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Cultural Attractions

Alentejo, Archeology, Cultural Attractions

Portugal’s Mysterious Megaliths

November 3, 2017

Lisbon’s Museu Nacional de Arqueologia has numerous treasures including megaliths.

We saw our first megalith in Lisbon’s Museum of Archeology and we were intrigued. What were these stones with their strange markings? Where could we see more of them? It turns out the largest collection of megaliths on the Iberian peninsula is located less than two hours from Lisbon in the Alentejo region not far from Evora, the area’s capital city.

Drive in the direction of Nossa Senhora de Guadalup through the beautiful forests of cork oak trees to reach Almendres Cromlech.

There are numerous places to see megaliths in Portugal, many in the Alentejo, but Cromeleque dos Almendres, or Almendres Cromlech, is the largest and most prominent site. Older than Stonehenge, Cromeleque dos Almendres is located about seven kilometers off the main road, the N114, driving towards Evora from Lisbon. We were heading to the Evora after Lisbon and decided to include a stop to see these archeological wonders.

The megaliths are in a large clearing, surrounded by cork oak trees.

Head in the direction of Nossa Senhora de Guadalup through the beautiful forests of cork oak trees. The dirt road is clearly marked with signs–Cromeleque dos Almendres and Menhir dos Almendres– directing you to the site. You will either need a car or a taxi to get here. There is no public transportation available.

Visitors can wander freely around the 95 remaining megaliths, or menhirs, at Almendres Cromlech.

About 95 of the granite megaliths, also called menhirs, still stand in the area and date back to the Neolithic Period (4th and 5th century BC). The stones at Almendres Cromlech are arranged to form two rings and visitors are free to wander all around the area, though touching the stones is discouraged.

The Cromeleque dos Almendres is older than Stonehenge.

It is believed that the earliest stones were placed here in 6000 BC and that ancient peoples used the area at Almendres Cromlech until 3000 BC for religious purposes. There is still a great deal of mystery surrounding the purpose of the stones, their placement and the markings on them, but there is speculation that the site had astrological significance due to its latitudinal location.

The placement, purpose and meaning of the megaliths remains largely a mystery.

There is a map of the enclosure on site, which identifies particular menhirs and describes various markings on the different stones.

Helpful signs in English and Portuguese explain the history of Almendres Cromlech and a map of the area shows where the most important stones are located.

This is identified as megalith number 1 on the posted diagram. The markings are clearly visible.

A careful examination is required to see the ancient markings on many of the stones. Here’s a close up look at one.

Admission to the site is free. Guided tours can be arranged.

We chose to take a self-guided exploration of the area but guided tours can be arranged. We met a Canadian couple that had hired a tour company to take them out to Almendres Cromlech and explain the mysteries of this ancient site and they thoroughly enjoyed their visit. Admission to the site is free and there is plenty of parking.

 

 

Cultural Attractions, History, Hotels, Museums

Evora: The Alentejo’s Capital City

October 27, 2017

The Vasco da Gama bridge led us away from lively Lisbon to the rural beauty of the Alentejo.

An easy 90- minute drive southeast of Lisbon takes you to the expansive Alentejo region. Home to medieval villages, castles, palaces, pousadas, megaliths, wine producers, and vast agricultural lands, this beautiful area has something to please nearly all visitors. We made Evora, the capital of the region, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our headquarters. This delightful small city is a great base from which to launch day trips to the many attractions in the area.

The Alentejo’s capital city is best explored on foot– wearing comfortable shoes, of course.

Remember to look up as you wander!

The historic city of Evora has interesting sites and several museums to explore. Just walking the winding streets is a fine way to spend a day, especially in the area around the Largo Conde de Vila Flor. After a pleasant stroll through the Praca do Giraldo, Evora’s bustling main square, we considered our options.

The busy Praca do Giraldo is at the heart of the city. Numerous shopping streets fan off from the Praca.

Cork is king in the Alentejo and is featured in souvenirs from sandals to handbags.

Portuguese pottery is also a popular souvenir.

Time was short so we had to make choices.  We decided to save the Contemporary Art Museum for our next visit and headed over to the Museum of Evora, which was hosting a Chinese porcelain exhibition along with its permanent collections.

The Museum of Evora is housed in a former Episcopal palace built in the 17th century.

Beautiful Azulejos tiles line the stone staircase inside the museum.

Teapots, serving pieces, jewelry and other treasures from China are featured in the current exhibition at the museum.

Placards describe the fine Chinese porcelain plates on display in Portuguese and English.

The museum features paintings from the 15th through 19th centuries, drawings, engravings, 17th and 18th century furniture, and Roman sculpture from the 1st and 2nd centuries.

The museum is known for it’s 17th and 18th century painting and sculpture. This piece is by Antonio Teixeira Lopes.

Religious articles, like St. Blaise’s arm reliquary from the 17th century, are part of the permanent collection.

Visitors can see this striking bronze sculpture, statuary, mosaics and other artifacts from the Roman era.

Interesting archeological finds from the Neolithic Age and a collection of silver and gold religious pieces, and jewelry are also on display. There were few visitors on the day we were there.

Antiquities from numerous ancient civilizations are on view.

Artifacts from the Roman era line a courtyard hallway.

Just outside the museum is the Roman Temple from the 1st century AD. Today, the ruins are undergoing restoration and are under wraps, but it is possible to see several of the Corinthian columns.

The Roman Temple which dates from the 1st century is mentioned in all the guide books, but until the restoration is complete, there isn’t much to see.

There is a small park behind the temple that offers nice views over the area beyond Evora and across the way you’ll find a lovely pousada, once a monastery that is now an upmarket hotel called Pousada dos Loios. Feel free to wander inside and take a step back into Portugal’s past. The restaurant here is open to the public.

Here’s a peek at the courtyard and restaurant at Pousada dos Loios.

This small park behind the Roman Temple provided a nice place to relax and enjoy the views over the city and surrounding countryside.

Many people line up at Evora’s Church of St. Francis to visit the Chapel of the Bones or Capela dos Ossis. The 16th century chapel displays the bones and skulls of monks. We’ve seen the creepy Capuchin Crypt in Rome so felt no need to stop in after our visit to the church. The public gardens beside the church were much more appealing.

Inside the Church of St. Francis.

The Chapel of the Bones is a popular tourist attraction inside the Church of St. Francis.

If you have time, stop into Evora’s Cathedral or Se.  It’s one of the largest medieval cathedrals in Southern Portugal and is said to be built on the site of a former mosque.

Here are the marvelously mismatched spires of Evora’s cathedral.

Close to the Church of St. Francis, you’ll find Evora’s morning market.  The market is indoors and was smaller than some we’ve visited, but we also arrived fairly late in the morning after many of the vendors had closed up shop.  Happily, there were several purveyors of tasty cheeses, cured meats, and fruits and vegetables still open.

Many vendors had already packed up and gone home by the time we arrived at the market but there was still plenty to choose from.

Everything you need for a nice picnic is right here–local pork products, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses and other tasty treats.

Evora has lodging options to fit many budgets and preferences. We chose to stay at two very different, but both delightful properties in and near the city. We began our stay at the lovely Albergaria do Calvario, just inside the walls of the city www.hotel@albergariadocalvario.com.

 

We enjoyed our stay at the small, well-located Albergaria do Calvario.

Located just inside the ancient Roman walls, it was easy to walk all around the city and access the freeway quickly for daytrips from our hotel.

The location made it easy to walk to Evora’s important sites as well as to dinner each evening. It was also convenient to reach the freeway for our day trips further afield. We’ll discuss dining and day trips in additional posts.

The comfortable bar area welcomes guests for drinks and light bites.

Ours was a large, comfortable room with a big balcony overlooking the hotel’s courtyard where many guests enjoyed breakfast, aperitifs, and conversation. Rooms vary substantially in size so be sure to explore your options when booking.

Our room was large and bright with a huge balcony overlooking the courtyard.

The marble used here is mined nearby. There is a Museum of Marble in Vila VIcosa we”ll visit next time.

There is no restaurant per se in the hotel, but they do provide a substantial breakfast buffet and have small meals, snacks, and drinks on offer in the bar. Anything ordered can be enjoyed in the courtyard, the bar area or one of the comfortable sitting areas.

This is just a small part of the bountiful buffet breakfast greeting guests each morning.

The courtyard provides a pleasant place to enjoy breakfast, drinks, or just relax.

Friendly staff are happy to help with restaurant bookings, excursion ideas or whatever you need to make your stay memorable.

The staff is extremely helpful and will even park and retrieve your car for you. Parking is available onsite at no additional charge. Laundry service is also available at a very reasonable price. The only thing we missed at this charming, small hotel was a pool, but we got that at our next hotel–Convento Espinhero.

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro.

We also spent several nights about 15 kilometers outside of Evora at the stunning Convento do Espinheiro. The converted convent was built in 1458 and is managed by www.starwood.com. The property has traditional rooms in the original buildings as well as two modern wings.

We had a large room in the modern wing of the hotel, complete with a nice balcony.

We enjoyed our stay in the modern wing where we had a very large room with a balcony and views over the property towards to the inviting swimming pool. After nearly 10 days of non-stop touring it was the perfect place to take break.

The pool provided the perfect place for relaxation, lunch, drinks and a refreshing dip.

There is also an indoor pool and a nice spa on site where I enjoyed a relaxing massage. There are tours given daily of the expansive Convento which covers the property’s fascinating history.

Ancient olive trees dot the property which dates back to 1458.

These stone benches have been here since the property was a functioning convent.

The complimentary tour includes a visit to the beautiful church (which is still in use), monk’s cistern where a complimentary wine tasting is held each evening, the former dining area and kitchen, as well as the vaulted storage cellar which now houses the hotel’s terrific restaurant.

Convento Espinheiro was one of the three wealthiest convents in Portugal. The church is still in use today.

The bells, one original, ring out to announce a wedding has taken place.

The wine cellar is housed in the monk’s former cistern, which was once filled with water.

A complimentary wine tasting take place each evening at 6 p.m. in the wine cellar.

We ate dinner there each night of our stay. The food is artfully prepared and beautifully presented by top-notch staff. Be sure to reserve for dinner or prepare to be disappointed—the dining room fills up. Should you choose to go offsite for your dinner and prefer not to drive, the helpful staff can arrange for a taxi into Evora.

Fresh local fish elegantly prepared is served with flair.

Luscious lamb chops with squash puree are featured on the menu.

Save room for dessert.

Where monks once stored their wine, olive oil and honey, hotel guests now enjoy a bountiful breakfast buffet. It is possible to enjoy your morning repast out on one of the terraces or in the courtyard area, as we did.

The former storage for olive oil, wine and honey, now serves as the hotel’s elegant dining room.

We also arranged to see some of the traditional rooms including the “royal suite” used by many honeymoon couples. It is truly spectacular in a beautiful old-world way and features a  contemporary bathroom and private rooftop terrace.

The “royal suite” often used by honeymooners offers old world charm and opulence.

The suite’s bathroom features modern fixtures like this free standing tub.

A private rooftop terrace, one flight up from the suite provides glorious views of the area around the Convento.

Next up, we’ll explore the Alentejo.  Join us for a few day trips and a wine tasting.

 

 

 

 

Art, California, Cultural Attractions, Museums, San Francisco

Hats Off to Degas–Lucas Shakes Things Up at SF’s Legion of Honor

September 4, 2017

San Francisco’s venerable Palace of Legion of Honor, part of the city’s Fine Arts Museums, is currently hosting the very popular Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade.

The extensive exhibition focuses on the impact of the millinery trade in Paris during the Belle Epoch era on the work of Degas and his contemporaries.  Paintings and pastels by Degas, Renoir, Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Toulouse- Lautrec and others, some never before shown in the U.S., are featured. In addition to the splendid impressionist paintings, included in the exhibition are 40 marvelous examples of millinery from that time period—in other words—hats!

Hats featuring flowers were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Silk, cotton, velvet and paper were all used to construct artificial flowers like those shown here.

Some patrons were definitely in the spirit of things.

These hats range in size and complexity from the sublime to over the top. One chapeau is topped with an entire owl, which had been preserved specifically for that purpose. There are plumes, beads, metallic wire, ribbons and flowers adorning these mostly enchanting toppers.

Plumage from domestic and exotic birds, including ostrich and owls, often were used to embellish luxury ladies’ hats.

These hats all sport fashionable feathers. The hat on the left features a complete owl while the one on the right has an African starling above its brim.

A visitor admires Manet’s “At the Milliner’s”–one of about 40 paintings and pastels in the exhibition.

Men’s hats are included in the exhibit too. There are fine examples including boater and bowler hats, along with a sketch of Degas himself in a top hat.

Bowlers and top hats, along with carrying cases, are part of the exhibit.

The 42 year-old Edgar Degas is shown here wearing a top hat.

The exhibition was quite crowded, mostly with ladies of a certain age, oohing and ahhing over the millinery creations. There were a few patrons sporting hats and we spotted several of the museum’s docents in the spirit of things– wearing lovely fascinators.

Feathered finery got a lot of attention from visitors.

We didn’t take a docent-guided tour but shared our table at lunch with a group of ladies from the San Jose area who had and raved about it. It is necessary to reserve a spot for a guided tour in connection with this exhibit.

This docent wears a fine fascinator for her presentation. Reservations for the free tours are essential for this exhibition.

Some of the Impressionist paintings in this exhibition have not been shown in the U.S. before.

Special exhibition tickets are required for the Degas exhibit, in addition to the general admission fee for the museum. This doesn’t seem to be keeping the crowds away at all downstairs. There were numerous tour groups vying to get close to the works during our midweek trip to the Legion of Honor.

Special exhibition tickets are required, in addition to general admission. The galleries became quite crowded at times.

Upstairs in the galleries featuring Rodin’s classic sculpture, visitors can enjoy near solitude—at least during our visit. Displayed with the August Rodin: The Centenary Installation, which honors the 100th anniversary of the artist’s death, you’ll find the provocative work of Sarah Lucas. Sarah Lucas:Good Muse is the first major exhibition of the UK artist’s work in the U.S.

The museum is best known for its ancient and classical European collections which includes paintings, sculpture, furnishings and porcelain.

Sarah Lucas’ work brings contemporary art and controversy to the Legion of Honor.

Sarah Lucas:Good Muse would probably be much more comfortable at the SFMOMA (SF Museum of Modern Art) than at the classically- focused Legion of Honor. The docent who provided a tour of the exhibition shared that many patrons and members of the museum were more than a little unhappy with Lucas’ work.

Giant plaster cast boots, soft sculptures and a series of Lucas’ yellow urinal sculptures are on display among the 50 bronze, plaster and marble works by Rodin.

Lucas’ sculptures, made from plaster, panty hose, florescent lights, a bedspring and mattress, cigarettes and other materials, allude to sexual interactions, availability, empowerment, and domestic responsibilities, according to the docent. She also pointed out examples where Rodin’s work related to the themes of Lucas’ pieces.

“Washing Machine Fried Eggs” invites discussion of women’s sexual and domestic roles.

Apparently the artist wanted to “bring color” to the galleries and chose to include a series of yellow urinal sculptures displayed atop small refrigerators, placed among Rodin’s classic sculpture. We found the juxtaposition interesting but could easily understand the contretemps. At the entrance to the galleries where Lucas’ work is displayed, there are signs warning that the art may not be appropriate for all viewers. We have chosen not to include photos of the most controversial work for that reason.

Electricity in this piece “keeps the energy up” according to the artist.

Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade closes September 24 and Sarah Lucas: Good Muse closes September 17. Go see these very different exhibitions for yourself and let us know what you think. A day at the Palace of Legion of Honor is always a day well spent.

Art, Churches, Cultural Attractions, Dining, History

Puppets in Palermo—A Stopover in Sicily’s Biggest City

July 2, 2017

 

Welcome to Palermo.

We took a drive right up the center of Sicily on SS624 to reach Palermo. The ride is scenic, beautiful and pretty straightforward. As you approach, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the city sprawl and the bay—bellissimo!

Palermo is Sicily’s capital city and it’s most populous. Its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture, cultural attractions, and incredible cuisine draw visitors from around the world.

Palermo is the largest and busiest city in Sicily and has plenty to offer the visitor looking for a bustling urban experience. We had less than two full days in Palermo and there is far more to see and do than we had time for.

The simple facade of Monreale Cathedral gives no indication of the superb golden mosaics inside this “must see” church.

Let your first stop in Palermo be a visit to Monreale Cathedral. This stunning cathedral has golden mosaics that rival, and some say surpass, those at Venice’s Basilica San Marco (St. Mark’s). This is truly a spectacular church, considered to be the finest example of Norman architecture in Sicily, and should not be missed. The somewhat plain façade belies the beauty that awaits inside.

The breathtaking golden mosaics inside Monreale Cathedral rival those at St. Mark’s (San Marco) Basilica in Venice.

Narrow, busy streets and overcrowding make parking a challenge in Palermo and the area surrounding the cathedral is no exception. There is a well-marked, supervised pay parking garage just down the road from the cathedral. Walk carefully along the alley- like street back up to the church.

The clear message here is: Do not park in front of this garage. Parking is always tricky in Palermo. When in doubt, find a pay lot.

After enjoying the splendor of the cathedral, we had a terrific lunch at Bricco e Bacco Brasserie, just kitty corner from the cathedral. It was a lovely place with good, local specialties and friendly service. Since we arrived after the lunch crowd, it was also quiet. You’ll find the restaurant at Via B. D’Aquisto, 13, Monreale, Phone for a reservation +39 091 641 7773. It’s a popular spot.

Driving in Palermo can be a harrowing experience and is not for the faint hearted.

Wind your way down into the city proper, navigating traffic carefully. All bets are off in Palermo and traffic can be heavy. Stop signs seem to be a mere suggestion and traffic signals are also sometimes ignored.

Farm fresh fruits and vegetables are sold at stands throughout the city. Be aware that in Sicily, what we call broccoli is cauliflower here.

Street markets like this one, selling clothing, dry goods, kitchen wares and other necessities can be found throughout Palermo. Ask for a “piccolo sconto”– a discount. Bargaining is part of the fun.

We really enjoyed walking all around the city to get the flavor of it and to get our bearings on our first visit.  We covered a lot of ground, including the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel, which is Palermo’s “high street.” Here you’ll find upscale shops and stylish boutiques, cafes and bars. Palermo also has numerous street markets with household necessities, clothing and dry goods, fruit stands, and food stalls, including the well known Vucciria and Ballaro markets.

Hands down, our favorite cultural institution in Palermo was the Museo Internazionale delle Marrionette. Yes, it is a puppet museum and far more compelling than you might expect. Sicily has a strong tradition of puppetry used for both entertainment and political commentary dating back centuries.

In addition to providing entertainment, puppet shows were often used to express political and social view points, particularly when the literacy rate was low.

Plan to spend at least a few hours enjoying the expansive collection and exhibits at the International Museum of Puppetry.

The museum’s collection includes more than 3,000 puppets of all kinds from around the world.

Marionette soldiers in full armament along with their battle- ready horses are on display in this large gallery.

The attention to detail and historical accuracy of the costumes is impressive.

They have puppets and marionettes from around the world, from the simplest paper puppets to the most elaborate marionettes. You’ll see everything from fairy princesses and dragons to entire armies dressed in armament from throughout the ages, all with remarkable attention to detail.

Even Laurel and Hardy make an appearance here.

You’ll find examples of puppets from the primitive to the extraordinarily elaborate.

Puppets from around the world including Africa, Indonesia and Japan are represented.

There are also a variety of settings and backdrops on view. We found our visit to the marionette museum to be an absolutely enchanting experience. The museum hosts puppet shows, too, of course.

Enjoy these fine examples of Japanese Bunraku puppets.

The museum often hosts puppet shows and has videos of productions on view.

For more information and show times, please visit www.museomarionettepalermo.it The museum is at the end of Via Butera on the Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualina, 5.

Known for its medieval art collection, the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia at Palazza Abatellis is a former palatial residence dating back to the 1490s, which went on to become a convent and then a monastery. It is now a regional gallery and museum.

Built for the Kingdom of Sicily’s Port Master, this fine former residence now houses an impressive collection of Medieval art and other treasures.

Here you will find sculptures, frescoes and paintings by Italian artists, as well as Flemish and other European masters, sacred art, weaponry and more.

Sculpture, paintings, religious art and more await visitors at the Palazzo Abatellis.

Though the building suffered terrible damage during Allied bombing raids in WWII, frescoes such as these from the 1400s survived.

Unfortunately the website has not been updated for some time so it is best to call the museum at +39 091 623 0011. It is located at Via Allora, 4.

To see how the upper class lived centuries ago, visit the Palazzo Mirto www.casemuseoitalia.it/en.   The Palazzo Mirto is part of a network of “house museums” found throughout Italy. It was originally built for the Filangeri family in the mid 17th century and falls into the ancestry category of homes.

The Palazzo Mirto provides a glimpse at the opulence the upper classes enjoyed during the time of the Kingdom of Sicily.

The palazzo is filled with beautifully appointed rooms featuring elaborate furnishings, ceramics, antique musical instruments, and art. One of the most spectacular is the Chinese Room, likely decorated in 1876 when the house was renovated.

The Chinese Room was the height of fashion when it was designed in the mid 1800s.

There are also classic carriages on display along with other historic treasures that paint a picture of Sicilian life for the upper class in the days before the Risorgimento when Sicily was still a kingdom.

Splendid furnishings and elegant porcelain are among the items on display at Palazzo Mirto.

The museum is located at Via Merlo, 2 and telephone is +39 091 616 4751 for updated information.

Enjoy a performance or take a guided tour– these are the only ways to get inside the magnificent Teatro Massimo.

If there is a performance at the Teatro Massimo, get a ticket and go. Regularly scheduled dance, opera, and classical music are all performed here. If you’re feeling flush, you, too, can rent the royal box —you just have to purchase all 27 seats in it.

The Teatro Massimo is known for its excellent acoustics and grand stage.

If time does not permit you to attend a performance, take a guided tour, which is the only other way to see the inside of this magnificent and historic building.

This beautiful and historic theater is among the largest in Europe.

A model of the theater is displayed in the lobby.

The theater boasts one of the largest stages in Europe and is worth seeing. Built in 1897, it is known for its outstanding acoustics and is still the largest theater in Italy with 1,300 seats. It is appropriately located on the Piazza Verdi. +39 091 6053580 www.teatromassimo.it.

The Politeama Garabaldi Theater hosts regular performances in Palermo’s historic city center.

We wanted to visit the highly regarded National Archeological Museum but it was closed for renovations during our visit. Please go to www.regione.sicilia.it/beniculturali/salinas for current information.

A stroll through Sicily’s capital city yields surprises.

We did not visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccine, the home of about 8,000 dead bodies, amassed over the course of several hundred years, all dressed up and on display. We find the entire enterprise rather ghoulish and having seen the Capuccine Chapel in Rome, which features skeletons of dead monks, felt no obligation to see this seemingly far more ambitious enterprise. Apparently it is a popular place on many tourist itineraries and so we mention it here.

Flags fly outside the Porta Felice Hotel on the small but busy Via Butera.

There are lodgings at all price points and with all levels of service, as you would expect in a large city like Palermo. We stayed at Hotel Porta Felice www.hotelportafelice.it/en at Via Butera, 45. Tele. 091 6175678. This is in the old section of town near the port.

Pleasure craft and fishing boats crowd the marina at the end of Via Butera.

Even though the hotel is on what appears to be a small side street, it is pretty busy. We were upgraded to a nice suite, even though we’d booked through www.venere.com. The location was very convenient and we walked everywhere we wanted to go, after turning in our rental car.

Friendly service and excellent Sicilian specialties await diners at L’Ottava Nota.

We only had two nights in Palermo and wound up having dinner both evenings just down the street from our hotel at L’Ottava Nota Ristorante, via Butera 55 091 6168601 www.ristoranteottavanota.it.   The restaurant was small and lovely with fantastic food and great service. The fish dishes were all spectacular. Everything was fresh, artfully prepared and delicious.

Perfectly prepared pasta makes a delicious first course.

White fish in a light curry broth was a favorite.

 

Seafood dishes were the star attraction for us, but L’Ottova Nota has superb meat and vegetable dishes, too.

A fish in a light curry broth with vegetables was so good I still think about it, though it is no longer on the menu. We mentioned we were staying at the Porta Felice and were happily surprised to learn we’d get a 20 percent discount on our meal because we were guests there. We cannot confirm that the special pricing is still available but it never hurts to ask, should you dine here. The restaurant is just a few doors down from Porte Felice on Via Butera, 55. The telephone is +39 091 616 8601.

We had an excellent lunch at Trattoria Piccolo Napoli, www.trattoriapiccolonapoli.it. Piccolo Napoli had been recommended by an Italian friend in the wine business but apparently Anthony Bourdain had once dined here and the owner told us that lots of Americans had been showing up ever since. Our welcome was much more cordial when we told him (in Italian) that his friend Sasha had sent us! Try the panisse (chick pea fritters) to start and have any seafood you like—it is all super fresh and simply, but deliciously, prepared.

Snack on some panisse as you peruse the menu.

Simply but perfectly prepared pastas and seafood dishes shine at Piccolo Napoli.

Through a small window into the kitchen, we watched the chef toss a whole octopus into a pot, plate it and serve it to a young girl who devoured every bit. We had pasta with shellfish and then I had a beautiful swordfish dish. For dessert, they brought us the ubiquitous “winter melon.” The melon is sweet and refreshing and so called winter melon because it can be picked in the summer and stored throughout the winter.  We saw it on menus throughout Sicily. The restaurant is on the Piazzetta Mulino a Vento, 4. Telephone is +39 091 320431.

Palermo is a fascinating and vibrant city and certainly worth a visit. We’ll be back.

Our final meal in Palermo was an extremely casual, but excellent pizza lunch at the airport, which we enjoyed out on the observation deck with a view of planes coming and going, and of course, the beautiful sea!

 

 

Architecture, Art, Cultural Attractions, Family Fun, Outdoor Activities, Outdoor Art, Pacific Northwest, Portland

Seeking Serenity at Portland’s Spectacular Japanese Garden

May 9, 2017

Gorgeous grounds, stunning views and an authentic Japanese experience have been delighting visitors to Portland’s spectacular Japanese Garden since 1963. Now, the beautiful 12-acre oasis, which includes five separate gardens with plenty of peaceful seating areas for reflection, a Japanese Tea House, tranquil ponds, and meandering paths perfect for contemplation, has even more to offer. Last month the new $33.5 million Cultural Crossing opened to visitors.

Follow the footpaths, steps and bridges that lead to each of the separate and distinctive garden spaces within Portland’s Japanese Garden.

The new $33.5 million Cultural Crossings expansion project includes new exhibition space, library, tea house and additional garden areas, all designed to enhance the authentic Japanese experience for visitors.

Designed by respected architect Kengo Kuma, the Cultural Crossing’s new buildings provide the perfect showcase for traditional Japanese arts and culture and serve as a venue for family-friendly activities and interesting demonstrations. An already popular attraction is even more appealing with the new expansion project. No wonder the lines for tickets are long. Purchase tickets online and check-in at the membership desk, exchange your voucher for a ticket there, and avoid the serpentine lines that are sure to continue for some time.

Minutes away from Portland’s busy streets, the Portland Japanese Garden is an oasis of tranquility.

Many visitors take the complimentary shuttle up to the gardens and walk back down to the parking area along the paved pathways.

Visitors can either take a complimentary shuttle bus or walk up the pathway to the open and airy Japanese Arts Learning Center–the heart of the new project with performance space, library and classroom.

Young visitors take a break on the steps inside the new Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center.

The ground level Tanabe Gallery currently hosts an exhibition of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro.

A delightful display of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro are currently on exhibit in the Tanabe Gallery and Pavilion Gallery.

The expansive display, Hosokawa Morihiro: The Art of Life, a Rebirth in Clay, continues in the Pavilion Gallery, which also includes a portable teahouse.   Two additional “Art in the Garden” showcases, one featuring Kabuki costumes and the other, Noh masks and costumes, are scheduled for later in the year. The Japanese Garden will host related events and activities associated with both.

A portable tea house with the implements needed to perform a classic Japanese tea ceremony are part of the current exhibition. Noh masks and costumes and Kabuki costumes will be featured in the galleries later this year.

Now, to explore these magnificent gardens! The Strolling Pond Garden was our first stop, after a visit to the Learning Center and Gallery. Visitors can walk across the “iconic Moon Bridge” over the Upper Pond and enjoy the views.

Stroll the “Zig-Zag Bridge” over the Lower Pond which is surrounded by iris. It had not quite bloomed at the time of our visit, but was close. The aptly named Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop to the Lower Pond and were a popular “selfie stop.”

The Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop for contemplation or photo opps.

Follow the rough stepping stones along a lantern- lined path through the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden to the authentic Kashintei Tea House. Typically, the tea garden is a place to appreciate nature’s beauty and “the art of living in harmony” while leaving the cares of the world behind. This is certainly the case at the Portland Japanese Garden—it is so serene it’s easy to forget you are mere minutes from busy city streets.

Visitors are invited to leave their worldly cares behind when they explore the authentic tea garden and Kashintei Tea House.

The Kashintei Tea House, which is where tea demonstrations and related events are held, was brought to Portland from Japan and reassembled here.

Contact the Japanese Garden to learn when tea demonstrations and other events are scheduled for the Kashintei Tea House.

The Portland Japanese Garden has a lovely Sand and Stone Garden, created by Professor Takuma Tono, the Garden’s chief designer in the 1960s. These “dry landscape” gardens are sometimes called “Zen Gardens” because they are often found at Zen monasteries and are meant to invite quiet contemplation. The Sand and Stone Garden here illustrates an important Japanese concept—“the beauty of blank space.”

Enjoy your moments of Zen at the Sand and Stone Garden.

Recent additions to Portland’s Japanese Garden include the Natural Garden, which features local plants not typically associated with Japanese gardens and depicts seasonal change.

The cherry blossoms were in full bloom during our recent visit to Portland’s Japanese Garden.

The small courtyard garden (Tsubo-Niwa) and the Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace are both new and located near the Tateuchi Courtyard in the Cultural Village.

Visitors are treated to an exquisite display of bonsai at the new Ellie M.Hill Bonsai Terrace.

The Flat Garden, which highlights each of the four seasons with specific plantings and trees is popular with visitors. The weeping cherry tree on the left represents spring while a 100- year old maple depicts autumn.

The Flat Garden is meant to be viewed from a single angle either from inside a home, where the door or window serves as a frame, or from a verandah, as these visitors are doing.

The gravel stands in for water, signifying summer in the Flat Garden.

After you’ve finished strolling around the gorgeous gardens and interesting exhibitions, stop in and sample the fare at the new Umami Café. During our visit, just a week after the April 2 reopening, the café was not yet serving food but was offering complimentary samples of four delicious teas from Tokyo-based Jugetsudo Tea Company. We were told that light snacks and sweets would be offered in the near future.

Stop in the new Umami Cafe for a restorative cup of tea and authentic Japanese sweets and snacks.

During our visit, guests were offered four different and delicious teas as part of a complimentary tea tasting.

When His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, visited the Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan,” according to the organization.

Tranquil settings such as this one near the Upper Pond, have been drawing visitors since 1963.

They currently report more than 350,000 visitors annually, a number that will surely grow with the addition of the new Cultural Crossroads expansion. Be sure to add this spectacularly beautiful and serene spot to your Portland itinerary.  Visit www.japanesegarden.org for the most up to date information on tickets, events and hours.