Moscow’s Best Hotels, Russia

Writing about Moscow allows me to reflect my favourite moments in the city. I love the cobblestoned Red Square, the lively Gorky Park, the cafe and bookshop at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, the new Tretyakov Gallery, the local characters… and I will never tire of the candy-coloured swirls atop St Basil’s Cathedral.

Compiling a list of the the city’s top five hotels for A Luxury Travel Blog was a pleasure, not only because I adore hotels but because I was whisked on a journey to the beautiful capital.

You can take a read of the post here: 5 of the best hotels in Moscow – A Luxury Travel Blog.

Some images that took me back:

View of Red Square from Hotel National

View of Red Square from Hotel National

The bookshop at Garage

The bookshop at Garage

Volleyball at Gorky Park

Volleyball at Gorky Park

Interior of the New Tretyakov Gallery

Interior of the New Tretyakov Gallery

Chef Valentino at Bontempi restaurant

Chef Valentino at Bontempi restaurant

The Moscow River, from The Red October Factory

The Moscow River, from The Red October Factory

The Red Square

The Red Square

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A Town Painted Red – Sedona, AZ (Road Trip Series, Part 6)

Red.

It brings to my mind the word associations: STOP, attention, fire, love, and power. It evokes images of blazing sunsets, a Burgundy wine, and a bouquet of Valentine’s Day roses. It is considered a lucky colour in the Chinese culture, yet red is used across the world in warning signs – an indicator of danger and caution. I don’t know about you, but few people I know would paint the interior of their home in Pantone 188 (Brick Red) because of the sheer impact – walls like that demand constant attention.

Yet it’s Sedona’s redness that will mentally stop you in your tracks and round your lips as you silently mouth, “wow.” You know you’ve arrived in the town when you see red from the ground up; your eye will trace skyscraper red rocks layered intermittently with beige and orange all the way to a sky laced with cloud wisps. These rock formations are the town’s framework, sculpted over the years into jagged buttes and abstract shapes. The beauty of Sedona’s red environment is that the colour is ever changing – upon waking, your eyes may rest on sculptures of rusty red, only to have you return to the same scene at sunset and witness them donning a burnt sienna hue. There’s a bit of mystery to it all too: Sedona’s red rocks have a meditative effect yet instinctively they pull at you – they will you to explore their nature.

You may not necessarily paint the town red though Sedona will leave its mark on you, and your dusty sneakers, forever.

View over Sedona from Cathedral Rock

View over Sedona from Cathedral Rock

View from Cathedral Rock

View from Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

Bell Rock

Bell Rock

WHAT we did

Hikers in a past life, Sedona is where my husband and I ignited our passion for the adrenalin rush of a good rock climb. In our previous home of New York, we were urban dwellers where entertainment included theatre, restaurant, and navigating museums; where travel was via subway, car, or ferry. In Sedona, we used mainly our legs to get around and reignited long dormant muscles to explore this outdoor natural history museum.

Hikes

30 years ago, Page Bryant declared  that Sedona was a key area for vortexes – subtle energy that interacts with the being of each person that comes within 1/4 to 1/2 mile of it. Vortexes are a key draw to Sedona, especially for those on a wellness vacation as they purport healing powers. There are 4 hikes to choose from to experience this energy – Airport Vortex, Cathedral Rock Vortex, Boynton Canyon Vortex, and Bell Rock Vortex. I recommend the Cathedral Rock hike for its beauty and ease (a little steep in parts but the views from up top are infinite) and Bell Rock for the sheer fun of climbing the slopes of this “bell.” We didn’t take a tour and used the map and tips given to us by the hotel concierge.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock

Cacti on Cathedral Rock

Cacti on Cathedral Rock

You can also hike around Bell Rock, in distance

You can also hike around Bell Rock, in distance

Hiking towards Bell Rock

Hiking towards Bell Rock

Vortexes

How to find the strongest points of energy? One way is by observing the Juniper trees around those rock formations pinpointed for their vortex strength. “Juniper trees respond to the vortex energy in a physical way that reveals where the energy is strongest. The stronger the energy, the more of an axial twist the Juniper trees have in their branches.”

Twisted tree trunks - a sign of the powerful energy of the vortex

Twisted tree trunks – a sign of the powerful energy of the vortex

A twisted branch on Bell Rock

A twisted branch on Bell Rock

Interesting Factoid

Long regarded a spiritual land by the Ancient Indians, “the Yavapai-Apache tribe consider this sacred ground their Garden of Eden, believing this is where the first woman mated with the sun to begin the human race.”

Sun streaming on Cathedral Rock

Sun streaming on Cathedral Rock – early afternoon

Bell Rock at sunset

Bell Rock at sunset

WHERE we stayed

If you’re going to go to Sedona, you must stay at least two nights (3 full days) in accommodation that allows you to wake up to the Red Rocks first thing in the morning. There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing such natural and unexpected beauty from your balcony.

Amara Resort and Spa

Amara Resort and Spa

My husband and I stayed at the beautiful boutique Amara Resort and Spa. Ideally situated in Uptown Sedona, it is located along Oak Creek, has a Red Rock backdrop, and is within walking distance of the main street’s boutiques and galleries, restaurants, cafes, and tour services. We were there in early November – an excellent time because of fewer crowds and warm weather, yet our morning yoga class was wall-to-wall packed.

Breakfast al fresco at the Hundred Rox Restaurant was a daily highlight. For me at least, there’s no better way to start the day than with fresh fruit, eggs, coffee, wonderful company, and a spectacular view, now etched into my memory. This mental visual is a lovely scene to reflect upon, months after my visit. In the evening, ordering a prickly pear cactus cocktail while lazing by the saltwater infinity pool felt decadent after a day of climbing and hiking. Bonus: All hotel rooms are located steps away from the outdoor area; the bed’s pillowtop mattress is the softest and most luxurious present ever after an invigorating day outdoors. If you stay here, I assure you an excellent night’s sleep.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Dining al fresco means a million dollar view

Dining al fresco means a million dollar view

Poached eggs and crab cakes on a muffin

Poached eggs and crab cakes on a muffin

Throughout Amara Resort, touches that bring the outdoors inside add to natural appeal

Throughout Amara Resort, touches that bring the outdoors inside add to natural appeal

Something new to taste

You don’t have to be such an adventurous eater to dig into some Nopalitos Cactus Fries – marinated, breaded, and flash fried strips of Nopalitos cactus served with prickly cactus sauce. They don’t have the crunch appeal; instead, think fried bell peppers. Head to the casual Cowboy Club – a 50 year old Country and Western style restaurant/bar to try them.

Cactus fries

Cactus fries

The Cowboy Club and other galleries, cafes, and boutiques are located on the main road in town, N State Route 89A

The Cowboy Club and other galleries, cafes, and boutiques are located on the main road in town, N State Route 89A

HOW to get to Sedona

Driving to a town at an elevation of 4,500 feet means a steady ascent. As we were driving from El Paso, the State Highway 179-N guided us uphill and the Arizona 89A road led us into the centre of town – it also serves as Sedona’s main road. Expect to see a ground cover of columnar cacti and otherwise flat land prior to reaching Red Rock Country. The contrast is stark.

Red equals love

Red equals love

Beauty along the US I10 ~ US Road Trip

The US I10 has been a constant companion on this road trip. From Florida and into Louisiana, across Texas and Arizona, it will finally see us through to our final destination point in California: LA.

As we travel West, the terrain becomes flatter; cactii make their appearance. The sky seems more expansive as we get closer to the Pacific Coast; the clouds are wispier, making grand sweeping gestures across the sky, highlighted by the painterly colours of the sunset. As night falls, stars flicker and twinkle, and surround a robust white moon that helps light the way with its glow.

I look forward to stopping at the highway’s rest points; not for the quality of coffee (nothing to write home about) but because of the photo opportunities, especially at sunset.

The images below are of a location somewhere between New Mexico and Arizona.

Morning Musings ~ Charleston, SC

Curled wisps of Spanish moss, draped over the branches of statuesque cypress, swaying back and forth; the wind in the willows. Inhaling the heady scent of jasmine mixed with freshly cut grass; stopping to linger for a full embrace.

An abundance of glistening green surrounding me – the leaves of palms, camellia and azalea bushes awake, washed, and polished by the rain’s droplets. A herd of sheep grazing on the manicured lawns of the gardens at Middleton Place; their bleats at a minimum during the breakfast hour, looking up at times to pose for a photograph.

At the backdrop: a plush of green and brown marsh grasses stretching to infinity, meeting with the grey cloud cover at a line of the horizon.

This is the Charleston I was greeted with in the morning, and it is the image I leave with of this charming historic city.

In the Mill, looking over the gardens of Middleton Place

Sheep in the gardens; marsh in the far distance

Camellia flower

Spanish moss over willow oaks

Dreamy Gardenscapes in Alphabet City ~ East Village, NYC

With temperatures nearing 100F in Manhattan today, a pleasant stroll in the East Village soon turned into a sweaty saunter. Perhaps the only neighbourhood with such a good amount of community gardens, I welcomed them as regular rest stops as I made my way along Avenues A, B, and C.

After an entertaining morning (more on that in a later post), my final pit stop at the 9th Street Community Garden Park was the perfect end note. So well tended, so well cared for – it was an escape from the motion filled sun drenched streets.

The 9th Street Community Garden Park is one of the larger community gardens that I have come across. Walking along its haphazard brick- and rock paved pathways, unless I looked through a part of the steel fence not covered in green, I hardly noticed I was surrounded by busy streets. Instead, I felt still; I even treaded softly from fear of making too much noise. I heard the chirp of birds, photographed blooms, followed bees with my lens, while cooling down in the shade of overhanging vines and canopy provided by a 35 year old giant willow tree. Except for a few others – so silent, they startled me; the flora and the fauna, I felt as if I had the space to myself.

It was as if I has stumbled into a dream when I entered this lot of green. It was such a contrast to the heat of the day, and the chaos of the streets. The East Village is probably one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in New York – I’ve read it has changed dramatically over the years, so I can’t imagine what it was like way back when. Today, it’s gritty and it’s glam; it caters to the  middle class, and the homeless; it’s streets are strewn with trash, yet they surprise you by offering a few beautiful community gardens to enjoy.

Enjoy the peek inside my favourite park so far.

Located on the corner of 9th Street and Avenue C, it’s hard to think of this garden having been anything but a beautiful green space. Prior to 1978, it was a dreary corner lot in an unsafe part of the East Village.

In the late seventies, the members who transformed it were from the immediate neighborhood. Though as the city changed, so did the membership. Today, the garden is sponsored by a handful of members – who pay $15 a year, as well as by NY’s Green Thumb organisation. The green space faces a well-trodden street lined with delis, restaurants, and laundromats.

9th Street Community Garden is so diverse in its plantings – on one side you might see a bush of voluminous hydrangeas; on the other – mini tomatoes, yet to turn red. I read that there’s a beehive in the garden, and its bee keeper/owner sells honey at the 14 Street Union Square Market. I noticed the bees, but didn’t see the beehive.

Quirk factors abound. From the furnishings -there’s plenty of seating, to the more unexpected finds.

I nearly missed this well camouflaged rabbit in between purple daisies. I was so distracted; I was trying to zoom in on, and photograph, this busy bee.

When the garden began, members expanded and enriched the available land, gaining additional lots through the condemnation of and the razing of adjacent buildings.* It now encompasses one acre.

Lush vines overflow and evoke that sense of otherwordliness. A mix of moonflower, honeysuckle and bittersweet – they were planted over two decades ago.

The beauty of the community gardens is multifold. Firstly, it unites a diverse neighbourhood through mutual collaboration of what looks to me like, a labour of love.

Secondly, sharing the garden with the wider community is such a generous act. It’s what makes a neighbourhood so much more appealing and inviting. Apart for giving someone like me a pleasant respite from the heat, such spaces are used for theatre productions, music events, private parties, school outings, or simply as a place to gather with friends. Thirdly, the garden gives members a place to exercise sustainable living. Especially in a part of NY that has such a varied population (East Village is a mix of low and mid income levels), spaces like this support a healthier way of life.

The community garden is unlikely to expand any further. I read that when the Green Thumb Organisation was transferred from the Dept of Parks and Recreation to Dept of Housing Preservation and Development, a number of the East Village community gardens were destroyed to make way for low income housing.

I cannot find any information about the future of 9th Street Community Garden Park. For now, their objective is to garner more community interest and involvement.

If you’re in this part of NY, I encourage you to visit one of the gardens. They’re so accessible that they’re hardly secret… yet when you’re there, you feel like you’re the only one.

*http://www.earthcelebrations.com/gardens/gardens.html

The Manhattan Tourist, NY

It’s fun being a tourist.

Everything that seems so ordinary at home suddenly takes on the extraordinary when experienced in new surroundings. There’s always an excuse to take yet another photo of a streetscape, the same landmark (twenty times over, from different angles), that artfully presented dish or the elaborately prepared cocktail.

Yet, after having indulged in such a fresh and exciting palate, a return to the routine might take on that stale feeling of ‘sameness’. That which you found fascinating over there doesn’t seem so fascinating here.

Luckily, inspiration is never far away especially when looking outwards with a pair of tourist-inspired eyes. Taking a break as a traveler in your own backyard is such a good way to rekindle a bit of that spark that naturally accompanies pleasure-travel.

Everything really does seem new again.

Enjoy these tourist snaps on a very warm and sunny day in 75F Manhattan.

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Not a tourist.

Ubiquity on Broadway: yellow against Gray’s.

Daily subway reading.

Peter Woytuk’s art installation along Broadway

Break-time at Zabars

Taxis and delis on Broadway.

The corner shop deli.

Advertising mecca.

Birds. And another Peter Woytuk.

Delivery bikes.

Wrong way.

Globalisation in Greenwich.

A Village mainstay.

Seinfeld-ian roots.

Colour pops and patios.

Italian coffee and Fruta de Bosco at Cafe Dante.

Wall art.

Shadows and fire escapes.

Basketball.

Not basketball.

Pavement art.

Cushions, umbrellas, a tattoo?

Downtown dodging.

Love for New Beginnings

This post is symbolic of a fresh start.

A Rockrose Grows in Laguna Beach, CA

I am moving in a new direction with my career; a foray into the bountiful world of travel writing and travel photography. My love for media: magazines, books, the Internet, and (travel) shows is unwavering – as well as indulging in them, I hope to be writing for them soon.

I’m signed up with Matador Network so over the next couple of months I’ll be doing a whole lot of learning, reading, writing, and snapping. One of the requirements was to create a blog for coursework submissions; if you’d like to critically comment on my words, here’s your chance!

Breathing Travel | Documenting the journey (or http://marinac.matadoru.com/ )

I’ll continue blogging from here with updates; it’s where the ‘push’ happened after all.

I cannot wait for the journey ahead.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain

At Griffith Observatory, LA, CA