Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

Good news this Groundhog Day

After the predition. (Photo courtesy of Woodstock Groundhog Organization)

After the prediction. (Photo courtesy of Woodstock Groundhog Organization)

Maybe the handlers of Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania and Woodstock Willie in Illinois decided the Midwest and Northeast US deserved spring.

But whatever guideline they used from how cloudy it was when they woke their respective groundhogs early in the morning Feb. 2 when no shadow was seen, to possibly consulting the Farmers’ Almanac, they both announced an early spring for 2019.

Visit  Groundhog for Phil and Woodstock for Willie to learn more about their history, town fun and predictions.

For the movie connection to Woodstock visit Where Groundhog Day was Filmed.  It also has a link to the movie clips.

 

Take a Palm Springs escape back in time

Frank Sinatra House, Palm Springs (Jake Holt photo)

Frank Sinatra House, Palm Springs (Jake Holt photo)

 

It’s not too late to get tickets for An Afternoon of Jazz at the Modernist Loretta Young Estate  or a architectural Bus Tour of Palm Springs neighborhoods where such stars as Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack took refuge from Hollywood or hob nob with VIPs at Palm Springs Modern Committee Annual Gala Benefit  at the Lawrence Welk Estate or see designer Christopher Kennedy’s renovation of the  Modernism Week Featured Home: La Vie en Rose  a 1958 home in posh Vista Las Palmas that backs up to the San Jacinto mountains.

You get the gist of this escape. It’s a trip back to mid last century architecture and homes of famous people who wanted to be within a director’s calling distance of LA studios or not too far from Las Vegas stages.

A mere 119 miles southeast of Los Angeles and about 230 miles from Las Vegas, Palm Springs, CA sits on the always sunny (more than 350 days) western edge of Coachella Valley in the Colorado Desert. The events just mentions are a few of the dozens of tours and activities taking place in and around Palm Springs during the town’s annual Modernism Week, Feb. 14-24, 2019.

The bonus is two, really good shows in the Palm Springs Convention Center. Feb. 15-18, 2019. One is the high-end, Art Palm Springs. The other is a dealers’ Modernism exhibit. Feb. 15-18.

The week, actually 10 days, celebrates the area’s reputation for having more mid-last century homes than anywhere else in the world. Here, old homes are not torn down but are instead, preserved for people who appreciate mid-1900s designs. Indeed, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the area on its America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations architecture list in 2006.

Modernism Week happens twice a year, October and February. The fall event is small but the February one runs out of tickets to some of the popular tours and lectures. Check Tickets to see what is left and snap them up before you go.

 

Bus tour of Palm Springs (David A. Lee photo)

Bus tour of Palm Springs (David A. Lee photo)

 

Do a bus tour

Definitely get tickets for the Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour. Taking  about 2.5 hours, the bus drives around Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods, and past Desert Spanish estates.

Knowledgeable guides tell stories about the stars and are likely to explain that the Palm Springs area was chosen because of what was then the studios’ “two-hour rule.” Actors had to be available within a couple of hour’s driving time for film and photo shoot calls..

It’s where tour guides have been known to say, “There is Frank Sinatra’s home, Twin Palms. When he was ready to party he hoisted a Jack Daniels flag between the palms.”

Mid-century architecture is so valued that the much photographed  gas station at the foot of the area’s Tram, is on the tour as a re-purposed Visitors Center.

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama have gotten away from cameras here but it is also a resort and golf area for folks who like its year-round summery weather.

 

Go to the Convention Center shows

At the Modernism Show, wander around the booths of dealers who specialize in 20th century design movements to see furniture and accessories similar to what your parents or grandparents cherished that are now back in style.

At the Art Palm Springs show check out the post war and contemporary art works.

 

Shop, Visit Galleries, Relax

There is so much to do during Modernism Week, that you should schedule in down-time. Stay awhile to explore the area, shop the boutiques and art galleries. One of the best galleries is Heather James in neighboring Palm Desert. Oh, and get in some golf and spa time. The Greater Palm SpringsVisitors Bureau has lots of ideas.

 

 

 

Holiday shop in London this year – Harrods and Fortnum and Mason await

Oxford Street, London during the holidays. (J Jacobs photos)

Oxford Street, London during the holidays. (J Jacobs photos)

Make London your December holiday trip. The city is always bustling but during the holiday season stores go all out with spectacular windows, sparkling lights that line buildings and crisscross streets and music everywhere.

Pack comfortable shoes, warm scarf, hat and fly off to Heathrow (great shopping airport for last minute gifts before flying back). Take the Heathrow –London Express for the fastest way in (reserve ahead) or the Underground (Tube) or taxi to your hotel after checking options at Heathrow transport.

You are likely to find a place near where you want to be within your budget at Visit London. I like Marriott Hotel Marble Arch because it feels like a boutique hotel but is on a main tube stop and within easy walking distance to gaily decorated Oxford Street’s shops.

Once unpacked and ready to go, forget taxis. Traffic is so bad above ground that the meter runs while you wait through three lights to proceed through one intersection. Pick up a map of the Underground stations but wear those walking shoes.

London loves its Harrods for luxury items and Fortnum & Mason for gourmet foods but also likes the trendy stuff in the Sloan and Chelsea areas and the fun of shopping its famous markets

OK, have at it.

Holiday windows in the Knightsbridge Sloan shopping area often tell stories such as Cinderella a few years ago.

Holiday windows in the Knightsbridge Sloan shopping area often tell stories such as Cinderella a few years ago.

Knightsbridge: Take the Tube, get off to shop the Knightsbridgbe-Brompton Road-Sloane Street District where you can wander Harrods. I like the Food Hall. Then, go into Harvey Nichols and Sloan’s other high-end designers, even if just to look.

Snap photos of the Harvey Nichols Christmas windows (like Macy’s windows). They often tell a story like Cinderella. Tip: At Harrods and other London department stores you’ll see fun “crackers” which are good stocking-stuffers but airports started disallowing them after 9-11 so get one just for yourself to pop in your hotel room.

King’s Road: Another Underground stop would be Sloan Square for King’s Road and the Chelsea neighborhood filled with designer and trendy shops and Duke of York Square. Browse fun boutiques, cafés and the Chelsea Antiques Market.

Oxford Street: You’ll love the lights overhead if shopping at night and the windows any time of day. They all definitely set the holiday mood for stopping at Selfridges and Marks & Spencer.

If you didn’t get chocolates at Harrods, look for a Thorton’s across from the department stores. It’s a chain with really good candy. You can also find the Debenhams Department Store (founded in London in the 18th century) and several good clothing shops on the street. Which Tube stop that accesses Oxford Street depends on what stores you want to visit. The Bond Street station is closest to Selfridges.

Regent Street: Famous for its holiday lights and shops the street maintains a retreat area where you can relax during the holiday season. If you don’t mind walking, you can use the Piccadilly Circus Tube stop to pop into Fortnum & Mason and go over to Hamleys, an amazing toy store to visit even if you don’t have to buy a kid’s present. Dating to 1760, Hamleys is among the world’s largest toy stores. There is also Liberty, a high-end store in an elegant Tudor building that offers cutting-edge and clever accessories.

Oxford Street during the holidays (photo take a few years ago).

Oxford Street during the holidays (photo take a few years ago).

Or use the Oxford Circus station to hit Liberty and Hamley on Regent and then Fortnum & Mason at Piccadilly.

Opened in 1707 Fortnum & Mason has served the Royals since Queen Charlotte. You have to go here for the old atmosphere and to pick up something to take home.

While in the area of Piccadilly Circus or Bond Street walk down Savile Row if interested in a hand-tailored suit. Among shops to visit there are Abercrombie & Fitch’s flagship store, Henry Poole & company and Gieves & Hawkes. Also, go to the boutique filled Carnaby Street.

Covent Garden: You’ll find three unique markets here. Look for arts and crafts in the North Hall’s Apple Market. The East Colonnade Market has jewelry and handmade soap. Products in the Jubilee Market in the South Piazza vary by day from antiques on Monday to general items other weekdays and crafts on the weekend.

Camden Markets: Save time to explore the markets in Camden Town at the Camden Town or Chalk Farm Tube Stations. There’s the Camden Lock Market at the canal which was the original craft-stall place in the mid 1970s. The Camden Stables Market has fashions.  Other markets including Inverness Street and Buck Street spread out across the area with clothes and other items. It’s a fun place to browse. https://www.camdenmarket.com/

You don’t have to load up the suitcase because the stores are happy to ship. But a good idea if you want to take presents back is to bring an extra bag. Remember airports don’t like wrapped boxes so plan to gift wrap at home.

Have fun shopping, browsing and seeing London during the holidays.

South Padre Island: A good winter escape

Meet Allison, an Atlantic sea turtle at a sanctuary on South Padre Island. (Sea Turtle Inc photo)

Meet Allison, an Atlantic sea turtle at a sanctuary on South Padre Island. (Sea Turtle Inc photo)

You likely have heard that a hoard of college kids invade South Padre Island during their Spring Break. But the rest of the year this narrow strip of land at the far southern edge of Texas is a perfect vacation spot for girls’ getaways, couples, families and retirees looking for a new destination.

Picture blue-green water to sooth the soul, glistening sand for a sunrise walk, terrific Mai Tais, Martinis and Margaritas to sip at sunset and yummy seafood for lunch and dinner.

For a change of pace there are cruises to see bottlenose dolphins, kite boarding to move with the breeze and sand castle building lessons to find your inner architect.

All those experiences (except for the kite boarding which maybe I’ll try next time) made my really brief visit to South Padre Island (often referred to as SoPadre), a memorable vacation.

I had heard of the destination but what spurred me to visit this fall was United Airline’s decision to fly from Chicago nonstop to the Brownsville International Airport on Saturdays. The airport is a mere 30 minute drive or shuttle ride away.

Hilton Garden Inn pool (GI photo

Hilton Garden Inn pool (GI photo

 

After arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn which has an airport shuttle, the first thing I did was step out onto the patio to inhale the warm air and collapse on a chair to gaze at the pool, greenery and gulf. Time out really means something on South Padre.

Second, was to don a bathing suit (unpacking could wait), dip a toe into the pool, relax in a cabana then begin to think about dinner. Vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico is a chance to indulge in shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters and fresh fish.

But what surprised me after three days of trying different, preparations for lunch and dinner at different restaurants was how good the food is on the island and Port Isabel which is just across Laguna Madre Bay.

Pier 19 had a terrific shrimp basket. Pirates Landing had a wonderful shrimp and oyster po’boy. I learned not to judge by appearance. The elongated shacks that make up Pier 19 attract the locals and the commercial looking Pirates Landing has good shrimp and salads.

Pier 19 was also well placed to take an Osprey nature and dolphin cruise on Laguna Madre Bay. Watching dolphins slip in and out of view was fun but the crew also emptied a net into a tank so that passengers could see and touch what was swimming in the bay. While waiting to board it was fun to watch the kite boarding on the other side of the pier.

Fun to watch dolphin from the Osprey Nature Cruise. (Osprey photo)

Fun to watch dolphin from the Osprey Nature Cruise. (Osprey photo)

Kites, period, are popular in the South Padre area.. B&S Kites is worth stopping just to say OMG when seeing their huge, wonderful shapes hanging from the ceiling. It’s also fun to watch people try to control these large kites on the beach.

What looks deceptively easier is building a sand castle worth of Disneyland. Playing in the sand isn’t just for kids on South Padre. Sand castle lessons are actually advertised on the island’s tourism site.

A group of us staying at the Hilton booked a sand castle lesson with “Sandy Feet,” an expert sand sculptor who used common silverware tools. We learned you don’t have to be among the kindergarten set to enjoy creating a sand castle.

Building sand castles is not just for kids. (Sandy Feet photo)

Building sand castles is not just for kids. (Sandy Feet photo)

What fun and a good way to work up an appetite for dinner! I had already enjoyed red snapper at Sea Ranch so went for sophisticated dining at South Padre’s new, upscale  F&B SPI (Food and Beverage South Padre Island). Both restaurants have terrific seafood appetizers and fresh fish. But I also loved the desserts (which I never order when home) at F&B.

Before returning to Chicago, I had to visit the island’s famed Sea Turtle Inc. sanctuary. So the next day I heard an excellent talk and saw some rehabilitated turtles swimming in tanks. To see Allison and Gerry, two Atlantic sea turtles, visit the center’s web cam.

South Padre Island is a major turtle protection and rehabilitation area. Alerts go out when baby turtles that their moms buried in the sand for protection start hatching and are guided into the gulf by staff and volunteers.

Sunset from Sea Ranch Restaurant and marina on South Padre Island. (J Jacobs photo)

Sunset from Sea Ranch Restaurant and marina on South Padre Island. (J Jacobs photo)

The island also has a bird center and sanctuary which is interesting to walk during spring and fall migrations but has birds landing all year round.

Also nice all rear round are the island’s wonderful sunsets.

 

 

 

 

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