Cuba – Go Before It All Changes

I just returned from a dream trip to Cuba and feel compelled to tell the world to go visit NOW before the things that make it so special change. Cuba’s unique political history has frozen it in time, and in so many ways, it is still stuck in the 1950s. For blocks on end, you can wander the streets of Havana and not see anything that would give away what year you are in. I can’t think of many places I’ve visited that gave me that same experience. As travel restrictions from the U.S. continue to lighten, tourism to Cuba has been increasing at lightning speed, so amenities for tourists are on the rise. Construction is going on everywhere in Havana, which on one hand is exciting, but also means, well, things are changing!  Also, with the potential of embargo restrictions letting up in the near future, so many of those beautiful old cars are going to be traded for 15 year old Hyundais, which are just not as charming to see winding their way through Old Havana. For me, it was the decay of the buildings and the old cars that made Cuba so special, and with the potential of these things changing soon, the time to visit Cuba is now.

If you are from a country that can visit Cuba legally, lucky you. If not, and you want to go legally, you’ll need to book a tour through a licensed tour provider. Some are listed here.

I will do another post in the future about my impressions of the people, culture and politics of Cuba, but for now how about some photos to encourage you to go ahead and plan that trip you know you’ve been wanting to take!

 

20151219-IMG_5953 20151219-IMG_5991 20151219-IMG_6050 20151219-IMG_6059 20151219-IMG_6071 20151219-IMG_6154 20151219-IMG_606320151220-IMG_6481 20151221-IMG_6827 20151222-IMG_7098 20151222-IMG_7141 20151223-IMG_7200

The Best of Fremantle, Australia in One Day (Guest Post by Ines)

I couldn’t be more excited to share with you a guest post from this lovely blogger in Australia named Ines. She lives on the west coast of Australia in Perth and is sharing with us her tips on visiting the port city of Fremantle. Having just returned from a visit of just the east coast of Australia, I am so excited to visit the west coast someday, especially this cute little seaside town! You can also check out her gorgeous blog at Inesphere for more post on Australia and beyond.

freo

My first visit to Fremantle was back in 2011 during my trip to Western Australia. A few years later, I found myself living here and I’ve become a lot more familiar with how best to spend a day in Fremantle. Just 30 minutes from Perth’s city centre, Fremantle is one of the easiest cities in the world to explore. It’s rather easy to lose track of time while making your way through the Cappuccino Strip down to South Freo and back along the coast.  If a day is all you have, here are a few tips on how best to enjoy this buzzing port city.

 

Wander Around

cappuccino strip

Before sitting down for a bite to eat or just after breakfast, explore the city through a self-guided walking trail. Start with the Capppuccino Strip and make your way around side streets down to the Esplanade Hotel and the Park where you can ride the Ferris Wheel for a bird’s eye view of the surrounding areas. From there, slowly make your way back to check out street art and murals and unique little shops. Visitors’ Centre in the heart of the city will have maps and often cafes will have copies of maps outlining shops and cafes.

Explore the Markets

esplanade hotelA must see when visiting Fremantle are the Markets open Friday through Sunday. Here you will find endless array of fruit, veg and food ranging from Spanish Paella to cupcakes and everything in between. It tends to get busy, so it’s best to visit early to avoid the crowds.

 

Visit the Hidden Cafes

yocal
One of the best things about Fremantle is the eclectic mix of cafes and restaurants known for their unique style many having outdoor seating. Must try cafes include Yocal, Two Rubens, the Attic, Raw Kitchen, Chalkys and if you wander down to South Freo look out for Lenny the Ox, Di Bella Coffee Roasting House, and Ootong and Lincoln just to name a few. I have had many visits to  at each of these and can tell you they are gorgeous and serve delicious meals. Perhaps, have a breakfast at Yocal and a dairy and sugar free dessert at the Raw Kitchen.

 

Arvo at Little Creatures

little creaturesAfter exploring the shops, galleries and cafes, enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the Little Creatures Brewery. A chubby cupid with a bow is the symbol of this iconic Fremantle boutique brewery. They serve great drinks and food to match. It’s set on the waterfront and my go to place when having visitors.

 

Fishing Boat Harbour

fishing boat harbour
Just next door to Little Creatures is the Fishing Boat Harbour. Many come for fresh fish and chips, but I would recommend enjoying a cone of ice-cream while walking around the harbour snapping photos of big boats and then heading towards Bathers Beach and WA Maritime Museum.

 

Lounge on the Beach

port beach
Outside the city centre, you will find gorgeous beaches and bike trails that lead to them. Two of my favorites are Port Beach and South Beach. In the summer, these are great places to cool off and unwind. For those with more time, taking a 30 min ferry from Fremantle to Rottnest Island is a must. The island is surrounded by beautiful beaches and shoreline ideal for diving and snorkeling.

A Walk Through Huntington Gardens – Pasadena, California

20140906-IMG_3032

Living in Southern California, I feel as though I have an endless list of places to visit nearby, or with a day or weekend trip away from my home in San Diego. I keep my travel wish list organized by continent, country, and region (does anyone else do this?). Despite countless trips to the LA area, The Huntington in Pasadena, CA had been on my wish list for so long and I finally had the opportunity to visit!

20140906-IMG_3181

It has a library with rare books and lovely museums, but the main draw is the 120 acres of botanical gardens. Walk with me first through the rose garden…and try not to smell each variety of rose like I did!

20140906-IMG_5304All of that rose sniffing had me a little woozy and in need of a rest. This spot will do nicely.

20140906-IMG_3009

The Japanese Garden has a bit of everything – moon bridge, tea house, koi pond, and even a bonsai courtyard! It seems to have been designed with inspiration and reflection in mind, with many nooks to sit and absorb the surroundings.

20140906-IMG_3045

20140906-IMG_3142

20140906-IMG_3152

20140906-IMG_3149

This is the only zen rock garden I have seen outside of Japan. Walking through it took me right back to the famous Ryoan-ji in Kyoto. Especially during this epic drought we are experiencing in California at the moment, I have great appreciation for a garden that requires no water!

20140906-IMG_3147

In contrast to the Japanese Garden that invites reflection and intimacy, the Chinese Garden promotes community with its tea house overlooking the lake, and large, intricately decorated gazebos.

20140906-IMG_3068

20140906-IMG_3089

20140906-IMG_3091

20140906-IMG_3056

There are so many other gardens to explore at The Huntington, including an Australian Garden, a Cactus Garden, and one of the largest Camellia gardens in North America. If you have been before, what was your favorite garden? I loved the Japanese garden the most, but felt I could have sat at the Chinese tea pavilion for hours!

America’s Best Castle – Hearst Castle

20131226-IMG_5139

The U.S. may be a bit lacking in castles compared to other parts of the world, but Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California makes up a bit for the lack in quantity with its playful extravagance with dashes of California nature and Hollywood flavor.

20131226-IMG_6644

The vacation playground for William Randolph Hurst, the newspaper magnate, hosted many celebrities in its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Winston Churchill. Guests entertained themselves during the day with the multiple pools, gardens, and the largest privately owned zoo at the time.

20131226-IMG_6754

20131226-IMG_5198

I’m not exactly sure how one chooses between the outdoor Neptune Pool surrounded by white marble statues and colonnades, or the indoor Roman Pool with floor to ceiling (and walls too) mosaic tiles in cobalt blue and sparkling gold – sparkling because it is real gold!

20131226-IMG_6684

20131226-IMG_5161

In the evenings, Hearst threw lavish dinner parties, and sometimes legendary costume parties where everyone dressed in costumes borrowed from movie wardrobes. This man really knew how to really enjoy his money!

Some practical advice for your visit – I’d recommend starting with the Grand Rooms Tour, which takes you through the social (“party”) rooms of the largest house on the property. Try to be at the back of the tour group so you can catch a photo of the spaces without too many people in them, once people move along to the next room.

20131226-IMG_5068 20131226-IMG_5085

After the tour, take some time to walk around the entire property and appreciate the gardens, statues, and palm tree-framed views of the Central Coast below.

20131226-IMG_5093

Perhaps pick out a guest house you would have chosen to stay in had you been lucky enough to be invited.

20131226-IMG_5097 20131226-IMG_5108

I’d highly recommend the Upstairs Suites Tour, in addition to the Ground Rooms Tour, if you have time for it. In the past, if you took two tours, you had to take the bus back down the mountain and wait at the Visitor Center in between them, but now they let you wander freely around the grounds for as long as you’d like. Why not lounge around by the Neptune pool in the shade of the colonnade? I sure did!

20131226-IMG_5127

The Upstairs Rooms Tour takes you into Hearst’s bedrooms and his penthouse library, which was my favorite room of the entire castle. I really wanted to grab a rare book from the collection and plop down on a chair and read for hours, but instead they kicked us all out (nicely, of course).

20131226-IMG_6793 20131226-IMG_6820

And then, you take the bus back down to reality and dream of a life with Roman pools, zoo animals and costume parties…

20131226-IMG_5109

Ghost Hunting in Bodie, CA

20100829-IMG_3214

If you can survive the long drive to the middle of nowhere, the nearly 9,000 foot elevation and the last 3 miles of the bumpiest, windy dirt road I’ve ever experienced (in a car with intact shocks anyway), you could be in for a treat of one of the best preserved ghost towns in the U.S. Bodie is located about an hour away from Yosemite and is definitely worth the detour.

20100829-IMG_3095

What once boomed as a gold rush town with an estimated 10,000 people in 1880, the long-abandoned Bodie now sits in a state of “arrested decay,” maintained by the California State Parks System.

20100829-IMG_3102 copy

20100829-IMG_3040

The park is more popular than you might imagine, given its remote location. With the park entry fee, you have the freedom to wander around the grounds of the park, and despite the many people visiting, you will find yourself in pockets of quiet where you feel like you have the entire place to yourself.

20100829-IMG_3063 copy

The interiors of some of the buildings have also been preserved, and I could have spent hours peeking through windows at all of the furnishings, clothing, and household goods, imagining daily life in Bodie’s heyday.

20100829-IMG_3103

20100829-IMG_3004 copy

Bodie was known for its tumultuous, unpredictable weather creating harsh living conditions that many people living there escaped by spending their free time in one of 65 saloons in the town. Even during my two hour long visit, I experienced about three different seasons. At first overcast with ominous clouds, a layer of clouds then broke to offer the brightest blue skies and puffy white clouds, only to disappear again behind clouds even more ominous.

20100829-IMG_3171 copy

20100829-IMG_3144

20100829-IMG_2929 copy

Though I didn’t meet any ghosts on this trip, I am still on the hunt. Have you visited any ghosts towns? I have a few more on my list to visit someday!

Adamson House – A Hidden Treasure of Malibu

Adamson-1

Situated on Pacific Coast Highway just north of Malibu Pier, it’s not exactly hiding, but Adamson House is often skipped by the usual Malibu weekend visitor. Combined with its architectural and natural beauty beyond comprehension, it’s exactly the type of place I love to visit and love even more to share.

Adamson-2

From its front courtyard outlined in roses and bougainvillea to its tiled fountains and luscious lime trees at the back, it is a fairy tale castle, Spanish Colonial Revival style. The interior (accessible by guided tour only, and where photos are not allowed) is full of custom tile created locally, which, aside from the spectacular views of the ocean and hills, was the most memorable part of the house tour. One room had tiles painted to look like a Persian rug, which I thought was pretty genius since tile is much easier to clean than a fancy rug!

Also fascinating was that the home had all original furniture and appliances, including a seriously flawed early dishwasher, which ran water straight through it while spinning the dishes in a circle. How many glasses do you think they broke in that contraption?

Adamson-9

From the back lawn, you are left without any question as to why the family chose this location to build their fairy tale villa. Imagine it a hundred years ago without being able to see a single building, but even today, it makes sense. Even the most picturesque lifeguard tower (featured in the movie “Gigi”) and Surfrider Beach are perfectly framed by the house’s landscaping!

Adamson-3

The home is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and can be rented out for events. My only wish is that you could stay overnight and wake up to this view out of your bedroom window.

If Edward Scissorhands Lived in San Diego

If I had scissors for hands, I would definitely be creating bunnies and dinosaurs out of bushes, no question. What would motivate a person with *hands* for hands to do this, however, I would love to know. This work of art that requires consistent upkeep is really someone’s front yard.

topiary02

It would be fun to go with a few people who know cartoons really well and try to name all of the characters  you can recognize in this one-of-a-kind garden. Harper’s Topiary Garden is in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood. If you run into the owners, ask them what inspired them to create such an enchanting garden, and then thank them for sharing their whimsy with everyone. They seem like people I’d like to have over for tea and macaroons!

topiary03

Address: 3549 Union St. (between Upas St. & Vine St.), San Diego, CA 92103