“The City Different” – Santa Fe

Santa-FeThe city different indeed! The oldest state capital in the United States is quirky, eclectic and definitely a must visit place for anyone who has the slightest bit of interest in art and architecture. Santa Fe became an artist’s colony in the early 1920’s and continues to attract artists from all over the world. The city had been on my radar for a while and the Labor Day weekend seemed like an opportune time to visit. After a short drive from Albuquerque, we arrived at the quaint town of Santa Fe.

The stucco pueblo exterior on the buildings is an immediate draw! The adobe style architecture is consistent throughout the town and lends to its quirkiness. One can immediately see why it appeals so much to the artists. The unique architecture and the pretty landscape make for quite an enchanting view.  Santa-FeWe spent a lot of time just exploring the city on foot. The essence of this historic town is centered in the lovely town square, also known as the Plaza. The native american influence is also quite evident as you walk around the square, where a large number of jewelry vendors display their lovely hand made creations.

Among some of the attractions, were the oldest house and oldest church in the country. De Vargas Street House is one of the oldest buildings in the USA and dates back to 1200 AD. It is a small adobe structure with just 2 or 3 rooms, but quite interesting to visit. The San Miguel Chapel is deemed the oldest church in the United States,  and said to be built in 1610. It was partially destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The present building dates from 1710, although it has undergone significant structural changes. As we entered the main building, we immediately saw the famous bell of San Miguel. It is believed to have been cast in 1356 in Spain and brought to Mexico in the early seventeenth century and later on to New Mexico. There is a mallet provided to ring the bell which was cast from all the gold, silver and household items of the devout Spanish Catholics. Legend has it that if you ring the bell, you always return to Santa Fe! (Of course I rang it many times! :))Santa-Fe-art-churchOther than the Plaza and the art markets around the city center, we really enjoyed our stroll through all the art galleries on Canyon Road. It truly is an art lover’s mecca! From contemporary, abstract, modern, expressionistic, figurative, photorealistic, traditional, western or Native American art, it’s all here. The unique melange of diverse art galleries, outdoor sculpture gardens and the rustic adobe homes all add to the charm of this historic street. BandelierThe Bandelier National Monument was another highlight of our trip. The park contains some of the most unusual and interesting ancient ruins, lots of petroglyphs and pictographs, steep narrow canyons and mountains rising up to 10,200 feet. You can walk up on the side of the cliffs and ancient structures or climb up inside the cave dwellings and try to imagine life back in the day. We spent about half a day exploring the caves and even climbed up to see the Alcove House which is 140 feet above the floor of Frijoles Canyon.  This elevated site is reached by 4 wooden ladders and a number of stone stairs and once was home to 25 ancestral pueblo people. Tent-rocks We wrapped up the long weekend trip with a hike on the Slot Canyon trail at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The cone-shaped tent rock formations were formed due to volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago and left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. The views along the trail are almost surreal, and getting to the summit involved going though tunnels, up ledges, and a steep climb to the mesa top. The views from there were just spectacular and well worth the long hike!

The variety of cultures, vivid colors, interesting geological features and the company of great friends made it one hell of an interesting trip. I know I will be going back to Santa Fe someday to immerse myself in all the art and color and of course to hear that beautiful gong again!

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Road Tripping through the South

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Road trips are awesome! They are so spontaneous and it is so nice to not have a plan for once. I must confess, I am a planner. I LOVE to plan! Before going on vacation, I have a long list of places to see, what to eat, where to eat and so on. This was the first time I left home without a plan and I was pleasantly surprised.  All I knew was that we were flying into New Orleans and flying out of Charleston, SC. With minimal planning, a car booking confirmation and a GPS, we left home.

So after a lovely few days in New Orleans, we decided to drive out East towards the Emerald coast in Florida. We quickly drove by Mississippi on the I-10 East and made a quick stop at Mobile, Alabama for lunch. However, being Christmas day, the entire city was shut and there wasn’t a soul in sight. It felt like driving through a movie set! I would definitely love to visit the charming old city again some day. We continued our drive towards Pensacola from where we decided to take the scenic Florida State Road 399 towards Panama City, FL. This state road is on this sliver of land with the most gorgeous white sand beaches on the Gulf Coast! I definitely recommend taking this slightly longer route towards Panama City. The views are breathtaking and the beaches are magnificent. We were so blown away by the emerald green water, that we decided to stop at Panama City for the night. Luck was definitely on our side as we managed to get a room right on the beach! It felt really special waking up to that view. emerald-coastRejuvenated after that stay, we left Panama City and decided to head further East across Florida to Jacksonville on the East Coast. This was probably the longest stretch of driving we did on this trip. Tired and hungry, we arrived at Jacksonville downtown late in the evening and decided to stay overnight. The next morning we made a quick stop at Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which is just on the outskirts of the city. They conduct tours of the brewery everyday so we decided to go see it. It is quite a large set up and our guide was pretty thorough, she answered a lot of questions and gave us very detailed information. The tour ended with some free beer! After that slight detour, we continued North on the I-95, vaguely heading towards Savannah, GA. We stopped for lunch at Brunswick, GA and ate at the most adorable place called The Indigo Coastal Shanty! The food was probably the best we had on the entire trip and the hospitality, very impressive! (What would I do without yelp!)

With stuffed tummies, we headed out North on the US Route 17 that passes through all the small towns along the coast of Georgia. Just off of highway 17, we came across The Smallest Church in America in South Newport! The church is very neat and looks really pretty with all the Spanish moss hanging from the trees around it. It was quite exciting to just stumble upon it :)! That’s what makes road trips so much more special. You end up seeing a lot more than you ‘plan’ to! After another quick stop and a 50-mile drive later, we arrived at Savannah, where we decided to stay for 2 nights. Getting a hotel room last minute was not easy since it was a long weekend and Savannah is a very popular tourist destination in the area. Do plan ahead and make hotel reservations if you are planning to spend some time in Savannah! We had the option of just skipping the town but the husband and I was so drawn by the quaintness of the city that we just had to stay.Savannah-1Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and is a city with so much character and history! I am always fascinated by old cities so Savannah quite a treat for me. The historic downtown area consists of 22 park-like squares. Most of these squares are named in honor or in memory of a person or historical event. We walked through about 12-15 of these squares and each had a different story to tell. One of these squares was the famous Chippewa Square made popular by the bench scene from Forrest Gump. A visit to The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is definitely recommended, as is a stroll down Jones Street. Southern Living Magazine declared the street the prettiest street in America! It was a fun day of sightseeing, great food and very interesting martinis at Jen’s and Friends.

The next morning, we headed out to the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Wormsloe Plantation. The cemetery has featured in several movies and is eerily beautiful! Large oak trees draped with Spanish moss, arches and stunning statues make it so picturesque.  We spent some time walking around and then decided to leave for Wormsloe. The Wormsloe Historic Site is a real visual treat. No photographs can do justice to the beauty of the oak lined avenue towards the museum and tabby ruins. Noble Jones, one of the founders of Georgia, established the plantation. It is quite well maintained and the museum is quite interesting. A visit to Savannah is incomplete without visiting Wormsloe Plantation. It is definitely a MUST DO!Savannah-2With that picture in our minds, we set out for Charleston, our final destination. Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and again like Savannah, it has some magnificent old buildings. We spent the first afternoon walking around the busy downtown area on Kings Street just to get acquainted with the city. It reminded me so much of streets in England, with narrow cobbled streets and gorgeous buildings dating back to the early 1800’s.

The next morning, we decided to walk around the old parts of the city and the Battery for a clear view of Fort Sumter. This is the location of the official start to the Civil War. Having worked closely on a book on the American Civil War, I was terribly excited to see Fort Sumter! The Battery Park is also home to some of the most gorgeous Southern Mansions, as well as American Revolution History. Just a short walk away from here is the famous Rainbow Row, a series of 13 colorful historic homes in Charleston. They looked so cheery and bright, I couldn’t take my eyes off them! 🙂 We spent the rest of the evening on the busy Bay Street visiting some local bars and restaurants.Historic-CharlestonThe following day, we returned home feeling relaxed and invigorated. In 9 short days, we experienced different cultures, pace of life, scenery and food. It was quite an unforgettable vacation and although we were a little sad to be back, we found comfort in the fact that we have so many more places to explore and so many more road trips to look forward to! 🙂