Thursday, December 12, 2013

Legion Of Honor Museum

Legion of Honor is situated in the northern part of San Francisco, overlooking the bay. The building itself deserves some art-gazing as it a beautiful example of the Romanesque (neoclassical) style, complete with a fountain in the circular plaza in the front. 
Legion Of Honor
The main entrance opens to a peristyle, where Rodin's Thinker holds court. 

The Thinker
Tickets are sold inside. The visitors guide provides the overview of the different sections of the museum. We weren't methodical, and were lured right away by the central atrium consisting of more sculptures by Rodin. But one can better understand the influence of Rodin on modern sculpture, after seeing some of the more classic samples in the other sections.

The Three Shades

The Call To Arms

You would do well to follow the history of art by starting with the innermost section in the left wing of the building. Section 1 was the Rotating exhibition, filled with huge wall-sized tapestries from the medieval era. The dim lights are perhaps special to protect the old wovens, but they slyly reminded me of the Dark Ages.

The next few sections are oppressive with heavy use of gilt in the almost-exclusively religious (Christian) themed art. You can see an exquisitely carved 15th century Spanish ceiling installed here. Highlight: El Greco's Mannerist painting 'Saint John the Baptist'.
17th and 18th century art forms a large part of this museum's collection, spanning a few sections on either side of the central atrium and its adjoining rooms. This includes pieces of French period furniture, and paintings from French and Italian Baroque periods as well as Dutch and Flemish schools. There is a Rembrandt here, but it's not a famous one.

Best to break for lunch now at the cafe: they serve sandwiches and pastries named after painters. If the weather is as good as it was for us, you will want to grab a table on the verandah.

The Neoclassical section of art comes (to me) as a refreshing change from the portraitures of the previous period. I mused here that even in the current era of photography where light and color can be tweaked indefinitely, composition still remains as the mark of an artist.
Which then brings us to the Impressionist art section. Highlights here include paintings by Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, and Monet. At the time our visit, Impressionist art (specifically of a nautical theme) was also the subject of the Special Exhibition in the basement section

Very few works of post-impressionist art appear in this museum as far as I can tell. There are a couple of Picassos and a couple of Dalis.

We were not able to cover the other pre-modern, non-European, and ancient artifact sections to be found in the lower level, since we were running against the clock. This museum, as any other, needs several devoted hours of browsing. Perhaps better is to plan multiple visits, covering a few sections (chronological or themed) each time.

Main entrance to Legion of Honor
What: Legion Of Honor
When: Tue to Sun: 9.30am-5.15pm
Where: 100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Tickets: $10

Saturday, September 28, 2013

EMP Museum, Space Needle and The Underground

This is the final installment of the Seattle series. Over the remaining two days, we visited the EMP museum, Space Needle and also took the Underground tour.

EMP Museum

The EMP museum is located right next to the Space Needle and has exhibits relating to science fiction and music. I skipped the Hendrix, Nirvana and guitar gallery as it did not interest me. I went right ahead to the 'Fantasy: World of Myth and Magic' exhibit which had costumes, props and artifacts from comics, video games, movies and literature. It takes the viewer through a journey of the fantasy world.
EMP Museum
Guitar tree
Dragon exhibit in the 'Fantasy:World of Myth & Magic'
The next exhibit I saw was the "Can't Look away: The lure of horror films" I surprised myself by visiting this gallery which takes an in-depth look at horror expressed through movies over the years. There are interesting videos about some of the most famous horror films that give a glimpse into the reason for their success and brilliance. There are interactive exhibits which are quite fun. This one is better experienced than described.


Space Needle

The Space Needle is an observation tower built for the World's fair but has now become a major landmark and attraction. It is 520 feet tall and elevators traveling at 10 miles/hr take people right to the top of the building from where one can see wonderful views of the downtown Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier, Elliot Bay and the surrounding mountains. At the top, there is also a rotating restaurant. We went in the evening as I wanted to see the illuminated Seattle skyline.

Space Needle

View from the Space Needle

Underground tour

This was one of the most enjoyable experiences of our trip. It is an hour long tour where the guide took us through the underground passages of Pioneer Square and gave us a very crisp and humorous account of the history behind it. Basically, the underground that we now see was, in fact, the original level at which the city existed. After the Seattle fire at the end of the 1800s, the city was rebuilt on top of the old level while the lower level  still was accessible. So now there are two levels one on top of each other. The lower level gives us a glimpse of the history and architecture of the time. The guide explained to us how Seattle got its name from the Native American tribal leader Chief Sia'hl with a brief account of rise of Seattle from a small lumber town to one of the top five largest cities in the US. I highly recommend this trip if history interests you.

Historical building in Pioneer Square

Underground passages

Vintage hotel in Pioneer Square

Some of the things that we had planned but missed seeing were Seattle Art Museum, ferry ride and Snoqualmie Falls.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier in the "window of opportunity"
Aside from the regular city attractions, I wanted to experience nature. So I picked Mount Rainier National Park. Instead of driving down ourselves, we decided to book  a guided tour. Luckily, I found 50% discount on for the tickets which made it totally worth it.

 The bus picked us up from outside the EMP museum at 7.30 am and after an hour of picking up the rest of the members, we were on our way to the national park. It is almost a two hours drive from Seattle downtown. Mount Rainier is an active volcano and is the most glaciated peak in the US. There are subalpine wildflower meadows, thick forests, mineral springs and lava ridges on its slopes. The visitor center has a short 15 minute film that talks about the geography, ecology and climate of Mount Rainier. It is quite interesting and informative.

During the afternoon, the clouds from Puget Sound envelop the peak and it is impossible to view it. We reached there just in time to click a few pictures and then it disappeared behind the clouds. The guide kept referring to this particular time as the "window of opportunity" to view the peak. 

Mount Rainier making its own clouds

We stopped at the Christine falls, Narada falls, hiked along the Paradise meadow trail and saw the Reflection lakes which are subalpine lakes where one can catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier's reflection. All these spots had fantastic views. There are regions of the old forest where the trees are more than 500 years old!

Narada Falls
Christine Falls
Myrtle Falls
Reflection Lake
Despite being so breathtakingly beautiful, it is interesting to note that Mount Rainier is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world capable of causing large scale destruction caused by the lahars (lava+snow).

Mount Rainier covered by clouds

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sleepy in Seattle

The long Labor day weekend gave us a chance to take a trip up North-Seattle, Washington. We flew out on Friday night and reached SeaTac airport at midnight, all thanks to the delayed flight. A half an hour drive from the airport took us to our hotel. Since my hotel booking was just a couple of weeks before our trip, I couldn't find anything close to the downtown and had to settle for The Extended Stay America in Northgate.

Day one agenda was quite light mainly because I knew we weren't going to wake up in time for an early start. So we left the hotel only around 11am, headed out to a nearby restaurant for breakfast and then caught the bus to the downtown. Interestingly, all the touristy places are in or near the downtown and can be easily explored on foot. So, I didn't see a point renting a car. We traveled everywhere mainly by public transportation.

Our first spot was The Olympic Sculpture Park- a waterfront park which was originally an industrial site that is now transformed into a park with a lot of open air sculptures. There are plenty of chairs for people to sit and enjoy the beauty of the Olympic mountains and Puget Sound. To be honest, I wasn't quite impressed by the sculptures but the view of the waterfront was beautiful. We then continued walking along the waterfront that had a feel similar to Fisherman's Wharf in San Fransisco. It is buzzing with activity, seafood, small trinket stores, memorabilia, ice cream shops, games arcade and a lot more.

One major attraction at the waterfront is the Seattle Great Wheel-a 175feet tall ferris wheel overlooking the Elliott Bay. It is the largest observation wheel in the west coast. The gondolas are fully enclosed and temperature controlled. One can see the pier, downtown, Space Needle and even Mount Rainier. I can only imagine how beautiful the view must be at night!

View From The Wheel-1

View From the Wheel-2

A little walk into the downtown lead us to the famous Pike Market which is spread across 9 acres and is the country's oldest farmer's market. Vegetables, fruits, fish, cheese, bread and fresh produce is available. It is a different experience walking through the historic arcade of the crowded market taking in the various sights, sounds and smells.

Inside the Pike Place Market
Fresh flowers at Pike Place Market

It was a lot of walking for one day and we were completely wiped out. We stopped by at an Indian-Nepali restaurant to sample some Nepali cuisine and were pleasantly surprised by the delicious food, after which we headed back to the hotel very tired and sleepy. Rest of the adventures in upcoming posts. So stay tuned!

Food at Kasturi Restaurant

Friday, August 16, 2013

And it's a year already!

Aug 16th was the day I stepped into the US-a new life, a new home. And I have completed one year already. It has been a busy yet wonderful time.

I have to admit not everything was rosy. The first six months without the car were very painful and I did get annoyed about it most of the times. Not having a job and spending most of the day online looking up vacancies, applying and interviewing also tested my patience. Trying to socialize and make new friends in a foreign country was also a difficult task especially for an introvert like me.

But I think the positive aspects of this move outnumber the negatives. I traveled to so many beautiful places-San Diego, Las Vegas, Sonoma and all the local touristy spots. I made some really good friends, tried my hand at Zumba, started this blog, worked as a freelancer, got employed full-time, learnt baking, volunteered, learnt Italian, got introduced to Hitchcock films, visited some wonderful museums and I'm currently learning how to drive and swim. I love the fact that there are so many opportunities to explore. I know I've only scratched the surface. There are tons of things that I have on my list and so many places to see. This is only the beginning and I'm prepared and excited for another year of fun, adventure, learning and happiness.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Visit to the Wine Country

It had been a while since we took any long trips after Las Vegas. So we wanted to go some place during the Independence day long weekend. It was also a way to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, albeit a week in advance. Since we have both been very busy and stressed out at work, we decided to keep it all very simple. No flights to catch, no waking up early for the guided tours and no getting tired at the end of it all. Just a long relaxing break and exploring places at our own pace. The best place that fit the bill was the wine country.
I had heard that Napa is way too commercial and crowded so we skipped it and headed straight to Sonoma-less touristy but beautiful. Since this vacation was going to be different from all our previous ones, I decided to forgo the hotel and look for a cottage instead. Thanks to this amazing website (, I found a small cottage in the countryside within a reasonable budget.


The cottage is located in a bamboo nursery in Cotati- a small, sleepy town in Sonoma County. We drove up to Cotati on Thursday morning and reached there in an hour and half.
One of the important lessons that I learnt during my previous travels was that I usually waste a lot of time looking for food mainly due to two reasons-I'm a vegetarian and a picky eater. To avoid this problem, I picked up a lot of ready-to-eat instant food and that took care of the 'where to eat' issue.
The plan for four days was simple-spend two days in the cottage and two days site-seeing. This gave us enough time to rest and relax without feeling like we hadn't explored the new place. Per plan, we stayed indoor on day one spending time reading, playing games and doing nothing. 
Day two we decided to visit a winery. We zeroed in on Foppiano Winery in Healdsburg since they didn't require an appointment for the vineyard tour. We were handed a brochure for the free self guided estate tour which gave us general information about the business.
After walking around the vineyard, we took the Highway 116 to Sonoma. It is a scenic route with breathtakingly beautiful wineries along the way. The drive was just perfect-windy roads, fantastic scenery, no traffic and great weather! 

We headed straight to Sonoma downtown for some wine tasting. For only $5, we got to taste 7 different wines. Since I'm not a wine drinker, I wasn't too fascinated by this but tried it for the experience anyway. Afterall what is a trip to the wine country without any wine tasting?

The next day we just stepped out for a quick lunch at the Cotati downtown and spent the rest of the day at home. On the last day, after checking out of the cottage, we drove to Bodega Bay. Again, the drive was very pleasant. We stopped at the famous 'The Birds' Cafe which was very disappointing. Long wait time and bad food. 
We continued driving along the Sonoma Coast State beach. It was overcast yet extremely picturesque. We halted at the Schoolhouse beach. Unlike all the other beaches that I have been to, this one has no sand at all; it's all small pebbles which prick your feet and the water is freezing. But it is a nice quiet place for a picnic-not too crowded.

Our drive continued and took us to the Russian river in Monte Rio. It was pretty crowded with people kayaking, swimming and sunbathing. we spent time walking across the small stream and then headed to Sebastapol downtown for a quick bite. We walked around the downtown and ate some hummus and pita at a small Mediterranean place. After that, we drove straight home-tired but content after a relaxing and refreshing vacation.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

While looking for things to do on the weekend, I hit upon the Rosicrucian Egyptian museum in San Jose. Since I'm very fascinated by Egyptian history, I decided to check this place out.

This museum is located in San Jose and is the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Western North America.  There are four main galleries and they take the visitor through the ancient Egyptian dynasties up until the Islamic era. One can get a complete picture of the history, rise and fall of the mighty Egyptian empire. Since we visited post noon, we could only cover one gallery in detail. I glanced through the other three as it was nearing closing time.

The first gallery is the 'Daily life,  trade and neighbors' and it has a huge collection of items of daily use. This includes the vessels, toys, seals, hairpins, mirrors, perfume bottles, razors, seals etc. Tablets with Hieroglyphics and Cuneiform scripts were my favorite.

 The second gallery 'Burial practices, mummies and afterlife' had a lot of mummies on display and items relating to the burial practices and mummification. I skimmed through the next two galleries 'Gods and religion' and 'Kings and Pharoahs' so I'm not writing much about them.

There was a docent-led tour of the replica tomb. There is a composite replica of the rock cut tomb of Khnumhotep II. I found it very educational and fun.

Some fun facts that I learnt from the museum:
-The ancient Egyptians, including the children drank beer instead of water as they did not have access to clean water
-They believed in the power of visualization and hence got their walls of the pyramids painted with images of a life they wanted to live in the afterlife.
-The hierogylphic script was written from  left to right, right to left or up to down. One can identify the direction based on the direction in which the characters are facing.
-Men and women both used makeup and painted their face green.

I will have to visit the museum once again to complete the tour of the other three galleries. There is also a planetarium which is temporarily closed so we could not visit it. Outside the museum,there is a beautiful garden called the Peace garden where one can relax.

What: Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Where:1660 Park Avenue San Jose CA 95191
When: Wednesday - Friday: 9:00am - 5:00pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10:00am - 6:00pm
Monday - Tuesday: Closed 
Cost: $9