A CITY A WEEK...PHILADELPHIA

by adeline talbot


This one’s just for fun—a reminder of the joy of the unexpected.

I love Philadelphia to bits. I’ve lived there, led numerous trips there, have a child who lives there. I even married a Philly boy. For me it is truly my ‘2nd city’, the one I know almost as well as I know home. Even so and like any dynamic place, there are just always new and wonderful things to be experienced.

In October. on a flying visit to Philadelphia, I finally made time to visit Magic Gardens. It’s not new, not out of the way—in fact, not in anyway inaccessible. I’d just never happened to have been to this multi-decade, mosaic-crazy wonderment—and I’m so glad to say I finally have! It’s an absolute, positive dazzler.

So next time you’re in Philly you should go—and if you do then you may want to buy your tickets in advance. They tend to book up early. I may be late to the Magic Gardens party but the rest of world seems to have long known that it’s a very special place.

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Oh and while you’re exploring you may also want to make time to visit another amazing spot in Philly. This one is in Fairmount Park—Shofuso, a traditional Japanese tea house and garden. It’s gorgeous, simply gorgeous. Profoundly sublime to precisely the same measure as Magic Gardens’ over the top exuberance. My guess is that you’re going to love both of these not so hidden treasures in the marvelous/topsy turvy/raucous/stately City of Brotherly Love where the list of things to see and do never seems to end.


A CITY A WEEK...DETROIT

by adeline talbot


Anywhere.  Any time.

That about sums up the way I feel.  

If Benjamin Briggs, director of Preservation Greensboro, recommends a spot, then by golly we’re going! 

Benjamin and I have partnered on quite a number of trips at this point--seven, I believe by last count—and even though we already have a trip on for next year,  we’ve added a second. We just couldn’t seem to stop ourselves.

 Benjamin recently visited Detroit and absolutely, positively could not stop raving about this unexpected delight of a city hence what we like to call one of our ‘pop up’ trips--a quick in and out weekend deep dive to this great Phoenix of city.

Between Benjamin’s excellent advance work and his equally excellent contacts we think we’ve pulled together a terrific introduction to the Motor City, one that showcases the city’s glorious story through its many decades. Detroit-based Christman, the restoration group behind Greensboro’s Cascade Saloon as well as Hemingway’s Cuban retreat, Finca Vigia, and such closer home projects as the Fisher Building, the Michigan Central Railway Depot and Fair Lane, the Henry Ford Estate, are excited about our visit, so much so they have signed on to help by opening doors and making contacts to ensure a truly exceptional, one of kind tour.

So I ask you—what are you waiting for?

Click this link for the Detroit Pop Up itinerary.  

Click this link for the itinerary of the Architecture of England trip next September.


…and read on for a few words from Benjamin on as he puts it  ‘The Motown Lowdown’…

Perhaps you heard that Detroit has begun a remarkable rebound, but you can’t fully understand the scope and scale of revitalization efforts in the Motor City…unless you visit!

For a generation, Detroit has been the tagline for commentary on the ills of urban America. As cities like New York, Cleveland, and Buffalo have achieved revitalization their city centers, Detroit seemed left behind…until now. Within sixteen months of emerging from the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy, partnerships between city and state government, business leaders, and the city's philanthropic community have led a massive community re-investment including the construction of an iconic 912-foot tall mixed use development, new developments to attract Millennial urban dwellers, and the recently announced Ford Motor Company rehabilitation of the abandoned Michigan Central Station. Detroit is experiencing a remarkable revitalization that you should see for yourself!

                                     BB November 2018


A CITY A WEEK...LISBON AND FABULOUS PORTUGAL

by adeline talbot


My mom had a wonderful expression that I have been trying—and failing—to remember all week.  What it was not is the phrase that keeps suggesting itself to me which for some completely unaccountable reason is ‘keep the ditch in the road’.  Nonsensical and bad advice.  As I say—not it.

I think it must have been along of lines of ‘keep the plow in the row’ only with a bit more lyrical zing.

And why, you may ask, so much thought given to this during this particular week? Because this week despite all best intentions and efforts, the Tuesday blog is coming out on Friday, that’s why. 

You know that kind of week—the kind when one is just sort of glad to be able to claim to have a row much less a plow.  All aspirations of a higher order perfections shoved to the side.  Head down. Full steam ahead until you can at least see the end.

And here it is--Friday! Mission accomplished!!

End of the week and of the figurative row, and may I say, with plenty to show for all the effort despite a certain lack orderliness...

In my case, the week's accomplishments include the new, complete and I think very exciting itinerary for Portugal, my new favorite place.

You’ll find it in its entirety below.

The itinerary starts in Lisbon, moves on to the Alentejo town of Evora then to Porto.  

All fa-bu-lous.

(No kidding, I know I say every place is my favorite but this really is…honest…)

Portugal is gorgeous, delicious, friendly, safe and, based on experience the last bargain on the planet.

You. Need. To. Come. Along.

And you need more info—so read on (or click the tab above in 'Navigation').

In the meantime--Happy Friday, all. We did it.

Time to put up your plow, don't you think?

PORTUGAL

SEPTEMBER 23rd to October 1st, 2017

Eight days to introduce this fabulous gem of a country? We like to think we’ve done just that with this itinerary designed around the country’s many, many charms.  Whether it is Lisbon’s post-empire glory, the Alentejo’s profound—and delicious—sense of place or Porto’s hip-meets-history vibe, we have created an itinerary that is busy while never rushed; rich with 'must sees' as well as ‘only for us’ experiences.  For a thousand and one reasons the time to visit Portugal is now!

$4150

Includes 7 breakfasts, 1 afternoon petisco break, 5 lunches, 5 dinners, 8 nights accommodation, all trip–related fees, admissions and transportation. Not included: airfare, airport transfers and alcoholic beverages unless otherwise stated. Single supplement $850.

ACCOMMODATIONS :: VALVERDE HOTEL, LISBON; M'AR DE AR ADEDUTO, EVORA; PORTO AS 1829, PORTO

Saturday SEPTEMBER 23rd

Architectural Walking tour

As those of you who have traveled with us know—we love to start with a good walk.  We believe it is simply the best way to get to know a new city.  Lisbon makes this particularly rewarding with its fabulous architecture, walkable streets and vibrant neighborhoods.

‘Tea’ at MEMMO ALFAMA

Another of our first afternoon favorites, this time tweaked just a bit to better enjoy the customs of the country.  This 'tea time' we opt for petiscos (Portuguese tapas) and a favorite tipple or two at this fabulous spot in the Alfama, where the river views are as famous as the fare.

Dinner :: Open

We keep it flexible tonight—you can call it a day, venture out for dinner at one of the many neighborhood spots or stay in for dinner at SITIO , Valaverde’s celebrated restaurant.

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 24th

Today we begin with a tour of one of Lisbon’s singular attractions, The Monastery of St Jerome. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a superb example of Manueline architecture built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage of exploration. In both spirit and fact, the monastery lies at the heart of the Portuguese soul.

Lunch :: POPULI

We stop for lunch at this popular spot on the grand Praca De Comercio

MUSEU DO AZULEJO

We tour this small gem of a museum which tells the outsized story of azulejos—tin-glazed tiles—and their continuing delight, influence and importance in Portuguese culture.

CASTEL DE SAO JORGE

Saint George's Castle, with its earliest ramparts dating from the 6th century, is a magnificent oasis of calm that belies its  fourteen centuries of turbulent history.

DINNER :: TABIK

Stylish, excellent and a short stroll from our hotel.  I’d say that about sums it up! 

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 25th

We depart after breakfast for a two hour bus ride through the gorgeous Alentejo region of central Portugal arriving in Monsaraz in time for an introduction to its justly famous textile tradition. We follow this with a guided stroll through this fabulous ancient hilltop town.

Lunch :: TAVERNA OS TEMPLARIOS

  A charming restaurant with terrific local specialties and equally terrific views.

A QUINTA DO MOUROS

Vineyard Tour and Dinner

The Alentejo is Portugal’s most important wine region. We combine a delicious crash course in Portuguese wine with a vineyard tour to be followed by a private dinner in the vineyard's elegant manor  house.

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 26th

EVORA

Charming and very walkable, Evora’s centuries of history are evident at every turn.  In addition to its stunning Roman aqueduct, there is its Temple to Diana, the 13th century cathedral, the imposing 14th century ducal palace and the macabre Capela dos Ossos--Chapel of The Bones--to name a few.

LUNCH :: RESTAURANTE FIALHO

This picturesque restaurant has been Evora’s most celebrated since opening in 1945.

ALMENDRES CROMLECH

The Alentejo region has an abundance of prehistoric menhirs and other megalithic monuments.  The Alemedres Cromlech, located a few kilometers outside Evora, is one of the largest and best preserved of these in all of Europe.

Open :: Dinner

A bit of self-guided time to explore the delights of Evora, culinary and otherwise.

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 27th

We depart Evora for Porto. It’s a three hour trip and we thought we’d break it up just a bit with a stop in COIMBRA,

 one of the oldest university towns in Europe.

CAFETARIA DO MUSEU

We have a light lunch upon arrival in Coimbra in this charming 17th century laboratory turned cafe.

UNIVERSIDADE DE COIMBRA BIBLIOTECA JOANINA and

 CEPELA DE SAO MIGUEL

We tour two stunning examples of Manueline Baroque architecture--the university's glorious 18th century library and the adjacent Chapel of Saint Michael.

Dinner :: ODE PORTO WINEHOUSE

We arrive in Porto in time to settle in to our digs, the gracious Porto AS 1829 Hotel, and then stroll to dinner at ODE Winehouse.

 THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 28th

Walking Tour of Porto

Again, what better way to get to know the history and culture of a city than to see its sites on foot and up close?

LUNCH ::  VINUM

The elegant restaurant attached to Graham Port Lodge has sweeping views and delicious fare.

GRAHAM'S PORT LODGE

Nothing is more essential to Porto than its port lodges--and Grahams is widely considered to have the finest 'caves'. We then enjoy a tasting in their renowned Private Vintage Room.

Open :: Dinner

Whether sidewalk café or Michelin-starred, Porto offers endless wonderful culinary choices.

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 29th

SERRALVES FOUNDATION

We tour Porto’s superb contemporary art museum, widely considered to be one of the finest in Southern Europe, before breaking for an open lunch and afternoon.

DINNER :: DOP PORTO

This charming and intimate restaurant is one of Porto’s most popular special occasion spots--and its just up the hill from our hotel. The ideal combination!

 SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 30th

We return to Lisbon in time for an afternoon of shopping, sightseeing—or maybe just chill time by the Tejo River.

DINNER :: SITIO

We keep it close to home on our last night in Portugal with a very festive farewell dinner at Valverde’sSITIO.

SUNDAY OCTOBER 1st

Tour ends after breakfast.

 

 

 


A CITY A WEEK...PRAGUE WITH GUEST BLOGGER RANDY SHULL

by adeline talbot


I'm a fan and have been for a long time now.  A Randy Shull fan, that is.  

A fan of his paintings, his furniture and of his design work which includes most recently his multi-year re-design of the Black Mountain Museum + Art Center in Asheville, North Carolina.  

All of Randy's varied work shares a fundamental strengtha cogency of concept and shape, not only beautiful but also deeply intelligent. 

In addition to these many talents, Randy is also a traveler. And that brings me to today's post.

 Randy spent August 2016 in Prague participating in an artist residency program that is jointly sponsored by the American Embassy and the Czech Ministry of Culture. 

When Randy and I saw each of recently at a Weatherspoon Art Museum event we discussed Prague as a city of surprises.  

The truth is that many of us think we know the real Prague.  That it is a sweet and appealing jewel box of a city—heartbreakingly beautiful but perhaps just a bit frozen in time. 

Ah, but there is so much more. Historical jewel box, yes, spared from the destructions of World War II as was no other European capital, but also a living breathing city, modern, vibrant and humming with cultural life.  

 As evidence of this one need look no further than Randy's photographs and video taken during his recent visit.  They run the gamut from the Royal Gardens to the city's justly celebrated Cubist architecture (this one with a nod to one of her most celebrated native sonsKafka) to the DOX Center for Contemporary Art, making it clear--Prague literally spans centuries.

The video above gives a view of the courtyard of the Bubec Sculpture Studio, founded by the Czech Republic’s foremost sculptor, Cestmir Suskaand host site for Shull’s  month-long residency.

Come to Prague with us next May and you will see for yourself.  It is a wonderful city, packed full of surprises...


A CITY A WEEK...CAPE TOWN

by adeline talbot


If you have traveled before on one of our trips offered in partnership with Weatherspoon Art Museum then you know—amazing things tend to happen.

Weatherspoon’s Nancy Doll has a way of creating a very special trip that brings together the major must-sees with a select group of very special private access experiences.   

I was reminded of this recently when preparing for our upcoming trip to Cape Town in late spring 2017, jointly sponsored by Weatherspoon Art Museum and Preservation Greensboro

We will arrive just after the opening of perhaps the world's most important new museum.  

Hyperbole? Not really.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa , or Zeitz MOCAA, will be the first-ever major museum dedicated to the African contemporary art. With the opening of this museum, Cape Town is poised to become a new center of gravity within the contemporary art world.  And Zeitz MOCAA is  poised to be the cultural world's new must-see museum supplanting such recent additions as Crystal Bridges in Bentonville and The Broad in Los Angeles.

The brilliant design for Zeitz MOCCA has already garnered its share of attention for Thomas Heatherwick’s repurposing of a series of grain silos along Cape Town’s waterfront. 

In a bit of Weatherspoon synergy, Heatherwick’s name may be familiar to Dallas Fall 2014 participants where we saw to a terrific retrospective of his work at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

See what I mean?  With Nancy along things just naturally add up to extraordinary experiences.

Zeitz MOCAA, a new must-see--and just one of the wonders we will encounter in one of the world's great cities.  

Come see for yourself!

 

 


A CITY A WEEK...PHILADELPHIA

by adeline talbot


I'm back after a little needed if unexpected September R & R.  And not only am I back but I am positively raring to go with a slew of exciting trips on offer for next year. 

This morning we announce 'The Gardens of Philadelphia’ itinerary offered in partnership with Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden—and below I will give my thoughts on why Philadelphia is the best garden city ever—but first a brief shout out on another 2017 destination--Prague. 

You may have seen the great article in a recent Sunday New York Times Travel section on Prague's latest hotspots--but if you missed here’s a link:

FIVE PLACES TO GO IN PRAGUE

 Prague is a hip and happy place—and one that always rewards an extended visit.  I’ll be there to help make sure things go smoothly but it will be my co-leaders, Marsha Gordon and Louis Cherry, who will serve as our resident experts.  Marsha is a film historian and Louis is a modernist architect and  together they know Prague better than most Czechs.  All of which adds up to a not to be missed experience! 

And as for knowing cities well, I can justly claim to know Philadelphia very well. It's my husband's hometown and where we both lived for the first 10 years after college. The tradition continues now with our daughter's recent move to Philly after her college graduation in May. That all adds up to a lot of touch points—and yet I was struck when developing the itinerary for our spring trip that perhaps the very best lens of all through which to view Philadelphia is through her landscapes and gardens. 

Not only are they magnificent—and they truly, truly are magnificent—but they strike me as uniquely suited to capture the proud and continuing heritage of this great American city and her surrounding region. 

Bartram's Garden, the oldest surviving botanical garden in the nation; Longwood Gardens, one of the world's premier botanical gardens; Fairmount Park, the largest landscaped urban park anywhere--so many must-see sites here seem to be accompanied by these superlatives. 

Even technically ‘small scale’ gardens, such as Chanticleer, are incomparably fine.  

And the splendor is not limited to past glories.  Take, for example, the very contemporary one-acre living roof high atop Center City’s PECO Building. Stunning views, stunning design and all in the service of better, more efficient energy use.

And as an added bonus, the region’s verdure seems to have inspired one of the country’s best restaurant scenes, as we will happily experience as part of our exploration of the region.

Can you tell I am excited?  Well, I am--and truly think you will be too once you give our itinerary a look.

And I hope you decide to come along!!


TWO CITIES THIS WEEK...STELLENBOSCH AND FRANSCHHOEK, SOUTH AFRICA

by adeline talbot


Planning for a trip is, in a very real way, a bit of a treasure hunt especially when planning for group travel. After all, 'on the fly' for twenty or more is just not that likely to lead to good things.   

 The challenge, though, is not lack of information.  

There are endless online sources and, of course, this very endlessness creates its own challenges.  Just so much information.  How to evaluate it all?

 There is also the always important research trip but arriving in-country without a working plan risks wasting this very investment of time and treasure.   This is the time to refine the plan--not to get one.

Don't get me wrong--I absolutely love doing online research.  I never tire of a day spent chasing down options that the hold out the promise of the best and most interesting experiences.

And I absolutely, positively love a research trip. After all, I am on record--any excuse will do when it comes to travel. 

I'm just saying that like all good treasure hunts, one must be prepared to not only to go deep but wide.  I have found that one of the most valuable strategies is to take every opportunity to ask questions--lots of questions--starting with the sturdiest pair of all--'have you been there and what did you love?'.  

All this brings me to recent conversations I have had about  a very special region.

The place--or, more accurately, places--are the two towns at the very center of South African wine country--Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Over past few months, I have developed the impression that these two small towns have the biggest fan base on the planet.  Everyone who has ever been there has copious advice about 'must do's'. 

Want to hear the partial and still growing list?  

Well here goes--for Stellenbosch and environs--

Merlust Estate

Ken Forrester Vineyards

Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards

Waterford Estate Stellenbosch

Vriesenhof Vineyards

L'Avenir Stellenbosch

Muratie Wine Estate

Clos Malvern Wines Estate

And for Franschhoek and environs--

Lynx Wines

La Motte

Stony Brook Vineyards

Haute Cabriere

Hard to fit into three days no matter how committed we are--but believe me, we're will leave no stone unturned.  In early June 2017, as a very special optional extension to our trip to Cape Town, we will be experiencing  Stellenbosch and Franschhoek at its best.  Hope you can join us!


A CITY A WEEK...MONSARAZ, PORTUGAL

by adeline talbot


If you have seen me this summer then you know... I  AM  IN LOVE  WITH  PORTUGAL!

We spent 10 days there in early June this year as a part of a trip to celebrate our daughter's college graduation.  I could wax rhapsodic on any given in-country moment, accommodation or meal and to be sure I will be posting on other Portuguese destinations in the coming months.  (With such rich material, how could I not?) But today I start with a true standout--Monsaraz.  Our afternoon there surely qualifies as one of those best days ever.  

Monsaraz was suggested to us by François Savatier, co-owner of the fabulous inn, Villa Extramuros, in Arraiolos.  He said it is an easy day trip--a mere 45 minutes away from the inn, past the nearby Roman-era town of Evora, on through the heart of the Alentejo region with its low-lying fields of cork trees, contoured rolling hills of wine grape trellises, gamboling sheep and castellated hill towns.

Indeed, the short car ride was in itself a wonder. 

Monsaraz is known for many things, not least of which is its long--very long--history as evidenced by its neolithic megaliths followed by traces of Roman, Moorish and, as a result of the Reconquista, Portuguese Christian influences.    This very long history in a now isolated corner of Portugal, snugged up against the Spanish border as it is, gives the village a land-that-time-forgot-picture-postcard-quality that is both vivid and dream-like.

We loved our Sunday lunch followed by a stroll down drowsy cobblestone streets lined with white-washed houses and stone battlements. And yet this is not the reason we were drawn to Monsaraz.  These were the bonus delights.  

 What drew us there were the textiles. We found the blankets and rugs at Extramuros to be showstoppers.  Everywhere we looked--in our rooms or in the dead dead gorgeous common spaces--we found these lush and beautiful works of art.  Oddly, they reminded us of our much loved collection of New Mexican textiles.  

As it turns out there was nothing odd about it.  As  Francois explained, these traditional textile patterns and techniques are a legacy of the Moors whose domination in the Iberian Peninsula predates the colonization of the New World--hence these influences not only continue to be felt throughout the Iberian Peninsula but also in former Spanish colonies of the New World.  

He then suggested our day trip to Monsaraz, famous for their fine traditional textiles--most notably in the atelier of Mizette Nielsen.  

What can I say? We went. We saw. We bought.  

The quality and designs were superb.  And it cannot be denied that in the long list of appealing qualities to be found in modern Portugal, a dollar goes very long way.  It was easy to 'just say yes!'

My recommendation? See your for yourself...either by visiting the website for  Mizette Nielson's textile atelier (click here) or better yet-- by taking the plunge--a visit to Monsaraz and the Alentejo region of Portugal.

 It's my new favorite!!

 

 

 

 


A CITY A WEEK...THE TOWNS OF SOUTHERN SICILY WITH GUEST BLOGGER RODNEY OUZTS

by adeline talbot


This week Rodney Ouzts, friend and fellow travel enthusiast, contributes another of his occasional posts about his Italian travels.  Rodney's a natural at this--he paints such a vivid picture that every destination becomes a 'must see'.  Today is no exception.  Rodney reports on not one but several towns of Southern Sicily, each one more inviting than the last--as you will see for yourself!

Going for Baroque: A Sojourn in Sicily

When flying into the small airport of Comiso in southern Sicily, the first thing you spot before landing are miles and miles of greenhouses reaching almost to the sea.  Very quickly, it is apparent you are in one of the top agricultural regions of Italy. Upon landing and driving out of the airport, it seems in those greenhouses are millions of tomato plants.  Driving further, you pass acres and acres of orange trees, almond trees and cactuses, some as large as a Fiat 500.  The landscape is constantly changing. One minute you feel you are in Provence with white rocky terrains. A few minutes later, you are in North Africa with its arid flat plains. The sea is as clear and clean as any Caribbean island. Then suddenly, the car takes a mountain curve and heads into a green valley.

Sicily is a unlike any other place in Italy. It surprises, seduces, charms and contradicts all you thought you knew about Italy. For me, it is a nice change to the picture perfect rolling hills of Tuscany, the sophistication of Milan, the chaos of Rome or the impossible beauty of Venice. The people we met in restaurants, shops, hotels and even in the streets, are extremely polite, hospitable and seemingly happy you are there.

Sicily is large, in fact, the largest region in Italy at 9,923 square miles with over 5 million inhabitants. The region includes the smaller islands surrounding it including the Aeolian and Egadi Islands, Pantelleria, among others.

The areas where we traveled first are considered Southern and Southwestern Sicily which contains some of the finest and best preserved baroque structures on the island. The archeological sites are legendary including the Greek Theater Syracuse (“Siracusa” in modern Italian) and the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina which contains exquisite Roman mosaics discovered fairly recently. Within a few hours drive is the famous Valle dei Templi, containing magnificent remains of a Greek colony. In other words, the island is rich in ancient remains and its history can be traced back 2000 years. It has been dominated by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines,  Arabs, Normans and the Spanish.  Scholars and art historians can spend a life time tracing its rich history.  This mix of cultures and traditions are what make Sicily so interesting. You are in Italy but you are in a place that is singular, cut off from the mainland of Europe and holding onto all of these outside influences and cultures who at one time or another ruled the island.

We based the first part of the trip in Ragusa, an ancient city divided into two parts: the newer “Baroque Ragusa” built in 1693 after an earthquake; and Ibla, the ancient part of the city inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC. Ibla is built higher up on a rocky crest. One thing to remember is that climbing steps is part of the Sicilian experience so bring comfortable walking shoes. Only Italian women can maneuver safely in their Ferragamo and Prada high heels on these sidewalks. Indeed, I thought I was in better shape until I started climbing cascades of steps at every turn.

Ragusa is not only an excellent town to base oneself in for exploring the region but it is also a perfectly sized town not overrun with tourists.  You can settle in and feel a part of this city. We were there during the celebration of their patron saint, San Giorgio.  Sitting at a café in the square with the locals that evening, we listened to town’s marching band while enjoying a glass of prosecco and later, like everyone else, followed the statue of the patron saint up the cathedral steps.

Ragusa has wonderful hotel options and excellent food. The local restaurants are quite sophisticated.  The chefs in restaurants, we visited respected tradition but took chances. One evening in a small restaurant, my pasta entrée was a traditional “vongole” with baby clams but this chef took it a step further, adding pesto, pistachios and almonds.   It may sound a little strange but it was delicious and represented perfectly a mix of the traditions of Italy with the rich varied culture of Sicily.

Not far from Ragusa is the ancient town of Modica, known for its chocolate and the 250 step flight which descends from its Duomo, San Giorgio.  Modica is also built on a hill and divided into Modica Alta and Modica Basso.   Did I mention there are more steps to climb? It is a bit more touristy due to this reputation for chocolate and ceramics but it is still a good example of a very livable, walkable and pleasing town. In fact, one of the most pleasant surprises of Sicily is wandering around is just as enriching as visiting a museum. The landscapes and architecture never fail to please.

Perhaps one of the best reasons to visit this area, is a visit to Noto. After a devastating earthquake in 1693, the town was rebuilt in the 18th century by such prominent architects as Rosario Gagliardi, Vincenzo Sinatra and Antonio Mazza.  It is a planned city and once again,  this is not the baroque style one is accustomed to seeing in Germany or Austria.  It is more restrained and the first thing you notice about the buildings is the color. Builders used a fragile rose colored stone called “pietra calcarea.” It is very pleasing to the eye and lessens the power of the ornamentation.

Another city worth your time is the Piazza Armerina located in the southwestern region of Sicily. It is known for the 3rd – 4th century AD estate, Villa del Casale.  It was the home of a wealthy landowner and contains exceptional mosaics. Like Pompeii, its preservation is due to a natural disaster. In the mid 12th century, a flood caused the rooms of the villa to be buried in mud, thus preserving them. The villa was discovered in the 19th century and the 1950’s and 1960’s, archeologists discovered the mosaics which many consider to be the “most exceptional Roman mosaics in the world.” The site is well organized. You cross the villa on platforms allowing viewers to look down into the rooms. Protecting the site is a roof which protects the mosaics from harm and the visitors from the sun.   The details and subject matter of the mosaics are astounding and include chariot races, bathing beauties doing calisthenics, great hunts and much more.

After leaving southern Sicily, we traveled north to the Taormina, one of the best known cities in Sicily.  Perched on a cliff above the Ionian Sea, it reminds you of Capri. It has been on the “tourist map” since the days of the Grand Tour. It was especially popular with the British and became known as a refuge for artists, aristocrats, movie stars and the very wealthy. Greta Garbo installed herself for months at a time in one of the villas, renting out the entire place to herself.  Other visitors include Henry Moore, Tennessee Williams, Picasso and various Rothschilds.   The best known site is the Greek Theatre which sits on the side of the hill with a spectacular view of the sea and Mount Etna. When we were there, they had just hosted Duran Duran the night before.  It is a tribute to the builders to witness an ancient site still in use today  and just as accommodating as It was 2000 years ago! Like Capri, Taormina is a place to wander, do some shopping, take advantage of the beach, sit in a garden and enjoy some of the wonderful food and wine of the region. It can be overcrowded when the cruise ships dock and bring in their passengers, but the evenings are quieter and beautiful. Taormina is the right place to end a journey in Sicily. After days of steps, sites and scenery, it is restful, light and fun. It reminds you of why you came to visit this magical island and to ask yourself, when can you will return?   After all, we did not even make it to Palermo!

Rodney Ouzts and his spouse and partner for life, Massimo, reside in Greensboro, North Carolina and spend as much time as they can in Italy.


A CITY A WEEK...PRAGUE, THE CZECH REPUBLIC

by adeline talbot


It is only a mild exaggeration to say that this time of year is truly a travel planner's version of 'Christmas in July'.  It can be wildly hectic as itineraries are created and deadlines are met--but the results always feel like gifts.  Each trip a set of new adventures just waiting to happen. 

This week's post focuses on one these newly created upcoming adventures--'Prague and The Czech-Austrian Wine Country', offered in partnership with film historian Marsha Gordon and architect Louis Cherry. In fact, since no one it seems can create more excitement about this city and region than these two. I have asked Marsha and Louis to do this week's post  The photos are Louis's; the text is Marsha's; the video clip is courtesy of Sam Adams--and all of it is terrific!  

The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague is an absolutely magical and beautiful city.  I have spent more than 3 months there over the course of the past few years, and I can’t get enough of it. It offers centuries of history around every corner.

 There’s an important reason for that. The only major European city to escape being extensively bombed during World War II, Prague boasts uniquely rich architecture and cultural fabric that is unparalleled in any city in Europe, with buildings that date to its time as a capital of the Holy Roman Empire nestled amidst Medieval, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, Art Nouveau, Modern, and even Cubist buildings.  It is a city of stunning churches, theaters, cafes, museums, galleries, and castles. The city center is walkable, safe, and full of amazing places to eat, shop, drink, and visit.

 The city center of Prague, where we will stay, is itself a UNESCO world heritage site (click here), with the Vlatava river running through it.  Because Prague is relatively small in comparison to cities like London and Paris, with wending cobblestone streets and an extensive tram system, you can really experience the city in a week’s time.  And because the tourist season there doesn’t kick into high gear until June and July, you can do so on our trip before the city is filled with visitors from all over the world looking to experience what many consider to be the most beautiful city in all of Europe.    

 Getting to Prague from the United States is easy.  There is a nonstop American Airlines flight from Raleigh to London, which offers many direct connections to Prague.  There is also a daily direct flight from JFK in New York if you’d rather make your connection stateside.

 Don’t know Czech?  Few Americans do. Even Czechs will tell you that it’s one of the most difficult languages to learn.  Luckily for us, most Czechs speak enough English to communicate with you and are happy to do so, especially if you make an effort with some basics.  If you just learn three words, you’ll be off to a good start:

1) Ahoj (ah-hoy) is the equivalent of Aloha, meaning a casual hello or goodbye.  That’s easy1

2)  Prosím (pro-seem) is a great multi-function word, meaning “please,” “you’re welcome,” and also “I don’t understand you”!  That’s my go-to word.

3) Děkuju (dyeh-kooyoo) is the ever important, “thank you.”  It also take some practice to say correctly, and I’m not sure I’m there yet.

 We have planned a week of incredible culinary, art, architecture, and cultural adventures, followed by an add-on trip to Brno for a visit at an amazing restored home designed by Mies van der Rohe in the late 1920s, and some relaxation in the wine country of Czech Republic and Austria, with some meanderings around the medieval villages in which the grapes are grown and wine is produced.


Want to hear more? Click on the video link below to hear Marsha and Louis speak at a recent gathering about the many wonders of Prague and the surrounding region.  


 

 

 


A CITY A WEEK...CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

by adeline talbot


This is it!  The time of year that itineraries for our 2017 trips start to roll out.  As you will see from the tabs above, the first three of these include Havana, Prague and Cape Town.

 Today guest blogger Benjamin Briggs, Executive Director of Preservation Greensboro, Inc.(PGI), posts on 'Why Cape Town',  a trip that is being jointly offered by PGI and Weatherspoon Art Museum.  I've got to say--he makes a great case!  

Few cities in the world boast such a distinctive setting as Cape Town, South Africa. Nestled at the foot of the legendary Table Mountain, the city features a variety of landscapes and settings ranging from the dramatic coastline of the South Atlantic to the vinicultural foothills of the Constantia Valley.

Cape Town was founded by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company in 1652, and in light of its reputation as South Africa’s first European settlement, it is known as “the Mother City.” The city center is situated in the “City Bowl” a relatively flat area located at the base of Table Mountain, with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head to the east and west respectively, and the harbor to the north. The Company’s Gardens, established by the Dutch East India Company to supply food for the Spice Route, are a green park surrounded by many of the city’s museums and the Parliament of South Africa. Cape Town is designated the legislative capital, Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, and Pretoria serves as the administrative capital. Cast iron verandas and Victorian facades house cafés and bars line Long Street, the main commercial road, and the Neoclassical Town Hall fronts the main square, called the Grand Parade.

Matching the city’s diverse topography is an equally rich ethnic history. Many Capetonians claim one of five cultural narratives, including the native nomadic Cape Coloureds, the Blacks from the Lakes District of central Africa, Dutch descendants known as Afrikaans, immigrants from the British Empire, and a distinctive group of people from South and Southeast Asia who consider themselves part of the Cape Malay community. Though many Capetonians live in segregated communities, there is hope that a truly integrated society will forge the concept of a South African “rainbow nation.”

In spite of economic and sociological challenges due to globalization and disparity, Cape Town has a charm unlike any other place in the world.  For visitors, the attractions are numerous, ranging from the emerging and innovative art scene that will be highlighted by the opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in early 2017 to the haunted landscape of the former prison at Robben Island. Many visitors are enchanted by the seaside setting of Camps Bay or the colorful facades of the historic Bo Kaap neighborhood. Others will enjoy the historic landmarks of the V & A (Victoria and Albert) Waterfront, or the Baroque facades that grace the oldest houses in the city. Needless to say, this city has much to offer – even to the most jaded globetrotter.

Cape Town is the administrative and cultural heart of the Western Cape Province, the southernmost region in South Africa. The legendary Cape of Good Hope, a dramatic peninsula of rock pointing south to the Antarctic, is located just 30 miles south of the City Bowl. The eastern suburbs of Cape Town are a patchwork of Afrikaan, Black, Coloured, and White neighborhoods. In the far east, the Hottentots Holland Mountains provide a jagged backdrop to the charming wine-growing towns of Stellenbosch (second oldest settlement after Cape Town), and Franschhoek, a French Huguenot refuge settled in the late seventeenth century. Both towns feature an architectural style known as Western Cape-style that exhibits white plaster walls and distinctive Dutch gable rooflines.

Cape Town and the Western Cape enjoy highly developed and hospitable tourist economies that cater to South African and European visitors. With its growing arts community and temperate climate, it is now being discovered with great enthusiasm by North American travelers who are richly rewarded for their travel prowess!