Monday, July 27, 2015

Midsummer Favorites

How has your summer been? It's hard to believe it's almost August. I've gathered together a few of my favorite things from this summer so far. I'd love to know what yours are!

1. "Euphoria" by Lily King

My favorite book this summer is Euphoria by Lily King. Inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, it tells the story of a married couple Nell and Fen who are working as anthropologists in New Guinea in the 1930's. When they meet another young anthropologist and decide to work with him, a passionate love triangle occurs. This book tells two fascinating stories: one, about the lives of anthropologists working in the field in the 1930's and two, a dramatic love story that threatens the careers and lives of the three main characters. At only 257 pages, this book delivers a powerful punch with such efficiency. I loved its intensity and passion.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Magical Scotland

 It's easy to fall in love with Scotland. There is such an abundance of beauty and charm.

There is the magical quality to the light

The picturesque harbors

The fairy tale houses

The dramatic skies

The ancient castles

The wonders of nature

Don't you just love a backpacker wearing a kilt!

In the first week of June, we travelled from London to Edinburgh and spent a week in Scotland. I am officially in love with this country. We divided our week between the Highlands and Edinburgh. I had to get my "Outlander" fix in the Highlands! And although we barely scratched the surface of either place (especially the Highlands since it rained most of the time) we were able to enjoy both the natural scenery of the North as well as the more sophisticated charms of the capital. Hailing from Los Angeles where it is always warm and often hot, I didn't mind bundling up in a jacket and scarf to go outside. Neither did I mind returning to a cozy hotel to while away some hours in front of a roaring fireplace. I wrote about it each day in my travel journal. Having just gone back to read my thoughts and observations about both places, I was struck by how much I loved Scotland. The Highlands and Edinburgh were both enchanting.

 Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh

We took the train from London to Edinburgh, an experience which I highly recommend. This is such an easy and elegant way to travel. The Waverley train station in Edinburgh is conveniently located right next to our hotel, the Balmoral, where we stayed for one night before traveling to the Highlands. You can see the clock tower of the Balmoral all over town, guaranteeing that you will never get lost. Did you know that the Waverley train station is named after the Waverley Novels by Sir Walter Scott? When I discovered this, I began to get a hint of how special Scotland was. I don't think there are any other train stations named after a work of literature!


But we would be coming back to Edinburgh in a couple of days. After spending a restful night at the Balmoral, we were off to the Highlands the following day.

Inverlochy Castle

Where all of its magic began to reveal itself

We stayed at Inverlochy Castle located in Fort William, near Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis.

The 19th-century hotel overlooks a private loch and is set on a 500-acre estate

This was the view from our room. It seemed as if time had stood still in this part of the world.

Upon arriving we took a walk abound the property

And quickly discovered some special rooms in the hotel for sitting in front of that fire
The drawing room became a favorite place to have tea or a drink before dinner

The beautiful dining room serves breakfast and dinner each day

Crannog restaurant in Fort William

We had a lot of rain on this trip which meant we couldn't do many outdoor activities. In this kind of weather it was fun to go into the little town of Fort William to explore. One day I bought a copy of Jane Eyre from the local book store, little realizing what a perfect book it would be for this trip. Remember the first line? "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." This was a wonderful book to read on the days it rained. That same day we discovered the charming Crannog restaurant on the water where we had a delicious lunch of smoked haddock chowder and a glass of white wine. It was a cozy place to while away a couple of hours and watch the boats sail by.

But on the day we took the ferry to the Isle of Skye the weather was beautiful

After a 30-minute ride on the ferry, we arrived at the Isle of Skye

Everywhere we looked was a picture postcard

This is the little village of Portree, viewed from the Cullin Hotel where we had lunch

Exploring Portree and its candy-colored cottages

More gorgeous views

Eilean Donan, a 13th-century castle set on a small island

Loch Garry

The Three Sisters mountain range was spectacular. I loved that there was still snow in June! On the way back to Fort William, we stopped to  look at Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Britain. It was also covered with snow and very dramatic.

Mountains, glens, coastlines and isles -- the natural beauty of the Highlands is simply staggering. Even on the grayest days, with a softly falling rain, the light is gorgeous. It is easy to understand   why so many films have been shot in Scotland. You just can't beat it for ambiance.

Back at the hotel cappuccino and hot tea never tasted so good! Of course the cookies didn't hurt...

It rained the rest of that afternoon and night, so we decided to stay in for dinner. After a restful night's sleep, we got on the road the next day and travelled back to Edinburgh where we would be staying for three more days.

On the way, we stopped at the House of Bruar. I wish I had more pictures, as this is the most amazing place. It is a multi-faceted shopping arcade in the middle of the Scottish countryside. In fact, it is advertised as "the home of country living." They have an extensive collection of Scottish products, including beautiful Scottish cashmere. We browsed through all the shops, bought a few gifts to take home, and ate a delicious lunch in their food hall. The smoked fish plate comes with thick slices of homemade brown bread and includes the best smoked salmon I have ever tasted. That was followed by shortbread and coffee. It was heaven. The first of the season Scottish strawberries (above) had just arrived and was a reminder that summer had come to Scotland.

Back in Edinburgh we were treated to some beautiful weather, the kind of weather that is a spectacular backdrop to this stunning city. The cloud-filled skies, gray stone buildings and emerald green spaces are a winning combination. Every vista looked like a painting. And since it doesn't get dark until 10:00 pm in June, there were many hours to enjoy all this beauty.

We walked and walked and walked; this city is wonderfully walkable!

The Royal Mile

Hollyroodhouse Palace, the official residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland.
This place is filled with so much history. Mary Queen of Scots lived here.

The chapel ruins

It could be the setting for a Gothic novel

The gardens at Hollyroodhouse Palace are beautiful

St. Giles Cathedral

This is where John Knox directed the Scottish Reformation. If you visit, be sure to see the Thistle Chapel which honors the knights of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The rib-vaulted ceiling and carved heraldic canopies are really something to see.

The Scottish National Gallery

Dunbar Close -- a secret garden in the middle of the city

We browsed through Waterstone's Bookstore on Princes Street

Had a drink at the Dome, a very elegant bar on George Street

And ate at several fabulous restaurants, including Rhubarb at Prestonfield House

Some other restaurants we enjoyed were The Witchery, Angels with Bagpipes and The Wedgewood. I love the names. Each place has incredible food and delightful Scottish ambiance.

Photo via here

We also went to Anta, a store in Edinburgh I have always wanted to visit. It carries superb Scottish woolen products, home furnishings, and ceramics all designed in tartan plaids. I bought a tartan throw as well as some dishes in the pattern shown above. I can't wait until they arrive so I can bring a little Scottish magic into my house.

Edinburgh is a city filled with beauty, elegance, enchantment and history. The ancient medieval buildings that are scattered around the city and the elegant Georgian streets and squares combine to make this an extraordinary place. It has such a sense of fun. Bagpipe players are around every corner. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, the museums and galleries are filled with great art, and the most elegant men are clad in tartan kilts.

 I fell in love with Scotland. This beautiful and wild country has been a muse to many writers and artists over the years and now I can understand why. I am so happy I went and can't wait to return. There is so much more to see.

A big thank you to Pamela Terry who writes the blog From the House of Edward. When I began to plan the trip, I knew she was the person to ask for advice. She is a lover of Scotland. Her reply was a beautiful little essay on the charms of Scotland that I will treasure forever!

Have you been to Scotland? Did you fall in love?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Celebrating a Ballerina

Julie Kent taking a bow after dancing her farewell performance for the American Ballet Theater
Photo via here

"You're the only girl I've seen in a long time that actually looked like something blooming."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was so touched when I read about Julie Kent's farewell performance for the American Ballet Theater. After dancing for 29 years, she retired and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. At the end of her performance in Romeo and Juliet, the standing ovation went on for 23 minutes. The New York Times reported that there were enough floral bouquets on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House to fill a small flower shop. Go here to read more. I had tears in my eyes just reading about it. How inspiring to know that so many people love ballet and appreciate this legendary ballerina. I saw her dance years ago and will never forget her performance. I can only imagine how magical this experience must have been for those lucky enough to be in the audience. It's important to celebrate our great artists and it sounds as if this was one unforgettable celebration. For those of us who love ballet but couldn't be there, it was a treat to see the photos and read about this fabulous night. I could almost close my eyes and imagine the excitement in the air. Thank you, Julie Kent, for bringing so much beauty and artistry to the world of ballet!


Next up on the blog, a magical week in Scotland!
Wishing you a lovely weekend