Saturday, May 29, 2010

San Lorenzo, a market for the senses

A trip to any city for my wife (Linda) and I includes a visit to the city market.

When visiting Florence on a 10-day trip to Italy, we managed to happen onto the central market, the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, which was located near our hotel, the Hotel Machiavelli Palace.

One has to enjoy the Piazza dell Mercato with its myriad of stalls selling a wide variety of leather goods, souvenirs and clothing. But then there is the market.

Numerous booths are scattered throughout the two-story structure which offers an enticing and hard to resist offering. There are seafood, cheeses, biscotti, salami, hog heads, wine, fruits and vegetables of a wide variety.

The central market was once the main shopping center in Florence for fresh foods but, as is typical with growing cities and populations, supermarkets sprang up and as more people had cars, the market became less important.Tourists and foreign immigrants, and a renewed interest in fresh, local foods have helped the market stay busy.

The San Lorenzo area is two neighborhoods superimposed: The ecclesiastical neighborhood centered around the city's original cathedral, San Lorenzo, and the commercial neighborhood centered around the mercatino, the street market and the Mercato Centrale, the city's major produce market.

A taste of Italy

Next post: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Route 66 -- just a taste

Everyone should travel parts of what is called the 'Mother Road.'

That's Route 66, which in its heyday, supplied a better way for thousands to travel from the Midwest to the West Coast. The roadway was established in 1926 but not completely finished until 1938. 

Chicago and Los Angeles were the anchor points, with eight states managing to claim some fame.
Today, parts of the original road can still be traveled. 

Route 66 offers a sense of history and a bit of romantic lore because of the TV show of the same name than ran between 1960-64. The beginning of the end of the road as a major thoroughfare was 1956 with the establishment of the interstate system.

Route 66 was decommissioned in the 1980s,     
but the roadway continues to live on in bits and pieces. Many places that served travelers during its heyday still remain.

My wife and I had occasion to travel on a section of the roadway. Interstate 40 out west often parallels the original. At Tucumcari, NM there is a sculpture outside of the local convention center. The work was commissioned in 1997 and created by Tom Coffin. Travel north took us away from the road at that time but we reconnected a week later.

Our next link occurred after we left the Grand Canyon. We headed south to Williams, AZ. West of Williams we took to Route 66 at Ash Fork and traveled along one of the longest unbroken stretches of the highway. 

Our journey took us through Seligman and then eventually to Kingman where we then headed north to Las Vegas. The short journey and stop in Williams and Seligman helped to fill our need. 

At least we can say we traveled on one of the longer stretches of the roadway that still remains. For the extreme Route 66 buff, the best way to enjoy the trip is to gather a lot of information and make definite plans to see a wide variety of items tied to the road. 

There are numerous historical spots duly noted. Because we didn't do our due diligence, we missed seeing the site of the historic Blue Swallow Motel located in Tucumcari.

We stopped in Williams and Seligman to get a taste of the area. Souvenirs with Route 66 emblazoned on them were in abundance.

Next time, maybe, we'll do a little bit better in order to have a more exhilirating experience. (Note: All photos were taken in Williams)

Next post: Sunday, May 30

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Savannah -- a trip into history and music

I became acquainted with the songs of Johnny Mercer (bust pictured below) in the early 1960s. I enjoyed his work, but I didn't know he had written them.

What is wider than a mile?

What will we be crossing in style?

"Moon River" of course.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" was quirky. But the music and actress Audrey Hepburn have bounced around in my head for a long time.

After all these years I do have trouble watching the 
movie. Following the typing of the previous sentence, I went on the Internet to find out what year the movie debuted. It was 1961.
I then went to U-Tube and searched for "Moon River." There was the music, and Audrey Hepburn in front of Tiffany's in the opening scene. My anxiety attack began. I had to turn it off.

"Moon River" is one of my favorite songs.

But the movie is also a time machine  that reminds me too much of how fast life can really fly by.

The year was 1962. The location was Hattiesburg, MS. There wasn't much going on that Friday night. Across Hardy Street from the University of Southern Mississippi was a theatre. The aforementioned movie was playing.

Truman Capote, of course, had to travel in an unusual circle of people to come up with the characters in the movie. A couple friends from the journalism department joined me. I'll always remember the rain. The rain, that is, that was falling outside upon leaving the theatre.  It help to cement the moment in my mind.

But that was then.

During the past year my wife and I planned a trip to Savannah, Ga. We had read the book and seen the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," so we were primed.

And then, one night on Public Television, there was a documentary on Johnny Mercer, who was a native of Savannah. It was at this time we came to realize the contribution he had made to our lives through his songs. Our interest in the city was heightened. 

In addition to "Moon River," he also wrote "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Charade," "I Wanna  Be Around," and many more. He was also a singer and entertainer and a co-founder of Capitol Records.

When we arrived in the city, we found that the native had been honored with a statue which is located in Ellis Square in the historic district.

His remains are in the  Bonaventure Cemetery, which apparently draws a lot of tourists, because of the many we saw there during our short visit. Mercer was born Nov. 18, 1909 and died June 25, 1976.

We also visited the Mercer Williams House Museum  at 429 Bull Street. No one in Johnny's family ever inhabited the structure. His great-grandfather Gen. Hugh W. Mercer contracted with architect John S. Norris to design the house.

Flowers adorn bench at Mercer's gravesite
Construction began in 1860 and at the end of the Civil War, Gen. Mercer sold the unfinished house.

The structure drew a lot of attention in the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" when it was inhabited by Jim Williams. Williams was one of the city's earliest and most dedicated private restorationists

Time is fleeting, life goes on and my wife and I continue to be "two drifters, off to see the world."

Thanks, Johnny

Next post: Sunday, May 23, 2010 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The "Loneliest Road in America" challenge

A night in Reno precedes U.S. 50 adventure

My wife Linda knows I like adventure, to an extent, and going off the beaten path.

On a trip out West, the opportunity arose to take a highway that, on the map, always seemed rather interesting and it met my criteria.

That road is what Nevada Department of Transportation officials term "The Loneliest Road in America" --- U.S. Highway 50.

I read they adopted the name for the highway following an article in Life magazine in 1986. Time tagged the road with such a moniker because of the desolate landscape through which the road traversed.

Highway 50 may be the loneliest road but one does not have to be lonely. If so, it is just for a short period of time.

We did not travel on the entire section of the road in Nevada. We arrived in the "Silver State" on Interstate 80 having visited California. A night in Reno and then it was eastward bound, taking Alternate 50 that ran into the official road.

From the California border to Utah, the former pony express trail covers some 400 miles, with elevations of up to 7,000 feet, climbing through numerous mountain passes.

Interesting tidbits include:

-- The "Shoe Tree" located near Middlegate where a cottonwood tree is host to hundreds of pairs of shoes;

-- A burro ( my wife thinks it was one) that quickly spit out the carrot we offered as a snack;

-- Hickison Petroglyphs Recreation Area and Interpretive Site;

-- Eureka, Nev, which bills itself as "The "Friendliest Town" on "The Loneliest Road in America:"

-- Cave Creek campground where we spent the night;

-- The city of Ely;

-- And the Great Basin National Park.

Another interesting sidebar on the way to the Great Basin park was a roadside area sponsored by the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition. Adjacent to it was an old rusted jalopy in which someone had managed to position behind the steering wheel, the bleached bones of an animal.

Our trip across Nevada, from Reno to the campground, encompassed a good day. Then it was on to Great Basin and Utah.

"The Loneliest Road" -- a challenge met and conquered.

Hundreds of pairs of shoes on tree

Travelers take time to look, contribute

Shoes -- they're hanging everywhere

Carrot was quickly spit out by desert denizen

Drawings adorn wall at Hickison Petroglyphs recreation area

Town takes advantage of "loneliest road" designation

Vehicles on U.S. 50 are few and far between

Ely offers another oasis in the middle of the desert

Some creatures find the desert debilitating

Next: Savannah and the "Moon River" connection to be posted Sunday, May 16

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Short New Orleans trip fills the bill

Entertainers leave no ambiguity

My wife and I had an itch to scratch.

We hadn't had beignets, Cafe du Monde style, in a long time.

Our five and a half hour trip to New Orleans gave us our normal taste of the "Big Easy."

We had the beignets -- cafe au lait for me, and chocolate milk for Linda.

Then it was a walk around Jackson Square taking in a little bit of people watching, checking out the artists and listening to and watching street entertainers.

We wrapped up our stay with a roast beef po-boy and French fries at Cafe Pontalba on the northwest corner of the square.

Sometimes we head over to Magazine Street and browze some shops and then go to the Whole Foods store. And sometimes we take the Algiers ferry.

The first of May was on the cusp of the summer season with the skies heating up.

Two hours in the city and we were gone. The trip over was all on Interstate 10. Our return trip covered a portion of Old U.S. 90 from New Orleans to Pearlington, MS.

This was a short trip. But it did provide what we needed.

Sweet Street Symphony -- an entertaining group

Jackson Square provides an interesting backdrop

Roast beef po-boy and fries at the Cafe Pontalba

Next: Nevada's "Loneliest Road in America" to be posted May 9