Flaneuring Florence's Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

By Richard White, November 5, 2014

Like most European cities, Florence's city centre has several markets, some are more focused on food, others on fashion and some even have a weekly or monthly flea market.  For example, when visiting Frankfurt, we always try to make sure we are there for their Saturday flea market along the Main River, as it is a great place to shop and people watch. In Florence, you have your choice of several different markets depending on the day of the week. 

Everyday Markets

Mercato Centrale is both and open air and indoor market. The open air area is full of vendors selling everything from socks to trinkets and like most Florence markets a plethora of leather goods.  The ornate two-story Mercato Centrale building was built in 1874, after the Mercato Vecchio was demolished to make way for the Piazza della Repubblicaa few blocks away.  Here you find lots of permanent vendors as well as upscale touristy restaurants and shops.  For those of you familar with Vancouver's Granville Island Market, or Seattle's Pike market there are many similarities.

Piazza Ghilberti Market (food and clothing) is also open everyday and given its location on the east side of the City Centre you get to mix a bit more with the locals than the Mercanto Centrale. It too has an outside stall area that is very animated and an indoor space.  Best to get there early, as it can get quite crowded later in the morning and most of the action is pretty much over by noon or 1 pm.

Specialty Markets

On your way to the Ghilberti Market you might want to stop by the small antique market on the Piazza del Ciompi which operates from Monday to Saturday opening about 10 am the best we can tell.  Seems like the vendors open whenever they like.  The entire piazza looks a bit ramshackled, but there is a good selection of second-hand stores to explore.  

The Flower Market takes place on Thursday morning under the colonnade of the Palace at the Piazza della Republic.  It is not a very large market, probably only a 15 to 20 minute "look see" for most people so combine it with some other activities that day.  It is very colourful and refreshing as Florence's City Centre has very little vegetation. 

On the third sunday of the month at the Piazza Santo Spirito is a craft and food market.  The crafts are very limited, but there are a few things you won't see at other markets, like the lady hand-weaving baskets or the hippy guy making hand-made shoes.  We were told this is where the local foodies shop.   

The third weekend of the month there is also an antique market at the Fortezza de Basso / garden.  Unfortunately, we didn't get there so can't comment on the quality of the experience.

World's Longest Flea Market

Every Tuesday from 7 am to 2 pm you will find the mother of all flea markets in Florence's Le Cascine Park along the Arno River. It is a linear market that goes for over 3 kilometres with vendors on both sides.  It took us almost two hours to do one side and we weren't looking at everything. While some vendors might stay there until 2 pm, we saw some beginning to pack up just after noon. There are a few food vendors, but it is most clothing vendors - not designer knockoffs, but rather mostly new cheap clothing, shoes, accessories, and kitchen products. This is not a "made in Italy" fashionista experience and not a place for vintage treasure hunters.  

That being said there were some treasures to be had if you were prepared to dig in the pile of scarfs. Brenda did manage to find two vintage scarves for 1 euro each and a modern Italian made sweater/coat for 40 euros.  

It was a great walk in the park, a chance to mingle with the locals and people watching. What more could you ask for? 

Postcards: Le Cascine Flea Market

The east entrance to the Le Cascine Park Flea Market is marked by this tear drop road marking. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but the rain soon stopped and it was a very pleasant walk along the tree-lined market.  The linear market was easy to negotiate as you just go up one side and dow the other. 

Brenda checking out the racks of clothing.

  I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

I am looking for something for my sweet tooth.

  Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

Brenda had her eye on this cool dude for awhile. Yes that is his bike.

  Everyone loves a flea market

Everyone loves a flea market

Brenda spotted with pile of scarves and she was on it like a dog on a bone.

  What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

What's a flea market without The roasted chestnuts to enjoy.

Postcards from Ghilberti Market 

The Bead Lady was doing a brisk business.

Inside the butcher was fun to watch. 

We loved the fact that people of all ages were enjoying the market.

Postcards from Piazza Ciompi Market 

Don't be put off by the appearance of the shops there are some treasures to be had.  

Postcards from Piazza Santo Spirito

This piazza dates back to 1252 when Augustinian monks built a monastery and church. Today it is a bohemian hang-out with restaurants, cafes and a market. 
 

We awarded this vendor the top prize for visual presentation. 

Shoe maker. 

Basket weaving. 

These bronze fragments are a war memorial.  German soldiers at the end of WWII conducting public killing of freedom fighters and political opponents in the piazza and streets surrounding it. 

Postcards from Mercanto Centrale

 

The indoor market is more like a food court in a mall or office building than a farmers' market. 

Looking down from the second floor restaurant you get a better sense that this isn't your quaint local farmer's market.  

Postcards from the Flower Market

 

The flower market has one of the prettiest spaces of any market I have ever seen.

Florence's flower market adds a burst of colour and plant life that is absent from most of the City Centre. 

Herb vendor

Last Word

One of the things all of Florence's markets have in common is that they are enjoyed by everyone from young children to seniors.  More and more urban planners and designers are cognizant of the 8/80 rule that states; if a place or space is attractive to kids 8 and younger, as well as 80 and older, it will be attractive to everyone in between.  While exploring the markets and streets of Florence, I have seen more seniors hobbling with canes along the busy and bumpy streets, sidewalks and piazzas than I have seen anywhere else in the world.  Kudos to them...I don't know how they do it.  

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Dublin: FAB fun in The Liberties

On some of the Dublin tourist maps you will see a large pink area titled "The Liberties / Antique Shop Quarter," but there is no information on where the shops are within the quarter.  The Dublin shopping map doesn't have any information about shopping in the area either.  But with a little digging, we found out that there are a dozen or so antique and vintage shops along Frances Street and just a block away on Meath, is the Liberty Market (Thursday to Saturday). 

The name ( Liberties) is derived from jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands that were part of the City of Dublin, but still preserving their own jurisdiction.  Hence, "liberties." The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty) - hence Meath and Thomas streets. The current Liberties quarter's  boundaries are between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.

We decided to check out The Liberties district on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October and had a FAB time.  Starting at the north end of Francis Street, we were surprised to find a large surface parking lot tucked away behind a building that was full of graffiti art reminding us of Boise, Idaho's popular tourist attraction - Freak Alley. 

  Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Just one of a dozen or more graffiti murals at the north entrance to Dublin's Antique Row.

Dublin's Antique Row

Walking just a bit further, we arrived at Dublin's  Antique Row beginning with O'Sullivan's Antiques - look for the building with the piano hanging off the side of the building.  This is the spot for serious antique collectors and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable.  We  were surprised and impressed with the collection of 1950s whale bone vertebrae. 

A few doors down is Michael Mortell's impressive store of unique mid-century modern furniture and accessories. As you proceed down the block, proceed down  the block to discover more antique stores, second hand stores, a gallery and even a larger Oxfam Charity shop (what we call thrift stores).  We definitely enjoyed our stroll. 

At the end of Francis Street,  turn left and you are at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The afternoon sun provided us with a wonderful sun-drenched perspective.  We stopped for lunch at the tiny Cathedral Cafe with its six tables.  It was a busy place, the owner cooking and serving up the tasty meals - we were exhausted just watching her.

  O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

O'Sullivan's Antiques with funky delivery men climbing the wall with the dangling piano. 

Inside Michael Mortell's exquisite mid-century modern boutique.

  The antiques spill out onto the street. 

The antiques spill out onto the street. 

Cat Meow was full of shoppers searching for vintage fashion finds. 

Anonymous vintage / retro store is a must see.

Indeed we had a FAB time on Francis Street.

Meath Street Madness

Watered and fed, we were ready to tackle Meath Street, which we were told by one local is a bit gritty or in his terms "Dublin unpolished."  We turned the corner and were immediately hit by a wave of people and cars -  the street was like Costco at Christmas.  I think this is what Jane Jacobs (urban living '60s guru) was talking about when she coined the phrase sidewalk ballet. However, in this case it was a "street ballet" with cars, teens, seniors, couples, families and the odd horse sharing both the street and sidewalk space. 

In addition to the eclectic shops, bakeries, groceries and butchers was the Liberty Market with its cheesy flea market stalls selling everything from lamp shades to purses. It was urban chaos at its best. We loved mingling with the locals. 

There is also the historic St. Catherine's Church mid-block with the secret Our Lady of Immaculate Conception grotto at the back which we discovered by accident.  It is a wonderful place for a little solitude and reflection.  Here met Debbie, who comes often to light a candle and say a pray for her recently deceased husband. 

  Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Just a block away, locals of all ages were shopping up a storm on Meath Street.

Liberty Market purse vendor's wares.

  Somebody found some good deals.

Somebody found some good deals.

Our Lady of Immaculate conception grotto.

Horse History 

Once we got to the top of Meath Street at Thomas Street, we headed east (left) to find a pub. Just by chance, I looked up an alley (I like to do that) and saw a horse.  Curious, we wandered up the alley and got chatting with an older gent who, with his young sidekick, who were cleaning up. Happy to share the alley's history, he told us it has been home to stables for over 300 years. At present, the stables house 30 horses for the City Centre's horse-drawn buggies.  You won't find this on any tourist map.

Horse alley where horses and people have shared the space for over 300 years.

  Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Little did we know this same two-year old male horse was a bit of a media celebrity for his unexpected visit to a local horse race betting establishment. 

Last Word

We had a FAB Saturday afternoon hanging with the locals,  just a few blocks away from the hoards of tourists that invade Dublin's City Centre everyday. 

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Tri-Cities: Washington's Big Bang City!

For many, summer is synonymous with road trips. Somewhat contrarians that we are, fall and spring spell roadtripping for us.  Too often when on a road trip, the tendency is to focus on the destination, instead of the journey.  We like to make a habit of stopping at one or two off-the-highway towns and cities every day when travelling. 

One of the highlights of our 8,907 km, six week, USA Fall 2013 road trip was our stay in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland (PKR) aka Washington’s Tri-Cities.  Though not on our list of specific places to visit, we decided to get off the interstate and explore.  The next thing we knew, three days were spent exploring these cities and their surroundings.  We were very lucky fortunate it happened to be was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday (keep reading to find out why).

Where to stay?

As luck would have it, we found the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House conveniently located just off the highway and right on the Columbia River.  Check in was quick and we had a great room with view of the river and the park.  It was an easy walk from there to The Parkway (downtown Richland) with its boutiques, restaurants and even a great cinema. The backyard of the hotel was the mighty Columbia River and its walkway.  There is even the Columbia Point golf course just down the road.

Mornings

Check out the farmers’ market - on Fridays, The Parkway street is closed from 9 am to 1 pm when it transforms into a farmers’ market from early June until the end of October. This popular market attracts thousands of locals and tourists; this year’s opening day attracted a record 5,000 visitors alone. So, get there early. 

Richland's downtown farmers' market

We had never seen golden raspberries before. It was weird as they tasted pretty much the same as the red ones.

Pasco’s Farmers’ Market is more traditional. It’s long, open-air pavilion structure allows vendors to sell right out of their trucks. Located in downtown Pasco, a city with a rich Hispanic culture, the market has an authentic farmers’ atmosphere – everything is definitely fresh from the field.  The market also has a carnival feel with lots of fun, kid activities. Markets here are Wednesday (8 am to 1 pm) and Saturdays (8 am to 12 pm) from early May to late October. While at the market, make sure to take some time to explore its downtown - great windows!

Pasco's Farmers Market consists of two open-air structures. 

We loved window licking in downtown Pasco.  The windows were as good as we have seen in Paris, Chicago or New York City. 

You won't find this in Paris or London. 

The windows were like works of art.

Another morning activity would be to check out Country Mercantile on Crestloch Road in Pasco just north of the airport.  In many ways this family-owned and operated food store it is like a market, offering lots of fresh produce, as well a gourmet jellies, sauces, honey and fresh baked goods an amazing selection of handmade fudge and chocolate – even homemade salsa chips, tamales and enchiladas There is also a deli bistro area for lunch if you so choose.  Country Mercantile would be good to combine with Pasco Farmer’s Market, especially for foodies. If you are travelling with kids this is definitely a place to go at they have mazes, rides and other family activities. 

  Country Mercantile store.

Country Mercantile store.

  Candy apples anyone?

Candy apples anyone?

  Hay bale maze

Hay bale maze

Vintage children rides.

One of the things locals love to do in the morning (before it gets too hot) is to hike up Badger Mountain.  Water sports are also popular in the morning as you can beat the crowds. Hiking and biking trails are everywhere, in Chamna National Preserve there is the Amon Basin, Tapteal Bend and Tapteal Trail.  There is also the Sacagawea Heritage Tail - a 23 mile paved waterfront trail system that links all three cities. 

A good website to check for outdoor activities and organized tours is The Reach where you will find things like “Hops to Bottle”, “Farm to Table” and Jet Boat History tours of the Columbia River. 

Sacagawea Heritage Trail just behind the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House. Note the tourists enjoying the swinging bench that allow you to watch people along the trail and the river. 

While walking along the trail we heard some music so we wandered towards it and found a Saturday afternoon "sock hop" at a fun 50s style diner. Very cool!

Afternoons

An obvious “must do” is the Red Mountain Wine tour. Do your own tour or book an organized tour and let someone else do the driving.  Red Mountain is one of the smallest American Viticultural Areas (AVA) at only 4,040 acres, yet it offers 24 different wineries for touring and tasting.  It has a very distinctive climate with very warm days, but cool evenings (due to the sharp bend in the Yakima River and the shadows of the Red Mountain). It is well known for growing some of the best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes not only in Washington, but in the entire USA.  More information can be found at www.redmountainava.com

If you are really into wines, we recommend staying on the mountain. There are several options but our recommendation would be one of the two cottages at Tapteil Vineyard Winery.

Entrance to the lovely Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard at Red Mountain. 

Terra Blanca's underground storage. 

Terra Blanca's million dollar view.

This is the patio at the Tapteil Vineyard Winery with one of the cottages below that you can rent.  

If you don’t have time to drive out to Red Mountain, Tulip Lane in Kennewick offers a great alternative with its three lovely wineries –Tagaris, Barnard Griffin and Bookwalter.  Spend a lovely afternoon wandering the vineyards and tasting the wines.  We did and it truly was lovely.

The ceiling of the Barnard Griffin Winery is decorate with this colourful and playful ameba-like clouds.  On Saturday nights you can enjoy the wine and live music. 

The Uptown Plaza, in Richland is a hidden gem; you won’t read about this in any tourist information.  A retro ‘60s outdoor shopping plaza, it has been reborn as an antique/vintage mall. For any “treasure hunter,” this is the place to go for a half-day of browsing heaven. Caution: don’t go in the morning as some of the shops don’t open until later in the day.

Uptown Plaza's vintage signage with the atomic particles on top. Everything is about the atom.

Becky's is just one of several second hand stores that sell everything including the kitchen sink. 

Brenda is going in....

The Uptown Plaza is also home to Desserts by Kelly

The Atomic Bombe Cake is to die for...literally!

A trip to the Tri-Cities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production site just outside Richland.   Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, it is the site of the first, full-scale plutonium production reactor and is where the plutonium was made for the atomic bomb that detonated over Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

This September the B Reactor celebrates it's 70th birthday. Information on celebration programs will be posted at http://www.ourhanfordhistory.org/

Tours of the B Reactor are available on specific days throughout the summer.  Check the website http://manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov/ beforehand. (Note: All tour participants must be 12 years of age to participate and if under 18, a parent/guardian must sign a release form).

The Hanford site is also home to other centres for scientific research including the LIGO Hanford Observatory where they are trying to observe gravitational waves of cosmic origin that were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.  If you have a budding Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) in your family, this is a “must do.” We did and my head is still spinning with talk of neutron stars, black holes, cosmic gravitational waves, ultra high vacuum systems and interferometers.  Unfortunately, public tours happen only on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of the month, so you plan your visit carefully – we were just lucky.

I am not even going to try to explain what this is. On the LIGO tour I thought I understood what they were trying to do, but afterwards my understanding just evaporated.  This is stuff for the Big Bang Theory boys!

Inside the LiGO laboratory.

Just a little computer capacity. 

It is like something from a science fiction movie.

Evenings & Eats

We’d suggest that you plan for long leisurely dinners as part of your Tri-City visit.  Our best find for fine dining was at the JBistro at the Bookwalter Winery along Tulip Lane. Offering both indoor and outdoor dining, the atmosphere can be both, casual or romantic (especially by the fire pits) and there is live music Wednesday to Saturday. The signature dish is their Wagyu ribeye, served with the Truffle set (truffle butter, black truffle salt and white truffle oil) for dipping.  If the Copper River salmon is on the menu it will be a mouthwatering choice and the Crème Brulee satisfied even my “sweet tooth.”

Cheese Louise is a great lunch spot along The Parkway in Richland. I loved my grilled Apple & Brie Panini and Brenda couldn’t stop raving about her Cranberry Bleu Salad. This is also a great place to create your own gourmet picnic lunch with a good selection of cheeses, breads, seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as drinks.  The staff (aka cheese mongrels) are happy to help create your custom picnic.

Cheese Louise 

Spudnut (you gotta love the name) is the “must do” place for breakfast or lunch.  This 60-year old donut shop with a difference (donuts are made with potato flower) is located in the Uptown Plaza so go for a donut brunch and then browse the shops in the early afternoon.  Don’t be surprised if you have to share your table with a huge tray of donuts either!

How many donuts would you like sir?

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers a great family ambience, complete with a selection of board games.  We went on a Sunday night and it was great people- watching fun.  The food and brews were great with wood-fired pizzas, an Atomic Giant Soft Pretzel in the symbol of an atom with orbiting electrons, Atomic Ale’D Red Potato soup and B-Reactor Brownie caught our eye and didn’t disappoint.

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers some unique beers.

Even the pretzels reference the atomic age.

Frost Me Sweet is a quaint bistro in Richland best known best for its cupcakes but has a good and varied menu. The people-watching here is spectacular too.

Last Word:

If you love wine, food and are into the Big Bang Theory TV show like we are, Washington’s Tri-Cities is a must place to visit.  For more info go to Visit Tri-Cities.

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Bowness: Past & Present

Richard White, August 2, 2014 (An edited version of this blog appeared in the Calgary Herald's Neighbours titled "Busy Bowness rides into prosperous future."

Did you know that Main Street Bowness, now Bowness Road was once called Highway 8?  Did you know there once was a Bowness Golf & Country Club (located just off of the TransCanada Highway near the Greenwood/Greenbriar trailer park) and that Bowness High School site was the Bowness Flying Field from 1914 to 1929.  It always amazes me how much history there is in Calgary and how our neighbourhoods have evolved.

Early 20th century postcard of Bowness Park lagoon.

Downtown mural

Today, Bowness is perhaps best known as the home of Bowness Park and for its cycling culture, both motor and pedal. The 13th Tour de Bowness, takes place the August 2, 3 and 4th.  Saturday is the road race at Horse Creek in Cochrane, Sunday is the hill climb at Canada Olympic Park and Monday is the Criterium (street race, with 7 turns) in Bowness.  However, on any given weekend Main Street Bowness can look like the Tour de France with colourful logoed cyclist stopping at Cadence Café for coffee, breakfast, lunch or a snack.   Cadence is one of Calgary’s hidden café gems and one of our best people watching spots.

Cadence Cafe - super fine coffee.

Downtown Bowness is also home to one of the world’s largest cycling shops – Bow Cycle – with its 24,000 square foot store right on Bowness Road, as well as a 16,000 warehouse.  Bow Cycle has over 800 frames and 500 bikes in stock at any given time. For the road warriors, it has over 75 mountain bikes over $4,000 and 50 road bikes over $5,000 and 10 bikes over $15,000 in stock.  It is little wonder Bowness is home to Calgary’s cycling community. 

  Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle bike shop.

Bowness Cycle - something for everyone.

Calgary’s paddling community is also attracted to downtown Bowness to check what’s new at Undercurrent Sports – Alberta’s largest paddling store and school.  This 6,500 square foot store houses more than 200 canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and the gear you need to go with them. 

  Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Undercurrents - perhaps Calgary's most colourful shop.

Another feature that makes Main Street Bowness unique is Hexters Rock’n Roll / Blues Lounge with its signature Sunday afternoon “Motown Revival” hosted by Gary Martin.  If you haven’t been and you like mid-century music and dancing this is the place to go.

If you are a shopper and you like the “thrill of the hunt” the Bowness WINS thriftstore is for you. Located kiddy corner to Bow Cycle is a small boutique store that often has treasures just waiting for you take home.  We found a great still-life drawing by Calgary artist Bruce Pashak.

WINS Thrift Store - where the treasures are.

Absolute Audio is one of Calgary’s leading audiophile spots with staff who are not only knowledgeable but simply love music.  In addition to all of the latest digital equipment, Absolute also offers a great selection of vinyl cleaners including the Audio Deske of Germany’s that involves giving your old records a “bath” and then some sort of “micro fiber drums” thingy – check it out!

Bowtown Music is the new kid on the block. Opening in 2011 it has developed a reputation as the place to go for ukuleles in Calgary.  In addition to lessons (guitar, piano, singing, drums, ukulele, banjo, mandolin and violin), Bowtown is developing a community space for ukulele and drum circles. 

Bowtown Music

Heritage Street Festival

Visiting Bowness is like travelling to a small prairie town with its wide Main Street lined with shops that are mostly one story tall.   It even has angled parking, how authentic is that? Like a small town there is even a hotel that isn’t a hotel, rather a pub and apartments.  There is even a charming branch of the Calgary Public Library on Main Street, located in the old Bow Motorcycle building.

In addition to the Criterium road race on Monday, August 4th, (annual event on the August long weekend) the 60+ merchants of the Bowness Business Revitalization Zone also hosting a family oriented Heritage Street Festival from 11 am to 4 pm.  Everyone is welcome to come and discover Calgary’s other Main Street.


Bowness Library use to be Bow Cycle's motorcycle, skidoo, seadoo and ATV store. The wheel with the spokes is still part of the facade and sign. 

Does this not look like something from a main street in a small prairie town?

This has small prairie town written all over it. 

Criterium fun....

A 24 hour quickie in Santa Fe

Our six-week Spring Break 2013, 8,907 km road trip itinerary called for 24 hours in Santa Fe. Wanting to make the most of our quickie visit, we were up early to check out of the lovely Parq Central Hotel in Albuquerque and hit the road for the 90-minute drive.  We wanted a full day given Santa Fe is a mecca for culture vultures like us.

Though we knew arriving early meant we’d get there before anything opened, the plan was to do some window licking before the shops opened and get a lay of the land before the hordes of tourists invaded the city centre.

The early bird gets the art!

As luck would have it, we saw a Goodwill sign on the outskirts. It was open so we decided to check it out. I quickly found five large (40” by 30’) unsigned abstract colour field paintings on stretched canvas seemingly all by the same artists. It was tough to narrow it down to two, the maximum that would fit into our already treasure-filled Nissan Altima.  We chose the two deep psychotic blue pieces, one with some illegible ghost writing adding a poetic element to the painting. The second painting has an even richer blue background wash with just a few bright white markings that stimulate the imagination to develop and play with different interpretations. Oh yes, there were just $15 each. 

Like O'Keeffe's paintings both of the Goodwill "unknown artist" paintings evoke a sense of the spiritual, sensual and mystery of nature. 

O’Keeffe Museum / Prison

I had been looking forward all trip to seeing the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum collection and comparing her work to Canada’s goddess of art and nature - Emily Carr.  I was surprised at how small the museum was; it seemed just as I was getting into the artist’s work it was over.  I was also not impressed with the number of security guards, it seemed as much a prison as a museum. 

That being said the museum does a good job of telling O’Keeffe’s life story and motivates one to head out and explore the desert.   

The Central Plaza

The central Santa Fe Plaza is not only a National Historic Landmark, but the “heart of Santa Fe.” Many downtown plazas and squares make this claim but in Santa Fe it is most definitely true.  While we were there, a military band was playing played on the bandshell with a block-long row of local artisans selling their art and crafts across the street.  A wonderful array of small restaurants and shops, line the streets around the plaza, as well as museums and the iconic Cathedral making it very pedestrian friendly.

The Plaza block has been Santa Fe’s commercial, social and political center since 1610. Initially a walled fort, over time it has evolved as the city and the economy of the area changed.  Like all good public spaces, it must adapt to changes over time.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

Though the current cathedral was built over a 17 year period from 1869 to 1886, there has been a church on this site since 1626.  Its statuesque Romanesque Revival architecture with rounded arched entrance, Corinthian columns, truncated square towers and large rose window above the entrance stands in sharp contrast to the surrounding low-rise, minimalist Pueblo adobe buildings surrounding it.

The inside the Cathedral has all the grandeur of a great European church with sky-high ceilings, rich stained glass windows and other decorative elements.  As we entered, the beacon of light shone brightly above the altar while the rest of the building was shrouded in shadow yielding a heavenly, resurrection quality that was a little eerie. The church was full of interesting art and artefacts, making it as much a museum as a place of worship.   

These statues have a lot in common with figures in the various exhibitions at the International Folk Art Museum. 

More links between folk art and religious art at the cathedral.

Santa Fe is rich in history and has attracted major artists from around the world to visit and create here.

Kateri Tekakwitha  (1656 to 1680) the first Indian of North America to become a Saint.

Window Licking

One of the most fun things (at least to us) to do in any city is window lick (the French term for window shopping translates literally into “window licking”). Most of Santa Fe’s downtown shops are upscale and to be honest, are out of our price range. We did pop into a few galleries and the two paintings we got earlier in the day at the Goodwill would easily go for $5,000 or more if they were signed and we had some providence.

As a former, public gallery curator, I know our new paintings were done by someone with experience; not the work of some “Sunday afternoon” painter.  The thrill of the hunt is to find great artworks in off the beaten path places.  They will tell you at the upscale galleries “you should buy what you like!” Well the true test of that is buy something at a thrift store and hang it up alongside works of major Canadian artists like Maxwell Bates, Marion Nicol and Bev Tosh or international artists like Miro, Alechinsky or Appel.  It is interesting to integrate “high” and “low” brow art in your home.

window licking 1
  While not technically a window, I found these courtyard sculptures by looking through a glassless opening in a wall next to the sidewalk. 

While not technically a window, I found these courtyard sculptures by looking through a glassless opening in a wall next to the sidewalk. 

Lunch

Based on a hot tip from Calgary friends, we wandered just off the Plaza to The Shed. The fourth generation of the Shed family serves up some of the most creative and authentic Northern New Mexico cuisine.  We opted for the traditional Enchilada Plate and the Pozole and definitely weren’t disappointed.   The Shed is well known for its red and green chilli sauce.  Before we left were had a tutorial on importance of always asking, “Is the red or green chile sauce the hottest today?”  If you want to eat like local, order your “Christmas style” i.e. a little of both.  The Shed was packed with both tourists and locals, making it a fun place for lunch and people watching. 

Lunch

Afternoon on Museum Hill

Located a few kilometers outside of Santa Fe is Museum Hill so named because it is home to four major museums and they sit on a hill with great views.  You could easily spend all day here, but we had only the afternoon.

For us, the museum that held the most interest was the Museum of International Folk Art which houses the largest collection of folk art in the world.  It did not disappoint.

We quickly found the huge Girard Wing (it could be a museum on its own) and the Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, a permanent exhibition with an astounding collection of 1,000s of toys, miniature figurines, complete villages, masks and textiles from 100 different countries.  It is perhaps the most colourful, playful and delightful exhibition I have ever experienced.  It is astounding how much folk art Alexander and Susan Girard collected starting in1939. Brenda had to drag me out!

And it was a good thing she did as there was much, much more to see. The Hispanic Wings Wooden Menagerie: Made in New Mexico (on until Feb 15, 2015) was a much more traditional folk art exhibition with singular, primitively carved animals and people.

The final exhibition, was Tako Kichi: Kite Crazy in Japan (on until July 27, 2014) explored the art of kite making and kite fighting.  The huge floor-to-ceiling (20 foot) kites were impressive works of art with their neon colours and expressionistic designs.  We don’t usually spend a lot of time watching the museum videos, but in this case, it was fascinating learning how the kites are made and the culture of kite-fighting.  Unfortunately, the day we were there, there were no kite-making workshops or kite flying on the plaza; that would have added another dimension to the experience.

The other museums on the hill are: the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (housing 70,000 artefacts from prehistoric to contemporary times), the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (an octagonal building inspired by the Navajos hooghan i.e. their traditional home) and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (3,700 objects from around the world from medieval time to modern world). There is a restaurant and several gift shops, and 

 

Just one of numerous miniature villages in the Girard Wing.

Larger fun folk art pieces.

An entire collection of angels.  There are strong links between folk art and religion. 

Just one of many displays of masks.

Life size folk art from Brasil. 

In the Gallery of Conscience there were a number of hands-on activities that related to home.  One was called "Find your place at the table" where visitors were invited to take a paper plate, draw their favourite meal on it and place it at the dinner table.  Another was for you to take a post-it and write on it as per the above image. The activities were simple to do, fun and thought-provoking.

Some of the I feel at home when...

Several large 20-foot kites were suspended from the ceiling, creating a very colourful and dramatic statement.  

Historic artwork illustrating the kite fighting tradition.

Still image from video that of kite fighting. 

Dinner at Whole Foods

 I am not sure what it is about Whole Foods, but ever since our Lincoln Park, Chicago Whole Foods experience, it seems wherever we go we have to check out the local Whole Foods and often have dinner there.  Perhaps it is because we get tired of restaurants and just want something that resembles a simple home-cooked meal.  Perhaps it is because of their quinoa salad has quickly become our favourite.   For $30, we can enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer, some interesting entrees, lovely fresh bread/roll and mouth-watering desserts. 

Where to stay

Sure, you could stay downtown and pay hundreds of dollars/night for a room. Or you could check out Hotels.com and get a last minute deal like we did at the Best Western Inn at Santa Fe for $70 including breakfast and parking. 

Sacred Places?

Some places, for some reason(s) have become sacred places for humans - both in the past and the present. Some places have an almost spiritual, transcendental magnetism about them. Santa Fe is often placed in this category, as is Sonoma, Arizona. Later in our road trip, someone said Livingston, Montana is their sacred place. I am not sure that Santa Fe is my sacred place, but perhaps 24 hours wasn’t enough time for Santa Fe to cast its spell on me.

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtown Salt Lake City: More Than A Temple!

A-mazing University of New Mexico Campus

Window licking in Portlandia

Cowtown: The GABEster Capital of North Amercia

 

 

 

Melrose: Phoenix's emerging vintage district?

Richard White April 7, 2014

We started the day in downtown Tempe (thanks to the Red Lion Tempe's free shuttle). As not much happening here, we hopped on the Metro (light rapid transit) for downtown Phoenix. After jumping out at the Central Avenue Station, we started to flaneur.  

We were immediately attracted to the huge Janet Echelman's 145 foot tall artwork that looks like a tornado floating over Civic Space Park. Then soon we found architect Richard Meier's striking Federal Courthouse building which we were allowed to wander the lobby after getting security clearance.  

"Her Secret is Patience" by Janet Echelman is constantly moving as it dances with the wind. It has become a city icon. 

As we continued to wander, we found City Hall, the Sports & Entertainment District (convention centre, performing arts centre, baseball stadium and basketball arena, with the associated bars and restaurants) and the uber cool Klimpton Hotel.  However, what we didn't find was any street life i.e. retail or cafe animation.  To be fair, it was Cesar Chavez Day so city employees had the day off . Nonetheless, you would expect to see some street life.  Checking with the locals and found out there is no department store, nor indoor or outdoor retail complexes and not much in the way of a cafe culture.  

Approaching the he Klimpton as it seemed the most artsy, hip place on the edge of downtown, we were advised to walk about a mile up Central Avenue to the Roosevelt Arts District.  We did and still no luck.  So we continued past the Phoenix Arts Museum, past the Central Library, still nothing other than more office buildings and a few condos and apartments.  Central Avenue is like one long linear office park. Later we discovered most of Phoenix is like one giant office park with all of the main streets lined with office buildings of various shapes, sizes and designs.

Finally, we did find a hidden gem - Heard Museum with its lovely cafe, museum and museum shops.  We stopped for lunch and to regroup and have lunch - had a great chestnut soup (a first), pork posole and pork tacos (with a nice zing). We decided we'd get back on the train and see if could spot anything at one of the 29 stations - luckily, we had the $2 all day pass.

Once on the train, the passengers quickly realized we were tourists. Soon, a young man started asking us questions and giving us ideas on where we should and should not go .  We were soon calling him the  "Train Concierge" to the amusement of his friends. 

We jumped off at the 7th Avenue and Camelback Road station based on information that there were some antique and vintage stores nearby. Once off the train, a woman who had obviously been listening to our train talk started walking with us and sharing what might be open and worth visiting. It definitely looked promising. 

While the sidewalks were deserted, the street had a hipster look to it with no new buildings, no offices, mostly a hodgepodge of older, small retail spaces. Unfortunately, several were closed on Monday. However, soon we came upon Modern on Melrose and finally we were in flaneur heaven - a 16,000 square store with tons of mid-century modern furniture, home accessories and a salvaging yard in the back. 

Below are some photos from our 3-hour exploration of 7th Avenue which, we later found out known as the Melrose District.  

MOM's mid-century looking sign doesn't disappoint. 

Inside MOM are curated vignettes of eclectic collections of vintage furniture and accessories. 

MOM also has 12,000 square foot back yard full of salvaged materials from various sources.  It is a goldmine for interior designers and DIYers.

Across the road from MOM is Joe's Diner and figs. A little further up the street are more dining options - a couple of Mexican restaurants and what looks like an Italian Restaurant that hasn't changed for over 50 years. 

Qcumberz doesn't look like much from the outside, but get inside and you find it is jam-packed with vintage and kitchy artifacts.

A peek Inside Qcumberz.

Vintage signs add to the authenticity of the street.

Flo's offered great quality and great prices for a thrift store. 

Next to Flo's on 7th is Zinnias at Melrose, a huge well-stocked warehouse of antiques and vintage by several vendors. As well as. there is a vintage clothing store tucked in the back.  

Found this old teeter totter in front of Zinnias.

Inside Zinnias, Brenda and I both smiled when we saw these green legs on the blue ladder.  

Last Word

This sign that greeted us as we entered Zinnias says it all and serves as our last word.

Nordstrom Last Chance: A feeding frenzy.

By Richard White, April 2, 2014

I love to use Google maps to check out what is close by to wherever we are staying.  A few nights ago when searching, I am sure I saw a Nordstrom Rack near Fashion Square in Scottsdale.  So when we found ourselves near the Square, we thought we'd check it out. 

We found the Nordstrom department store first, so went in to ask if there was a Nordstrom Rack nearby.  You'd think we had slapped them in the face based on the dirty look we got. In a huff, the staff person dialed a number, asked someone to give us directions and abruptly and curtly handed the phone to Brenda.  We found we were way off base and that it was 50 blocks to the east. Given it was 7 pm, we decided that destination would have to wait for another day.

Once home, I Googled Nordstrom Rack and up came Nordstrom's Last Chance page.  Though we had never heard of this concept, the same address as we had been told earlier so we thought this must be it.  The Last Chance concept is contrary to Nordstrom high-end full-service image in that all sales are final and "as is."  The product is out-of-season or returns that they would not resell in Nordstrom Rack or their department stores.  The concept intrigued us. 

After a hearty Red Lion (Tempe) breakfast, we decided to check out Nordstrom Last Chance and see what we could find along the way i.e. car flaneuring.  As we drove along Camelback Road, we continued to be amazed at the endless small office buildings that seem to populate all of the major roads in metro Phoenix.  

As we got close to where we thought Last Chance would be, we spotted a Nordstrom Rack so quickly parked and headed in.  As the store different look any different than other Nordstrom Racks and there were big signs telling you that you can return any purchases we knew we didn't have the right place.  Turns out the Nordstrom Last Chance was on the next block in another mall. We quickly hightailed over there.   

Feeding Frenzy

We quickly found the Last Chance and what could only be described as a shopping feeding frenzy.  In a space about the size of the Women's and Men's clothing and shoe sections of a TJ Maxx or a Winners, bargain hunters were grabbing at everything in sight. There were line ups at the fitting rooms and the cash registers. It was chaos, diametrically opposed to the Nordstrom department store the night before where you could hear a pin drop. 

There were no neat and tidy displays; shoes and clothing were toss all over the place like a sterotypical teenager's bedroom. People were trying clothes on in the aisle and sitting on the floor to try on shoes.  

As all sales are final, check carefully as there are stains and/or rips are common. Some items have evidence of wear thanks to Nordstrom's liberal return policy. However, for the savvy, shopper good deals are to be had.  I came away with a pair of ECCO golf shoes, slightly worn, for $20 that retail for $200.  Brenda snagged a pair of  Paul Green (German luxury footwear brand) leather shoes for $20, well below their $300 retail price.  She also got a BP(Nordstrom Store Brand) navy blue cardigan for $10.

Chatting with another shopper, Brenda learned she regularly travel all the way from New York as this is Nordstrom's ONLY Last Chance store (which I confirmed via twitter).  

When was the last time you were in a store and they closed an area for restocking in the middle of the day?  We were in the store for about an hour and during that time they closed the women's shoe area and later the men's clothing area. At first confused and frustrated, we soon realize that if you wait around for a bit you have first dibs on the new product; that's how Brenda got her shoes. 

The entrance to Last Chance seems innocent enough.  Note: there is no reference to being affiliated with Nordstrom.

However, once inside you are immediately confronted with a frenzy of shoppers like those sifting through a huge bin of colourful women's underwear.

It is gridlock in the store as everyone has a cart and the aisles are narrow. 

In another corner, the yoga women can't wait for the dressing room so they are trying on clothes over their own clothes.  

Red trash barrels are strategically placed in the shoe department so staff can just throw in shoes for sorting and restocking later. 

What did we find along the way?

Given the Marshall's department store was next to Nordstrom Clearance we stopped in. And not only was it calm and quiet, but it had much better product and prices than we expected.  I was tempted to buy a pair of Merrell shoes for $30.

Then we checked out "My Sister's Closet" behind the Nordstrom Rack store and the Well Suited Men's Resale store where I found a pair of Puma golf shoes for $25. 

Across Camelback Road, there is a Half Price Books, Records and Magazine store that is worth a visit. 

Needing to be energized we stopped at Snooze, next to Nordstrom Rack. A very pleasant surprise - food, decor and ambience.  The 3-egg omelette with goat cheese, wild mushrooms and bacon was very tasty as was the apricot jelly-topped toast.  We also loved the mid-century, atomic-inspired design.   

Snooze restaurant offer funky booths, outdoor patio and bar seating. 

Last Word

If looking for a unique shopping adventure when in the Phoenix, we'd recommend forgetting the major malls and head to Camelback Road and 20th Avenue east.  There is almost something primordial in the the "thrill of the hunt" at Nordstrom Last Chance store. 

Though the Nordstrom Rack window promotes treasure hunting the real treasures lie a block away. 

Here are our treasures from Nordstrom Last Chance and Well Suited. Leo from Red Lion Hotel was impressed.

Downtown Salt Lake City: More Than A Temple!

By Richard White, March 22, 2014

Flaneuring downtown Salt Lake City (SLC) was easy from our south downtown Red Lion Hotel. It provided easy access to all downtown attractions including the Central Library and the Leonardo (creativity centre), Temple Square, City Creek Centre and The Gateway Mall.  And of course, you are inside the free fare zone so all transit (buses and trains) are free – how good is that.

As good flaneurs, we headed out each day without much of a plan. One day we just ended up at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building’s Family Search Centre (and decided to check out my father's family tree), the Lion’s Pantry Restaurant, City Creek Centre (with a real creek running through it), Museum of Contemporary Art, Harmons grocery and Broadway Street merchants (vintage furniture, art books and rare book shops). Another day it was Deseret Thrift store, Temple Square, The Gateway Mall, Olympic Plaza, Capitol Hill and the 9th & 9th corner.

Flaneuring downtown SLC is unique as the blocks are extra long and the sidewalks and roads are extra wide. The traffic lights are so long you can take a quick nap and not miss the light.  Flaneuring is also difficult as there are no streets with contiguous shops; seems like there is something on every corner, but nothing along the way.  Or, you find something mid-block in a residential area where you would never in a million years expect to find a restaurant, cafe or shop. 

However, like all good flaneurs we just enjoyed the many churches and homes along the way. We met wonderful people who helped us with directions and suggestions.  One of the great things that defines SLC is that almost everybody says "Hi" as you walk by.  

Brenda's souvenir find from our street walking in SLC was this 1938 postcard. 

One of the quirkier things we found flaneuring were these orange flags at crosswalks.  It took me a while (Brenda figured it out right away) that you are supposed to grab a flag and wave it as you cross the street and then place it in the holder on the other side.  Given the number of pedestrian / car accidents I have been reading about lately perhaps this is a good idea for all cities.

  The City Creek Centre has an simulated creek running through the shopping centre.  At first I was told this was actual water from the creek that runs through this area, but someone else said that this water is treated.  However, there is a creek along the sidewalk next to the LDS Conference Centre that I am told is water from the actual creek that used to run from the canyon in the mountains to a river on the edge of downtown.

The City Creek Centre has an simulated creek running through the shopping centre.  At first I was told this was actual water from the creek that runs through this area, but someone else said that this water is treated.  However, there is a creek along the sidewalk next to the LDS Conference Centre that I am told is water from the actual creek that used to run from the canyon in the mountains to a river on the edge of downtown.

The LDS Family Search Centre is free and open to everyone.  You get a tutor or coach who will assist you with your search which is invaluable as they know the software and the things to look for.

Brenda is thinking about what to wish for, before adding it to the Yoko Ono "Wish Tree."  It is surprising how difficult it is when you are asked to make a wish, write it down and place in in public place.

Fun Flaneuring Finds beyond the Temple:

  • Even hipsters in SLC wear a tie and suit.  I used to think it was only hotel managers and bankers who wore ties, but in SLC it seems all the men in downtown dress up as if they were going to church.
  • The "brothers" and "sisters" at the Family Search Center are wonderful - so helpful, friendly and patient. No attempt to push their beliefs or propaganda on us. Brother Badger spent three hours helping us find some information on my father’s family ancestry.  He never made a comment about religion and never asked for a donation – in fact there was no donation box in sight. This experience changed my image of the Latter-day Saints' culture.
  • A man-made creek runs through the new City Creek Center fashion mall creating a surreal experience. As you flaneur the space you move from outside to inside, back to outside then inside and back out. I was shocked to find it was a ghost town at noon hour on a cold day in March.
  • Bill is the best! Bill, aka the Chief Visitor Information Officer at the SLC’s Visitor’s Information Centre, is a wealth of knowledge, especially if you are looking for off the beaten path things to see and do.
  • The Ken Saunders Rare Books is a hidden gem with books piled everywhere including the floor.  You could browse here all day and still only have scratched the surface.
  • Yes, the Green Ant vintage store has green ants - actually two. It also has some unique vintage artifacts.  Owner Rod Green has a good eye for vintage and is a great ambassador for the city. We will be forever indebted to him for the hot tip about Em’s restaurant.
  • The Yoko Ono “Wish Tree” at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art was an unexpected hands-on experience. Everyone is invited to make a wish and write it on a small tag with a string for hanging it on the tree. In fact, the entire DO IT exhibition was engaging and thought provoking, exactly what contemporary art should be.
  • Harmons, in the middle of downtown, is huge yet still has a community feel with its loft café where you can chill out at a patio table or lounge on the soft chairs and couches.  It is home away from home.
  • 9th South Delicatessen, in the funky 9OO East and 900 South district, is located in charming house from the 19th century.  We had a great Rueben sandwich and their delicious chicken noodle soup plus some very tasty lemon tarts. But the highlight really was chatting with a local family (mom, grandma and preschoolers) about life in SLC and their family’s proud history as one of the first settlers in the area. The young attractive Mom was pregnant with her 5th child, and while she thought that was enough, one of her tween children thought they should have ten. People in SLC are very friendly; love to say Hi and chat.
  This is the fun 9th South Delicatessen. Painted bright colours and divided up into several rooms it is like walking into a doll house. 

This is the fun 9th South Delicatessen. Painted bright colours and divided up into several rooms it is like walking into a doll house. 

Ken Saunders Rare Books is where the real treasure hunters head. Step step carefully and be patient, but there are treasures to be found.  Brenda found a great 1938 Utah postcard. 

The Green Ant is a funky, quirky vintage store at the front and an art gallery at the back.  It is part of the Broadway bohemian neighbourhood.

Harmons brands itself as "your neighborhood grocer" and we certainly got that feel.  Looking from the loft cafe; this is the main floor as seen from our bistro table where we were enjoying an afternoon coffee and treat.

More Fun, Funky, Quirky Finds

  • Found Eborn Books while taking photos of downtown buildings, art and street furniture. There it was - Utah’s largest used and rare bookstore right on Main Street and I knew nothing about it.  Scored myself a first edition of Walter J. Phillips & Fredrick Niven’s “COLOUR in the CANADIAN ROCKIES.”  
  • We discovered Mod a-go-go after visiting the Cathedral of the Madeleine and wanting to kill some time before a musical rehearsal as to begin.  This part vintage home accessories and furniture and part local art gallery shop is a real find for lovers of mid-century design.
  • We also loved Hatch Family Chocolates and Avenue Proper both located in an old grocery store building off-off the beaten path in the Avenues neighbourhood.  Hatch has great chocolates as you would expect but also homemade ice cream. Avenue Proper is a brew pub (the smallest in Utah) and restaurant.  I drank by through their menu of eight beers as they offered $1 two ounce pours. 

Eborn Books is fun place to bibliophiles to browse.

MOD a-go-go is a great find for those interested in mid-century design.  

Hatch Family Chocolates has lots of tasty treats including these nutty chocolate covered salty pretzels. 

Bonus Flaneur Find

The bonus flaneur find was a recommendation by Rod Green at the Green Ant who suggested we should have dinner at Em’s, located mid-block on Centre Street, a quiet residential street behind Temple Square on Capitol Hill. We took his recommendation and had a great meal, so great we went back again the next night and were very tempted to go back a third night but decided that was ridiculous! Em’s might be the subject of its own blog so I won’t give you any details here other than to say – “if you are ever in SLC, you should go!”

Em's restaurant has a cozy atmosphere, great food and service.  The menu is surprisingly extensive for a small bistro. Don't let the white tablecloths fool you - it is casual and good value. It is fine dining, but won't break the bank.

Last Word

After five days of flaneuring SLC's greater downtown, our take away memory will be that it is more than just the Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square and the entire Temple campus. While it is not yet a Portland or a Calgary as an urban playground, it has lots of urban gems to offer if you are willing to explore.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

Street Walking in Portlandia

Calgary's Rail Trail Stroll

Winnipeg vs Calgary: Urban Hot Spots (part 1)

Thank You!

We would like to thank the Salt Lake City Red Lion Hotel for hosting us for our stay.  We loved our view of the city and the mountains, as well as the wonderful early morning light.

It was a great location to wandering into the downtown or just a quick drive to the major city attractions like the Zoo, Heritage Park and Natural History Museum. I am sure our trip would have been even more enhanced if we had come later in 2014 when the new Aquarium and the Zoo's African area were opened at the Zoo.  




Struck out in Memphis

By Richard White, February 3, 2014

Too often we judge the success of our vacations by the quantity and quality of the “treasures” we bring home.  We love to find something unique at that off-the-beaten-path vintage or second hand shop or the out-of–the-way boutique or flea market.  We pride ourselves on being able to find an artwork/artifact we love everywhere we go.

In Vegas, we found an artwork in the trash can next to the bus stop after visiting nearby thrift store.   We expect someone purchased it at the thrift store for the frame and just threw out the artwork. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. 

However in Memphis, no matter how hard we tried, we stuck out in our quest for that unusual souvenir.

Downtown

We scoured the streets of downtown Memphis, but there were not many shops of any kind to be found.  First, we checked along Main Street – nothing. Then, we headed to South Main and found few shops, mostly restaurants.  However, we did find Memphis’ historic Central train station, which was fun yet sad to explore.  It was a vivid reminder of how the world has changed - what was once a vibrant meeting place and an economic engine for the city has been reduced to two Amtrak trains a day and a lone staff person keen to chat with us about the past.      

We did check out A. Schwab which is a Beale Street institution, but it seemed too touristy for us.  However, it is a great place to wander, with lots of artifacts from the golden years of Memphis and Beale St. especially if your time is limited.

South Main the area near the Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Hotel is Memphis' hipster district. 

The interior of Central Station is a sad reminder of days past. 

Flaneuring the side streets around South Main, we did find an alley with some very attractive architectural concrete figurines, but they were way too heavy even for me to carry. Alley “shopping” can be lucrative, like when in we found a weathered corbel from an old building in Washtucna, Washington – a great salvage find.  What we also found was a number of interesting warehouse loft conversions happening in the area – a healthy sign for future vitality.

This is the figurine we would have loved to have brought back for our garden. 

Vintage Trolley Experience

Deciding we had to head further afield and having read about a new hipster area called Cooper/Young, we took the $1 a ride Madison Ave trolley east as far as we could and then hoofed it the rest of the way.  Riding Memphis’ vintage trolley is a “must do” experience as they creak and grind their way along the tracks through the downtown.  I expect their maximum speed is no more than 10 miles an hour – it seemed I could walk almost as fast.  An interesting note is that they are not originally from Memphis, but are reconditioned ‘30s and ‘40s streetcars from Porto, Portugal, Melbourne, Australia and Rio de Janerio, Brazil that have been adding charm to the streets of Memphis for the past 20+ years.

The streetcars are the cutest I have ever encountered with their original wooden benches and seats, brass fittings and old weathered straps, some being little more than a very worn strip of leather. We were surprised- an impressed - to discover that at the end of the line, as the driver moved to the other end of the trolley he/she reversed the backs of the single seats so riders always face forward. How brilliant is that?

While the trolley cars are cute they aren't too practical when it come to large groups of people wanting a ride after a basketball or baseball game or when there is something on at the convention centre. 

Inside the trolley are long wooden benches or small single seats.

One of the better straps for hanging on. 

Finally, a Thrift Store!

Though we had done some research before coming to Memphis to see if there might be any thrift stores just outside of the downtown (and found nothing), we were nicely surprised, just five minutes into walking, to encounter a thrift store.  They could probably see the smile on Brenda’s face all the way back to Beale Street. 

Inside, we did find an interesting child’s artwork of a primitively rendered cowboy in a blue metal frame that had potential.  We should have bought it, but it was early in our trip - and day - and given it was on the large size, we both agreed to take a pass, sure that we’d find something else.  That was our fatal flaw!

Central Avenue  

We eventually discovered Centre Avenue (from S Cooper Street to East Parkway) which showed promise with a few antique shops, Flashback (a great vintage store), a junk dealer and a couple of used music/book stores.  Lots of interesting things, but nothing grabbed us.  Hunting for artifacts is an intuitive thing; you don’t know what you are looking for until you see it.

OtherLand cafe was our first sign of bohemia. Interesting place to hang out, but nothing much in the way of exotic finds - keep on walking. 

At Central Ave we found an Urban Outfitter's shop which seemed to be in a strange location with the antique stores. 

This fire hydrant was tempting but again too big and too heavy. Palladio is a huge furniture antique store with cafe/bistro on Central Ave., with a huge warehouse out back filled with architectural artifacts, fountains and fun objects like this one.    

Flashback vintage store was packed with mid-century artifacts, but nothing said "buy me, buy me."

Xanadu looked promising as it is used bookstore, record store and music store.  

I was tempted by the cigar-box guitars, but since I don't play the guitar is seemed silly. 

Our last stop on Central was Paul's Garage (I think that was the name). As you can see it was packed with junk...perfect for Brenda to do a little urban archeology.  No matter how hard she tried - nothing!

Cooper/Young District

Some hours later, after finally making it to the Cooper/Young corner, we found some quirky cafes and restaurants and a great bookstore but no shops, no artifacts. 

Burke's Books established in 1875 had great potential.  Brenda would have loved one of these typewriters, but they were not for sale. 

It seemed just too easy to buy some blues records in Memphis. 

Cabana Cafe offered a quiet place to rest before our journey back. 

Strike three and you're out!

Yes, with tails between our legs, we are ashamed to admit it we struck out in Memphis.  The upside? We saw some off the beaten path places that most tourists don’t. And, we’re darn heck committed to making this “strike out” a one-time wonder!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Treasure hunting in Portland

Treasure hunting in Grassi Lakes

1600km shoe shopping road trip

Readers' Comments:

CW writes:  "Very interesting idea for a blog, what it means to be a pack rat but come up empty-handed.  As we live more and more digitally, collecting any object is bound to be more and more challenging. We pack rats are a dying breed. I pick up lps, cds and dvds, and occasionally books, all very plentiful now. But I'm open to anything. I think the challenge of being a pack rat is to appreciate the quality within an object - its quality today and, much more difficult, how it will be perceived in the future. It's all about predicting the future - yours and everyone else's, isn't it? Was your difficulty in finding stuff in Memphis about your present? Or about your future? My suggestion for you two when you travel: collect mugs of local businesses, often sold in the smallest thrift stores. Great souvenirs. Forever useful. I've never been unable to find at least one good one." 

Brenda responds: "I buy for the present or near future, i.e. only for my immediate use/enjoyment and/or quick turnover (i.e. largely no longer than a year I will either sell or give away)... NOT some long out future. I guess I am not a pack rat (that's good news for both of us I think... as don't think much about how it will possibly be perceived in the future (who wants to store it? Who wants to move it later on at some point?). As for collecting local mugs, interesting idea  - they are everywhere - too easy, where is the challenge. Mugs don't resonate with my fussiness about what I enjoy drinking my coffee and tea in.  Promotional-stamped mugs never seem to me to meet my high (snooty??) standards re: style and quality. I'm happy keeping the focus on artwork...just have to work harder so there are no more strike out!"