Although it was many months ago, my memories of Tuscany are as vivid as its pristine and timeless landscape. Rich in rolling green hills, with the glorious absence of billboards and suburban noise, we fell into Italian love as this destination opened its arms and drew us in. On a tip from some experienced traveling friends, we booked an agriturismo (Italian for farmhouse) just outside of San Gimignano, a beloved medieval walled town which dates back to the 10th century.
Our accomodations: Agriturismo Vaianino was everything you’d want a Tuscan farmhouse to be: secluded, rustic, breathtaking views, and generous hosts.
Even better, they are now completely generating their own electricity via solar panels, and their farm of wheat, cereals, vegetables and olive oil is certified organic (LOVE!).
Many days we clipped fresh sage and rosemary from the grounds, making breakfast potatoes in our accommodating kitchen and planning out our day.
We spent hours just wandering the estate, laying by the pool, cooking fresh local food, and enjoying the Tuscan sunset. John and I took every opportunity to photograph the landscape and each other:
…that’s not all we did…
Tuscany is all about exploring the local towns and visiting wineries. Booking a wine tour is an excellent way to get around to multiple vineyards, especially because many wineries do not accept spontaneous arrivals of guests, however I will share one that does, below. In the Piazza Duomo (main square) of San Gimignano you’ll find a Tourist office that books wine tours and excursions. We took the Brunello wine tour, taking us to the Montalcino region and it was fantastic.
Our favorite on the tour was the Abbadia Ardenga winery, whose origins date back many centuries. We were greeted by host and owner, Marco, a delightfully good-humored man with a penchant for flirting with the ladies. He and his wife provided a personal and intimate wine tasting after touring us through their museum and cellar.
I promised to tell you about a little gem we found…
…not far from San Gimignano – a family run winery and agriturismo called Casa alle Vache. We made no appointment, and found our way through the beautiful golden countryside to their estate, where we were kindly welcomed by Francesco, the nephew of one of the owners. Besides wine, we discussed how “big” everything is in America, and “how you don’t even have to get OUT of your car to eat something!” After a great tasting and engaging conversation, we bought two cases and were back on our way. There was plenty more to do and see, and safe to say it was all: driving, eating, drinking, cooking.
A few Tuscan tips…
1. Rent a car, and opt for the included GPS. I can tell we were saved by that thing! iPad and iPhone, or something similar, will be spotty, slow and just not suitable. Trust me!
2. Maps and Suggestions! Don’t be afraid to ask for maps and suggestions. You’ll want to know where the locals go, and you’ll want to know where they recommend. And paper maps of the region and wineries will really help you combined with the GPS.
3. Do your research! Trip Advisor had some great tips for us, and I personally called wineries and visited their websites to find out when they organized tastings, or if they accepted drop-ins. We brought a laptop (an iPad would work) and definitely made use of our villa’s wi-fi. Also, every town has “market day”, where vendors take to the streets – make sure you find out when and where, so you can enjoy the festivities!
4. Electric appliances – Ladies, a power converter and your hair straightening iron will probably not work. The draw on that super-hot iron is likely going to overload, smoke and melt. (yep! I was so bummed – didn’t do my hair the whole trip!) Small appliances like laptops and mobile phones will be great for your EU power converters. If you NEED your iron (like I do) – may be best to buy one that is universal or you know will work in your EU country. By the way, the converter we brought was the Brookstone.
And finally, Siena.
Just wanted to share this shot…you should make it to Siena while you are in Tuscany, of course!
Nature never hurries. Atom by atom, little by little she achieves her work. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have a reverence for nature. A respect that has grown as I intentionally connect with Mother Earth. Last September I visited the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, doing lots of yoga and daily meditation outdoors, listening to the hummings of the rocky river and taking in all the green. Nature restores, it’s true. It’s something we need to survive, not only enjoy as a pastime. And that is what I mean by reverence.
On one of my walks, camera in hand, a couple lone yellow flowers danced brightly. They might have looked like nothing special to most passers-by, or at the very least blended in delicately with the landscape. But they were calling out to be noticed and photographed.
For the photography buffs, I used my Canon EF f/1.8 50mm portrait lens. It takes amazing portrait shots and allows you to have a wide open aperture, giving you wonderful bokeh (that awesome blurry background) and soft lighting, especially when shooting outdoors in natural light. Then, a few little fun tweaks in Lightroom and we have a lovely blue and white version. I resisted the urge to crop this one. I love the ample space around the flowers. What do you think?
You just have to do it. You are not allowed to visit Chicago without having at least a cocktail or two at The Signature Room. Or go all out and make dinner reservations. For this shot, we had the PERFECT table for two, right next to the window. I had my little Gorillapod, and was able to capture just a few stunning images as twilight set in over the city. Watching the lights come alive as the sun sets is THE time to secure your seat. Don’t settle for any table that is not by a window – you may have to buy another party a drink so they’ll bequeath their spot to you upon departure. But it’s worth it, at least for a photographer-tourist such as myself.
I’ve decided that there must be an URBAN category of art on alignbetween.com. This will be the first art on canvas to kick it off. Because this would rock your urban loft, for real. I’ll update you as soon as it’s up!
This is Snoop. If you follow AlignBetween on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram, I can promise you will see him making an appearance. The thing about Snoop is, besides being a long-haired mini dauchsand with a Napoleon complex…he will absolutely make you laugh hard and out loud, on the daily. Being infinitely cute is his job.
He is a very young puppy here, and got himself stuck in a ceramic gardening pot, nose covered with soil.
His expression in this photo is priceless. I invite you to caption his thoughts. Please comment!
SLEEK & SMOOTH
COLORFUL & FUN
I also love that my favorite “home sweet home” yoga studio in Tampa, The Lotus Pond Center for Yoga and Health is now carrying AlignBetween custom skins in a variety of designs and devices. We have iPhone 4/4S, several Mac laptop sizes, as well as standard PC laptop sizes.
These make great gifts or stocking stuffers…or a nice little “treat yourself well” gesture. It’s also a hip way to get a little AlignBetween in your space. Val, owner of The Lotus Pond, is enjoying the Bodhisattva on the studio laptop, and Ancient Ganesh on her iPhone.
I’m contemplating putting these up for sale on alignbetween.com, but for now they’re a limited quantity experiment. What do you think? Would you like one? If you can’t make it to the Lotus Pond, drop me a comment or an email, and we can work something out (UPDATE: Feedback has been so great! Skins can now be purchased online HERE (Laptop / iPhone), not sure how long this will last, these may become “collectors” items or a permanent fixture – we’ll see!). All AlignBetween art on canvas can potentially be made into a skin. What you see above are:
“I can’t believe I haven’t taken you to Restaurant BT yet!” said John. We recently made the quick trek to South Tampa for lunch on a beautiful sunny October day. You could say we are voracious foodies and locavores, hunting down the creative, the cheffy, the anti-chain, the sustainable, and the local. Rarely does one place smoothly cover every angle, with attention to each nuance. Ah, Restaurant BT, you’ve done it!
We arrived at the glass back door that connects the kitchen to the outdoor patio, thinking it was the entrance. A server popped out and instead of directing us around the building, he casually invited us into the kitchen and said “Oh, people can come through our kitchen any time!”
So we entered through the kitchen (how often does that happen?) and as soon as we sat down I began to take in the aesthetics of this place…
Warm, modern, natural, cohesive. Smooth bamboo tables and marbled tile floors. A single fresh and green chrysanthemum in a round glass vase on every table. Neutral cloth napkins draped over the edge at every seat.
Comfortable elegance was evident everywhere…but sometimes ambiance take precedence over creative and quality cuisine and attentive service, diminishing the core competency to a disappointing facade. You know it’s happened one too many times, right?
The reality: Using an “innovative and fresh mixture of organic ingredients, small farm meats and poultry, fresh caught seafood and local Florida produce”, BT’s dishes are grounded in a blend of Vietnamese and French cooking, seasoned by over 24 years of experience in the industry. Their moniker is EAT LOCAL, THINK GLOBAL, and on their website you find that they really do take this seriously. Recycling almost everything, including shredded office paper for the Humane Society and the used kitchen oil for making gasoline alternatives, they also use biodegradable containers, which honestly, everyone should be doing this by now.
As the server addressed me as “Madame”, I couldn’t help but delight at the significant yet subtle touches playing throughout the experience. One of my favorite downtempo electronica songs melted through the air…even the music, I thought, is intentionally curated…
Which brings me to the notion of intention in design…or art, or cuisine, or anything creative that is decisively and beautifully intentional. An alignbetween saying I love to tout is art is not an afterthought.
I have to bow to Chef BT. She is an artist of many realms, fusing it all together in an experience that is anything but…an afterthought.
Back in May, John and I traveled to Europe for an incredible 10 days of sightseeing, riding trains, driving tiny cars, wining and dining our way through two countries, and…shooting photos of everything in sight. Originally we planned to head straight for Tuscany…but after much fussing with flight times and dates, it just made perfect sense to extend what was supposed to be just a layover at Charles de Gualle, into a whirlwind weekend stay in Paris. We selected a hotel directly across from the Louvre and just a brisk walk to Jardin des Tuileries, knowing that with such a quick stay, we were better off in a more “touristy” and central area.
We arrived early in the morning, and while we waited for the hotel staff to ready our room, we naturally headed straight to a sidewalk cafe for breakfast and coffee, followed by a photo-taking adventure of the First Arrondissement, the geographical “center” of Paris.
There were just a couple of things we had on our agenda for Saturday and Sunday…I love to play things by ear and a little more spontaneously, John will systematically map out all possibilities and lock them into his iPhone for on-the-spot reference and guidance. We travel quite well together, and this balance of styles usually creates a rewarding, sometimes pleasantly surprising experience. The point, for us, is to always remain open, but still have some sort of plan. What definitely emerged for us as priorities were food, wine, architecture and of course, photography.
I’ll share just a couple of highlights and thoughts, then we’ll get to the real point of this post…my Paris photo gallery (skip down to gallery if the anticipation is too much). We loved how every cafe’s storefront is lined with chairs and tables facing the sidewalk and street for people-watching – this is a city set up perfectly for one of my favorite pastimes. Throughout the weekend, I paused and appreciated so many colorful and ornate doors and door knobs…really…I mentioned to John I could create an entire art exhibit around just this theme.
The hotel room? Oh yes, very small. But this you must accept with the territory. Besides, who’s spending time in their hotel room? It’s Paris! After a long day of walking preceded by the coach-cramped transcontinental flight (no sleep in between), I did manage to squeeze in some yoga and downward dogs of the “oh my God I SO need some yoga” variety. There was just enough space in the entryway between the bathroom and bed. But as you can see here…I absolutely had to get down with some balancing pose attempts in the Tuileries. This Dancer may or may not have been after some champagne (grin)…we had lots to fit in.
On our self-designed sightseeing and architectural tour, we hit Montmarte to see Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. There was a lot of weekend leisurely activity and just a general happy sensation in the cool spring air. An impromptu jazz band was playing in the adjacent park, while kids ran around just being kids. We happened upon some street performers singing and belting it out for whoever would stop to listen. On the large sloping grassy hill and steps leading up to the entrance of the cathedral, people of all kinds gathered in couples and groups to just enjoy the afternoon. Actually, looking back, it seemed there was a mix of tourists but there was also a very local feel about the place, like all the neighborhood folks had come outside to socialize and play with the rest of us.
I have to say I thought Notre Dame de Paris, widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. On a sunny day, with dreamy blue skies and wispy clouds providing the perfect backdrop, the sheer grandiosity and magnitude of its architecture was shining bright. We unleashed our Canon and Nikon DSLR’s with an exuberant flurry, changing filters and lenses, and setting up for some HDR photos as well.
But don’t think this was all about daytime fun and no nightlife. For those of you that know us, you can nod your heads approvingly because although we only had one night to “party”, we found
out where the good music and young hipsters were. (Thanks to John’s research). It didn’t take long before we were mid-center dancefloor at Rex, shakin’ our you know whats. How were we feeling? Well, just look at this last and final shot from the iPhone taken exactly a half-second before it died. We found out later we were the victims of a surprise Parisian photo bomb. (Awesome!)
Finally, I wanted to share one fine dining destination that was spectacular. A little place called Le Coupe Chou, an experience of a restaurant that has been restored to a 17th century-esque interior, located off a discrete side street in the Latin Quarter, 5th Arrrondissement. I don’t have a photo…however this table , while not exactly where we sat, looks just like our spot by the entrance. The restaurant opened in 1962, and the building itself has a rich history dating back centuries. We highly advise you to check this one out!
I’m so excited to share my Paris photos with you. Some of the subjects will definitely make it into future art on canvas works. I’d also love to know: Do you think it’s worth it to spend just TWO DAYS of your trip canvasing a big international city, or would you rather spend that time in one destination? Did you ever have “the best trip ever” because you spontaneously dropped in on a unplanned destination? Watch the slideshow, think about it, then let me know what you think!
The universe is abundant, the possibilities are infinite, the path lies within you.
- Paul Williams, Das Energi
Oh, the joys of digital design, endless color palettes and infinite possibilities. I’m having so much fun with this AlignBetween art print on canvas, incorporating the elements of yoga, meditative mandala, and the wide-open center of a lotus flower.
So much fun that I’m feeling the desire to go crowd sourcing, and get your artistic, creative and stylish feedback .
This piece is titled Energize the Root. The original color palette was actually inspired by a recent West Elm catalog. Deep rich reds, almost maroon. Mellow and versatile tan or beige. The contrasting of white in the symmetrical mandala design…
…and then I found myself experimenting with all the variations you see below. What about you?
- What color combination and style are you drawn to?
- Where would you hang a piece such as this?
- Do you like the more subtle palettes or would you like something more bold and colorful?
- What images and impressions does this piece conjure up?
A little insight into this AlignBetween work of art: The silhouetted figure is my sweet yogi friend Carrie Ielfield of Brahma Living who teaches sunrise and sunset yoga classes in New Smyrna Beach, FL. This particular lotus flower was shot at Hakusan Shrine in Niigata City, Japan.
Life can be so…noisy. A few days ago I read that now we process 3 times as much information than the average person did in the 1950′s. My significant other even speculated it must be higher than that. Beginning with the hated alarm clock every morning, moving in to the radio on the commute to work, inundation with conference calls, computer screens, televisions and smart phones…it’s a heavy downpour of incoming bits, bytes, sounds, images, videos and attachments. And we LOVE it. How wonderful it is to be so connected. How many times have you sat back and wondered in sheer amazement how you would EVER get your job (or life) done without modern technology? We’re evolving to live under the pressure of noise, and furthermore we see it as life-sustaining as our own heartbeat.
But there’s a lot of power in quiet. In silence. It’s why every yoga class ends in savasana and we’re taught that this is the most important pose of all. It’s why we’re drawn to beach vacations, meditation, hiking in the mountains…benefiting from all the gifts we receive when we reduce the noise in our lives and quiet the mind.
To demonstrate this phenomena of balancing extremities, or the multi-tasking mindset vs. the stark simplicity of minimalism, I trace my photographic steps backward.
When I first took this photo, I casually wandered out to my front yard and snapped this shot of yellow flowers bouncing happily in the breeze. They were bright, full, and brimming with the sun’s energy. They looked like tiny little sunshines on flexible green legs. However as I loaded the photo into my computer I saw something very average, un-special and actually quite “noisy”. Frankly, it seemed so one-dimensional and forgettable.
As I cropped, desaturated, and rotated my way through the photo, the striking center of this one flower emerged. The detail in its heart, the outstretched petals absorbing the light. It reminded me of an exploding firework, and I thought, there’s alot of of power here, diving in to the center of this single flower bustling around amongst its brothers and sisters. How much better it seemed when I cut out all the noise and simply focused.
That’s the message in my Flower Power art print on canvas. Reminding us to pause. To give up the rush of boundless streaming inputs. To unhook ourselves from the matrix and discover the rejuvenating blend of life without the stimulation, of silence…and remembering to breathe.