shop is a virtual cavern of treasures and I found myself looking at every single item.

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I was heartened to see her work desk with its jumble of stones and tools of the trade. Seems I’m not the only one who works in, how shall I say it–glorious disarray.20140723-084134-31294238.jpg

After what seemed like hours of looking and trying on every thing in the store, I settled for this pair of delicate pearls and Mediterranean coral. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Of course all that walking around is enough to work up quite an appetite, and this being Italy, there is no shortage of restaurants and gelaterias, some of which are more of a tourist trap than authentic Italian fare.  However, we lucked out and found La Mescita, tiny place frequented by locals since 1927. While they serve only limited number of pasta dishes and a dish of the day, it was perfectly delicious and while partaking this meal, we had the impression of truly living la dolce vita.

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The Perfect Souvenir

| Scenes from our travels

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Over the summer, while in a Greece, I became slightly obsessed by the Greek mati. I loved the idea of a talisman to ward off the evil eye. At its simplest, the evil eye is thought to be a look given to inflict harm, bad luck or misfortune to anyone perceived to be too successful. To be sure, this belief is not limited to the Greeks. It is prevalent in the Mediterranean countries but also in Turkey, Brazil and even Asia. Thus, evil eye charm was born to deflect the potentially harmful and malicious gaze of others. It has since become one of the most prevalent and strongest symbols in the world.

So I wanted to find the perfect charm to bring back home. And I wanted if possible an old Greek mati. Unfortunately, this proved to be elusive. Numerous vendors at the shops and flea market all told me the same thing– there are no more old mati symbols to be found. I had to be content with more modern interpretations.

Luckily I chanced upon a local jewelry company called Gregio, which featured the mati in a number of their gorgeous designs. They were all very pretty and wearable things so I was pretty spoilt for choice. Best of all, it was a local designer so I could support someone local!
Here are the two pieces I ended up getting! They make for the perfect souvenir that I could wear all year round!

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Travel Tuesday: Greece

| Scenes from our travels

Hello friends, today I thought I’d share some scenes from our recent trip. Much as I hate to admit it, there’s a crispness to the air that signals the end of summer and the beginning of fall. These pictures are a way of holding on to summer just a wee bit longer.

A view of the Aegean Sea

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A distant view of the Parthenon

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It wouldn’t be Greece without the ubiquitous mati that wards off the evil eye

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Travel Thursday

| Bead adventures, Scenes from our travels

Hello friends, today I thought I’d mix it up on the blog and do a travel post instead of a Throwback Thursday post. Wherever I am, I always find myself checking out local bead shops. It’s always interesting to see what’s available and one way or another I always come away inspired.
Sometimes I’ll even get lucky and find some old beads I can use for my own jewelry.

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This time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am right smack in the heart of bead street. I got positively giddy when I realized that Corso Vittorio Emanuel in Palermo has so many bead stores lining its entire length. I haven’t walked the whole stretch of it but the short distance I covered already had 5 stores! Of course my euphoria was a bit tempered because all the stores carried the whole spectrum of gemstones and semi-precious stones but not one of them had the antique beads I was looking for.
Still and all, there were so many wonderful gems and beautiful findings that I could have easily spent the whole day in these stores. Oh I did stumble, just before heading back, on one store that had some vintage silver charms. Maybe I should get one of them…

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Retracing our steps

| Scenes from our travels, Travels, Uncategorized

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One weekend, we decided to take a trip and visit Chicago, a city that holds many great memories for our family.  I’m amazed to think that its been at least 10 years since our last visit  here. I had the feeling while we walked around that we were walking in the steps of our youthful selves. There is the iconic Hancock tower where I watched one 4th of July spectacle of flying jets.

There is still the beautiful park near the wonderful Art Institute where you can rest just after viewing the great collection of the Institute. The weekend we were there, we saw that this tall block is actually an art installation which just happens to also be a giant fountain of water much to the amusement of many children.

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I guess I really am a city girl at heart because I loved being among the skyscrapers and noisy streets, the energy kinetic and dynamic, always on the go. IMG_0847 Its still a city of great food with such stalwarts as Rick Bayles’ Frontera Grill and some newcomers like Stephanie Izard’s Girl and Goat and Little Goat Diner. More on that on a future post!

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Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a bit of shopping so we went and checked out Ikram. Don’t you love their choice of storefront color?IMG_0875

For all its hustle and bustle, there are quiet spots to be found. We took a rest on a quiet spot just above the River where the trees provided some shade from the sun and we watched the boats go up and down.IMG_0922

Another quiet spot we found was just steps off the busy Magnificent Mile, inside the cool and silent cloisters of this church.

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I think its safe to say we won’t wait another 10 years for our next visit!

 

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Summer vacation a la francaise

| Scenes from our travels

Summer collage1Hello friends, I wanted to share some images of my fondest memories of summers spent in France.  Right about now, the French are busy planning their annual holidays, if they haven’t already left.

There are two camps–those who leave in July, les jullietistes and come back sometime in August and those who leave in August, les aoutiens and come back in September.  But whichever camp they’re in, most people are gone from Paris by the 15th of August. Even les juillietistes find an excuse to be away on that date!  Paris is empty of its residents at this time of the year.  A good of number of restaurants and small shops are closed too. Everyone, except for a lucky few come back in the beginning of September for la rentree.

We’ve always been in the August camp and it was funny (though sometimes it was a bummer to wait so long before leaving for vacation too) to see your friends all go progressively away on vacation. But I have to say that having Paris all to yourself is not such a hardship.

Paris, tu me manques

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Hudson Clearwater

| Scenes from our travels, Uncategorized

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One of the things I really enjoy when traveling is discovering new restaurants. I especially like the hidden tiny gems that are far from maddening crowd.  In a city like New York, you are spoilt for choice so it can be difficult if not daunting to find a good one.  But I had heard of small restaurant hidden in the West Village.  The idea that it was hidden was what sold me to the idea of trying this particular one.

When we arrived at the address given for Hudson Clearwater, the entrance wasn’t immediately clear.   After looking around a bit, we realized that the entrance was a small green side door.  It opened to a tiny little courtyard and we were immediately charmed.

Hudson Clearwater2It wasn’t very big inside but it was certainly bustling. With its exposed brick walls and  candles lighting the tables Hudson Clearwater has a very cozy ambiance.   The cuisine is robust and well-executed American fare.  I started my dinner with their butter clam gnocchi dish which was excellent. The clams were served with the gnocchi in this delicious broth that was made for dipping the crostini bread it was served with.  If there was one must-order dish from this restaurant, its definitely this one.

For the main dish I went with the crispy duck breast served on a bed of vegetables.  I normally don’t order duck but this one was quite tender and well cooked.  It was flavorful with the vegetables complementing the meat perfectly.  All in all a good dish even if you’re not a fan of duck.

As if weren’t full enough, we decided to go ahead and order dessert. It wasn’t completely reasonable on our part but its hard to regret that when the chocolate banana pudding we ordered prove to be scrumptious! It was a huge portion but I’m happy to report that the balance between chocolate and banana was perfectly proportioned.

A charming location, great food and good service. What more can we ask for? This is definitely a keeper!

Details:

Hudson Clearwater

447 Hudson St. NYC

212 989 3255

 

 

 

 

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The dream that is Venice

| Scenes from our travels

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I have nothing but the loveliest memories of Venice.  Its such a magical city, almost dreamlike in its allure. How can I not adore a city that has produced so much of those wonderful antique beads I now have the pleasure of working with?  And I am only one among its many admirers, Byron perhaps being one of its more lyrical ones. So I was devastated when I came across an article on the New York Review of Books titled The Coming Death of Venice?

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The article lists down the ills that beset the city and to say that its troubling is an understatement. Venice was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Since then, the number of tourists have risen in staggering numbers. A big number of these tourists come in those gigantic cruise ships that ply the route in the Mediterranean.   They come into  the city and disgorged literally thousands of people onto St. Marks Square.  Unfortunately these great numbers have taken a heavy toll on the city because Venice simply wasn’t built to accommodate such numbers.  And because there is, as yet, not firm plan to handle such massive numbers, nor a plan to make tourism support the city, the problem is greatly aggravated.

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As a tourist myself (though the closest we ever got to a boat was a water taxi), it was disturbing to read how much our mere presence could endanger this lovely city.  I imagine that you dear readers, much as I, are never really quite aware when visiting other places, that our presence could take a toll. We are there to enjoy its newness, discover its charms and partake of local culture. We chafe at the lines outside the museums and historical sites but respect nonetheless the limits it sets.  We try to blend in with locals and do our best to avoid being that obnoxious traveller.  But, do we ever ask ourselves, at what price we enjoy all this? All this newness and wonder of discovery?

Venice seems to tells us that our mere presence exacts a heavy toll.  Because of the way it was built, all these big numbers cause pollution levels to skyrocket, it disturbs the fragile moorings of those beautiful buildings we so admire and worse, cause the water levels to rise above what the city is prepared to handle.  The problem of flooding is now only a matter of when, not if.

But if there were no people like you and I visiting the City, then there would also be much less jobs for the people who rely heavily on tourism not to mention much less money generated by all the tourists buying souvenirs and enjoying the delicious restaurants. What would all those gondoliers do if we were to all stop visiting? Like it or not, there are lots of lives that depend on the visitors. The city would still be lost if the people who live in it have no means to live.

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The answer may lie in the fact that Venice needs us and we need Venice. We need to be aware of the toll it takes for the city to welcome us.  So let’s be light footed visitors and travelers doing our bit to save this city (or for that matter any other city we find ourselves in).  We need to preserve this magical city full of gorgeous color saturated buildings and wonderful art work, the least of which are those wonderful beads, some of which are still being blown the old traditional way.  And we need to actively support those who would fight, yes fight, to preserve Venice.

See all these pictures I took?  I want to be able to go back to Venice and show these sights to my children. I want to share with them the beauty that so enchanted me and make new memories.  And if to preserve Venice, there comes a  day when limits are set on the number who can come and when, then I will follow. Because at least then, I will know that Venice still exists and not only in faded old dreams.

 

 

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