Category Archives: Sight

Miami | Vizcaya

Nope, we don’t have any relatives living in Miami but it turned out to be a convenient place for a makeshift family gathering and given it was winter, much warmer.

Miami reminds me of Las Vegas in the late 90’s; perpetually busy and shiny with high rise condo construction rocketing forward on every corner. If you happen to be in Miami and are looking to escape the maze of impassable streets and a density of cranes blotting out the sun, you’re in luck. A mile or so south in Coconut Grove, there is Vizcaya Museum. Museum might be a strong word, its really the villa and grounds formerly belonging to the Deering family. Despite current renovation of the villa, this is still an extraordinary 2-3 hour stop. You’ll need at least that long to traverse the “Gardens”, which cover 50 bay-side acres and seem similar to gardens I’ve seen in Florence, Italy.


NZ | Milford Sound

The Fiordland Region should be one of your stops in New Zealand since the sheer-cliff landscape emerging from the sea and ecosystem can only be seen in a few places on Earth. Call me crazy but I’d rather see it in a more moderate climate like New Zealand than in Iceland or Norway.

You’ll definitely see seals and if its a nice day, as was the case for us, you’ll see them in mass.

B-Milford-12-LOW B-Milford-10-LOW
B-Milford-3-LOW B-Milford-16-LOW
B-Milford-21-LOW B-Milford-76-LOW
B-Milford-26-LOW B-Milford-85-LOW
B-Milford-69-LOW B-Milford-68-LOW

NZ | Christchurch

In the battle of man vs. nature, Christchurch is a an example of nature winning the first round with man adjusting. The 2011 earthquake here destroyed about 80% of the city’s structures. Five years on you can still get a sense of the scale of destruction, however kudos to Christchurch for their ongoing rebuilding efforts; cranes are everywhere and new buildings continue to pop up out of the rubble. I was surprised to see the changes from 2 years ago; many more new buildings and much more street art on those building they have not yet demolished.

B-Christ-6-LOW B-Christ-42-LOW
B-Christ-39-LOW B-Christ-76-LOW

UL: 2011 Earthquake Memorial; 185 White chairs
UR, LL: Christchurch Cathedral
LR: New art project

B-Christ-62-LOW B-Christ-68-LOW
B-Christ-80-LOW B-Christ-50-LOW
B-Christ-71-LOW B-Christ-27-LOW

UL: New Regent St
UR, Caffeine Laboratory; coffee and breakfast
Center, Lower: Street art

Oz | Sydney, Opera House

Its definitely an impressive visual anchor for the Sydney skyline. But when you get up close, particularly inside, it is even more impressive. Previous trips to Sydney I was all over the outside and inside with my camera but his time I wanted to get the perspective from angles further away. The distance shots are from 1) Midway across Sydney Harbour Bridge 2) Aboard a ferry to Manly Beach 3) A place in the Royal Botanic Gardens known as Mrs. Macquire’s Chair. These are all destinations in their own right, bonus that they offer interesting views of the Opera House.

You can read all about the drama surrounding the construction of the structure on the internet. You may already know the original architect quit after a row with some City Planning droids over insufficient payments.  How the Opera House how was built in the midst of the controversy is interesting. That’s a historical footnote however, whats more important is being there in person; a tactile experience beats everything else, including the following media, which do not do the iconic structure justice.

More about Sydney to come!

B-Sydney-Opera-1-LOW B-Syd-Opera-93-LOW
B-Syd-Opera-9-LOW B-Sydney-Opera-4-LOW
B-Syd-Opera-10-LOW B-Syd-Opera-11-LOW
B-Sydney-Opera-2-LOW B-Sydney-Opera-5-LOW

New Mexico | Bandelier National Park

Its a long story how I landed in Bandelier but I basically piggybacked this trek on top of a work activity after seeing signage for the park many times while en route to Los Alamos. I was curious to try out my new trekking pack on some elevation changes which are not available locally in Houston, this trek definitely suited that purpose.

Band-WP-1 Band-WP-35
Band-WP-77 Band-WP-5

The park itself contains a short 3-mile loop, The Monument Loop, taking you through the National Monument; remnants of the Native American culture that existed long ago. There are kivas which you can explore. That is, if you aren’t prone to vertigo while climbing the four sets of ladders to get to them.  There are also some nicely intact structures they used for storage, cooking, worship, etc.; these are all very interesting from the ground but I liked the view of these after hiking upwards.  The Monument Loop is very well-maintained and very easy to follow; I highly recommend walking this one first.

Aside from the Monument Loop there are a large number of back-country trails you can explore. Back-country trails are not all in good condition thanks to a massive flash flood a few years back and a series of fires. If you decide to explore these you’ll definitely want to have a sit down with one of the onsite rangers and of course, pick up a topo map at the entrance. I did three of the back-country trails, my favourites being the Upper and Lower Falls Trails, which are offshoots of the Monument Loop. There were several spots along the trail where the trail just ended, obviously having been washed out by the floods. You can pick up the trail again in less that 1/4 mile but this is when you’ll need the topo map.

Band-WP-27 Band-WP-15
Band-WP-63 Band-WP-32

The Monument Loop is easy, even climbing the 4 sets of kiva ladders is not very challenging unless, of course, you have a fear of heights.

The back-country trails are medium difficulty since you have to navigate on your own in spots and this is where you’ll need to pay a little more attention to surroundings. By that I mean both being able to navigate without a well-defined trail and to not accidentally step on a rattlesnake. I did see one little guy sunning himself in the distance half-way through the Lower Falls Trail. He gave me the obligatory rattle to say ‘Hey you, you’re a little too close!’, I stopped, since really I was a visitor in his neighbourhood, then he moved along into the rocky cliffs. Other than that, the elevation changes are gentle and the trail-less spots are still very navigable.

Band-WP-45 Band-WP-53
Band-WP-68 Band-WP-47

Its really up to you. The Monument Loop is about a 3-mile return. If you do the kiva ladder climb and explore you’re probably looking at a 2-3 hours. If you wander off to the back-country trails it could be the better part of a day. It took me 8 hours to do the Monument loop and 3 of the back country trails.

For the Monument Loop, you don’t need anything more than tennis shoes, sunscreen and water. There are a few stream crossings on the Monument Loop but the water is shallow (< 1 ft) and there are hopscotch rocks across.

For the Falls Trails, you’ll need more substantial footwear, like hiking shoes or boots, since there are spots of loose rock and you have to navigate around downed trees and a number of jagged, uneven surfaces. If you do more than just the Monument Loop you’ll probably want to pack a few snacks and extra water if you don’t carry a method of water treatment. Its extraordinarily dry here. And the sun is oppressively strong even when the temps are in the 70s.

There is a cafe and small store onsite if you forget to bring water, snacks, sunscreen. etc. Or if you want to sit down and have a green chili cheeseburger and a cup of pinon coffee. If you buy a New Mexico coffee mug you can get free drink refills – for life.

Band-WP-22 Band-WP-48
Band-WP-50 Band-WP-49

The entrance fees are going up in 2016 but if you’re like most people and you drive there, park, then do your trekking, its $10 to enter the parking area. There are different fees if you are on foot or if you want a multi-day pass or if you are camping.

A special note about parking. A fellow trekker had told me to get to Bandelier before 9am. Dual purpose advice. The first purpose is to avoid the late afternoon sun, which is brutal at this elevation. The second is after 9a you cannot park at Bandelier proper, you park downstream at a shuttle stop and they bus you in and out of the park. I’m not sure why but if you don’t want to wait for the shuttle coming and going, better to arrive before 9a. If you do so, you can safely ignore all of the cautionary signs warning you to turn around and park at the shuttle area.

OKC | National Memorial

April 19th marks the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing which leveled the Murrah building, killed almost 200 people and caused security-related shock waves through the United States and further afield.

I had heard how Oklahoma City responded to the tragedy. They did not rebuild, they did not cower, they did not take up pitchforks and torches looking for someone to lynch. True to the Oklahoma spirit, what they did was create a green space and memorial to those victims and survivors involved.  I was glad I stopped here whilst visiting a friend, since its a beautiful space; green with a long rectangular reflecting pool anchoring the entire length of what used to be the building. Twin metal walls bookend the reflecting pool, one engraved with 9:01, the other with 9:03; the explosion occurred at 9:02. Gold-coloured chairs atop translucent boxes, which light up at light, commemorate each person lost to the event; names are engraved.

One single tree survived the bombing, it now anchors a lookout across the rest of the memorial.

I found it a moving memorial, however pictures say more.

Mem-21-LRES Mem-33-LRES
Mem-32-LRES Mem-14-LRES
Mem-1-LRES Mem-39-LRES
Mem-40-LRES Mem-45-LRES
Mem-3-LRES Mem-15-LRES



Savannah | Bonaventure

If you’ve read the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you might remember the statue, The Bird Girl, on the cover. I did and I knew it was located in the Bonaventure Cemetery. While its been on my Savannah to-see list since the 90’s, other sites preempted.  Even though I decided to see it this time, it would have been too late even in the 90’s since the city relocated the statue to the Telfair Museum after the book was released. Something about over enthusiastic tourists and potential risk of damage.

Bona-19-LRES Bona-7-LRES

No matter, Bonaventure is still a Savannah must-see, since its 100 acres of beautifully landscaped property running down to the Wilmington River. Serene, Gothic, inspiring vistas at every turn and history dating back to the late 1700’s.

Bona-2-LRES Bona-25-LRES

Bona-20-LRESWhat surprised me was the large section of Jewish ‘residents’. It might have been an attractive destination during the 1800’s  with the city’s rise as a shipping center, exporting all sorts of consumables, particularly cotton. Who knows, but the Jewish presence in Bonaventure is prominent, taking up one whole section to the right of the entrance gates.

I was amused to find ‘Bono’ here, who knew?

Definitely allow at least one hour for a survey tour, more if you’re hunting for history.

Savannah | Pin Point

Savannah, Georgia may not seem like a tourist destination; its small, its southern, its not a high visibility destination in tourist rags. However, since I’ve been traveling there to see family for several decades, I can tell you there is quite a bit to see if you like history, architecture and art. There is also a quirky version of ‘down-home’ cooking, locally referred to as ‘low-country’.

Pin-3-LRES Pin-1-LRES

This trip I made a point of stopping at the Pin Point Museum after many years of driving right past it with the ‘next time’ thought. Glad about that. Pin Point is a small, active fishing community on your way out of Savannah, over the inter-coastal waterway to Skidaway Island.  Its one of several Gullah communities left in the southeast. The Gullah are a community of African Americans descendent from slaves mostly from Sierra Leone. If you’re looking to relate that to something more current and visible, Judge Clarence Thomas is from the Pin Point community. By the way, Thomas’ Pin Point nickname is ‘Boy’. Apparently if you call him by his nickname he will know you’ve been to Pin Point. I’m not going to do that but let me know how that goes should you give it try.

Pin-6-LRES Pin-5-LRES

The museum is operated by the Gullah still  living in Pin Point. Its located in the original buildings they used to process their fishing hauls. They know everything there is to know about the community and they are extremely enthusiastic and animated in conversation, so the highlight here is to interact with them and ask questions. Besides the interaction, the tour (including a short video) is interesting since its gives you insight into the customs and language (Geeche) of the Gullah people. I found their spiritual beliefs fascinating, much of which seemed to me, derived from animists.

Pin-15-LRES Pin-17-LRES

You’ll need about an hour for the lot and definitely GPS your way there; the turnoff is not very well-marked and comes out of nowhere. Its a long drive to the next turnabout should you miss it, not that I know personally. Nope.

Charleston | Hampton Park

The Citadel cadet seated next to me on the flight to Charleston was excited that I had already tagged The Citadel as a sight to see on my one-day visit. She also pointed out, since I would be in the area anyway, that I should take a walk through Hampton Park just to the east of campus. She also recommended Park Cafe, a little further east, as a destination for lunch after exiting the park.

Hampton is a small but beautifully manicured park which I imagine is the setting for many a picnic or outdoor weddings. While no one seemed to be willing to brave the December temperatures for the sake of having a picnic by one of the many fountains, there was a steady stream of joggers , bikers and walkers.  The draw here for me was an abundance of huge moss covered trees with branches that seemed to defy gravity and any sane growth pattern. Some of the trees had such huge, twisted and  low hanging branches that in spots they were held up by metal support beams cemented into the ground.

HamptonPark-4-LRES HamptonPark-3-LRES
HamptonPark-7-LRES HamptonPark-8-LRES

The other item of note is the Peace Wall at the eastern most edge of the park, a structure composed of tiles all in the theme of stopping violence. I liked the message. It looked like some of the tiles were made by children; good to start that message early so it permeates future generations. Or so we can hope.

HamptonPark-1-LRES HamptonPark-2-LRES


Charleston | The Citadel

Citadel-2-LRES Citadel-8-LRES

One of the sights I tagged to visit in Charleston was The Citadel, one of the largest military colleges in the country. Mostly I was intrigued by the comments on Trip Advisor about the architectural style, statues and an actual fighter jet which was apparently a permanent fixture in the center of the quad. Fortunately, I sat next to a Citadel cadet on the flight out – a bright, well-spoken 20 year old girl who gave me quite the comprehensive rundown of what to see on campus and off. I was under the impression The Citadel was all-male but she was quick to point out that policy was changed in the late 90’s. When I asked how she liked it, I was impressed with her answer.

“I love it! It’s always been my dream to graduate from The Citadel like my dad. I realize I am not your typical southern girl”. Then she giggled like a typical southern girl for emphasis. Irony duly noted.

Citadel-9-LRES Citadel-26-LRES

Typically the campus is very active with a student population of over 3000. Fridays are busier still since they hold a much publicized parade, basically mimicking battlefield drill maneuvers. The Friday I visited the campus was shutdown for holiday break and I was the only person walking the grounds, save a few administrators and guards. Next time I will make the Friday parade but this time I rather liked having the entire Citadel campus to myself.

Citadel-30-LRES Citadel-25-LRES
Citadel-6-LRES Citadel-21-LRES