Chinatown, San Francisco, and Happy 2015!

On our way back home from Napa and Sonoma, we detoured through San Francisco’s Chinatown, which meant we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful day — any nips from the chill were zapped away by the sun — and gazing over the swath of San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean felt freeing.

Because it was Christmas Day, Chinatown was alive. Bakeries drew crowds hungry for moon cakes; the alleyways bustled with tourists; and storefronts displayed a motley of knick-knacks: good luck cats, New Year cards, jade bracelets, hologram 2015 calendars. The air resonated with traditional Chinese string music from the strumming busker.

This unplanned side trip turned out to be a happy one. On that note, I wish you all a prosperous and healthful 2015. May it be full of surprise, unexpected detours, and happy outcomes. XO

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge



Chinatown at Night ~ Los Angeles, CA

As still as a movie set done with the day’s shooting, so stands LA’s Chinatown at 8pm.

Until you get to Yang Chow’s…

Behind it’s shaded glass facade, the restaurant’s interior exudes enough life to reenergise what has since languished outside.

Menu highlight: crispy fried duck. A tasty spin on the traditional.

Sidewalk Shopping ~ Chinatown, NYC

Shopping for produce in New York’s Chinatown is as authentic as you’re going to get in terms of an old fashioned market experience.

What I love most about it all is the abundance of colour. From the storefronts painted in reds and yellows, to the paint box display of fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of textures and shapes.

Amongst the bustle of the touristy Canal, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets offering knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, you’ll find parts of the sidewalks taken over by fresh produce stalls selling Chinese broccoli, bock choy, bags of mangosteens, lychees, and longans still attached to the stem.

While supermarkets exist here too, their windows are decorated with roast ducks hanging upside down; the refrigerators are jammed with delicacies like chicken feet and bamboo shoots; their shelves are well stocked with noodles, and jars of chili radish.

There’s a great sense of community here too; it’s ‘offline’ shopping in the raw.

Above: Delivery bike on Canal Street

Below: Fresh coconuts cost less than half of what I have paid in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Below: Sidewalk menu

Above: Free Press

Above: Fit for a banquet.

Below: Chopped duck.

Below: Artistry.

Below: If I had a garden, I’d love to plant this Asian Pear tree.

Below: Langons alongside lychees.

Above and below: Playing cards and enjoying the music in nearby Columbus Park.

Above: Framed by kites.

Below: Sidewalk shopping.

Below: If we move to LA, I better invest in some driving lessons again…

Summer Solstice, Part 2 ~ New York City

I often set time limits for myself to: a) get something done, and b) give the activity some symbolic meaning.

Yesterday, I was so in the zone to have my Summer Solstice post published at the official start of summer – 7.08 pm NY time, on the dot – that I overlooked some photos that may have given more context to the day. Moral of the story: don’t compile a post in the last minute. Side benefit: the start of summer is immortalised in my first post.

I’m calling this set of images Summer Solstice, Part 2 (as opposed to Take 2). Enjoy!

NB: Today’s temps were higher than yesterday’s. The heat continues.

PS: Don’t be shy – click on the images to enlarge as they look SO MUCH better!

PART 2 starts now

~ Penn Station area NYC: this building always has rotating painted advertisements.

Times Square NYPD precinct house neon follows the rules in this part of NYC. Yes, Times Square is the only zone where tenants are required to display bright signs.

The site of the ball drop ever New Years Eve – it all started back on December 31, 1907…

Above the Good Morning America studios for the Solstice Mind Over Madness event. Taxis and yogis, side by side.

Next to a Times Square billboard. This is the view at the top.

Everyday life soldiers on at The Crossroads of the World.

Scaffolding and pretzel stands – a regular sight in NYC. Under 97F rays, I was thankful for their shade. I didn’t have the appetite for a hot salty pretzel though…

A parking garage decked out in Broadway regalia.

Back in Chinatown…

More fans

Touristy Mott Street.

Red strings and jade pendants.

Celebrity, spotted: Anthony Bourdain

Simple signs and umbrellas on a side street.

Roast duck for dinner from a local supermarket.

Flags, united.

Summer Solstice ~ New York City

Today, if you’re north of the Equator, you’re enjoying the spoils of the longest day of the year; June 20th marks the Summer Solstice

Many cultures associate this day in June with a renewal of mind, body and spirit; it’s a celebration of creative expression brought about by the sun.

Summer officially starts at 7:08pm NY time. That’s in a few minutes… So whilst I grab a glass of white to celebrate, enjoy the images I took in NY as I frolicked under today’s rays (again, that midday sun!) They were taken from 12.30pm onwards – in Times Square during the ‘Mind Over Madness’ Summer Solstice event, and then in Chinatown.

Happy Summer! Oh, and did I mention it was about 96F today? Hot, hot, hot… Enjoy!

Faces in New York

Every person on the streets of New York is a type. The city is one big theater where everyone is on display. ~ Jerry Rubin


There’s a ‘best …. in New York City’ for everything.

Cute doggie face.

Shoes and cowboy hats on 2nd Avenue.

Posters and paste ups in the Lower East Side.

St Marks Place…. and advertising.

Cards in Chinatown.

Not part of the Ray Bans ad.

This is the way we park in NY

Shopping in Soho – at Opening Ceremony.

I can’t remember faces, don’t remember names, but after a while and a thousand miles it all becomes the same. ~Billy Joel

Looking upon a pair of pigeons, in Soho. If you look closely, one pigeon is looking over his shoulder.

A new face in Soho – Australian designer store, Zimmermann.

Art on display.

Faces and flower boxes.

Near the Thompson Hotel… and a new take on the Australian flag.

Is this a faceless artwork by FAILE?

Screenplays: a face off.

Dark shades under D&G.

Hanging out and texting.

Cookie stacks, lilacs, and snap-happy visitors. Taken in the birdbath green bakery.

A rabbit adorns a store window.

Who  sees  the  human  face  correctly:  the  photographer,  the mirror,  or the painter?  ~Pablo Picasso

24 Hours in Boston – A City in a Class of its Own

We celebrate the past to awaken the future. ~ John F. Kennedy, 1960

Boston is a walking city – it’s easy to lose yourself in its narrow cobblestone streets, so embedded in their past.

Historic Beacon Hill

On a daytime stroll, you’ll pause to admire beautiful brownstones, original storefronts dating back to the 1800’s, and monuments of centuries ago. At night, the streetscapes take on the feel of an old-world Europe – the darkness embraced by the elm trees that line them; made all the more romantic by the gas lamps that illuminate them. There’s no doubt that this city is steeped in a rich history and as proud as Boston is of its roots, it doesn’t wallow in the nostalgia. After all, a creative revival is taking place in its south.

Located in proximity to Boston’s downtown and fringed by Fort Point Channel and Inner Harbour, the neighbourhoods of Seaport District and South Boston are just a quick ride across the Summer Street Bridge. The Big Dig – an infrastructure project that was designed to improve traffic flow and better join the city’s neighbourhoods, underground – has helped make this part of Boston more accessible from the city’s outskirts as well.

Change at the Seaport District

Formerly a hub of maritime activity, the area has been revitalized through the influence of modern architecture and industrial design, with its waterfront now lined with dining, convention and art venues. Proof in point: The Institute of Contemporary Art, the Boston Society of Architects, Fort Point artists’ community, and the Boston Design Centre are all based here – some housed in buildings reflective of imaginative 21st Century design; others, in conserved and revitalised industrial buildings and lofts of the past.

The urban landscape of Boston is undergoing a progressive transformation. For a city that may have been known more for a skyline punctuated by conservatively designed skyscrapers, and a core marked by a concrete Government Center, it makes for a refreshing and welcome transition.

With all the elements of a cosmopolitan city, it’s the rich history coupled with a fresh dose of culture and design that gives Boston an edge.

Here’s how to spend (just over) 24-hours in Boston on a short break from NY.  NB: Cambridge – home to Harvard and MIT – is a city unto itself; I’ll cover it in a separate post.

3.30pm: A Presidential Approach

Boston is located about a five hours drive from NY. You know you’re close when you see signs for Providence and Cape Cod – the summer vacation spot of the Kennedy’s, and where JFK used to sail. Just before reaching Boston’s downtown, veer off of the I-93 and head to Columbia Point, home to the impressive John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

A treasure trove of information, the building contains an archive of 8.4 million pages of the former president’s papers – personal ones, included. Meander through its many pictorial, audio visual and 3D exhibits showcasing moments in JFK’s life: from the Campaign Trail, to his inauguration as 35th President of the US, to life told from the First Lady’s point of view. Highlight: the grand finale to the museum’s trail is in the building’s floor to ceiling windowed pavilion. Overlooking Boston Harbour, the space is intended for reflection and inspiration.

The modern design of the museum-library is a testament to its architect, I.M. Pei – even though the memorial was constructed in 1979, it stands the test of time.

5.30 pm: Prison Break

The tour of Boston’s architectural beauty continues as you enter The Liberty Hotel, located in Beacon Hill. Formerly the Charles Street Jail, the 1851-built building incorporates features of its past life, without the kitsch. Deemed unfit for prisoners and closed in 1970; by 2007, the preserved Landmark building was opened as The Liberty Hotel – its exterior restored, its interiors tastefully transformed. Three levels of balconies embrace the inner circumference of the building and look onto the expansive lobby. Doubled up as a lounge and bar area, this is where the guards used to watch the prisoners. Check-in whilst you sip a glass of champagne, offered upon arrival. As you stand in the midst of its 90-foot rotunda, look up and around – it’s hard not to wonder what went on in this one-time penitentiary. If only the walls could talk.

Lobby and Check-in at The Liberty Hotel

Original Jail Cell details

6.30 pm: City of Light

Check into your Tower room (in an adjoining modern building), and enjoy the view of the city’s lights from skyscraper heights. Evening turndown service equals chocolate-on-the-pillow; savour the sweet as you take the last sips of champagne before heading out.

7.30pm: Immersed in Art

The Museum of Fine Arts requires a few days to view, as is expected of such an art institution.

Make use of the late closing time (Wednesday through Friday: 9.45pm) – visit the Modernist Photography exhibition 1910-1950 (through April 1 2012); explore the mummies and other Egyptian artifacts; marvel at Dave Chihuly’s 40-foot-high 10,000-pound Lime Green Icicle Sculpture in the Shapiro Family Courtyard.

If you’re lucky, you may even stumble upon a live portrait drawing session and watch amateur artists in action… and their model, trying his best to sit very still.

10pm: Clinking Cocktails

A must try – the Juniper Blossom cocktail, served in the hotel lobby’s Liberty Bar. Tanqueray Gin, St Germaine and grapefruit juice – shaken, this is set to be the new Cosmopolitan.

Stave off a morning hangover and order a couple of items from the late night menu. Highly recommended – the dumplings, served in a bamboo steam box, are so delectable and fresh. Also, the sashimi – generous slices of meaty yellowtail, topped with pomegranate seeds and sea salt. The food service and quality couldn’t be further from prison standards ~ modern, flavourful and beautifully presented.

The trip ‘home’ is simply an elevator ascent away. Go on, order another cocktail.

Dumplings and a Margarita

9am: Coffee after Bubbles

Begin the day with a soak in the deep tub – if you’re a fan of bubbles, the divine scent of Molton Brown’s Toko-Yuzu bath gel will linger with you long afterwards.

Order a take-away coffee from the hotel’s CLINK restaurant, admire the vestiges of the jail’s original cells while-you-wait, and spend some time exploring the hotel’s design details on your way back to your room. There’s plenty to appreciate: from the huge circular windows that bathe the interior in a soft light, to the exposed brick walls with original cell detailing, to the interior perspective of a reconstructed cupola that sits atop the building.

Chandeliers, Balconies and Escalators

10am: Charming Charles Street

A little further along Charles Street, walking south of The Liberty Hotel, you’ll encounter its cobblestone pathways and 19th Century architecture. Lined with boutiques and restaurants, you’ll also have the chance to view the beautiful brownstones of Beacon Hill’s side streets. Pay a visit to the bar that inspired the one in Cheer’s.

Steep Side Streets

Signaling the onset of Spring

11am: Walking the red brick trail

The Freedom Trail is the best way to become acquainted with sites of historical significance during the Revolution. Leave the car with the hotel valet for the day, and begin the walk from Boston Common, the nation’s oldest park.

This part was formerly a cow pasture

The self-guided tour follows a 2.5-mile trail that snakes all the way through the city’s downtown – past gold-domed Massachusetts State House and nearby Granary Burial Ground, where patriot Paul Revere is buried…

…through Quincy Market and the 1742-constructed Faneuil Hall…

…along the restaurant-lined streets of “Little Italy” – their windows decorated with limoncello bottles…

…across the Charlestown Bridge, and uphill to the base of the 221-foot-high Bunker Hill Monument…

You may remember this Bridge from movie, "The Town"?

… and finally to the USS Constitution – the oldest commissioned warship in the US Navy, still afloat.

Mid-Morning Snack Stop:  

Late Morning Snack at ‘Sweet’: try the Boston Cream Pie cupcake, served in the sugar-pink surrounds of a 1920’s inspired sweet-shop.

Particularly noteworthy to see/do:

New England Holocaust Memorial (Stanley Saitowitz): a site dedicated to the memory and reflection of one of the world’s tragedies; its six glass columns recall the 6 main death camps, the six million Jews who died, the menorah of memorial candles.

Six million numbers are etched in glass in an orderly pattern, suggesting the infamous tattooed numbers and ghostly ledgers of the Nazi bureaucracy.

Take time to pause and read the quotes of those who survived.

Located near Boston's North End. Smoke rises from the charred embers at the bottom of these chambers.

Views of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge from the Charlestown Bridge: Swiss bridge designer Christian Menn conceived the bridge to reflect, with its inverted Y-shaped towers, the shape of the Bunker Hill Monument in neighboring Charlestown. The bridge’s cables are suggestive of a ship in full sail linking it to East Boston as a center of shipbuilding.*

The bridge as seen from Charlestown; at the base of the Bunker Hill Monument

The 294 step climb up the Bunker Hill Monument: the city views from the top are panoramic. Warning: Your hamstrings will be screaming at you for days afterwards.

3pm: Sea food, and Eat It

Enroute to ferry stop

Ferry it from Charlestown to Long Wharf, located by the city’s Financial District. Quincy Market is a short walk away – grab a lobster roll and take a leisurely stroll past the concrete blocks of the Government Centre that surround the City Plaza, past the side streets of Beacon Hill, and back to the Liberty Hotel. You’ve come full circle.

5pm: Back to the Future

This is the kind of architecture that is progressively changing the look of Boston – the Institute of Contemporary Art’s design received the Harleston Parker Medal for the “most beautiful building” in Greater Boston.

Architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the building both “from the sky down,” as a contemplative space for visitors to enjoy art, and “from the ground up,” to provide dynamic public areas. (ICA Visitor Guide)

Visit the institution and view its exhibits. Mental note: it was the ICA that hosted the early shows of such visionaries as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Edvard Munch. Check out the views of the harbor and Charlestown from the second and third floors of the building’s front facing windows. At sunset they are really spectacular.

The Poss Family Mediatheque - the perspective of the water is meant to look as though it is framed through a viewfinder, with neither sky or horizon in sight.

7.30pm: Bamboo and Chopsticks

Back over Fort Point Channel, stroll through the small enclave that is Chinatown. You’ll notice the bamboo plantations and tufts that feature in the Chinatown Park as part of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway – a walkway punctuated with public art and greenery over a mile-long stretch of Atlantic Avenue.

Have dinner at China Pearl 9 – they serve hard-to-come-by Singapore Noodles, and you’ll appreciate the authentically decorated interior. Think: red lanterns and white tableclothed banquet-size round tables.

9pm: Head to Cambridge (to be covered soon)

Boston is difficult to become acquainted with from a first-time driver’s perspective. A maze of one way streets that intersect ‘Do Not Enter’ signs with extreme regularity; you’ll save a lot of time when armed with a driving map of the city.