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A Bit More of Albuquerque

Although we didn’t shoot the iconic Route 66 neon, because of construction along Central Avenue, there’s still a bit to be seen. By day, these copper graphics adorning the streetlamps are a nice contrast to the deep blue sky, while by night the encircling neon tubes make for a fun path down Central.

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Dancing in the plaza, and a charming flautist…

Adios, New Mexico!

A Lovely Day in Santa Fe

One day is simply not enough to immerse oneself in the pleasures of Santa Fe. You could spend hours just sitting in the plaza listening to musicians or watching Native American dancers. Or take your time browsing through the huge array of jewelry and other handicrafts under the roof of the Governor’s Palace. Or shopping, if that’s your thing: fancy boots, art, pottery, baskets, antiques… Or just wander around, admiring the pueblo architecture that has been so carefully preserved and gives the Old Town its character.

 

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The fine autumn day gave us a brilliant azure sky, providing contrast to the warm hues of the buildings. People in the plaza read the newspaper or watched musicians and dancers entertain.

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Historic La Fonda is a luxury hotel marking the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, with a justly acclaimed restaurant, La Plazuela. Two docents escorted us on a tour of the property and its bounteous array of artworks, from murals to stained glass, decorative sconces to historic furnishings to paintings.

The 1930s-era Lensic Theater, Santa Fe’s premier performing arts center, is a masterpiece of Moorish-style architecture.

And everywhere, ristras!

Albuquerque BioPark

Located in downtown Albuquerque, the BioPark is home to a zoo, a 30+ acre botanical garden and an aquarium. The Japanese garden is especially enchanting, and I spent a couple of hours strolling its paths and discovering lovely hidden vignettes.

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There’s also a farm, with a cider press.

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Well worth a few hours!

On Everyone’s Bucket List

It was still  dark and only 39 degrees when my photographer colleague and I set off for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Our plan was to scope out the parking situation and good shooting and meeting places before our group of eleven arrived for a photography workshop later that day. Within two hours I couldn’t feel my feet, and despite wearing wool mitten/gloves, my fingers had a hard time adjusting the settings on my camera. All I could think of was Alaska last March ( see North to Alaska).

He warned me that once the balloons started ascending it would be overwhelming, and not to obsess over trying to capture the most unusual or artistic shot. It had all been done before, he said of this most-photographed event in the world.

Over the next several days I saw more hot-air balloons than I’d ever seen in my life, including the iconic special shapes that make this fiesta so interesting. Each morning began before sunrise with a laser light show, followed by the Dawn Patrol, when a group of up to a dozen balloons ascended, glowing in the dark. Just before dawn, the field was filled with the Morning Glow,  and as the sun rose from behind the Sandia Mountains the mass ascension of some 570 balloons began.

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Some special shapes…

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By 8:30 we were ready to return to the hotel for breakfast, as the balloons started their descent and deflation.

At the other end of the day was the Glowdeo, just at sunset, when the special shapes were inflated. The evening we went the wind was gusty, and the handlers had a hard time keeping their baskets grounded. We were standing right under Señor Mariachi when this pretty little señorita broke free and shot up in the air, tearing a hole in señor’s backside and flying off toward the end of the field. Fortunately, an experienced pilot was in the basket and managed to take her over the midway and the parking lot and put her down in a field. That was the last we saw of the Mexican Doll.

But we all stood there like doofuses and no one got a shot of the near-disaster!

Next up: Fireworks!

Arrivederce, Sicily

It’s a real bummer when the last day of vacation is a wash-out, and today was. I spent the morning catching up on these blog pages, then went out to see if I could buy some gifts and a tee shirt for myself. Nada! My cheap umbrella is about to give out — it blew inside-out half a dozen times — but it lasted through the day. I guess I got my €5 worth.

I did manage to visit the Museo di Papyri, however. It’s a very small exhibit tracing the history of papyrus, but most of the captions are in more complex Italian than I can understand. Despite a “no photo” prohibition, I surreptitiously snapped a few shots of the more interesting displays.

 

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Turns out papyrus has been grown and harvested in Sicily for hundreds of years, with a continuously producing crop along the river Ciane just outside town. There’s also a large bush(?) in the Arethusa Fountain. I never saw papyrus in the wild before.

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Tonight as I went to dinner, passing the small fountain I hadn’t paid much attention to before, I noticed that there’s a papyrus plant growing in the middle.

For my final dinner I visited Trattoria Spaghetteria do Scogghiu, a rather grand name for a small restaurant near the house.

The décor was interesting…

I started with octopus salad, a simple preparation with olive oil and lemon juice. IMG_0765

 

 

 

 

 

 

My main was a twisty pasta with tomatoes, clams, langoustines, and of course, pistachios. Really good. I decided to forgo dessert and have one last chocolate gelato.

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Just before I left, this accordion player gave me one last song.

Final random thoughts

Sicilians are warm, welcoming, and seem to like Americans. This house wins the prize for location, though I wish I had outdoor space. There are so many good trattorias and osterias it has been hard to decide where to go. I could have cooked, but because I did so much traveling around it was easier to eat out. The market was great for picking up fruit for breakfast.

I’ve been fascinated by the A/C venting system: a big plastic jug that collects condensation and has to be emptied daily.  These bottles are in the sills of all the apartments along the street.IMG_0746

They have brilliantly invented a combo washer/dryer. Unfortunately, you can’t select any special cycle (delicates, colors, etc.), it will only accommodate half a load, and the clothes are still damp when the dryer has finished. Oh, and it takes three hours!

The local Sicilian wines are remarkably good, and so cheap! A half-liter carafe is €5, a glass usually €3.

 

The first day I entered Ortigia I noticed the tidily pruned oleander trees lined up like pink and green lollipops along the streets. I guess I just got complacent about being able to get a good photo of them, and then the weather of the past days blew my chance. But I got one decent shot on a little side street today, and it will have to serve as my memory of this gorgeous island until I return someday.

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When It Rains in Siracusa…

On my penultimate day in Sicily, I really wanted to see the Teatro Greco, which is about a 30-minute walk away on the mainland. The weather forecast has been wrong most days, and as I left Ortigia, despite TWC saying it was raining, the sun was shining brightly in a blue sky.

About 20 minutes into my walk I saw dark purple clouds gathering; shortly thereafter the rain started. But it wasn’t terrible till I was just a few blocks away from my destination, when the heavens opened in a deluge. Taking shelter in the little bakery/café just outside the gates, I consoled myself with a caffè macchiato and a luscious ricotta-filled cannolo.

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But eventually I had to venture out, because at this point I couldn’t just give up. It just kept raining harder and harder, while I clumsily balanced my umbrella, camera, guidebook and audio guide. As a result, I took only a few shots.

Built in the 5th century B.C.E., it was enlarged 200 years later to eventually reach a capacity of 13,000 spectators, becoming the largest theater in Sicily and one of the biggest  in the Greek world. The Romans further put their mark on it during the period when they occupied the island. The theater is the centerpiece of the Archaeological Park of Neopolis, where there are other large artifacts from the era of the tyrants, including the Ear of Dionysis. This cave, with its perfect acoustics, was used as a prison for dissidents, and legend has it that it allowed the tyrant Dionysis to eavesdrop on his political enemies. I only wish I’d been able to see more of the park, history geek that I am.

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By this time I was pretty well drenched, and retreated to a tchotchke shop across the road to get one of those plastic rain ponchos, so my camera bag wouldn’t get any wetter. Then began the schlep home, dodging rooster tails as cars sped past, eventually getting swamped in a huge puddle as I tried to cross the street. The streets had turned to rivers, just like the morning I went to Taormina.  Tough I felt sorry for him, I got a chuckle out of this poor man’s plight…

Eighteen hours later, my socks are still not dry.

The rain had reduced to sprinkles by the time I went to dinner at Sicilia in Tavola, a tiny restaurant just a few blocks away from my house. Based on my meal, I would agree with reviewers who call it one of the best places to dine in Ortigia. My starter was a “purse” of burrata cheese nestled in a cold tomato-basil sauce, followed by maccheroncini (little macaroni) with small bites of swordfish, cherry tomatoes, capers and cheese. Delicioso!

Exploring Ortigia

Monday was a day to sleep in a bit, since my only obligation was returning my little Fiat by 10:00. After dropping the car, I had a late breakfast at the cute Angelina’s Bakery, where I could actually get a spinach and cheese omelet. Then I did a proper tour of the Ortigia market, buying some lovely peaches, pears, and a prickly pear cactus fruit.

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The fishmongers were pretty vocal, calling out encouragement to buy (click to watch the short video)…

My wanderings took me to Fontana Diana (!), the Jewish Quarter, and the Museo dei Pupi (Puppet Museum).

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More tomorrow…