Archive of ‘Travels’ category

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 great bead adventure, part 2

| Bead adventures, Travels

Hello friends, I hope you had a wonderful weekend!  I thought I’d start the week off with the second part of my great bead adventure!  This time, I wanted to tell you all about my favorite part of the trip–the collectible beads!

Before setting out for Tucson,  a friend told me to set a budget and to stick to it.
When I saw the collectible beads, I realized what wise counsel that was and how utterly impossible to follow. There were beads there that I’ve only ever seen in books or museums! There were strands of the rare and beautiful, the old and uncommon to the more ordinary beads. Mixed in with all the collectibles were the newly made beads and there were heaps of those. I quickly learned that the most special strands were kept in glass boxes. These were the strands that cost a small fortune. Some dealers kept what they called “pocket pieces” or loose beads sold separately and these ranged in price to 10$ a bead to 140 a bead. And I’m not even talking about the ancient stone beads!

It was really cool to see so many different varieties and to be able to hold them and see up close all the ways they are different from each other. And I realized that this is  the best way to learn how to tell whether a bead is really old or merely a reproduction. Because there such a demand for collectible beads, there are some unscrupulous people who would take advantage and pass off reproductions as old. Or there are some who simply don’t know what they’re selling. So this was an invaluable learning experience for me.

Here are a few photos of the more memorable strands and beads.  I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!!

This first strand that caught my eye was also one of the most expensive ones at 4000 dollars. It has a several 6 layer Chevron beads, a huge German marble bead, rare Prosser chevron beads, a few  older barrel trade beads.

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One strand we looked at had a broken bead with writing on it.. the entire set consisted of three beads with the writing J Walker Co. Very rare to see one of them and the rest of the tabular beads were pretty too..

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This is a collection of unusual Millefioris including 2 stands of Moretti beads… price range of these beads from 500 to 1200+ dolla

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The pink strand was one of my absolute favorites–pink feather beads, pink eye beads and the pineapples.  I’ve never seen the blue and white with aventurine stripes in the second strand pictured here. 1400 for each of these strands.   20140221-150556.jpg

A collection of loose Millefiori beads in the rare football shape..price range 100-200 dollars per bead20140221-150740.jpg

Another collection of pocket beads..the beads pictured here are older, early 19th century or even earlier for some of the folded beads.20140221-150811.jpg

A beautiful collection of Viking era beads, the real deal as opposed to the Indonesian made replicas.

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And last but not the least,  several strands of etched ancient carnelians, price range 3000 to 7000 dollars a strand..  Very special treat to see these authentic strands as there are so many reproductions available today.DSCN4214

 

Now you see my this was my favorite part of the whole trip!

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The great bead adventure, part I

| Bead adventures, Travels

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For about three weeks in February, the town of Tucson, Arizona is taken over by  jewelry, beads, rocks and minerals thanks to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show.  The name itself is a bit misleading as there are, at last count, 38 shows during the show. It is the biggest fair of its kind in the US. Over 55,000 people come from all over the world to gather with other like minded afficionados. For someone with an interest in gems, minerals, beads and jewelry, this is the place to be. Nowhere else in the world would you see such variety and the sheer number of things on display is staggering.

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The show that began it all, the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, started out, humbly enough in 1955, when a group of mineral and rock collectors from the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society decided to hold a free exhibit at a local school. It was such a success that they decided to hold another one the year after.  Now, this Gem Show has moved to the Tucson Convention Center and a host of different shows have sprung up in various locations in town. It has gotten so big that even such institutions like the Smithsonian and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History have booths showing a portion of their collection.

One of the many giant amethyst rocks

One of the many giant amethyst rocks

I first heard about Tucson more than 10 years ago when I bought my first strand of sugilites from a dealer who came from Tucson.  He had a dazzling array of stones, some of which I’d never seen before.  And he told me that Tucson was where I could go and find everything and anything I could possibly want in gems.  Fast forward to present times and I found out that even my beloved trade beads could be found in Tucson. Now I really  wanted to go. Miraculously enough, a way was found, a few days  carved out of daily life’s routines and I could spend a few days being in bead heaven.

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What I found far exceeded any of my expectations.  One thing I learned fast was that its impossible to see everything. And I wanted to see everything!! A friend who has done the show at least twice and has been to all the shows, put it in perspective “you can see all the shows, but it doesn’t mean you can see every booth there is.”  There’s just so much to see.  There were 38 shows when I went but each show had numerous sellers and booths, with the bigger shows hosting easily 100 vendors, maybe more.  The trick is to decide on your priority and to stick to it.  I wanted to see antique beads and gems so I duly limited myself to the shows carrying the best selection.  All told I went to about 10 shows.   Not bad for a first timer I thought.

Even by limiting myself, it was so easy to get overwhelmed by the shows I did get to visit. I found myself gawking at everything.  There were huge mammoth tusks and fossils from all over the world. And tubs and tubs of every kind of gem and mineral that could possibly be mined from the earth.

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Another favorite--the tourmaline embedded in quartz

Another favorite–the tourmaline embedded in quartz

Rows and rows of fossils.

Rows and rows of fossils.

And while there were plenty of rough gems and minerals, there was no shortage of the finely cut, high end gemstones as well. I had the pleasure of meeting John Dyer, who has received numerous awards for his work in cutting gemstones and the selection he had on display was magnificent.20140219-165639.jpg

I love gems in the pink spectrum and he had the biggest morganite I ever did see.  The morganite  is the pink stone in the middle and the the spinel (the big read one next to it) was not too shabby either–22 karats big and a whooping 269,000$!  I got nervous holding on to their cases!!!

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Just thinking about them makes me weak in the knees. Whew!

So far I’ve talked about gems and minerals, but I haven’t yet told you about the beads.  That’s another story altogether. Tune in tomorrow for the next installment….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Afar

| Travels

I don’t remember anymore when or why I signed up to receive Afar magazine but I’m certainly glad to have done so! Its such a wonderful travel magazine. Its the best way to quickly get away from it all, without ever leaving the comfort of your chair.  I just finished their latest one and the article that struck me the most was its feature on the Silk Road.  Photographer Frederic Lagrange set out to travel the remote region of the Wakhan Corridor which formed part of the Silk Road.  His images are just amazing and out of this world beautiful.  I was beyond pleased when I realized that there was an accompanying video to the article to be found in the Afar website.  I just have to share it with you and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

 

 

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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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Beads from Briare

| Bead adventures, Travels

DSCN2026Most of you now know that I go to a lot of antique and flea markets to find my beads.  But one of my more unusual bead finds literally, involved, digging into the ground to find beads. This took place one fine weekend in the spring when I decided to drag the entire family for a bead adventure. I had heard about the town of Briare (about an hour and a half away from Paris) and how this was once the site of a huge glass making factory. At its heyday in the mid-19th century the Briare glass factory established by Jean-Baptieste Bapterosses  produced 600 tons of buttons and 496 tons of glass beads! Bapterosses was an innovator who was one of the first to figure out how to mass produce buttons and beads.   Unfortunately decline set in during the early 20th century after the demand for porcelain buttons went down and the factory has long since been sold.

But what intrigued me was the site just behind the factory where defective buttons, tiles and beads were dumped.  The idea of beads just lying below the surface of the ground was of course irresistible so we set out to hunt for these Briare beads.

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We walked through a passage of trees to emerge into a wide clearing covered entirely with tiles.

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After bead production was shut down, the factory turned to the production of tiles for which they are still known today.  And while I was worried about trespassing and all that, luck was with us that day. Several families had the same idea and were busy digging for tiles and filing bags with them.

And true enough, there were beads to be found just by digging a little through the surface filled with tiles.

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Just check out our haul from that day! Gorgeous beads that looked as fresh as the day they came out of production. Briare beads are distinctive for their slightly glossy finish and by the equatorial band running all along the bead.DSCN2072

I even found some pretty tube beads.DSCN2069

I came home pretty satisfied with my find. And I finally got around to making a piece with my Briare finds. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!

 

 

 

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A certain pearl

| Jewelry, Travels

The world's biggest pearl used in a piece of jewelry

I love looking at jewelry wherever I may find them. Often, churches are a great source for beautiful and ostentatious jewelry. Just look at this crown. And if the fact that it is made entirely of 18 carat gold, is not enough bling, just look at all the rubies, emeralds and sapphires that have been added to it. And the highlight of this crown? Its the pearl carved into the form of the baby Jesus. Its the world’s biggest pearl ever used in a piece of jewelry! Such lavishness is of course not meant for a mere mortal, no matter how high his rank. No, this crown is reserved only for the Mary, the mother of God. Us mortals can be content with simply admiring it from behind its glass case in the magnificent Cathedral of Seville.

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