Christmas at the Newport (Rhode Island) Mansions

Christmas at the Newport (Rhode Island) Mansions

 

The Newport Mansions at Christmas

Scenes from the Gilded Age

A visit to Newport, Rhode Island is incomplete without seeing the Newport Mansions at Christmas. There are ten incredible estates that The Preservation Society of Newport County maintains year round. Guests may explore independently or follow guided tours by headset.

Through the holiday season, four mansions are open daily to visitors: The Breakers, Rosecliff, The Elms, and Marble House. Each was once a private residence for the well-to-do, including famous families like the Vanderbilts, who retreated to the mansions’ grandeur along the cool shores of Rhode Island for summer months. Read more

Winter Scenes from the Mountain Village of Bethel Maine

Winter Scenes from the Mountain Village of Bethel Maine

Winter in Bethel Maine

An Annual Getaway

Bethel, Maine is a charming New England town we visit each year to meet friends who ski in the area. The quaint mountain village lies between some of the highest mountains in Maine. Winter in Bethel Maine offers ample opportunity for outdoor sports, including alpine skiing and snowboarding, Nordic and cross-country skiing, snowmobile trails, snowshoeing, and more.

Sunday River and Mount Abram, both in nearby Newry, Maine, are the primary attractions for our friends, who rent a place at the Sunday River Ski Resort; the guys jet right out their condo to the slopes, returning by night to one of the cozy ski lodges within the resort. We go not to ski, but because winter in Bethel Maine is particularly beautiful. Read more

California’s Largest Used and New Book and Record Store [Photo Tour]

California’s Largest Used and New Book and Record Store [Photo Tour]

A Visit to The Last Bookstore

Los Angeles’ Best Kept Literary Secret

In the heart of downtown Los Angeles, I discovered a reservoir of quietude. It’s a peaceful refuge for Creatives and others longing to escape from the city’s frenzied pace, if only for a moment. I joined the dreamers and writers, book lovers and music enthusiasts, artists and eclectics, and curious travelers who passed through the oversized door on 5th Street. This oasis was The Last Book Store. Turns out, it’s California’s largest used and new book and record store. It’s also one of the largest independent bookstores in the world.
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - entrance
Over the last decade, independent booksellers have been in a state of decline across the United States. But not The Last Book Store in Los Angeles. In 2005, Josh Spencer established this indie bookstore in a Los Angeles loft.

According to The Last Bookstore’s website, they are “amazed” at their growth in becoming California’s largest used and new book and record store. Now, in its third incarnation, it’s housed within two stories of the Spring Arts Tower on 5th and Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Last Bookstore fills 22,000 square feet and holds a hefty collection of about 250,000 new and used books. It is also home to a large record collection, art space (“The Spring Arts Collective“), unique shops, and–be still my heart!–a Rare Books annex.

California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store

Part of My Tour of Los Angeles

My daughter, Alison, introduced me to The Last Bookstore on my recent visit to Los Angeles, California. We’d planned a full day before I’d have to catch my flight home to Boston. It included stops at the OUE Skyspace L.A, The Writer’s Guild Library, The Bradbury Building, The Last Bookstore, and Manhattan Beach. (We’re ambitious!)

Alison spoke often of The Last Bookstore. It’s a refuge of creature comforts for the creative to immerse themselves in music, art, and literature. I didn’t fully understand the extraordinary appeal until I saw for myself.

When we arrived, The Last Bookstore hummed with activity. Guests browsed bookshelves and sat on hip red couches beneath marble columns that dominate the space formerly occupied by a bank. With an arched ceiling, balconies, and a mezzanine level, the architecture is reminiscent of the Newport Rhode Island Mansions but without the pretense. Instead, whimsical touches accent the space.

Alison pointed out the Writing Reference section and Creative Nonfiction genre (her favorite), then flipped through the LP records and 45s that filled an entire wing to the right.

I wasn’t expecting California’s largest used and new book and record store to have such personality! For instance, check out the checkout counter made of stacked books. Also, did you notice the wooly mammoth bust?

California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - 45s

Used and Rare Books

In a smaller area to the left of the entrance, you’ll find The Arts and Rare Books Annex. This area is a treasure of rare finds, the most valuable books locked behind glass. I imagined running my fingers over the depressed type with the inky aroma, paging through a leather-bound first edition. (Dream on.)

The Capt. Thomas Morris’ 1791 Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, a journal bound in half calf leather and marbleized boards, caught my attention. I thought, how ironic that words of a Captain buried so long ago in my home state (Massachusetts) journeyed all the way to the west coast for me to find. It was a mere $3000, and, to a bibliophile, I’m sure worth every penny.
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Rare Books
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Arts
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Rare Books
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Rare Books

The 2nd Floor Mezzanine – Whimsical Art Installations & More

After I’d devoured almost every inch of the first floor, I ascended two flights of hand-lettered risers to the Mezzanine level. Here, the Last Bookstore shared its more intimate quirkiness beyond being California’s largest used and new book and record store.California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - stairs
At the top of the stairs, I stood mesmerized by a whimsical still life. I absorbed every bit of this disproportionate curiosity, from the pages spewing from the typewriter to flying books to the wastebasket stacked like a Christmas tree. I’d say they captured the organized chaos of my creative process! I began to love these creators, whoever they were. California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Quirky
I absorbed every bit of this disproportionate curiosity, from the pages spewing from the typewriter to flying books to the wastebasket stacked like a Christmas tree. I'd say they captured the organized chaos of my creative process!… Click To Tweet

As I navigated rows of books placed on the random diagonal (“The Labarynth Above The Last Bookstore”), I spied a hole cut through a wall of books. This made me chuckle, and I further appreciated my newfound loves’ sense of humor.

In a vault formerly used by the bank, a space containing part of the sci-fi and horror collection included H. P. Lovecraft books and the likes.  (I didn’t spend time contemplating other maniacal accouterments in this room.)

I especially loved the section dedicated to color. I don’t mean the books’ subject matter was color; the books were sorted by color. How unusual! Brilliant idea if you’re looking for books to accent your home decor.

Finally, I moved through a tunnel made of books. Seriously, what better place for a photo op?California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Hole in Bookshelf
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Colorful Books
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Tunnel

Unique Shops & Exhibits

I traveled the aged planks squaring the perimeter of the second floor, and browsed a series of small interesting shops. Among other curiosities, one had a floor of pennies. I found old typewriters, vintage cameras, and stacks of worn luggage. (They understood my passions as no other!)

My grandfather’s Remington Rand Model 5 typewriter holds a place of honor in my home office. Walking through this holy ground, I wondered whether I dare smuggle home its twin, shown second from the left. I mean, it is a travel typewriter… Instead, I moved along.
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Vintage Typewriters
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Vintage Cameras
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Vintage Luggage

Spring Arts Collective

The Spring Arts Collective hosts art exhibits throughout the year on the second floor of The Last Bookstore. I enjoyed many works on display when I visited.

Many art installations, like this one with windows overlooking Downtown L.A., piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to stretch beyond my limiting beliefs as only art can do.

I took inspiration from a giant fiber art piece that looked to me like a dream catcher. Scaling floor to ceiling, it spoke: “Dream big, baby. Dream big!”

With so many talented artists showing, I will say the exhibit space alone is worth a return visit to California’s largest used and new book and record store.

California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Spring Arts Collective
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Spring Arts Collective
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Spring Arts Collective

Well Crafted and One-of-a-Kind

There’s no shortage of well-crafted and one-of-a-kind pieces at The Last Bookstore.

A bench made with a Chevy truck gate was one of the numerous custom-made items for sale. This particular shop was closed when I visited, but I glimpsed some very unique items through the glass.

Further along, I found Gather DTLA, a yarn and fiber shop prefaced by a giant canvas cleverly depicting two women. Crocheted. In yarn. In great detail. Wow.

Inside, the store is stocked with organic and hand-dyed yarns and goods, as well as supplies for knitting, crochet, and spinning. I know Gather DTLA would appeal to anyone who appreciates such fine materials and craftsmanship.

California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Unique Finds
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Gather DTLA
California's Largest Used and New Book and Record Store - Gather DTLA

California’s Largest Used and New Book and Record Store

What I found most refreshing about The Last Bookstore is it’s not like typical places you’d go to find books. There is no mall attached to it. No uniform rows of over-marketed books. No lattes. No kitschy art. No library cards or overdue fines. No shushing.

Instead, The Last Bookstore offers a uniquely personal experience. It’s an old friend, an anthropomorphism of the creative spirit, an inventive playground, a haven for the like-minded.

I now understood my daughter’s affinity to the place. I could spend hours here. Days, even.

As our excursion ended, Alison presented me with a little brown bag acquired somewhere within The Last Bookstore when I wasn’t looking. I crinkled the paper to retrieved two stickers: Mulder and Scully (of X-Files fame) captioned, “The Truth is Out There” and “I Want to Believe.”

The ever hopeful words resonated with me, especially as I stood before the successful independent bookstore that is California’s largest used and new book and record store: The Last Book Store. Yes, this is a place for hopeful dreamers.

The Last Book Store offers a uniquely personal experience. It's an old friend, an anthropomorphism of the creative spirit, an inventive playground, a haven for the like-minded. #lastbookstorela #creativespirit… Click To Tweet

My Weekend Stay at the Chatham Tides Inn (Hotel Review)

My Weekend Stay at the Chatham Tides Inn (Hotel Review)

A Casual Resort on the Water

Chatham (Cape Cod), Massachusetts

In a tranquil Cape Cod neighborhood steps from the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find a casual beach resort with comforts of home. Here, a footpath perfumed by beach roses and gentle seagrass invites you to a private beach. Adirondack and lounge chairs wait beside the fixings for a campfire on the beach. You’ll take in panoramic views of Nantucket Sound and Monomoy National Wildlife Preserve. Sound good? Welcome to Chatham Tides where I spent a restorative waterfront weekend in Chatham, Massachusetts.

Waterfront Weekend in Chatham - Chatham Tides Inn Cape Cod MapAlong with Brewster and Harwich, Chatham is part of the “Lower Cape.” Cape Cod is shaped a bit like an arm and Chatham Tides is near the “elbow.” Located off Route 124 in a residential neighborhood between downtown Chatham and Harwich Port, Chatham Tides offers beachfront and waterview guest rooms, suites, and townhouses.

I had the pleasure of staying in a two-bedroom suite at Chatham Tides Inn. Room #7 above the reception office proved to be my second story Cape Cod getaway.

This waterfront weekend in Chatham gave me an opportunity to explore the southeastern tip of Cape Cod and meet up with girlfriends (we call ourselves “The Bunco Babes”) at a family cottage in Harwich Port; I seized the opportunity to combine work and pleasure. Read more

Where to Find Tuscan Comfort Food in Fiesole: Il Fiesolano Ristorante

Where to Find Tuscan Comfort Food in Fiesole: Il Fiesolano Ristorante

A Sample of Fiesole’s Local Flavor

After exploring the Tuscan hill town of Fiesole on foot then catching the best sunset over Florence, my friend Mary and I had worked up an appetite. We headed back down Via San Francesco in search of Tuscan comfort food in Fiesole.

Not wanting to stray too far from the bus stop back to Florence at Piazza Mino, we considered several nearby dining options.

Restaurants in Piazza Mino

We first came upon an Irish pub. Like many restaurants in Italy, J.J. Hill closed between 4:00 and 7:30 pm. We peered in to find what you would expect of a cozy Irish pub: dark woodwork, draught beer at the polished bar, Irish artifacts. While a juicy pub burger and a cold drink sounded good, we decided against it given the authentic Tuscan cuisine that surrounded us.

Next, we considered two restaurants along the same block: Blu Bar and Ristorante Villa Aurora. Both offered garden seating with panoramic views of the Tuscan valley below. Neither piqued our interest. We declined the hostess’ invitation to wait upon the formal divans of the Hotel Villa Aurora. We’d already caught a spectacular sunset and felt underdressed for elegant dining.

Then, beneath the glowing bell tower of San Romolo, we spotted Il Fiesolano Ristorante. Here, we discovered the quintessential Tuscan comfort food in Fiesole. Read more

The Best Place to See the Sunset Over Florence

The Best Place to See the Sunset Over Florence

Exploring the Tuscan Hill Town of Fiesole

Nestled in the gentle curve between two mountains high above Florence, Italy, you’ll find Fiesole. Favored by aristocrats and wealthy Florentines for its summer breezes and stunning views, it lies across the Arno River and less than thirty minutes northeast of Florence. I think it’s the best place to see the sunset over Florence.

The ancient Tuscan hill town with Etruscan-Roman beginnings offers opportunities to explore the remains of Roman baths, a Roman amphitheater, and the grassy hill on which Leonardo da Vinci experimented with flight. For centuries, this picturesque village has inspired great literature and renaissance art.

Fiesole was a serendipitous break from Florence’s bustling city landscape for me and my friend Mary, both itinerant shutter-bugs. We found it to be an ideal place to explore while capturing a beautiful sunset over Florence. Read more

High Above “The City of Angels” at Skyspace Los Angeles

High Above “The City of Angels” at Skyspace Los Angeles

The Best Views of Downtown Los Angeles

Tallest Building West of the Mississippi River

My daughter, Alison, showed me around L.A. while I visited for her college graduation. Following our excursion to The Last Book Store, we checked out one of the best views of downtown Los Angeles at The OUE Skyspace Los Angeles. It was the perfect pinnacle from which to get a bird’s-eye view of Los Angeles’ expansive cityscape.

OUE Skyspace Los Angeles is on the 69th and 70th floor of the U.S. Bank Tower at 633 W 5th Street, Los Angeles. The attraction features two observation decks, a Skyslide, an interactive Media level, and a rooftop bar with light fare. It also includes a Gift Shop and Cafe on the first floor.

Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE), a Singapore-based hotel and property company, purchased The U.S. Bank Tower in 2013. At the time it was the tallest skyscraper in the West at 1,018 feet. (The Wilshire Grand Tower claimed the title in 2017 at 1,100 feet.) The new owners revitalized the U.S. Bank Tower and made many improvements, including OUE Skyspace Los Angeles, which opened in 2016.

A look up from the foot of the tower gives a sense of how high above the world the observation decks are! OUE Skyspace Los Angeles offers one of the best views of downtown Los Angeles. The unobstructed, panoramic view is California’s tallest open-air observation deck. Read more

Why Travel During Shoulder Season?

Why Travel During Shoulder Season?

Three Benefits of Shoulder Season Travel

It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning an international voyage or a trip to the beach community by the coast. Knowing when to go can make all the difference in a successful trip. You might be surprised by the benefits of shoulder season travel.

Understanding the Travel Seasons

The travel year is effectively broken into three seasons to visit a destination: peak season, low season, and shoulder season.

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Tools That Make Travel Planning Easier

Tools That Make Travel Planning Easier

Best Travel Tools for Trip Planning

How do you pick the best travel tools for trip planning when there a sea of options online? It’s a bit of a crap shoot, in my opinion. I have spent hours comparing one flight deal to another, sizing up hotel accommodations, and looking for the best tours on the cheap.

I enjoy orchestrating my own unique travel experiences. That might mean arriving in a favorite city, renting a car to check out some of the lesser known areas, spending a night in an agriturismo or room at a bed-and-breakfast, taking the rail to another city, and a mix of guided and self-directed tours. The more varied, the more interesting, I say!

I will admit, it is a bit overwhelming at times. Read more

When is the Best Time to Travel?

When is the Best Time to Travel?

When to Visit Dreamy Destinations

When you enjoy traveling as much I do, it’s hard to choose your next destination from a Bucket List, let alone figure out when to go. Knowing exactly when to visit dreamy destinations can help narrow things down.

There is a window of travel opportunity I look for between the peak season and low season that minimizes my costs and maximizes my experience. It’s known as “shoulder season.”

This sweet spot offers better travel rates and fewer crowds with the benefit of pleasant weather. Doesn’t that sound perfect? Read more