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The original Dolores Mission, right next to….

The original Dolores Mission, right next to….

…the lovely Basilica, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake

…the lovely Basilica, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake

Inside the old Mission Chapel. Note the ceiling , side altars and main altar

Inside the old Mission Chapel. Note the ceiling , side altars and main altar

On the edge of the mural district (see previous post), at 3321 Sixteenth Street, is the Dolores Mission, built in a very distinctive style (colonial, white-washed, tall towers, very ornate doorways). The local high school, 2 blocks away on 18th/Dolores, is done in the same style and it would be easy to think at first that you’d found the Mission Church!

The actual name is Mision San Francisco de Asis (after St Francis of Assisi) and was founded in June 1776 under the direction of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784). It soon came to be known as Mission Dolores because of a nearby creek called Arroyo do los Dolores, or Creek of Sorrows. It is the oldest original intact Mission in California (of the chain of 21 established by Father Serra) and the oldest building in San Francisco. It has always had a central place in the religious, civic and cultural life of the city. These Missions are an important part of Californian history and show the strong link to Mexico at that time.

Visiting the Mission is a good way to spend a couple of hours and find out about some of the local history. Entrance is $5 per adult, $3 for seniors and kids. Open daily, 9-4, except Thanksgiving, Christmas New Year’s Day, Easter, and closes early on Good Friday. You go first into the chapel of the Old Mission, which survived many earthquakes, including that in 1906. It’s lovely, in a way that’s so different to the cathedrals in Europe. Note the painted wooden ceiling, gravestones set in the floor, and side altars that seem to have marble columns that are actually painted wood, as is the gorgeous front altar.

Gorgeous main altar in the old Chapel

Gorgeous main altar in the old Chapel

Stained-glass window depicting Father Junipero Serra

Stained-glass window depicting Father Junipero Serra

The Basilica next door was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and has pretty stained-glass windows of the saints associated with the various Missions in California and a wood carving of Mater Dolorosa. This is an important basilica because Pope John Paul 11 visited (see papal signs on sides of front altar), a fact of which they are very proud, as the walkway outside has many photos from his visit. One small room off the walkway has a tiny museum, telling the history of this Mission, including the story of Father Junipero Serra, the local Indians and their way of life then (note the soap plant, called soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), which can also be eaten) and a section of the original adobe wall.

Just outside the museum note the statue of Junipero Serra, plus one in the cemetery, which is a peaceful place, pretty with flowers and blooming bushes, replanted with traditional plants from the 1790s. It has the burial places of many notable early/first San Franciscans.

 

 

Peaceful garden and cemetery

Peaceful garden and cemetery

Statue of Father Junipero Serra in the garden

Statue of Father Junipero Serra in the garden

A great place nearby for lunch is Dolores Park Café (corner 18th/Dolores, opposite the high school). You can sit outside if it’s sunny, and the food is great. The soup of the day may be chicken tortilla and they offer very nice salads.

http://missiondolores.org/index.html

 

 

All the murals are colorful, many tell a story, often symbolic

All the murals are colorful, many tell a story, often symbolic

A wrap-around history

A wrap-around history

Street Art in Mission District

This eclectic neighborhood in San Francisco is one of our favorite areas for street murals anywhere we’ve been so far.

To get here, catch a bus #49, which conveniently goes along Mission Street.

It’s a very interesting area as it does have a different atmosphere to most other US city streets—in some parts you could imagine that you were in a Mexican city, with narrow leafy streets, small crowded shops opening right onto the sidewalk; lots of music, people and noise; ads in Spanish splashed over buildings and an explosion of bright color. There are also, sadly, plenty of Western Union, money exchange and loan shops (a sign of the times generally).

Besides the delis and small shops, the main draw is the colorful murals, the chief source of the bright local color, along with blooming bougainvilleas and flowering trees. Another draw is the Mission Dolores (see an upcoming post).

Part of Balmy Alley. Look to the blue mural towards the right to see the woman giving birth

Part of Balmy Alley. Look to the blue mural towards the right to see the woman giving birth

San Francisco has more than 500 murals and a large proportion of them are here in this area. Almost all streets have at least one mural, while many streets have huge concentrations, such as the area around Balmy Alley off 24th Street. Some murals are small, some enormous, all fascinating. Many tell a story or have a message—-social, political, historical— and some serve as a type of ad to attract more business, such as the one for a lavandaria (laundry), or a Nursery School. Some of the murals are religious, and many have an old Aztec/Mayan theme, which we recognized from our trips to Mexico.

A plea for freedom and justice

A plea for freedom and justice

Most of them are signed and dated, so we can tell who painted them. Some artists are famous (Diego Rivera), most not, but they are all talented and many are locals.

We were fascinated and loved wandering the streets and turning a corner, wondering what we’d find next. Some of the murals are pretty graphic—a woman giving birth, or a bloody battle—but others are softer and very pretty with flowers and birds or butterflies. It’s very exciting, as they are all so vividly colored—colors are sometimes shocking and contrasting and immediately grab one’s attention.

Rod by a forest/jungle scene

Rod by a forest/jungle scene

Rainbows and good agriculture

Rainbows and good agriculture

Women's Building

Women’s Building

Way before his data, our beloved Mandela earned a spot on this mural

Way before his death, our beloved Mandela earned a spot on this mural

A whole building (Women’s Building) is covered with themes related to women, some poignant, one a very graphic depiction of a pregnant belly; another wall is covered with numerous political activists, many names unknown to us, but we did recognize Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X. Amazing that Mandela made it onto a wall here!

This is a different side to San Francisco and it would probably be fun to do a socio-historical analysis of the murals. There are also schools with murals done by the pupils, and other walls painted by children.

It’s easy enough to wander around on your own, perhaps following a guidebook such as Frommers (we did), but there are also organized tours.

You can get more information on all the murals and find out about tours of the murals at Precita Eyes Mural Art Center, 2981 24th Street (near Harrison). Their web site is excellent—- www.precitaeyes.org . Here you can also find out about exciting new mural arts projects.

For example, the basic Mission Trail Mural Walk lasts about 90 minutes. Cost is $15 adults ($12 for San Francisco residents); $10 seniors and college students; $6 youth 12-17 years; and $3 children under 12.

We had way too many photos to include here, so I’ve made a simple photo essay of some of our pictures. You can see it here— http://www.viviennemackie.com/USAarticles/Mission_Murals.html

Seems to be a musical theme ,so we couldn't work out the role of the pig!

Seems to be a musical theme ,so we couldn’t work out the role of the pig!

 

An old INdian/Aztec theme, with pretty flowering plants

An old Indian/Aztec theme, with pretty flowering plants

 

STL250: Cakeway to the West

What a clever name for this celebration—a play on Gateway to the West, the nickname for St Louis, as it was the gateway city to the westward expansion of the USA.

This year, 2014, St Louis is 250 years old and the city and surrounds are commemorating this in many ways. STL250 is a city group that’s celebrating the founding of the city—officially on February 14, 1784—and the events, people, places, and cultures that have shaped the city.

Chuck Berry---one of the movers and shakers of St Louis history

Chuck Berry—one of the movers and shakers of St Louis history

(See a good historical summary of the city here

https://stlouis-mo.gov/visit-play/stlouis-history.cfm )

One of the year-long activities is the Cakeway to the West. 250 cakes are dotted around the city—cakes to mark a birthday and 250 for the number of years.

These 250 cakes are part public art exhibit, part scavenger hunt, and part history lesson. The STL250 committee chose 200 of the locations and the other 50 were chosen by public vote.

Each two-tier ornamental birthday cake stands 4-feet tall, and is decorated by local artists, reflecting the notable location. Each is unique.

I’m sure that we will not have the opportunity to find all 250 cakes, as we only visit St Louis about 6 times a year, but we will do our best!!

Here are the first two cakes:

Blueberry Hill cake

Blueberry Hill cake

Blueberry Hill, a famous restaurant on Delmar

Blueberry Hill, a famous restaurant on Delmar

1) at Blueberry Hill, 6505 Delmar, University City. Blueberry Hill is a landmark restaurant and music club that started the revitalization of The Loop area in University City. The artist is Indy Bowers.

Most people probably know the famous song called Blueberry Hill, first written in 1940 but made famous by the 1950s rock n’ roll version by Fats Domino.

Listen to a YouTube audio file here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQQCPrwKzdo

 

 

Cake to celebrate the St Louis Walk of Fame

Cake to celebrate the St Louis Walk of Fame

Chuck Berry statue

Chuck Berry statue

2) one outside by the Chuck Berry statue at 6605 Delmar to celebrate the St Louis Walk of Fame (with sidewalk stars). This is also the 25th anniversary of the Walk of Fame—one of the first inductees was Chuck Berry, a pioneer of rock ‘n roll music. He performed his 205th show at Blueberry Hill on June 18th, 2014, at age 88 (born in St Louis October 18, 1926). Wish we had been there!

The artist is Gina Harmon. Many names are inscribed on this cake—note especially Maya Angelou, who died recently, a world-famous author, poet, singer and civil-rights activist who was born in St  Louis in 1928.

Maya Angelou star: each star also has a plaque for a brief summary of the person

Maya Angelou star: each star also has a plaque for a brief summary of the person

 

 

 

 

Hopefully I’ll have more cakes to share in the coming months.

 

 

 

A fairytale-looking castle

A fairytale-looking castle

This is a castle they will never forget

Scotland has at least 300 castles, many of them in Aberdeenshire in the northeast of the country and many incorporated into the famous Castle Trail. About half have a ghostly reputation, or some ghost story associated with them.

At each castle we visited on recent trips to the area I asked about the ghosts. In the other castles, the guides gave the information, laughing and rather dismissive—but in Crathes Castle the guide was more cautious. She stated seriously that, “Even I’m not sure if it’s true”. I believed her sincerity.

Crathes castle, just 16 miles west of Aberdeen, with its round towers, gargoyles, and overhanging turrets, is evocative of our idealized image of a castle, complete with maidens in distress, dragons, and perhaps dark secrets and ghosts.

You can see the solid tower block very clearly

You can see the solid tower block very clearly

We entered through the new wing, rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1966, and passed into the original tower section, behind a small group of Japanese visitors. We toured the castle in a set sequence, and each room has a room guide, who gives much information about life in the old castle and the present Burnett family.

The land on which Crathes now stands was gifted to the Burnett family by the legendary Robert the Bruce in 1323 in return for their loyalty. Their badge of office, the finely carved ivory Horn of Leys, still hangs above the fireplace in the High Hall, the first big room we reached upstairs. The family continues to live on the estate, after deeding it, plus the castle, to the National Trust of Scotland. The present laird (lord) still comes in to update the family records and add to the photo albums. It’s an amazing thought that the castle has been in the same family all these years.

The tower is the original living section, compact, with thick walls and small windows, so it’s never very light. At the entrance are special double iron-grill gates, before a huge wooden door for added protection. Remember, this was built in the 16th century—a turbulent time. Steep spiral stone stairs in the corner turrets connect the floors, and we sensed that it wasn’t easy to get in and out of this place. Some of the rooms still have beautiful tapestries on the walls, some have oak panel walls and the original wooden ceilings and friezes, gorgeously painted with mythical scenes. Small lamps, which burned animal fat, were used, so living here must have been smelly, smoky and rather dark and stuffy.

The first ghost story is linked to the Green Lady’s Bedroom, one of the top bedrooms. The story goes that a young girl was a ward of the laird, and was made pregnant, supposedly by a servant. The laird ordered the baby removed. The baby died and the girl also died of a broken heart. Later, during remodeling, the hearthstone was lifted in her bedroom and a baby skeleton was found. Since then, people have seen the ghost of the girl, dressed in green, carrying her baby and crying. But, the room guide hastened to assure the group that this ghost hasn’t been seen for ages. I asked more questions and noticed the Japanese looking around a little apprehensively.

Crathes Castle's pretty gardens from one of the tower windows

Crathes Castle’s pretty gardens from one of the tower windows

A couple more rooms and we got to the Gallery on the top floor of the castle. The room guide told us that this is where there’s a second ghost in residence. Sometimes there are sounds of running and footsteps, even when there is definitely no-one up there. She smiled, “Even I’m not sure, maybe even I half believe”.

We were about to move on when there was a series of loud clanking noises, which reverberated through the room. I turned in surprise at the unexpectedness of the sound, but didn’t have any more time to consider my reaction. The Japanese all gasped and jumped, and when the noise came again, some screamed. There was mild pandemonium, as two of them shouted “the ghost, the ghost” and they all prepared to run, to scramble out of the Hall.

The room guide, visibly disturbed by the strong reaction, tried to calm them. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Please. It’s not the ghost, that’s water in the pipes. The pipes are old, and they do this sometimes”. The tension was palpable. We smiled, as it was obvious that the noises weren’t the sound of running footsteps, but I wasn’t sure the Japanese were convinced. They left, chattering excitedly, and I have no doubt that this is how the ghost story is perpetuated.

It is easier to believe in ghosts if you’re in an old castle, full of history and legends, dark passageways, and strange nooks and crannies.

This is the power of suggestion at work: how easily the group created a panic attack among themselves. This is definitely a castle they will never forget.

 

 

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival

logo

 

redbbqIt’s summer in the northern hemisphere, so it’s festival time. Festivals pop up in cities and small towns all over celebrating the season, but especially celebrating music and food.

Our university town in central Illinois has joined in the fun and last weekend (June 27-28, 2014) we had the 3rd annual Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival, with a cute alligator as the logo and mascot. Blues is a very popular genre of American music, and almost everyone enjoys beer and BBQ (at least in the summer).

The festival’s catchy name reflects the great atmosphere, with a laid-back but lively buzz, at the

One of the Vendor Alleys

One of the Vendor Alleys

venue—a large parking lot in downtown Champaign, closed off and decked out. People wander at will, in groups or alone, with kids in tow or in strollers, and many folks bring their own portable garden chairs so they can sit and eat /drink while listening to the music.

Along two sides are the Vendors Alleys, where you can choose any kind of BBG your heart may desire, plus Greek or Mexican food, and things like corn dogs, funnel cakes, and curly fries. My husband couldn’t resist trying something called a bacon-wrapped pig wing! (a small pig shank wrapped in bacon and doused with a BBQ sauce).

 

Hmmm…what can that be?

Hmmm…what can that be?

I'm in front of the Main Stage, holding a pig wing!

I’m in front of the Main Stage, holding a pig wing!

A Vendor Alley offers all kinds of BBQ delicacies

A Vendor Alley offers all kinds of BBQ delicacies

An enormous inflatable icecream cone-stand offers cool icecream in the hot weather, and a stand shaped like a huge yellow lemon entices with cold lemonade. Choose from a variety of beers from beer tents dotted around, if you are so inclined, or even local wines. Many people bought a large luminous green beer mug, which they could then refill.

At the Merchants tent you can buy festival T-shirts, mugs, and CDs of the various performers. I was lucky enough to be there when Eddie Shaw (Blues performer) was selling and signing his CD, so I got an autographed copy.

Two stages dominated the venue and various artists

An upcoming star---Kenna Mae  Reiss

An upcoming star—Kenna Mae Reiss

performed on these. But not at the same time—each stage took the stage for an hour or two, then it switched to the other one. At the end of the venue was a smaller stage, especially for upcoming new artists. It was next to Louie’s Playland, a special section for kids’ activities, with a jumpy castle, face painting etc.

bikesIn another corner was the Dinosores Motorcycle Show, which seemed very popular. I don’t know much about motorcycles, but even I could tell that these were special machines, much loved by their owners.

 

Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang

Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang

Eddie Shaw plays and sings---very talented

Eddie Shaw plays and sings—very talented

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

The musical line-up was impressive, but unfortunately we were only there for part of one afternoon and couldn’t take in the billed main acts: Buckwheat Zydeco, and Nikki Hill. But, no matter as they were all great and we really enjoyed the two we could listen to: Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang (fantastic Chicago Blues), and Maurice John Vaughn (also out of Chicago).

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

 

 

 

 

Next year, if you are in Illinois (or even somewhere in the US Midwest) in June 2015, it’s well worth making a detour to visit Champaign-Urbana and enjoy this lovely event. The festival is free (you pay for food and drinks obviously), but a donation would be welcome.

www.bluesbrewsandbbqfest.com

If this food truck is to be believed, you’ll be treated like royalty!

King

Scottish Isles and Ferries

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All over the islands, everything is written in English and Gaelic

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean and Clyde Ferries

The Calmac ferry system connects Scotland’s western isles to each other and to the mainland. It’s a vast network that has been perfected over the years and we were very impressed.

In most of Scotland you are never far from water—be it the sea, a strait, a loch, a firth—and that’s especially true around the western isles and west coast, where it’s often difficult to know what’s island, what’s peninsula, what’s mainland.

As a result, over the centuries the Scots became very adept at living with the waters, and at using them as means of communication rather than as obstacles and barriers and until fairly recently many places could only be reached by water.

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

The Calmac company owns and operates ferry boats of all shapes and sizes to suit all the different needs and routes. The company was founded in 1851 as David Hutcheson & Co, and was renamed David MacBrayne in 1879 when David MacBrayne (a partner and nephew) gained full ownership. It stayed in the hands of the MacBrayne family until 1928. Then MacBrayne and the Caledonian Steam Packet Co were jointly involved and in 1973 the name changed to Caledonian MacBrayne.

Traveling on a ferry is almost inevitable if you visit this part of Scotland, whether as a foot passenger or a car driver. We did both, and it’s a fun way to observe this part of Scottish life. We drove a car onto the ferry from Oban on the mainland to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, and we were foot passengers on the smaller ferry that goes from Fionnphort on Mull to the sacred Isle of Iona.

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

It’s fun to watch how the ferry workers direct all the vehicles on and off and often seem to manage to squeeze something else on (the whole process reminded us of the ferries in Greece). We were amazed at all the types of vehicles that get on and off the big ferries, but it’s totally logical as this is the only way to get certain things onto the islands. We saw many camper vans, the British Royal Mail vans, huge tourist buses, delivery trucks, fire engines, and fuel tankers for example.

If you are driving a car in the summer (high) season, it’s probably best to try and make a ferry reservation if you can, as if you just rock up you might not get on.

The bigger ferries have a lounge and cafes.

IMG_0968

As we walk up to the lounges and decks, another tanker drives in

www.calmac.co.uk

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island---just commercial vehicles or residents

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island—just commercial vehicles or residents’ cars

Picture Postcard Perfect

Postcard Café at Stark-Condé Winery (South Africa)

 

From the other side of the lake we see Postcard Cafe, and the tasting room on the small island

From the other side of the lake we see Postcard Cafe, and the tasting room on the small island

The view from the cafe verandah

The view from the cafe verandah

Living in a Postcard.

Imagine yourself in a dramatically beautiful valley (Jonkershoek Valley)…Add mountains on either side…Fill in the foreground with a small lake…

This is the gorgeous setting for the aptly-named Postcard Café in the Stark-Condé Winery, Stellenbosch. The view is exactly what people strive for on postcards.

Postcard Café does boast this idyllic location, overlooking the lake and the Stellenbosch Berg (Mountain) beyond, with the winery’s tasting room on an island in the small lake.

The sweeping view leads the eye over the lawns down to the small lake, which has a path all around it. We walked it, even though the weather was grey and drizzly the day we were there. But, it was still stunning in spite of the weather and must be spectacular in the sun. This valley is part of the Franschhoek Nature Reserve, so supposedly you can sometimes spot some wild animals up there, some say maybe even a leopard (which I really doubt).

Cafe verandah

Cafe verandah

signWe only had coffee that day, but the food looked good and the café is also a venue for events (birthdays, weddings etc).

3 coffees R60, plus R5 tip.

Stark-Condé is a family-run winery, run by winemaker José Condé. Grapes are harvested from some of the highest altitude vineyards in Stellenbosch, leading to many award-winning wines. We’ve tried some of their wines before, and they are excellent.

Postcard Café, open Tues-Sun 9:30am-4pm. Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday

Wine Tasting and Sales, Mon-Sun 10am-4pm. Also closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday

www.stark-conde.co.za

Definitely a postcard view!!

Definitely a postcard view!!

www.postcardcafe.co.za

 

valeriu dg barbu

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