Friday, August 11, 2017

Peaceful Eramo le Celle


I had read about this heavenly place in Tripadvisor, and knew I had to see it one day.  On our trip to Italy last fall, we left Cortona after having a wonderful lunch, and decided to look for the famed and hard-to-find Bramasole, home of Frances Mayes, author of the international bestselling book, "Under the Tuscan Sun".  If you missed that story, you can read about it here.
The wooden sign translates to "Ancient road to the shrine. Grand Duke Bridge (1782)".  Driving on a narrow, two-lane road, we had already taken a wrong turn, like many tourists before us.  After the first wrong turn, we barely missed the entrance to Le Celle.  I cannot even begin to express how excited I felt.  I read so much about and Google-Imaged photos of this place before leaving San Diego. How I forgot to add this site to our travel itinerary astounds me to no end. Thank God for wooden signs along the road!
The road to the parking lot was short, and at the end of the lot was a shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary.  It began to rain lightly, but that was fine with me.  It felt refreshing, and so perfect for this place, as if the rain was rinsing away my sins and renewing my soul.  This ground is truly sacred and a must-see place for fans of St. Francis and for others on a holy pilgrimage.  
Gerry and I were on this trip with high school friends, married couple Ed and Daisy.  As I developed our itinerary weeks before our planned departure from San Diego, they were happy to see whatever I wanted to see in Italy.  They just wanted to follow along, and were confident I would give them an adventure to remember.  I think I did that, except for the fact that I awoke seriously ill with the stomach flu on Day 4 of the trip.  For three days, I slept, puked or was in the bathroom.  The photo above was taken on our 8th day in Italy.  We will have just one more full day in Tuscany, then it's back on the plane to San Diego.  While I lay sick in bed all day long into the evening, Gerry, Ed and Daisy toured Florence and Assisi.  I'd toured these cities on a previous trip, so I didn't feel bad about staying in the hotel room.  I was too ill to care.
Anyway, back to the Hermitage, or Eremo de Celle.  A very prominent sign reminded us, in Italian, that this is a sacred place founded by Francis of Assisi and a few of his followers. It is a place for solitude, contemplation and communion with His heavenly father.  The sign continues to say "open up your soul, to see and feel as St. Francis did," or something like that.
This Franciscan hermitage is hidden in dense woodland almost 2 miles north of Cortona. Its buildings sit next to a picturesque stream with an 18th-century stone bridge, and the only sounds to disturb the tranquil atmosphere are the bells that call the resident friars to vespers and mass in the cave-like Chiesa Cella di San Francesco, or Church of San Francis.
The terrace garden was absolutely beautiful, and the woodland birdsong was definitely music to my ears. I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  This morning I found an 11-hour recording of tranquil birdsong on YouTube.  It is playing as I type.  The sounds keep me calm and so focused!  A little aromatherapy helps, too.  I'm using Nature's Truth called - are you ready? - Focus.  Whatever it takes!
The rustic stone buildings nestle in terraces on a mountain-side with a Holly Oak and cypress grove. The main convent is accessed through a stone pedestrian bridge spanning a small spring stream. 
This chapel replaced an ancient one built in 1634 by the Capuchins.  It reflects the simple, unpretentious architectural and decorative style of the Capuchins.  Unadorned by works of art, the chapel still has wooden altars.  The Capuchins are an order of friars within the Catholic Church, an offshoot of the Franciscans.  You can't miss a Capuchin.  They wear the long brown robes tied with rope around their waist.  Some sport the round bald spots on the top of their heads.  Most wear sandals.  I found interesting information on the Capuchins.  You can find it here.
Photo Credit:  Judy from Blogging in Italy
When Francis of Assissi arrived at Le Celle with his followers, he occupied the cell behind the altar of the chapel.  This is where he lived.

A statue of St. Francis in the chapel of the Franciscan convent Le Celle.
The stoned switchbacks take you from the bridge at the top to the lower gardens where you can access another bridge to go into the woods, or to enter other ancient buildings.

From the stone bridge, you can see the creek and outlying buildings of Le Celle.  We heard beautiful voices singing from the woods above Le Celle.  The singing continued during our visit. Was there another convent up there?  Or was it a day's retreat for reflection and singing hymns?

This place reminded me of Rivendell, where the gorgeous Silvan Elves lived in the film "Fellowship of the Ring".  Does anyone see what I mean?  I think if the water were flowing over those rocks, you'd get it.  Oh, and don't forget the chirping birds!
We didn't stay very long here.  We still had to find Bramasole, then drive to Castiglione Fiorentino where we would spend a couple of days at a villa.  As we walked back to our car, I looked back and decided that I will come back for another visit.  I want to walk further into the woods, walk further up into the hills and explore Le Celle and everything it has to offer.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Amazing Wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


When you mix a good amount of rain with lots of sunshine and the right level of humidity, you end up with blankets of colorful wildflowers spread across the Anza Borrego Desert, which sits northeast of the California Historical landmark and mountain town of Julian.  
For years I have wanted to see these spring wildflowers but could never interest anyone to see them with me.  Until two days ago.  I nonchalantly mentioned to Gerry that "the desert flowers are peaking and now is the time to see them."  Someone had posted on social media a couple of photos of the wildflowers and I thought, "wow, I have to see them now."  I was surprised Gerry was agreeable!  He thought maybe we should pack for an overnight stay since we didn't know how long we'd be out in the desert.  And he thought maybe we could spend some time in Julian, too.  Should we stay the night in Borrego Springs, or perhaps Julian?  We really didn't have a plan other than to see the wildflowers.  We would just see how the day played out, then decide what to do.
Photo credit:  Don Bartletti
Anyway, we had a late start yesterday morning and decided to take the picturesque drive through the Cuyamaca mountains, bypass Julian and go around the other side of the mountain straight into Borrego Springs, a quaint village with a population of approximately 3,500. The drive for us was a little over two hours due to a section of the mountain road being blocked by fallen rocks and branches that were being cleared.  Other than a little bit of a delay, the drive was as scenic as the weather was gorgeous.  Such a perfect way to start the day.  Once we reached the desert, the temperature was in the high 80's at around 1pm.  The Anza-Borrego Visitor Center parking lot was full, but visitors were leaving as quickly as they arrived.  Once they secured their map and other information, they took off for their favorite hiking trail or desert spot.



There were so many options for hiking and flower-gazing.  We chose to skip the hikes this time around and opted to explore the wildflowers along Henderson Canyon Road, which is a very long road.  My goal was to find the glorious lupines but they were not to be found.  It turns out we didn't 
drive to the far, far end of the road.  Next time I'll find the lupines.  They're one of my favorite flowers, as are the sunflowers.





We did find beautiful specimens like the desert lilies the dune sunflowers, and many others including a variety of succulents and cacti.




When we had our fill of fragrant wildflowers, we headed back out to the main road that takes you back to Borrego Springs.  Before turning onto Borrego Springs Road, we saw a giant metal turtle. Then we saw other turtles, and as we drove around, there were other creatures and things to be found!  These are the works of artist Ricardo Breceda.  There are over one hundred life-size metal sculptures of animals that roamed this desert over a million years ago.  Historical figures and humorous and fanciful pieces are also featured.  People from all over the world come to the desert to see these sculptures.  If you'd like to learn more about Ricardo Breceda, click here.







You will not find all of the structures in one area.  These photos are just a few spread along Borrego Springs Road.  The remaining structures are spread throughout this desert area.  If you plan to visit as many of these structures as you can, after viewing the wildflowers, be prepared with sunscreen, head protection, your most comfortable shoes and lots of water and snacks. Wearing layered clothing is best as the temperatures are extreme.  Very hot during the day and very cool in the morning and going into the evening.  There's a full moon right now.  If you're able to hang around the desert area, you will be treated a special show of moonlight shimmers upon the desert landscape.
The wildflowers are plentiful right now, and so perky and bright.  But with so many people descending upon the desert, the smallest flowers are being stepped on unintentionally. Here are some tips to consider before making your trip to the Anza-Borrego State Park:

*  Desert annuals show best in mid-March.

*  Most visitors approach the state park from the east via Highways S22, S2 or 78.  Visitors from San Diego approaching via Highways 79 or 78 have the added pleasure of driving through the mountainous Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  When the highway breaks away from high-country vegetation and you crest over the hill, you are treated to a spectacular view of the great bowl of Anza-Borrego desert.

*  If you are allergic to pollen, be sure to take antihistimine.  Pollen is everywhere.  We came home with yellow pollen all over our shoes.

* Plan your visit for a weekday morning as parking areas on the   weekends are full by mid-morning.

*  There are lots of restaurants and affordable lodging nearby.

*  Bring binoculars for spotting wildlife.

*  Call the State Park Wildflower Hotline to get updates on the wildflowers at (760) 767-4684.

*  For more information about the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, click here.


                                                                   

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Girlfriend Getaway

Yesterday was an awesome day with great friends. We did the Girlfriend Getaway with Day Tripper Tours in San Diego, and it was fantastic. It was a day full of chatter and laughter, afternoon tea in Long Beach and a few hours at the Vintage Fashion Expo in Los Angeles. This expo is a huge event that takes place fives times yearly in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
If you've never done a Day Trippers Tour, it's a great way to get out of town for the day to explore museums, tourist attractions and special events throughout southern California. The cost of the day trip might seem high to you, but it includes your round-trip transportation from a pick-up point in San Diego, admission fee, meals depending on the tour, snacks and a very entertaining tour guide. What I love about these day trips is you don't have to drive. Just show up at your pick-up point and let the bus driver take you there.

We had a very comfortable bus ride in the rain.  It was a perfect day to anticipate our visit to have delicious hot tea in an elegant Victorian setting.  It brought back memories of Gerry and I walking through the heavy rain at Edinburgh Castle to have tea in The Queen Anne Tea Room. It was one of the highlights of our perfect day in Edinburgh. Upon arriving to the tea room, I was delighted to see how pretty the tea room looked from the street, so English-ly quaint!  I was more impressed with the wait staff who welcomed us as we made our way to the Grand Tea Room. I felt like I was back on a cruise ship.
Elise, owner of Elise's Team Room, has a business that has been thriving since 1996. Whatever she did, she did it right as tea rooms don't generally do well as a private business.
Contrary to what you see in the food photos, I left feeling absolutely stuffed. I forced myself to eat everything, and that's something I never, ever do, but I couldn't help myself. The lemon scone was one of the best scones I've ever tasted, and that's coming from my own experience enjoying scones in tea rooms throughout England and Scotland. First came the lemon scones with clotted cream, lemon custard and blackberry jam. Next came the tea sandwiches (cucumber and cream cheese, butter and raspberry jam, chicken salad and egg salad), then finally the piece de resistance. . . the chocolate biscuit cake that takes two days to make! This was Princess Diana's favorite chocolate dessert (she was a chocoholic), and hence the name of our event at the tea house was called the Princess Diana Tea. The teas were great, too.


On to Los Angeles, the Vintage Fashion Expo was very interesting. I've always admired retro fashions, and have even worn pieces that resemble styles from the 1950s and 1960s. This expo at The Reef, a creative urban habitat in South Los Angeles, was eye-candy for me. There were so many cool people walking around wearing retro styles, even children were participating!

Walking through the booths brought back lots of memories - clothes I wore as a child, as a teenager and especially, the lovely clothes my mom wore as a typical housewife caring for her children. I always admired my mom's clothes, shoes and her jewelry from the 1950s and 1960s. As a teenager, I used to sneak a peak in my mom's closet to look at her evening dresses and shoes and hope that she'd one day give them to me "when I was all grown up". Alas, I grew to have a completely different body type from my mom, body measurements and all. The good news is that my mom did give one of her cocktail dresses to my daughter, Lindsay, and it's a stunner. It's an espresso-colored, body-hugging number with spaghetti straps. The fabric shimmers in the light and you can't take your eyes off of it. I just texted her to tell her not to give that dress away as dresses of that type were selling at the expo for $450 on up. I didn't bring a lot of money with me to the expo because I thought I'd be bargain hunting. Well to shop vintage means you better come with lots of bucks, and maybe bring your credit card, too.
I came upon a non-designer alligator (gasp) handbag that I loved and it was priced at $450. Ugh. First of all, I know what you're thinking. A poor alligator was killed for its skin but that was decades ago and way before PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was founded in 1980. However, it is legal to have alligator skin in the state of California. Secondly, I would never, ever buy animal skin or fur these days. Times are different. We're now very concerned with protecting our wildlife from becoming extinct. I dismissed purchasing this bag because of its price, but found a similar 1940's handbag for $60, and it's in good condition. I was able to haggle the price down to $50.
Going through the vendor areas, I found three dresses that I adored. I couldn't stop looking at them, and I knew that I'd look great in them. In fact,Trini told me that this one particular shoulder-baring trapeze dress was totally me. It was my style but at $650? I couldn't do it. I can start saving for it, though, and maybe at next year's expo, that dress will still be there to become mine.

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