A Peek Inside

Mine is an ever changing neighborhood with old houses coming down one by one to be replaced by new ones more satisfactory to today’s lifestyle.  When there is opportunity to look at new construction, I like to take a peek inside to get a feel for what is currently  trending in architecture and design.

I’ve watched this house being built, so an open house lured me inside and I was charmed by the presentation. 

Open spaces define the first floor. 

With its bright white walls, wide plank oak floors and doors opening to the outside, the house has a light and airy feel.

Kitchens always get my attention, and this one has much to offer.  There’s plenty of work space, ample cabinets and an island featuring the waterfall detail which is a popular one these days.

Off the kitchen is a delightful space to enjoy morning coffee and, like the larger interior area, opens to the walled in courtyard which brings the outside in.

The lot on which the house is built is not large, but because the design maximizes views it feels like a much larger property.  The second floor study with three walls of windows is like being in a tree house.  I could imagine writing here or sitting and reading in one of those very comfortable chairs.

New construction seems always to have enormous master baths and closets, and this house is no exception.  In the bath, the tub is typical of the look often seen in current magazines, and while it is dramatic, I’m thinking getting in and out might be a challenge!

Wandering through this house was a pleasure thanks to the tasteful staging of the young woman* hosting the open house.  I liked several of the pieces and queried where they were from.  She revealed that most everything was from Restoration Hardware and High Fashion Home in Houston.  All in all, the house made a very good impression and by the end of the day there were several offers.  That’s what I call success!

*All photos are courtesy of Kastenna Parikh whose good work resulted in the sale.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Prague: A City of Contrasts

If you’ve heard of only one place else in Czechoslovakia it is likely to be Prague, a city of amazing contrasts.

Unlike many of the cities visited on our river cruise, Prague was not damaged during World War II meaning that the Old Town is intact.  Away from it, everything is newer, more modern indicating that Prague is a thriving 21st century city.

Though Prague is full of attractions, what I liked best was wandering the  streets paying attention to all that was going on whether it was men  restoring an aging facade,

meticulously relaying a cobbled street

or  working to attract a crowd and hoping to be rewarded with a few coins.

Markets were a great place to people watch,

 sample a few local goodies. 

and observe vendors, some of whom were busy demonstrating their skills, preparing food for jostling customers or passing the time until someone came along.

It was surprising to see a canal in Prague.  My first thought was how that resembled Venice.  The only thing missing was gondolas being managed by striped shirt gondoliers!

IMG_0946Walking miles every day means there had to be time for some refreshment, and I liked stopping in at some random place

IMG_0948and having Czech food and a Pilsner Urquell.  Talk about a pause that refreshes!

Yes, Prague has much to offer.  Architecturally, it is a jewel with its buildings representing many centuries.

IMG_0979Oh, and have I mentioned gingerbread and that Czechoslovakia is famous for it?  It comes in many forms, but when I tell you that foie gras served on thin slices of gingerbread is over the top, believe it!  I’d go back to Prague just to have it again.

So much for this journey of three plus weeks.  It’s time to go home.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Foodie Adventure V: Assisi

As many times as we’ve been to Italy, we’ve not been to Umbria so I was delighted to learn that this Foodie Adventure would include side trips to towns not too distant from Cortona.

For a number of years, the medieval city of Assisi has been high on my list of go to places, and it is now a place I’d definitely return.

I so enjoyed wandering its cobblestone streets where there is much to take in.

With all of its textures, the architecture is reminiscent of a time long past.

As you are probably aware, Assisi is best known for being the birthplace of St. Francis who is honored with a basilica and monastery bearing his name.

No photography is allowed inside where the walls and ceilings are adorned with frescoes. Many were done by Giotto whose work influenced that of many artists who followed.

Outside, I was fascinated by the colors and textures of the construction materials.

Studying these, I marveled at the skills possessed so many centuries ago when building was done without sophisticated equipment. It is doubtful that the same could be created today.

Assisi is also the birthplace of St. Clare remembered for ministering to the poor. In the cathedral bearing her name, she is interred.

From the outside, one doesn’t notice anything but the beautiful design of this window, but inside, with the light shining through, is revealed a creation of stained glass.

These are the highlights of my visit to Assisi, but with more time one could find more to explore and enjoy.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

How Things Change

West UWhen we built our house 26 years ago in a style influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, our sanity was questioned.

IMG_0564Here we were in the midst of very traditional homes, many dating back to the 1930’s, and we were introducing a totally different style.

To make matters worse, during construction I was running for office. Someone who apparently objected to the look we had chosen wrote a letter to the editor questioning my abilities considering my taste in architecture!  After that there was never a time when we came by to view progress that we didn’t find curious people walking through. That was a pretty easy way to meet folks and I’ve always laughed thinking that the house provided a successful campaign outcome.  

IMG_0560Well, that was then and this is now.

IMG_0578In the last couple of years, new construction indicates a changing taste in architecture.

IMG_0561Since the 1980’s when redevelopment in this area began, decades have been defined by home styles so these may well be the look for the second decade of the 21st century. 

IMG_0576 (1)I am glad that our house no longer stands alone when it comes to architectural style. It is reassuring that it is as relevant today as it would have been had it been built in the 1930’s which was our intent.  No matter one’s taste in architecture,  an important criteria is that it withstand the test of time.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

 

 

This Is Houston

IMG_0401Sitting on 300 acres in the heart of Houston’s museum and medical center district is Rice University, consistently ranked in the top 20 U.S. colleges and universities.   With all its land, Rice could be a much larger school, but it serves less than 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students.  Interestingly, the students reflect Houston’s cultural diversity.

IMG_0404This time of year strolling the campus is lovely with azaleas blooming profusely.

IMG_0421Paths and streets are shaded by arching limbs of old live oak trees. 

IMG_0407Architecturally, Rice is a gem.

IMG_0410Arches are a common feature,

IMG_0409and it is not unusual to see photographers, amateur and professionals alike, shooting among them.

IMG_0424As time has passed,  arches have taken on a more modern look though the building materials have remained the same.

IMG_0431One building on campus has a look all its own, and it’s not surprising that it would be the art center.

IMG_0438Now Rice is not a football powerhouse, but the stadium is huge seating more than 70,000.  Back in the early 70’s a Super Bowl was held there and not too many years ago was one of my all time favorite concerts featuring Billy Joel and Elton John.  What a combo!

Yes, Rice University is one of those places in Houston that is truly worth a visit.  It is also a great resource for continuing education.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Taking a Second Look

I have just finished reading Dan Brown’s most recent book, Origin, which had many references to  Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. These gave me reason to review photos I had taken of both.

As I looked at them, they gave credence to Gaudi’s words:

Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first. Originality consists of returning to the origin.

At Casa Mila, the influence of nature is obvious beginning with the facade which reminded of something growing from the earth.

Inside graceful nautilus shapes are among those reminiscent of the sea.On the rooftop are amazing organic structures with flowers and layers resembling the earth’s strata.

Sagrada Familia continues to illustrate Gaudi’s fascination with nature and his interpretations go beyond traditional which for me is his genius.

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Inside are soaring treelike columns.

Their branches spread across the ceiling giving one the illusion of being in a forest.

One could go on and on about the natural elements at Sagrada Familia, but as I looked at my photos I was stuck by contrasting religious images.

Ones depicting the birth story are delicate and detailed.

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In sharp contrast are the dramatic interpretations of the crucifixion.

Not only are they crudely done, there is such incredible sadness in them.

Without question, Gaudi was an architect of tremendous talent who was not afraid to think outside the boundaries.  While other of his work is complete, Sagrada Familia has been a work in progress for 140 years.

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Thanks to private donations someday, perhaps by 2040, it will look like this.

As in his other books, Dan Brown’s Origin raises some interesting questions, but what I most appreciated was being influenced to take a second look at Gaudi’s designs and again being awed by his originality.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Last Stop: Udaipur

With many harrowing hours on the bus behind us, we arrived at our final destination, Udaipur said to be the Venice of the East. The bus had to traverse a very narrow street not wide enough for two smaller vehicles much less a big one so our entry was rather dramatic in that we had cars, bicycles and motorbikes backed up in every direction. Talk about some horn honking!

As we navigated our way through traffic, I noticed something very different about Udaipur. It was clean, the sky was clear, there was more green and in the distance could be seen mountains and water meaning we had left the desert behind.

After a nerve wracking ride, we left the bus to board a boat that would take us to our hotel, the Leela Palace. Seeing it in the distance made my heart beat a little faster as it appeared we had saved the best for last.

And so it was. Rooms were sumptuous with a comfortable sitting area

and inviting views in every direction.

At every turn, the hotel was beautifully appointed making me want to stay there for days. It would take days just to learn one’s way around!

As much as I hated to leave the hotel, there were sights to see. Again by boat, we headed toward the City Palace, an enormous complex dominating Pichola Lake.

It is impossible to describe the majesty of this place with its graceful arches and stained Venetian glass,

its stunning works of art done with exacting detail

and breathtaking painted surfaces telling the story of the culture that had existed there. Photographs don’t begin to do the City Palace justice.

Across the way and again accessible only by boat is the Jag Mandir Palace which was used as a summer place by the royal family. Today it is a hotel and a popular site for weddings and other social events.

Having had our fill of sightseeing, we returned to the hotel for a wonderful evening of shared friendship, good food and entertainment.

Some of us even got into the act though we were not nearly as glamorous or graceful as the beautiful performers.

All too soon our stay was over and once again we boarded the bus for the airport and flights that would return us home. For each of us the experience was different, but there is no question that every one of us has memories indelibly inscribed in our heart. That is the gift of travel.

Next Up: The Js

Jaipur, Jaisalmer and Jodphur are the Js. What do they have in common? Each has a fort that once served as protection high above the city, and each is referred to by color.

Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, is the Pink City so called because of the pink painted buildings lining the streets of the old walled city. A highlight here is the fortress/palace of Amber built in the 1500’s.

It sits high on a hillside which means a long walk to the top or opting to take the trek on an elephant.

As with other sites we have visited, the architectural details are magnificent. One can wander for hours taking them all in.

A unique feature of the Amber fortress is the use of mirrors on walls and ceilings. Their glimmering surfaces cast reflections in every direction.

While there is much more to share about Jaipur, let’s move on to Jaisalmer, the Golden City located in the desert near India’s western border with Pakistan.

Here, too, is a fortress, and unlike others it continues to be inhabited, and its alleyways are alive with activity.

Ornate havelis dating back centuries and once home to wealthy merchants are still intact.

I love the color that changes from place to place

and signs of life that abound.

The main tourist attraction in Jaisalmer is a camel ride in the desert. I have to confess that the experience won’t go down as a highlight of this adventure!

The third J is Jodphur, the Blue City. Blue is said to be the color favored by Lord Shiva as well as a way of identifying property owned by the Brahmins, members of the highest caste. Speaking of caste, I am somewhat confused by the difference between it and class which were the terms used by guides to define social structure.In Jodphur, as in other places, what strikes me most are sights of people doing everyday things.

I’m taken in by its vibrancy

displayed in so many ways.

Here and elsewhere I am continually amazed and sometimes frightened by people and vehicles vying for space in what seems to be a most disorderly fashion. While that may seem unusual to me as a visitor, I suspect those who live here see it as nothing more than a way of life.

Again and again during this adventure, I am struck by the differences between my own life and that in this sprawling country, and I cannot help but wonder how it would be perceived by those who I am observing.

Next Up: Agra

Why go to Agra? Because it is the location of one of the world’s most famous structures, the Taj Mahal. I won’t go into its history except to say it was built between 1632 and 1648 to honor the deceased second wife of Shah Jahan. This woman bore 14 children in 19 years and died giving birth to the 14th. I have to say that made her worthy of her husband’s devotion.

We arrived at the site shortly after 6 AM and already there were throngs of people.

At first glimpse of the magnificent building, guess what happened? Everyone stopped to take a photo creating a crush of humanity.

It is difficult not to have an omigosh moment as something so historically familiar becomes a reality. The white marble glistens despite the haze that appears to be perpetual in India.

Looking at the details of the Taj Mahal, one cannot help but marvel at the skills of laborers who worked with tools barely more sophisticated than hammer and chisel.

It always amazes me how often precious materials are used to create intricate designs in ancient construction. Here the beautiful exterior inlay designs are created with onyx, jade and jasper.

Just as stunning as the Taj Mahal are the buildings surrounding it.

The differing material and style create a lovely contrast.

From the Taj Mahal we ventured to the Red Fort which in some ways was even more dramatic.

Built over an eight year period the century before, it ultimately became a place of imprisonment for Shah Jahan as he lost power. It was irritating to learn he was placed there by one of his sons which goes to show that family loyalty is not always a priority!

There were multiple architectural influences here adding to the fort’s interest. They ranged from Arabic

to those more associated with Indian design.

One of the things that makes visits to sites like these is having a good guide. Ours was that and more as he shared information with knowledge and enthusiasm. He was open to questions about subjects having to do with culture, the answers to which go a long way to help understand place.

Destination: Castine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of our favorite boat outings is to Castine, Maine, one of the oldest communities in North America.  Since the 1600’s it has been continuously occupied by settlers from France, Holland, England and  colonial America.  It has also been home to several Native American nations, so as you might guess, Castine has a rich and colorful history.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACastine is not a big town.  Most of the shops and eateries are right in the center.

Were it not for the Maine Maritime Academy where young men and women are trained for a life involving the sea, there would be few full time residents.

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In the 1630’s, the French built Fort Pentagoet, which was later destroyed by the Dutch.

IMG_4889Today, an historic inn is all that bears the name.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocated up the road from the original fort, the inn is on the site of a hall occupied by English troops in the 1800’s.  Are you beginning to get a feel for Castine’s varied history?

Back to the inn, it is a trip back in time which makes it desirable for visitors.

For us, it is an annual destination where we meet boater friends for cocktails on the porch and a delightful dinner.

It is always fun to stroll around Castine to see stunning examples of Federal and Greek-Revival style homes that were built by wealthy pre-Civil War merchant families. For a peek inside one of these beautifully restored old homes, it’s worth taking a look here.   Many of you will recognize the work of one of your favorite fellow bloggers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn any given day, Castine is a wonderful lunch destination, and for us, it takes less time to get there by water than by car. It is a treat to tie up at the public dock and walk a few steps to Dennett’s Wharf for a tasty bite.

While there, you never know what you are going to see happening in or on the water.  Yep, Maine is the way life should be!

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind