Staycation

I am not sure that I like the word staycation, but it seems to work as well as anything.   Last week, I commented on the dreary San Francisco summer.  I’d really had enough and planned a mini weekend away.  I know, I know…a vacation right before leaving for Maine!

 

I wanted to do something local to make it easy.  I thought about Carmel, Napa, Healdsburg, and a few others. Then Berkeley came to mind.  From a distance, I had always admired the architecture of the Claremont Hotel in the Berkeley Hills, so I decided this would be the perfect idea.

 

On a total side note: Part of the reason for going away for the night was to test out leaving Wesley at home with a new dog sitter for the evening.  Wesley suffers from severe separation anxiety when away from me.  The good news is that he did very well being away for the night.

 

If you are looking for a perfect place to say, I can’t suggest the Claremont enough.  The massage was excellent, and so were the martinis and oysters at the bar.  It was a quick Uber ride down to College Avenue to the Rockridge area to have dinner at Millennium (a plant based restaurant that I had wanted to try for a while).    I checked out the pool early Saturday morning for some laps and then a quick breakfast. When I’m in Berkeley, I’m always excited to go to one of my favorite grocery stores, the Berkley Bowl, so I stocked up on produce and goodies for the rest of the weekend and week ahead.

 

It was great to get some sun and escape for the night.  Next time Wesley wants to come along too.  He was thrilled to discover that the hotel is pet-friendly.  This isn’t going to help his separation issues, but I think he would enjoy it!

Off to Maine

Off to Maine in just a few weeks. This marks the seventh consecutive year of escaping to Maine.

September can’t come soon enough.  As usual, San Francisco is foggy and cold, so it will be really nice to experience some better weather.

 

The oft-quoted Mark Twain saying always comes to mind this time of year:

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

 

Lots of friends will be joining for a few days here and there.  I have recipes planned and lots of daily adventures.

I have been working feverishly on my design book for the last months.  Every week it seemed there was another photo shoot.  I have been working on the text to accompany for months.

It will be great to devote time in September to put the finishing touches on the manuscript.  Editing will happen during the fall and winter, and then it’s off to print.

From start to finish, it will be a two-year project.  Can’t wait to share in the fall of 2018!

 

Here are a few photos from a short trip to Maine in June.  It was great to sneak getaway and work on the book.  The weather was considerably colder and the towns all tranquil.  I’ve decided September is the ideal time.  Still, some warm days, cooler nights (hello, fireplace) and the kids are all back to school.

 

Mexico City

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“The Mexican capital is more cosmopolitan than ever, with world-class museums, vibrant street art and bustling markets.”- The New York Times

Mexico City – or CDMX, as it’s now known- has been on the top of my destination list for several years.  I was honestly a little scared about going due to the city’s reputation as a dangerous place.  When my friend Julie – a former resident of eight years – talked about taking a visit, I knew that I wanted to tag along for a long weekend adventure.  The flight is only three-and-a-half hours non-stop from San Francisco.   I feel in love with a city that is trove of art, architecture and food.

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Like with any travel, be smart about your surroundings.  I felt completely safe at all times.  I would advise drinking bottled water to keep your stomach healthy.  A pack of Pepto chewables is not a bad idea if you’re not good with spicy food.   People seem to complain about the horrible traffic. Have you been stuck in traffic on the 405 in LA or been to San Francisco or New York recently?  The traffic didn’t strike me as noticeably worse.  Another thing to consider is that the elevation is quite high.  Sometimes people think that they are having troubles breathing related to the pollution, but it can also be due to the altitude. (A 2015 report ranked Mexico City’s pollution as similar in magnitude to Los Angeles).  Check weather reports to avoid the city in the really hot weather. Late fall and winter seem to be the ideal times to visit.  I am not quite sure how I managed not having a drop of tequila on this trip, so I am already planning how I can make a return trip to remedy the situation.

As I always share after my travels, here are my narrowed down TOP 10 suggestions. My insider tips, that you might not see listed in a guide book.  In no order…here you go!

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10. Stay at The Red Tree House.  Suggested by a few friends (and written up in the NYT), it is a cross between a boutique hotel and B&B. Set in the Condesa neighborhood, the owners did a complete renovation of the beautiful 1930’s home.  The staff (and Abril the dog) couldn’t be any nicer and helpful.  A different homemade Mexican breakfast each day and wine in the courtyard after exploring all day.  A perfect way to meet and chat with travelers from around the world. The interaction with other travelers might have been a highlight of the trip.

9. The Frida Kahlo Museum, also known as the Blue House for the structure’s cobalt-blue walls, is a historic house and art museum dedicated to the life and work of Mexican Frida Kahlo.  The building was the birthplace of Kahlo and is also the home where she grew up and then lived with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years.  If you book online you can avoid the long lines wrapped around the block.

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8. Museo Rufino Tamayo is a public contemporary art museum located in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. A wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art.  Rufino Tamayo (Oaxaca, 1899 – Mexico City, 1991) began to collect pieces for his international contemporary art collection from the end of the 1960s, in order to give Mexicans access to twentieth-century art.

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7. EAT MEXICO.  A chef friend suggested doing a food tour and she couldn’t have been more right with this recommendation.  For four hours, Paco guided us on a private culinary walk through the markets and street vendors.  The Gourmet San Juan Market was a highlight, including a cheese and mole tasting, shopping for dried chilies. I am still dreaming of the blue corn quesadilla with fresh squash blossoms that I gobbled on the street. They also do a night tour which I want to sign up for next time, which includes street tacos and Mezcal.

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6. Markets: Mercado Lagunilla Sunday flea market.  Antiques, plenty junk to sift through – but treasures abound.  This has been taking place in the same site since colonial times!

El Bazaar Sábado (on Saturday, as the name implies) in the beautiful cobbled stone streets of San Angel. A little bit more folksy, but discoveries can be made.

5. Palacio de Bella Artes. Construction began at the turn of the century, when architects were fascinated by Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau – but the project was halted during the Mexican Revolution. It was ultimately completed in 1934, in Art Deco style – and the result is nothing short of spectacular.  Don’t miss the murals!

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4. Centro Artesanal La Ciudadela is a designer’s dream: a huge market filled with artisanal products from all over Mexico. (Note: you do need to do a little bit of weeding through some typical touristy items.) I always love picking up housewares for the home when traveling.  Look for the stunning handmade pottery made from black clay (Barro Negro) from San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca.

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3. Casa Luis Barragan.  It is hard to pick a highlight of the trip but this might take the prize.  For years, I have been an admirer of Mexican architect, Luis Barragan.  His use of texture, light, geometric forms, and color are like nothing that I have seen before. I loved his signature of hanging art slightly off center.  Worth a visit and paying extra for the right to photograph. In 2004, it was named a World Heritage Siteby UNESCO because it is one of the most influential and representative examples of modern Mexican architecture. Make sure to book far ahead of time.  I booked a month in advance and was able to snag the last tickets.

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2. Check out home decor concept store: Roma Quince. They’ve gathered a handful of supremely tasteful, local textile all in an old restored mansion in the Roma. Onora (in Polanco) carries beautiful hand local crafted home items from Oaxaca, Chiapas and Puebla. Onora is filled with contemporary housewares in monochromatic colors of black, grey and white.

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1. There is no shortage of great places to eat. Street food and a new surge of gastronomic treasures. Contamar is not to be missed.  I am still dreaming of the raw tuna tostadas.  Add Huset, Lardo, Maximo Bistrot Local, Rosetta, Pujo and San Angel Inn to your list for sure.  Califa is sort of Mexican fast food. Cheap, fresh but delicious.  Late lunch seems to be the main meal of the day.  I love how you can linger for hours and people watch.

PORTUGAL

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Bom dia (Good day in Portuguese)!

Just back from a week with friends in Portugal!  We had the best time exploring, laughing and discovering the lovely country.  

We rented a car at the Lisbon airport and drove to Porto (about a 3 hour drive) for a few days.  We next drove back to Lisbon for a few more.  It was a fast little trip (well, we did stop for a few fun days in Paris on the way!).

I had ideas in my head of what it might be like.  Beautiful architecture, old world charm, Fado music, port tastings, blue and white tiles (called azulejos).  But there was so much more.

As I do with all my trips, I like to give you my TOP 10 list.  Naturally, there are so many more things to see and to add to this list, but I am aiming for an edited version.  Get a guide book and that will give you all of the great museums and typical sites…with my list I am trying to share an inside look, things that you might not see listed in a book.

In no particular order…drum roll please…

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PORTO

10.  Cantina 32 for lunch or dinner:  Full disclosure: we went back two times and ordered the exact same thing.  It was just THAT good.  The best fresh grilled fish and vegetables. 

9. Igreja do Carmo: The exterior’s blue and white tiles made me smile.  It just happened that when we arrived a rainstorm was in full effect.  The intro photo that I took with the man with the umbrella will always remind me of that day. 

8. Lobo Taste: One of the best stores we came across in Porto. Paula is the owner and curator/buyer and has handmade local objects including stunning wool blankets. I shipped back a dozen for client projects.

7. You can’t go to Porto without a port tasting or two.  Across the river, you will find tasting room after tasting room.  I asked many people to name their favorite port and the answer was always varied.  Why not check out a couple and pop a few bottles in your suitcase?  A great memory to bring back home. 

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6. Casa de Musica.  Built by Rem Koolhaus, the building resembles a spaceship that has landed in the center of Porto.  The project is controversial for the extreme design as well as timeline and budget.  The space is worth seeing on a guided tour (two times per day).  Request to see the VIP space on the top floor.  The juxtaposition of blue and white tiles in the modern setting is breathtaking. 

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LISBON

5. Flea market: Saturday morning. Feira da Ladra  Grab a coffee to go – perhaps at the nearby Fábrica Lisboa and spend a few hours exploring.  You might enjoy following along to Schoolhouse Electric’s blog on their shopping adventures.

4. Listen to Fado music: A must!  Voices so expressive and filled with melancholy. Beware of some Fado locations with overpriced food and mediocre food (sort of tourist traps). Going for a drink and listening is perfect.  Check out: Clube de Fado 

3. Pasteis de Belem:  Everyone I spoke with who previously visited Lisbon said that this was a must.   I wondered how a simple baked custard tart could live up to the hype.  There is typically a line outside for take away.  Walk in on the left and meander down the hallways and corridors and you will find tables and a wait staff.  Enjoy a few with powdered sugar and cinnamon on top with a cup of coffee.   The perfect afternoon treat.

2. Park: A hip rooftop bar with a fabulous outside terrace including panoramic views of the city.  The bar can be a bit tricky to locate as you have to take an elevator to the top floor of a parking garage.   You have a great vantage point to see the 25 de Abril Bridge – which resembles the Golden Gate Bridge (suspension design and similar coloring). An interesting fact is that the American Bridge Company built the 25 de Abril Bridge and also the San Francisco Bay Bridge – but not the Golden Gate.  The story is often confused due to the similarities to the Golden Gate. 

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1.   A Vida Portuguesa: A home store filled with soaps, note cards, kitchen items- like vinegars and sea salts and the most beautiful display of packaged sardines – and so much more.  I purchased a soap that smells of oak moss for my bathroom and every time I use it I am brought back to Portugal. The smell is intoxicating. 

I also like the check out the New York Times Travel section before traveling.  Just before I left, they published articles on Porto and Lisbon.  So check them out online.  Here are two links: 36 Hours in Porto  and 36 Hours in Lisbon.  There is also a great article from Architectural Digest on Lisbon and from Elle Decor on Porto.

Portugal seems to be hot on people’s travel lists these days!  Very easy to get around (Uber is everywhere) and there are great accommodation options (we rented two great Airbnb houses).  Move Portugal high to the list of your next travels.  I can’t wait to visit again someday.

From Russia with Love

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I am just back from a trip to Russia.  Mostly St. Petersburg with a touch of Moscow.

I had so much on my mind when dreaming of the trip.  Visiting the Hermitage and seeing Red Square.  Trying borscht.  Vodka and caviar.  Doctor Zhivago. 18th and 19th century neoclassical buildings. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Tchaikovsky.  The list goes on and on.


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I have put together my TOP 10 LIST for Russia.  Naturally, there are so many more things that one could add to this list, but I am trying for an edited version!

10. Hire a great guide.  Olga Bycheck in St. Petersburg and Lana Maximova in Moscow. Both came highly recommended by several friends who had toured with them.  This will save you time standing in lines, worrying about details and you won’t end up getting lost!  Feel free to email me to for their contacts!

9. Take a boat trip around the canals and Niva river of St. Petersburg.  There are many tour type boats to choose from, or you can hire your own private boat.  Seeing the city from this vantage point is definite worth your while.

8. Eat and drink.  Check out the view from the rooftop bar at the W Hotel, Mansarda (also a great view), Tarkhun, Probka and also the sister restaurant Jerome, and – last but not to be forgotten – check out Duo.  Try caviar, vodka and borscht.  I learned that there were two types of borscht- hot and cold.  I tried the both. Both interesting in their own way.

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7. Allocate enough time to see all of the Hermitage…and wear some walking shoes.  By the end of the day, I had walked over 10 miles!   The buildings go on and on (as do the collections.)  They have a special opening one hour before general opening – opt for this and you will avoid the lines.  The museum is also open late on Wednesday nights.  Another great way to avoid the crowds. Wednesday nights the golden peacock clock is in operation (but make sure to check the schedule online as I think that it changes in winter).

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6. Go during the White Nights (from around June to July).  St. Petersburg is the northernmost city with a population over 1 million. St. Petersburg is located at 59 degrees 57′ North.  (roughly on the same latitude the southern tip of Greenland). Due to such a high latitude the sun does not descend below the horizon deep enough for the sky to darken.

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5. A day trip to Peterhof.  You can take the hydrofoil here.  Explore the gardens.  Make a point to book and see the grotto (this is an extra ticket)  from this area you get the best view of The Grand Cascade. Go to Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) to see Catherine’s Palace and the Great Hall – I have never seen so much gold in my life!  Walk around the Chinese gardens and see The Cameron Gallery.

4. See a ballet.  I booked months ahead of time online.  Swan Lake.  Seemed apropos while in Russia.  It was absolute perfection.  Quite honestly the best I have ever seen.  A tip: there is a small cafe inside. You can enjoy a light snack before or during intermission and book a table to have a glass of champagne ready for you.

3. My trip to Moscow was very short – but be sure to see the Kremlin, Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral. Have lunch at Gum department store and walk around the shopping area.  The new Rem Koolhaas-designed Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Gorky Park is worth checking out as well as the Muzeon Park (where you will find a sculpture garden with Soviet era works).  I took the The Sapsan high-speed train between the two cities.

2. Seeing the subway stations in St. Petersburg and Moscow.  This is a must.  It might sound strange, but just jump on a subway and get off at the next stop to admire the interiors. Each is a unique museum in itself.  Note: try to avoid this subway tour during rush hour so you can really get a good view.

1. Make sure to spend some time walking through the Summer Gardens in St. Petersburg.  The garden is one of the oldest, dating back to the early 18th century. You can stroll with a cup of tea or ice cream cone.  Situated on the southern bank of the Neva at the head of the Fontanka, it is famous for its cast iron railings and marble sculptures.

 

WESLEY GOES TO PARIS

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Just returned from Paris and just had to share the photos of a lucky little guy that got to tag along with me.

Since France doesn’t have any quarantine laws (and the French love dogs), I thought, “Why the heck not?”

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Wesley actually enhanced the experience.  People approached on the street to say bonjour to Wesley (frequently exposing my lack of French-speaking ability).  As you can see from the photos, he was kind of over the photo shoot at the Louvre.  He has a “enough already with the photos, dad!” look on his face.  After his time in Paris, Wesley enjoyed a lovely time in the country with very dear friends.

He is working on his French for his next trip to France.  In my next life I want to come back as Wesley the Westie!

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P.S. Before you think that I am some cruel dog owner, I want you to know that Wesley was under my plane seat or in my lap the whole flight.  I wouldn’t put my baby under the plane with the baggage!

Sir John Soane’s Museum

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Arranging travel plans and purchasing plane tickets is always a bit of a challenge.  While booking my latest adventure to Cape Town, South Africa (come back for more on this one!), I found myself with an afternoon to kill in London.  Numerous ideas of how to fill the afternoon layover danced in my head. Lunch at Harvey Nichols and some retail therapy (hello, AbFab)? Faced with a really short amount of time, I wanted to take advantage of every second.  The idea of sitting for hours on end at Heathrow – while suffering from jet lag – depressed me.

IMG_4242Have you every heard of the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London?  If not, you are not alone.  To me it is one of the most magical places on earth.  One of London’s most unexpected interiors – every aspect of which reflects its creator’s architectural ingenuity and extraordinary imagination.  My first visit to the Sir John Soane’s Museum was when I was 12 years old.   My family and I spent the winter holiday in London (then on to Stockholm to see family and friends).  At a very young age, I was fascinated by all of the “stuff” and the “cool collections”. A kid in a candy store kind of moment.  When I spent a year living in England, I would walk around the streets of London and frequently pop into the Soane on a Saturday afternoons. Admission was free, so I could spend hours exploring and studying the collections.   I truly believe that the museum played a role in my becoming a designer.

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I digress, I know.

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Sadly, the museum is closed on Mondays, so my heart sank a bit.  I sort of gave up on the idea.  Sort of. Wouldn’t it be a dream to explore on my own and be able to take photos? (I didn’t have any as part of my extensive photo collection).  I played this fantasy over and over in my head for years.  Due to a group of fabulous friends, with a lot of connections and a bit of luck thrown in, my dream came true.IMG_4276

This past Monday, I had the most marvelous adventure, complete with a personal guided tour by the new director.  Drawings and models of Soane’s projects mixed with collections of painting and antiquities.  Pinch me now.

IMG_4266Soane was a visionary who used his home as a laboratory for his ideas, the repository for his vast collections of 30,000 drawings; paintings including Canalettos, Hogarths and Turners; architectural models; Greek and Roman sculpture and Egyptian Antiquities; 10,000 rare books, including first editions of Milton and Shakespeare, as well as his very personal dwelling space.

 

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No discussion of Soane’s work would be complete without mentioning his use of light. The Museum is filled with mirrors, domes, fantastic ceilings and skylights with colored glass, used not only to light the rooms but also to create dramatic effects and to highlight the numerous plaster casts and marble fragments that are artistically arranged in every available space throughout the house.

 

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Due to his foresight in leaving his home to the public by Act of Parliament in 1833, Soane’s house and its contents survive today, exactly as they were in his time, giving the visitor a rare glimpse into a middle class home of the period.

I highly suggest the next time you are in London that you pop into view the collections.   It’s a one-of-a-kind boutique museum, filled with charm, character and stories around every corner.  I think that you will see why I have been enamored with the space for so many years.   You can also learn more about the Soane Foundation by clicking HERE.

BACK FROM MAINE

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Getting back from a trip is always hard. Too many things to catch up on.  But at least there are the memories! How about these food memories.

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Lobster rolls, fresh blueberries and strawberries and soft serve ice cream. It’s fun to indulge while away. Now time to get back to the normal routine!

OUT OF THE OFFICE

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I have been in Maine for the last week.  This makes the forth year in a row that I’ve made the trip to visit with friends.  (Does four years a tradition make?)  You may recall my mentioning this before.  I love this time of year.  The end of summer and the start to fall.  You can see the leaves just starting to change.  Pops of vivid oranges and deep reds.

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Wesley is proving to be such a great traveler.  Here he met his first lobster.  I not sure if he really understood this odd-looking creature.  I am sure glad that the lobster had his claws banded.  Otherwise, I think a certain Westie would have had his nose in an unwanted grip!

ISTANBUL TOP 10 LIST

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As promised last week, I have put together my top 10 list for Istanbul.  The city is so immense that naturally this list isn’t going to cover it all.

But it’s a start with some of my tips and hidden little gems.  So here we go…

10.  Take a boat trip on the Bosporus.  It’s a great way to get your bearings and enjoy the view along the way.  We opted for the 2 hour trip, that goes up one side and then back down the other.  We timed it for a late afternoon so that we could enjoy the views against the setting sun.  There are other boat trips that you can take where you can jump on and off at the different stops and explore.  That’s definitely going to be a must for my next trip.

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9.  Take a trip to the Asian side of the city for the day.  One of the best lunches that I can remember having in the recent past was at Ciya Sofasi.  We sampled cold salad plates, grilled meats and some of the freshest produce from the trip.  The surrounding area really lets you see how the locals live.  Explore the Beylerbeyi Palace (especially the gardens and views) and take a drive to the top of Camilca Hill for a fantastic view.  You might want to consider hiring a car and driver/guide for your day trip.  We located the guide (Isan Aknur) that guided Anthony Bourdain on his gustatory tour of Istanbul.  Isan will make you laugh and show you a lot of non-touristy locations, tailored to your interests (food, design, history, etc.)

8. Try drinking Raki.  It is an unsweetened, anise flavored alcoholic drink (sort of similar to French Pastis or Greek Ouzo) made of twice-distilled grapes and aniseed.

7.  Visit Topkapi.  This is a half day at least.  Make sure to not miss the harem section (which was my favorite) and when you are exhausted have lunch at the restaurant.  The view is spectacular.

6.  Turkish towels.  I will admit that I filled a whole suitcase with the most beautiful bath and hand towels.  I loved the detailing and color options with the great tassel detail.  I know that when I look at them hanging in my bathroom, I will have fond memories of the trip for many years to come.

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5.  Drink freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.  This one actually happened by accident.  I was seeking change from a street cart vendor that had piles of pomegranates.  He talked me into a glass and I was addicted.  They cut the pomegranate in half and hand squeeze it in a large juice press.  The flavor is out of this world. The bottled grocery store variety here doesn’t even come close.

4.  Hamam.  Spending some time relaxing at a Turkish bath was the perfect way to pass an afternoon.  I opted for the ritual/traditional service where I was scrubbed and exfoliated as I lounged on the hot marble slabs.  I ended having the whole place to myself for the afternoon.  I was so glad that a friend suggested Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam. Every detail was exquisite following a recent 7 year restoration.

3. The Spice Market.  Vendors with cheeses, olives and stacks of spices.   I found all kinds of spices to pack for my suitcase.  I can’t wait to start cooking with these soon.

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2.  Explore the Cukurcuma section.   One of the most charming areas filled with vintage and antique store.  The standout favorite was A La Turca which was filled with accessories, rugs and hidden gems.  Have coffee at Holy Coffee.  Dinner at Munferit is a must (I can still taste the couscous with squid ink and sea bass with fennel!)

1. Hagia Sofia.  After having studied it in art history classes and seen awe-inspiring pictures for years, finally seeing this majestic landmark in person was a dream come true.

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