28 May 2010

Visual Delights at the Tate Britain

London is filled with enough exciting museums to keep one coming back for years and years, or, in my case, a lifetime. Having explored a good portion of the city's famed historical attractions (National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Modern, Science Museum) on past trips, I thought I would focus my attention on some of the lesser-explored museums. After just one visit to the Tate Britain in Pimlico, it easily garnered a place on my "must-see museum list." Here are some of the reasons why:

This is the front entrance to the Tate Britain. I love the columns and neoclassical facade. The best part about the inside of the museum, though? Very few visitors. I usually had entire rooms to myself, which made for excellent viewing opportunities.

The Cholmondeley Sisters, circa 1600. This is arguably the most famous painting in the museum. However, when I asked the assistant behind the Info Desk where the painting was located, I was met with a blank stare. That would be akin to walking into the Louvre and being met with a confused look upon asking where one might find the Mona Lisa. Fortunately, it was very easy to find this painting. Although the sisters look as if they are wearing the same outfit, there are actually tiny differences in their clothing if seen close-up.

"Titania and Bottom," depicting a scene from a Midsummer Night's Dream. Here, Titania has fallen under the influence of Bottom. This painting is one in a series of works illustrating scenes from the play by artist Henry Fuseli.

This is another painting illustrating a character from a Shakespeare play. It is Ariel in The Tempest, a character that I had the pleasure of portraying in a small classroom production of The Tempest in college. I was the best sprite ever.

I love this painting of two dogs because it was painted by observing the real-life dogs in a formal sitting. I'm already looking to commission a similarly talented artist to paint a portrait of my beloved chihuahua.

Sheep grazing in the countryside. Is there anything more quintessentially English than that?

"The Annunciation," depicted in a new interpretation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His sister, the poet Christina Rossetti ("The Goblin Market"), posed as Mary.

"Ophelia" by Sir John Everett Millais, depicting Ophelia allowing herself to drown after slipping while picking flowers. The flowers have special symbolism: the poppies represent death, daisies innocence, and pansies love in vain. I love this painting.

27 May 2010

The times are a'changing at Hermes and McQueen

Buckingham Palace is not the only place where a changing of the guard will be happening this summer. Two of Europe's most distinguished fashion houses will be undergoing enormous changes on the creative front.

Yesterday afternoon, The Cut announced that Jean Paul Gaultier would be departing Hermes after his Spring 2011 show. I wasn't even aware that JPG was thinking of leaving Hermes, but apparently he is leaving to spend more time on his namesake line. Fortunately the folks at Hermes have already figured out who will be replacing him, so fashion enthusiasts need not worry that Lindsay Lohan will be stepping in (insert audible sigh here). According to the ladies at The Cut, Christophe Lemaire, the man behind women's ready-to-wear at Hermes, will be taking over. I'm sad to see JPG go, but not entirely surprised. His work always seemed like an odd fit for Hermes to me. I guess we'll have to see what Mr. Lemaire has in store for us!

And, over in London, Sarah Burton has been given the arduous task of replacing the irreplaceable Alexander McQueen at his namesake line. British Vogue announced this morning that the Central Saint Martins grad (is there any other design school?), who had worked with McQueen for sixteen years and who had served as head of womenswear design since 2000 would be taking the reins. We have already seen a glimpse of Ms. Burton's work, as she was credited with completing the autumn-winter 2010/11 collection following McQueen's suicide. That collection was highly lauded.

Both Mr. Lemaire and Ms. Burton have their work cut out for them in continuing the creative genius of the Hermes and Alexander McQueen visions, respectively. Let us not forget, though, that it was a young Yves Saint Laurent who was called to step up to the plate at Dior after Monsieur Dior himself had passed. And look how well that turned out. Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Burton, I'll be cheering for you!

(** photo of Sarah Burton is courtesy of British Vogue**)

25 May 2010

Churches, Cathedrals, and Basilicas of Europe

There is a popular comic-strip postcard that circulates in England where the main character visits the big tourist spots, chiefly cathedrals, colleges, castles, and cash points. That postcard always makes me laugh (because it is so true!), but it also inspired me to share some pictures I took of the many churches, cathedrals, and basilicas I encountered in Europe. Though I certainly visited my fair share of cash points during my travels, I'll spare my dear readers the excitement of seeing countless pictures of ATMs.

The Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland. The architectural landscape of this church was certainly the most unique one I encountered.

St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. We actually took part in a Polish mass here.

Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland. I wish I knew the name, but this picture was taken during our three-hour quest to find accommodations within our budget. Not an easy thing to do in Switzerland, where we often laughed that you must be Rodger Federer in order to live comfortably.

The church of San Petronio in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy. This church, which dates from 1390, is one of the best examples of brick medieval buildings in all of Italy. The inside of the church was simply awe-inspiring.

The Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy. It seemed like all of Europe was under renovation this past trip, including the Basilica. Nevertheless, this was probably the most amazing building that I have ever been inside. Photo-taking was strictly forbidden, so you'll have to venture to Venice if you want to see some of the most spectacular Byzantine art outside of Istanbul.

A side view of the Basilica. I especially love the facade mosaics, dating from the 17th-century.

Front door to the Franciscan Monastery in Pula, Croatia. This was encountered totally by happenstance, one of the many things I love about intrepid travel.

Fans of "The Sound of Music" no doubt recognize this beautiful basilica, as the Basilica of Mondsee is where Maria wed Captain Von Trapp. It is also where I procured holy water that was ironically housed in a Jaeger bottle. Odd...

Temple Church in London, which is the only round church in all of England.

I love the tall statue of the Knights Templar riding past the church. The entirety of the church surroundings make for a most unique experience. The effigies on the floor inside the church are evocative, the side entrance is mesmerizing, and the church itself is located in a part of London that makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time. I highly recommend visiting Temple Church.

24 May 2010

Wedding Bells Ring at J.Crew's New Bridal Boutique

With wedding season upon us, it seems fitting to report that J.Crew will be opening its first bridal boutique in Manhattan this summer. J.Crew's stunningly comprehensive bridal collection is available on-line and by special appointment at certain boutiques in Georgetown, Seattle, and Chicago, to name a few. Now, for the first time, a full bridal boutique will be available at Madison Avenue and 66th Street.

I've been a big fan of J.Crew's bridal collection since the company began delving into the wedding industry a few years ago. The dresses are available in a full range of designs to suit every size and shape. Most important, though, there is a dress that will fit into every bride's budget, with dresses ranging in price from $500 to $3000. The masterminds behind the bridal line have also created apparel for the entire wedding party. There are dresses, shoes, and accessories for bridesmaids, flower girls, the groom, groomsmen, and the ring bearer. J.Crew has even added a line of clothing befitting a tropical honeymoon. In short, it is as all-inclusive as one can hope to find in the wedding world.

Here below are a few of my favorite dresses from the line.

The silk duiponi rosette dress, coming in at $2000, is available in both ivory and blush. When I first saw the dress in ivory, I was not a fan. However, the dress in blush (above) might just be my dream dress. I am in love with this gown.

The chiffon and organza dune gown, at $895, is another one of my top picks from this line. I absolutely adore the asymmetrical floral details and the fact that the dress is not strapless. I can not wear strapless gowns, so the fact that J.Crew offers a wide variety of gowns with straps (and other details) is a huge selling point for me.

The silk tricotine Gracie gown is simple and elegant. At under $500, it is supremely affordable too. I think this dress would be perfectly accessorized with a glittery broach and stand-out shoes. (Kate Spade wore bright green shoes on her wedding day!)

I wasn't sure about the high neckline of the slub silk Penelope gown ($675) at first, but it is starting to grow on me. I think this dress would flatter thin and tall frames very well. It is also romantic and conservative at the same time.

For the thoroughly modern bride seeking to channel Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, look no further than the crepe Mimi t-shirt gown ($595). I think this dress would be stunning with a dramatic necklace or chandelier earrings.

If you are in the market for a wedding dress, I would consider J.Crew. The website also offers a variety of useful resources including terminology explanations, color swatches, and more. Check out www.jcrew.com for more details.

(**All photos are courtesy of www.jcrew.com**)

23 May 2010

Roman Holiday in Pula, Croatia

Pula was such a surprise. My sister and I hadn't planned on going to Croatia, but one day we found ourselves in a train station in Trieste, Italy and the next thing we knew we were purchasing coach tickets to Pula. I was familiar with the city because one of my interns in the Senate was born in Pula and had shown me pictures of some of her childhood haunts. I studied Latin and love Roman ruins, so I was curious to see the amphitheater in Pula, said to be one of the best specimens of Roman architecture anywhere in Europe. I also loved the looks of the scenic Adriatic coastline. Though we encountered some challenges on arrival in Pula (not to mention some tight border control going through Slovenia), the stay turned out to be one of the most rewarding travel experiences of my life. If you ever have the chance to go to Croatia, seize the opportunity!

Our first glimpse of the phenomenal Roman amphitheater. Our hotel, the Hotel Riveria, turned out to be within walking distance to every major attraction in the small city of Pula. The city was also very safe, so my sister and I felt secure walking around at night even without the linguistic skills (we relied on my basic Italian instead).

Inside the amphitheater. It only cost about four USD to enter the site, but the experience was worth infinitely more than that. What made this so special was that we were the only two people inside the ruins. When you visit the Colosseum, you are bombarded with tourists at every turn. Here, we had a more authentic experience and were truly able to appreciate the ruins. We probably spent more than two hours inside, marveling at the condition of the building. It was an experience that I will never forget.

The ruins are in such spectacular shape that you are able to walk just about anywhere in the site.

Out of over 200 similar structures, this one is said to be the most complete. Is it any wonder? It was currently under renovation, but I am glad that the Croatian government maintains this treasure as well as it does.

The view from the street. Each time we passed the amphitheater, we stopped to gawk and photograph it. I usually blend in pretty well when traveling in Europe, but this was one occasion where my incessant photo-taking made me stand out as a tourist. I just couldn't stop marveling at the sight of this structure.

The Twin Gates, more wonderfully-preserved Roman ruins.

The Roman theater, directly behind the Archaeological Museum of Istria. These ruins were not as well preserved as the amphitheater. There was no admission charge, which may have been part of it, but there were broken bottles and pieces of glass everywhere. There were also tiny lizards and snails hiding in the rocks, but at least they were there naturally.

Hercules' Gate, located in the center of town.

The amphitheater off in the distance. I'm not sure where we were, but Laura and I wandered on a path through more ruins and followed them until they came to a dead-end near the theater. We thought that the path might have led all the way to the amphitheater, but after climbing up narrow hill-paths, the trail finally ended. It did provide some fantastic views of the amphitheater and harbor, though.

Hotel Riveria (it may appear "fancy," but it was a budget hotel). Upon arrival in the Pula bus station, a woman approached us with a sign that said simply "accommodation." No pictures, no location, no name of the supposed accommodation. Needless to say, we kept looking for other places to stay. We walked into the center of town and I asked a man (in Italian) if there were hotels nearby. He recommended the Hotel Riveria, which was directly behind us. The hotel was absolutely enormous, with few rooms actually in use. We suspected that it might have been a grand hotel one hundred years ago. It was a little run-down, but spacious and clean. The continental breakfast was top-notch though.

21 May 2010

Mixed Prints Galore in Venice!

There are so many different colors, patterns, prints, and textures at work in this photo that I barely know where to begin! For starters, the photo was taken in our hotel in Venice, the Hotel Messner, located within minutes from the Accademia, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and the Santa Maria della Salute at the mouth of the Grand Canal. The walls were upholstered in an ersatz Venetian print in mustard and burnt orange. The stripes of the comforter are also competing with the bold prints on the walls and the high wood-beamed ceilings. Quite a room for the price we paid! (It also had a small study off to the side.)

And then there is my outfit. I wanted to see how my new scarf worked with other prints. The scarf was purchased in Bologna for eight euros. I love the navy, purple, and black hues in it, along with the fringe on the ends. Very versatile! I'm wearing the new scarf over a printed cardigan from Thakoon for Target, which is probably my favorite sweater/ top ever. That is worn over an emerald pima cotton t-shirt from Banana Republic and Express jeans. I can't tell if I'm wearing my tall gray boots (flat heel, of course!) or pink and white Gola trainers here.

When you're in an artistic city like Venice (hello, Peggy Guggenheim!), it's ok to be a little more eclectic and bold than you would otherwise. Though, this is something that I would wear just about anywhere.

London in Full Bloom

Is there a more beautiful place anywhere in the world than London in the spring? When the grass is emerald green after months (and months!) of showers? With bright, luscious flowers in bloom throughout the whole of the city? It's hard for me to imagine a more perfect place than London at any time of the year, but especially in the spring.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures of the many gardens (some public, some hidden, and some forbidden) in London:

One of my favorite places in all of London- the gardens of Kensington Palace (the homes of Henry James and Robert Browning are only a couple blocks away)

The private gardens of the Middle Temple. Non-Temple members are permitted to walk around the gardens, but, technically, they are closed to the public.

Inside the perfectly manicured lawns of the Middle Temple

Bold pink tulips around the Tate Britain in Pimlico (the headquarters of Random House and the Chelsea School of Design are nearby)

A mosaic of colour in the Bloomsbury Square gardens. The building where Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes spent their wedding night is nearby and so is the house that Virginia Woolf would one day inhabit. Bloomsbury is literary London at its best!

Buckingham Palace practically draped with willows

The regal lawn of Buckingham Palace, decorated with saturated rays of red and yellow. The lawn must look this perfect all summer and especially during the Trooping of the Colour ceremony in June, commemorating the Queen's birthday. I was in London for the ceremony in 2005- spectacular!

The gardens of Whitehall, another one of my favorite places in London

I couldn't tell what the brownish flower at the base of the white ones is...any ideas?

The color of this flower, a deep burgundy, is most unique. I didn't encounter a colour quite like it anywhere else in the city.

Dainty pink and white flowers

One of my favorite pictures. I love how one can be surrounded by serenely quiet gardens and also only a few feet away from the hustle of the city at the same time.

London By Night

The 20th century Hungarian photographer Brassai made a name for himself with his captivating photos of Paris, his adopted city, by night. The photos revealed the true underbelly of Paris- the cafe lifestyle, the brothels, and the artists (namely Picasso) which captured the essence of the roaring twenties. His legendary work, fame, and the indelible mark he left on the art world garnered him the nickname "the eye of Paris."

I've been researching the work and life of Brassai all week, so I'm eager to share more about this amazing artist, but for now, I have been inspired to share some of my photos of my favorite city by night. Maybe one day I'll be known as "the eye of London." One small problem, though: there already is a "London Eye."

The London Eye at night, illuminated with bright blue lights.

Nelson's column with the moon and a streetlight shining in the background.

This is probably my favorite photo of London by night. I love how three different kinds of light are captured and how the Waterstones (building to the left) almost resembles a Roman amphitheater at first glance.

This picture needs not a caption, but I just love how tall and proud Big Ben appears at night.

Westminster Abbey is also very different at night. I wonder what that turquoise line on the photo is, too...