Thursday, August 31, 2006

Asbury Homes

If you've read some of my previous posts I'm sure you noticed that I've been spending a lot of time down in Asbury Park, NJ lately. It's only a little over an hour's drive from Manhattan without traffic or a relaxing hour and a half train ride with coastal views along the way through towns like Red Bank and Little Silver.

Unfortunately the weather this week has not exactly been ideal for the beach. This has afforded me the opportunity to spend some time driving around town admiring the beautiful homes that have recently been restored. These houses are a window to Asbury's elegant past. Classic turn-of-the-century, frontporch America once thrived here and happily, is once again returning.

Below are some photos I snapped during a morning drive. I'm sure you can appreciate the beauty of these lovely old homes despite the gray skies. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lisbon, Portugal

Oops! I completely forgot about the Lisbon post. Truthfully, it may be because Lisbon didn't make that much of an impression on me as you will read in the travelogue email I sent home below. We stopped in Portugal before heading up to Bordeaux in France which of course makes geographical sense.

It seemed to me that Portugal hasn't really caught up with the rest of Western Europe in terms of their tourist marketing despite the fact that they must surely offer just as many cultural and historical treasures as the other countries. I might go back again however, after researching exactly where to go and what to see. My time here was a bit rushed unfortunately.

I found the port of Lisbon something of a disappointment. I'm not sure whether it was the gray weather, the fact that we were pressed for time or that the city itself seemed rundown and dirty to me that gave an overall depressing atmosphere to the Portuguese capital. As our resident Hungarian guitarist onboard described it "Lisbon is like an aging beauty, she looks better in the dark." We happened to be there on the eve of the feast of Sao Antonio, a national holiday in Portugal. This feast day is usually preceded by wild parties and colorful parades the night before all of which I missed because I was stuck onboard singing a "Broadway Under the Stars" concert on the pool deck for those passengers who remained on the ship.

The next day I was able to get into town and snap a few pictures. The are: Placo do Comercio (Commercial Square), a photo of Corinne (one of the other singers) and myself in Placo do Comercio, World Cup fever grips Portugal as a cafe owner sets up his flatscreen TV and hangs the Portuguese flag outside, one of the streets of the shopping district with the towers of the 12th Century Se Catedral in the distance. (This is one of the few remaining pieces of old architecture left in Lisbon as much of the city was destroyed and rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1710) and finally, Lisbon borrows some landmarks from other famous cities, namely a statue of
Christ much like the one in Rio De Janeiro and a suspension bridge across the bay modeled after San Francisco's Golden Gate.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bordeaux, Part Deux

Here is the other travelogue email I sent home from Bordeaux after getting to tour some of the local vineyards. This was a great day!

While in Bordeaux I enjoyed a tour of the Medoc Vineyards, took photos of some of the more famous wine chateaux and toured Chateau Prieure-Lichine, a winery in the Margaux appellation of Medoc. As explained by our delightful guide Maria in her charming French accent "Ze wine of de Medoc, he is like ze perfect gentleman. He is strong. He is powerful. But he is always discret." The Medoc region of Bordeaux produces some of the world's best cabernet sauvignons and merlots. ("But zis is true, eh? I am not chauviniste.") At Prieure-Lichine we got to sample some of the cabernet which was a good thing because it saved me from making an embarassing scene by screaming "I am NOT drinking MERLOT!"*

The photos are: Chateaux LaFitte-Rothchilds ("the creme de la creme" of Medoc wineries), Chateau Pichon-Longueville, the picturesque vineyards of Chateau Margaux, Chateau Prieure-Lichine, me on the grounds of Prieure-Lichine as taken by our guide, Maria ("Zo when you are 'ome, you are zaying to your friends 'Look! I was zhere!'"), and finally the oak barrells of Chateau Prieure-Lichine.
Enjoy! xo M

*For those of you who don't know, this is a line from the movie "Sideways" which resulted in a drop in the sales of Merlot following the film's release.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bordeaux, France

I had a wonderful time in Bordeaux during my time on the Voyager. This is only part one of the travelogue email I sent home.

Bordeaux is another one of those cities that smacks you in the face with it's beauty as soon as you get off the ship. We docked on the Gironde River, the banks of which are lined with beautiful buildings and stately edifices which reflect Bordeaux's one-time status as one of the most prosperous ports in the world. Bordeaux fell under British rule after the marriage of Eleanor ("I'd-hang-you-from-the-nipples-but-it-would-shock-the-children")* of Aquitaine to England's Henry III. Bordeaux then began supplying England with "claret" which began its world famous wine export business to the UK and eventually the Americas leading to it's subsequent prosperity.

The photos below are: Place de la Borse (a main commercial square), the "big bell" tower dating from the 15th century, a bridge across the Gironde River, two of Bordeaux's sleek, modern, quiet and efficient trams (a state of the art means of public transportation that thrives in this centuries old city), a monument to some 30+ revolutionaries considered "too moderate" and were guillotined during the worst excesses of the French Revolution in the square below, and finally a Bordeaux sunset. Enjoy!

* For those of you who don't know, this is one of Eleanor's lines from "The Lion in Winter" played in the film by Katharine Hepburn. Now imagine Kate saying it. Go ahead. Funny, right?


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Road Trip 5

"Road Trip" is a once a year party weekend in Asbury Park, NJ. It started as a marketing tool a few years back (five to be exact) to get the gay community into town from New York and Philadelphia. Known for being urban pioneers, they were the first to see the potential in revitalizing this seaside resort. Since then homes have been lovingly restored, gardens planted and restaurants and shops have opened catering to this specific market. During Road Trip events are scheduled all weekend, realtors host open houses and rainbow flags hang everywhere. And one by one Asbury Park wins over yet another heart from Fire Island or Rehoboth Beach. The cheap real estate prices don't hurt either.

Unfortunately the weather reports have been rather discouraging for Road Trip this year. Nevertheless, things started off with a bang Friday night in the form of a fireworks display on the beach. The sky was gloriously illuminated over the Howard Johnson's on the boardwalk. (There are some photos of it below.) It also stayed clear long enough this afternoon for a respectable crowd to gather for the beach volleyball tournament and tonight the Paramount theatre featured a performance by the hilarious Lea DeLaria. Check out for a complete list of events.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Malaga, Spain

Malaga is a gem of a city on the Costa del Sol. I was quite taken with it as you can tell from the travelogue email I sent home.

Many crewmembers onboard have been buzzing for weeks about Malaga as one of their favorite ports. I now understand why--I loved this city. The birthplace of Picasso and situated on the Costa del Sol, Malaga is every inch the classic Spanish city. The traditions of flamenco dancing and bullfighting originated here and are still practiced today. One can practically here the castanets in the streets and indeed Spanish guitars serenade tourists on every corner. Rich in history, remnants of Malaga's Phoenician, Roman and Moorish roots can still be seen throughout the city. I spent a whirlwind day of sightseeing here and snapped the following pictures.

The first two are of the 18th century facade and side view of the "one armed" cathedral, so named because only one of it's bell towers was completed. The third picture is of the cathedral's baroque interior which was completed some 150 years before the exterior. I happened to visit at the end of a mass and was able hear the magnificent organ being played. The fourth picture is of the Teatro Romano, a Roman amphitheater discovered in the 1950s and is still under excavation today. The next two shots are of the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress dating from the 12 century which also houses a palace. This is a real historical treasure with so much of it is in tact. You could walk along the parapets, look out over the city and practically feel the presence of the ancient Moors within the fortress walls. The last shot is of the Episcopal Palace which is a stunning example of Spanish baroque architecture.

I also made it to the Picasso Museum in town which has a modest but lovely collection. The museum also has a fascinating archeological exhibit because it just happens to sit on top of some Phoenician ruins dating from the 5th and 6th century BC. No photos were allowed in the museum though. Sorry this one is so long, but clearly this city made an impression on me!


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Barcelona, Spain

Here is another one of my favorite ports.

Barcelona has long had a reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, a fact that was undeniable to me the moment I stepped out on deck and took my first glance at the city. It is located in the heart of the Catalan region of Spain which any Catalan citizen will tell you is quite different from the rest of the country. They are a very proud, fashionable people taking the best of both Spanish and French cultures and making them their own. In truth, the city felt more like that of Paris or Nice to me than what I expected of Spain. The tiny streets of the historic Gothic district open on to wide graceful boulevards, parks and placas where Barcelonians can shop, promenade and be seen in style.

The pictures below are of the skyline as seen from our ship across the harbor (note the harmony of both the old and new architecture), their version of Columbus Circle which greets the ships in the harbor and even railroad travelers with Columbus pointing "that-a-way to the new world", the next two photos are of the tiny backstreets of the Gothic district, one of the many fountains which punctuate the boulevards of the city and finally La Rambla one of Barcelona's most popular pedestrian shopping streets.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Here are my impressions of lovely Monaco when I visited during my stint on the Seven Seas Voyager. Enjoy.

Monaco is very much the fairy tale land where street crime is nonexistent and princes marry film stars. The scenery is beautiful in every direction, the gardens expertly manicured and the buildings perfectly maintained. Monte Carlo's "vieux ville" or old town, is the center of the historic district and contains quaint narrow streets leading to the square outside the royal palace. All of it seems to fit perfectly in this postage-stamp principality. More than once I wondered if I had stumbled on to the back lot of a movie studio.

The photos below are of the Cathedral where Grace Kelly and Ranier III were married and are buried, the tomb of Princess Grace, the exterior of the royal palace (I also took a tour of the interior but photos were not allowed), me in the Jardin de Saint Martin overlooking the water, and finally the world famous Casino at Monte Carlo.


Bethesda Fountain, Central Park

My 12 year old niece, Katie, came to visit for the day yesterday. We spent the afternoon walking through Central Park hitting all the major landmarks: Belvedere Castle, the Bow Bridge, Literary Walk, etc. One sight I made certain we get to see was the Bethesda Fountain, not because it is one of the most recognizable landmarks associated with Central Park, but because of the role it plays in women's history.

Bethesda Fountain was sculpted by Emma Stebbins and unveiled in 1873. It was the only sculpture commissioned by Vaux and Olmstead, the architects of Central Park, to be part of the original park design. This makes Stebbins the first woman ever to receive a commission for a major work in New York City. Bethesda Fountain also goes by the name "Angel of the Waters" and commemorates the completion of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842 which brought fresh, clean water to New Yorkers for the first time.

Not surprisingly Stebbins' sculpture received harsh criticism from the mostly male art critics of the day which reflect more their chauvinistic Victorian attitudes than any insightful criticism of the piece. The best critic is perhaps time, however. Bethesda Fountain remains one of the best loved landmarks not only in Central Park, but in all of New York City.

Below are some shots taken in the park yesterday of Bethesda Fountain. The first one is of my niece Katie perched beneath Stebbins' famous work.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

St. Tropez, France

Here were my impressions of legendary St. Tropez as recorded in my travelogue email home.

Although lacking the charm of Portofino, St. Tropez continues to be one of the hot spot destinations on the French Riviera. It is overrun with tourists, expensive shops and snooty French attitude, but it is still quaint and picturesque in places. St. Tropez is so named because of some Romans who arrived on its shore with the head of St. Tropez onboard their ship. The locals built a church in his honor and the present day church (pictured here in the first photo) still houses this relic. The next two photos are of the many shops, cafes and restaurants lining the marina and local streets. The fourth photo is of one of the many artists who sell their work along the water's edge and the last is of me feeling right at home on the French Riviera in one of my new shirts from Sorrento.