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Savannah Sojourn Is for History Lovers

19 Apr

For our 38th anniversary we went to Savannah, Georgia.  I have been wanting to visit Savannah for our entire married life because my first job out of graduate school was for a local Girl Scout Council.  And all Girl Scouts know that the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was from Savannah.

It exceeded my expectations.  I want to go back!


Juliette Gordon Low house.

On our first day,  I did go to the Juliette Low Gordon house.  I saw the rooms she walked in.  I saw ceramics and paintings she had created.  I walked in the garden with my husband.  Yes, I did buy something at the gift shop.  I had to.   Later we went to the Andrew Low house, where she spent her adulthood and passed away.  Unfortunately, we were too late to get on a tour.  But we did walk over the first Girl Scout headquarters, which is just beyond the gardens.  While there, a purchase of Girl Scout cookies was made.

But Savannah is not only for Girl Scout fans.  There was so much else to see.  So many lovely old homes from the early 1800s. Due to a group of women who started saving these homes in the 1960s, Savannah was saved from being a faceless and bland city to one that kept its local charm and ambiance.

I loved those restored homes.  We went on an architecture walking tour of the historic area, seeing many houses from the outside.  The next day, we visited three homes that were designed by William Jay in the 1820s: Owens-Thomas House, a home museum;  the Telfair Academy Art Museum which was once the home of Mary Telfair; and Scarborough House, built for the owner of the Savannah steamship.  This home is now the setting for the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. This museum is packed with wonderful models of sailing ships.  But the history of the building is also unique, it was once a school during segregation.


Inside the Owens-Thomas house.  There is actually a bridge on the second floor connecting the two sides.

At each home I learned a bit more about William Jay, the architect, and even more about the economic slump of the 1820s that led to most of the original homeowners losing all their money and their homes, soon after they moved in.  These homes passed to other families and some fell into disrepair. Thank goodness for the Historical Society and the ladies that saved them!


We walked the paths in Colonial Park Cemetery, reading the markers that told of the famous and infamous people who were buried there.  The saddest were the number of children who perished.  So many died in the epidemics of Yellow Fever that swept through Savannah several times.

I loved walking through the historic district and visiting every one of the 22 squares that still exists.  Yes, we went to every single one.  Each square has its own personality, some with a statue and a historic marker telling about that area.  I loved it.  I took photos of almost every marker.

We also meandered along the river and walked in and out of candy stores and gift shops.   The many diverse restaurants served the most delicious foods. My favorite was Elizabeth’s on 37th Street.  We ate in two different restaurants each day, some fancy, others just fun. Some we enjoyed were: the Funky Brunch Café;  Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern, near the river; The Lady and Sons Restaurant, surprising delicious; and Lulu’s Chocolate Bar.  I was surprised that I did not gain an ounce. But then we did walk 4 to 6 miles most days.

We also learned how Prohibition impacted Savannah!  It seems that lots of booze smuggling and speakeasy joints were part of the riverfront during the 1920s. A visit to the American Prohibition Museum is a must.  And yes get a drink at the end in the speakeasy.  You do not have to have an alcoholic drink…but my husband loved his.  I went for an original lemon soda mixed from scratch!


I found the history of the city is intriguing.  But for me, the Jewish history was amazing. Who knew that just a few months after the first settlers arrived, a group of 42 Jewish settlers arrived in 1733 bringing a Torah and starting a Jewish community in Savannah that survives today! This group of Sephardic Jews had been forced to leave Spain and settled in England just a decade or so earlier.  They then traveled to the unknown on their search for religious freedom.  WOW!


Built in the late 1870s, this building has always been a synagogue: Mikve Israel.

We went to visit the current synagogue building in the historic district:  Temple Mikve Israel.  Built in the late 1870s, the building is still used as by a congregation.  It contains a small museum and you can visit the chapel area.  But when we were there it was undergoing renovations, so we could not enter.


The Torah brought to Savannah in 1733, written on parchment made from deer hide.

We got to see one of the oldest Torah’s in the USA. The one that was brought here from England in the 1700s.  It is written on deer skin.  For me this was a thrill to see that a strong Jewish community still exists and has been a part of the Savannah community for 285 years.

I did not see all that I wanted to see in Savannah.   I loved staying in the Marshall House, with its evening wine and cheese, speakers and musicians, and wonderful staff.  But next time I want to stay in a bed and breakfast.  I have the spot picked out.   I could spend another five days in Savannah eating, walking and visiting museums.  I love learning about history and walking through Savannah is a living history lesson!


A Wonderful Gift At Crystal Bridges

20 Jun

With so much focus on people acting in mean and nasty ways, I think it is important to focus on people who do unexpected nice actions.   My friend and I were the recipients of one such wonderful gift.


Outside Chihuly Exhibit 

This past weekend I went to Bentonville, Arkansas, to see the Chihuly exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum.  I love Chihuly’s art and was looking forward to seeing both the inside and outside installations.   My friend was kind enough to buy our tickets in advance, so that we had no problems getting in and seeing this amazing sampling of his work. (See link below for more on Chihuly.)

While we were walking outside, I saw the Frank Lloyd Wright House that had recently been moved and renovated on the museum’s grounds. The Bachman Wilson House is a wonderful example of his style. We walked up to the house, even though there were no longer tickets available for the day, hoping to at least see the outside.


Kiosk with info about the house… And the couple who gave us the tickets!!! How lucky that I had unknowingly taken their photo.

On the way to the house is a small kiosk with information about Wright and his more famous structures. We spoke to a couple who were also reading the information. And had a lovely conversation about Wright. Then we all walked up to the house.

When we got there, we asked the attendant if we could at least walk around the house even though we did not have tickets to enter. She said, “Of Course.” So we went on our way.


Frank Lloyd Wright house.  No photos are allowed inside.

A few minutes later she called us back. The couple we had met, had been to the house when it first opened, and gave us their tickets!!! They wanted us to be able to see the inside as well. My friend started to cry, she was so happy.

At first, we declined, we did not want to disrupt their visit. But they insisted. I turned to the attendant and said, “That is so nice.” She agreed and said to them, “Why don’t you go into the house as well.” So they had the opportunity to see the house as well, but without the headsets to hear the history of the house. Those they insisted that we use.

Visiting Bentonville and the Crystal Bridges Museum is well worth the trip south.   But the added bonus is meeting such lovely people. Seeing this house from both the outside and the inside made such an impression.

We thanked them several times that day….as we crossed their path in the museum. It was such a wonderful gift!

Missing the Frank Gehry Museum, My Only Regret

2 Apr

Now that my trip is over, I must admit my one disappointment: not seeing Frank Gehry museum building in Panama City. 

Although I have never studied architecture, there are certain architects whose works intrigue me. I have written about Gaudi and Hundertwasser in a previous post (see below). 

But I also love the work of Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry. I just love his whimsical style just as I love the unusual designs of  Gaudi and Hundretwasser, who built structures before him. And although they worked in more natural materials, for me Geary’s modern  metal structures seem to meld into my love of slightly weird edifices. 

I think I also have an affinity to him as he was born one day after my mother’s birthday in February 1929 to an  immigrant Polish- Jewish mother, as was my mom.  

I love the Stata Center, the University building he designed for MIT in Boston. Walking around and inside and outside of this building just gave me joy. I loved the unusual angles.  

In Minneapolis viewing the museum from a bridge.

In Minneapolis we enjoyed time meandering through the Weisman Art Museum he designed near the University of Minnesota campus. When we walked away, I noticed a bridge which I immediately said had to be designed by Gehry as well.  I was right. My confirmation was a quick text to a young women I know who studied architecture at the university. 

Concert time

In Chicago I have enjoyed concerts at Millennium Park in the outdoor Jay Pritzker Pavillion theater that Gehry designed. The massive metal structure that surrounds the stage provides great acoustics and, for me, a welcoming embrace. It seems to reach out and say, “Pay attention!” I have meandered along the Millennium Bridge in the park. And I have yelled at teens trying to skate board along its lovely metal sides.

I have seen Geary’s famous fish sculpture in Barcelona, the city of Gaudi. This gives me joy I love that there are structures built by both done a century apart.  Although Gaudi’s famous church is still under construction. 

At the Museum of Pop Culture, the Gehry alien.

I visited the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle and loved the Science Fiction Museum inside. I, of course, love the alien inspired figure over the entrance to the science fiction section. I enjoyed walking along the outside of this unique structure, loving the different forms and bright reddish color center.  

So it is not a surprise that I had signed up for a tour of the Biomuseo in Panama City that Gehry designed. Unfortunately, this tour was cancelled due to lack of registrations. How frustrating!  People signed up to go shopping in Panama City, but not tour the museum. 

And no we could not go on our own. We had docked in Colon for a short stay. The only way to get there was by a ship offered tour. I would have loved to really see the building, not just photos. Also the topic focusing on the changes in Panama due to the Canal would have been fascinating. 

So I must admit,  my only regret of our South American/Panama Canal vacation was missing a trip to this museum. I guess I will have to go back.

My Architectural Love Affair With Hundertwasser and Gaudi

6 Jul

In the summer of 1999, my husband and I took our children on a tour of Austria and Hungary, primarily to see these countries and to view the total eclipse of the sun that would be visible that summer. We were heading to Hervis, Hungary, for the best viewing.

Before the trip up to the mountains, we stayed for several days in Vienna. It was an informative trip as we went to the Jewish Museum, Judenplatz, other museums and visited the home of the white stallions. (See below for links to another blog about this trip.)

But along the way I was introduced to the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the Austrian architect who was born in 1928, the same year as my father, and who had survived the Shoah with his Jewish mother by passing as Catholic, the religion of his father. In Vienna we saw the most unusual apartment building designed by him, The Hundretwasserhaus. This crazy looking building was multicolored, unusually shaped and had trees growing everywhere.


But the most wonderful part of our visit that year, was our accommodations at what my then 8-year-old son called the ‘Wacky Hotel.’ But whom others call Hundretwasser’s Rogner Bad Blumau, a hotel that includes thermal baths and pools. The hotel has no rhyme or reason that an adult can see. But it has sparks of imagination that enchant a child. I was enthralled.   I became a Hundertwasser lover. Even though I have no background in architecture.

Our stay there was delightful, from the curving paths to the unusual windows to the wonderful pools and colorful design. I bought books about Hundretwasser. I was intrigued by his desire to help nature and bring all things natural to his architecture. Yes, I think he went a little far at times, but I so enjoyed his work.

I was also intrigued by his personal history and his survival. Born Friedrick Stowasser, he changed his name after the war to focus on his desire for peace and harmony with nature. I think I was also aware of another connection, my maternal grandfather was also from a part of Austria. He had moved to the USA in the 1920s, but like Hundretwasser, my grandfather lost almost 100 members of his family during the Shoah. Hundretwasser’s mother lost many of her family members as well. Our connection was that both of our families had been decimated by the Shoah.

I would love to see all the buildings Hundretwasser designed, but I realize this would be impossible. However, there is a winery in California, The Quixote Winery that I have to see! I love how he uses the natural contours of the ground and a need to protect the environment in his designs. I would love to see this winery in person.

My profound interest in Hundertwasser’s works lead to my interest in another European architect, Antoni Gaudi, from Spain.   Although he died three years before Hundretwasser was born, I see his influence in the work of my Austrian artist. For Gaudi, his Catholic religion was an important part of his designs. Not so for Hundretwasser, even though he was baptized to survive. But the form of their buildings and their interest in natural design fit so well together.

The towers on their buildings, the use of stone and color, the curves and contours reflect each other. Although Gaudi used religion to influence his art, and Hundretwasser used nature.

Church of Sagrada Familia

So, of course, on our recent trip to Europe and Barcelona, I had to go to see some of Guadi’s designs. The amazing church, the Sagrada Familia, which has been in progress for over 120 years! Wow! What a creation! My husband envisioned termite hills reflected in the towers. Our tour guide was not too happy with that comparison. But it is true. The towers do look like termite hills to us!

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

We toured the Casa Batllo. I loved it! The mushroom fireplace, the lovely curved doors and windows, the delightful stone and tile-encrusted façade all brought me some joy! The private garden in the back on part of the roof was enchanting.

Unfortunately we could not get tickets to Park Guell, so I guess I will have to go back to Barcelona one day to view this park and see how it compares to the Rogner Bad Blumau.

I find it so unusual that one man, born in the mid 1850s and dying in 1926, who based his architecture on his religious beliefs; and another man born in 1928, who died in 2000, and had to escape from religious persecution, both designed buildings with such unique and imaginative styles.

Although some believe the word gaudy comes from Antoine Gaudi’s name, it does not. My search of several dictionaries revealed that the word, gaudy, was first used in the 1500s to mean garish or flashy. Yes, it is somewhat like Gaudi’s buildings, but in this case his name was not the reason for the word, just a serendipitous event.

And although some might call Gaudi’s works gaudy, to me they are inspiration! To me, to be honest, neither the work of Gaudi nor the work of Hundretwasser should ever be considered gaudy, rather they should be seen as works of imagination! Just as the song about Figment in the Disney ride “Imagination” used to say, “One little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation!”

I believe their designs will be joy to many others for generations because they hold the spark of imagination. And so I will continue my architectural love affair with their buildings.