At the end of the day [four]

Just when you think it can’t get any better.

Airplane views of Chicago from The Signature Room at the 95th, a cocktail bar located, well, on the 95th floor of the 360 Chicago tower, better known as the John Hancock Center. The cocktails must be good but who would remember after experiencing these dizzying views?

As if to prepare us for the experience, an explosion of light at the lobby: Lucent, an installation by Wolfgang Buttress, representing the 3,106 brightest stars visible with the naked eye from the Earth’s Northern hemisphere.

And, finally, a smooth landing back to Earth, walking past the iconic Wrigley Building on N Michigan Avenue.

Chicago by night on November 5th, 2017

Room with a View

Canada and the U.S. share the benefits of one of the world’s top tourist destinations with boat tours, walking tours, honeymoon packages, helicopter rides, resorts and casinos and all kinds of development to the detriment of the natural beauty of the environment but to the ultimate excitement of the millions of tourists that flock to Niagara Falls every year.

But for the best armchair views from your private booth you have to cross to Canada and book a ”falls view – high floor” room in one of the major chained-brand hotels that are lined along the Canadian side of the falls. The views are simply hypnotic.

Niagara Falls, ON, Canada

A day trip to Poughkeepsie

First, I was intrigued by the Native American name. Looking for its meaning, I found out that it is a mispronunciation of a Native American word referring to the location of a spring of fresh water that was used by the first travelers as a rest stop on the trail that ran along the river. Poughkeepsie is derived from ”uppuqui ipis ing”, uppuqui pronounced oo-poo-kee, and it means ”the reed-covered lodge by the little water-place”. [source]

Then, came an episode of the ”Great American Railroad Journeys”, a BBC travel documentary in which Michael Portillo crosses the United States by train using an 1879 copy of Appleton’s Guidebook. In this episode, Portillo makes a stop on his way to Albany, to walk across the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, built in 1889.

In Appleton’s time the bridge existed on paper only but, just ten years later there it was, the first Hudson River rail crossing north of New York City, intended to move mostly freight from Midwest to New England. In peak times, as many as 50 trains a day used to cross the bridge, but by 1974, when it was destroyed by fire, the traffic had dropped to one train a day.

The fire may have been extinguished but the damaged bridge remained closed, in disrepair for 35 years, until October 2009 when it was reopened as Walkway Over the Hudson with funding by the State and Federal government bodies responsible for historic preservation, private philanthropic organisations, but mainly the initiative and extensive support  by local residents.

At 1,28 miles – just over 2 km long, it claims the first place as the longest, elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. Open daily from 7 am to sunset, easily reached from Manhattan: a two-hour trip running mostly alongside the Hudson, on Metro-North from Grand Central Terminal.

Attention, however, you need to plan accordingly: except for the obvious breezy conditions one may expect on a bridge, it can get really hot (as in boiling) on this particular one. There is nowhere to hide from the sun and relief will come only once you’ve crossed on either side and especially Highland, where the Hudson Valley Rail Trail continues for miles under the welcome leafy shade.

August 13th, 2017

La Cuesta Encantada || The Enchanted Hill of San Simeon

Following his mother’s death in 1919, media magnate William Randolph Hearst inherited thousands of acres around San Simeon and later on purchased even more, until the land he owned extended further than the eye could see. Captivated by the beauty of the landscape, and probably tired of lodging in platform tents whenever he visited his ranch, Hearst hired architect Julia Morgan and asked her to build ”something that would be more comfortable” than the tents.  

Throughout his life, Hearst dreamed of building a castle similar to those he had seen on his European  tour as a boy. 28 years, 68,500 square feet, 38 bedrooms, 30 fireplaces, 42 bathrooms and 14 sitting rooms later (and that is only Casa Grande, the main building of the complex), his dream came true. He called his castle La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill” and, after a two-hour tour of the Grand Rooms, guest suites, gardens and the spectacular Roman Pool, I can affirm that this mythical structure of epic proportions is definitely ”something more comfortable” than Mr. Hearst’s tents.

During construction, Hearst used the Castle as his residence and it was there he exhibited his extraordinary art collection and entertained his friends. The elite of Hollywood, politics and sports – everyone who was anyone, has stayed in these rooms. Construction was still ongoing in 1947, when Hearst had to leave the castle because of his fragile health which required continuous medical care. Parts of the castle still remain unfinished.

If you enjoyed this virtual walk of the gardens, wait till we go indoors; coming up, views from the Grand Rooms and guest suites.

Hearst Castle, San Simeon

July 12th, 2017

Bixby Creek Bridge

#iconic
#marvels_of_engineering
#mind_the_gap

The plan was to cross the Bixby bridge and continue to explore the magnificent Big Sur. Alas, it was not to be – a giant landslide had claimed a large part of the highway and access had been cut off, since May 2017. It took 14 months and $ 1 billion dollars worth of repairs, to finally re-open the highway in July 2018!

The Bixby bridge was still open, however, so we did cross it… for a mile or so and then we had to turn back. From here on, we would have to drive inland on 101, bypassing Big Sur until San Luis Obispo.

But, before that, there were other wonders to be discovered in the area around Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, so let’s enjoy the breathtaking view from here, a little while longer.

July 10th, 2017

San Francisco is… the stunning views from Lands End

As if 4000 years worth of art, a spectacular French-inspired building that resembles the Parisian Palais de la Légion d’Honneur (here’s that ”European” feel again), and interesting exhibitions like the Degas and Paris Millinery Trade we’d just seen were not enough, Legion of Honor sits high on the grounds of Lincoln Park, in a unique setting. To reach it, you have to walk (or drive) through a glossy, perfectly manicured golf course. And on your return, you can – no, you must, take one of the Lands End trails, walk past rocky cliffs, shady cypress and eucalyptus trees, cross paths with local runners, find your way around a stone labyrinth, descent to Mile Rock Beach or just let your eyes rest on some of the most stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ocean you could have wished for.

Lands End

July 7th, 2017

Scribner’s at Golden Hour

The red brick of Charles Scribner’s Sons building is bathed in a warm blood orange colour.

Formerly a printing plant and corporate HQ of the historic printing house which produced works from such legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Ring Lardner.

Now renovated and transformed into a modern office space.

Scribner’s on 43rd Street, Hell’s Kitchen.

June 8th, 2017

Crossing the river to Hoboken

Believe it or not, there is a whole other world out there, beyond Manhattan and the City. Like Hoboken, for example. This town on the Hudson Waterfront, which an outsider might mistake for an extension of New York, is actually sitting in New Jersey. Easily accessible by car, train or ferry, it is a great alternative for walks alongside the river.

Starting with Hoboken Terminal, the main transportation hub and a magnificent example of Beaux Arts architecture. Just look at the exterior with a steampunk industrial feel and this incredible waiting room, bathed in natural light coming from its Tiffany stained glass skylight!

But the main attraction is, of course, a walk on the waterfront offering some of the best, unobstructed views of West Manhattan, all the way down to its lower tip.

Not forgetting the famous lobster tails, freshly baked directly at the source: Carlo’s Bakery.

For our first visit to Hoboken, we took the PATH from 33rd Street (smooth transit, no delays, no crowds – but it was Saturday…). Next time, which will hopefully be soon, we’ll try the ferry, which is always much more fun than travelling through a dark tunnel, underwater.

May 27th, 2017