Friday, June 24, 2011

With The Castle & Proud Mary At One End and The Palace & 007 At The Other - You Can Have London-I'll Take Edinburgh Thankyou!!!

After a great breakfast at Howe Keld, we reluctantly packed the car for the drive to Edinburgh, Scotland. Remember in my last post I talked about taking the back roads? Well, as we left bucolic Keswick and The Lakes District, that little bit of Nomadic advice rang true as we got on the motorway headed north to Edinburgh. It was also raining quite a bit so it made this fourth leg of our UK Road Trip rather tedious. However, three things became evident as we got closer to the fabled ancient city. First, travel companions make all the difference, especially in a car. We had the perfect combination. A no-it-all alpha male driving with the most intelligent woman I personally know rendering opinions from the back seat and another highly intelligent female, that would be the no-it-all daughter, giving directions. Even when I went the wrong way, which was actually quite often, nobody got upset. Well that's not totally true. The aforementioned no-it-all daughter would get a little flummoxicated (my word) while admonishing me to make yet another U-turn. But in the end, familial love conquers all. Second, road music is very important. At some point in the future, I will give my recommendations for CD's and artists that are critical to making the miles more enjoyable. Third, my daughter is a Five Star Navigator & Atlas Reader. This is very important when you are driving in a foreign country, or you will never get where you want to go. One other note here. You may be asking yourself - Why didn't they just take the train? Two reasons. One - Unlike Italy, France and Spain, the UK Rail System is not extensive, so its difficult to get to many of the places we visited. Second - It is insanely expensive!

After finding the Glenalmond House B&B and checking in, we caught the bus downtown as suggested by the very Scottish owner, who gave us many tips on experiencing the sights and sounds of the city. The Glenalmond was the most traditional B&B we stayed in on our trip. However, it's bathroom had been completely modernized and the breakfast was outstanding and served with a smile by the owner and her staff. No cutting edge design here, but a good, basic sleeping option and very reasonably priced.

Back to Edinburgh. Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland was a major center of the Scottish Enlightenment. In addition to The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, the city boasts fifteen other major universities and numerous academies and other academic institutions. The educational, intellectual and cultural tradition of this beautiful city combined with a unique history of rebellion and great military endeavors makes it the most interesting city in Scotland and one which cannot be comprehended in its entirety in the two days we were there. While it clearly invites visitors and tourists with open arms, it doesn't feel like a tourist town. The sites and sounds of this invigorating place make you want to take it all in. And the people have none of the urban condescension that is evident in certain parts of London. If you have followed this blog, you know my preference for the hinterland over the urban. Edinburgh is the exception to that rule. Do not go to the United Kingdom without visiting this fascinating city!!

Another interesting aspect of "The Athens of The North" is the embracing of old and new architecture. A common occurrence in most of Europe, this is particularly evident in Edinburgh, where, at the foot of The Royal MileThe Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Monarch of Scotland, originally  built in 1501, stands directly across the street from the new, avante garde Scottish Parliament Building designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles. This blend of old and new makes visiting a city so interesting. And if you are an architect it is a veritable treasure trove of visual and spacial delights around every corner. You cannot talk about Edinburgh without talking about food! We have all heard stories about the blandness of British food. Edinburgh seems to take great exception to that perception. Within easy walking distance of The Royal Mile, an amazing diversity of restaurants are everywhere from fabulous seafood to some of the best Italian, which brings me to the cuisine of choice after a long day walking up and down The Royal Mile. Who would have guessed that we would stumble into an excellent little Italian Restaurant, Bella Italia, that served some of the best thin crust pizza I have had, outside of Italy. I found out later, it's a UK chain, but, the pizza was still amazing. After eating all over the UK for two weeks, and having very little "English" food, I can say that the cuisine choices are many and varied. Sorry, no black pudding or kidney pie for this Nomad.

Edinburgh Castle. Built on an extinct volcano at the top of  The Royal Mile, this ancient fortress is fascinating historically and culturally. The site was first inhabited by humans in the ninth century BC, some four hundred years before the Parthenon! Throughout its history, it has served as a royal residence and a vital military post. It has seen enough battles, skirmishes, attacks, sieges and minor military conflicts to keep a military historian busy for years. It even has a gun, Mons Meg, that could fire a three hundred pound stone two miles! Complete with it's own chapel, royal apartments and numerous support buildings, its a veritable city within a city. It's most famous inhabitant was Mary Queen of Scots. Unlucky in politics as well  as love, the kind and beautiful Mary suffered the ultimate ignominy of being beheaded by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Intrigue, great architecture and bloody misdeeds make the castle a can't miss for the curious Nomad. I highly recommend at least a full day to see this fascinating ancient edifice.

At the other end of The Royal Mile is the storied Holyrood Palace. This royal residence started out as the Augustine Abbey, built in 1128. The palace itself was added in 1501. With a long and embattled history, today it serves as host to Queen Elizabeth II one week every summer. It has also been the place where royalty recieves other famous visitors. None other than 007 himself (aka Sean Connery) was knighted here by the queen in 2000. The interiors of the Palace will give you a sense of just how over the top royalty can be as decorators. When you are through with the palace, check out the controversial and very expensive Scottish Parliament Building across the street. In the end, Edinburgh is one of those rare places that you want to return to again and again. Culture, history, great food and the coolest people in all the realm.

Next post - R&R in the country as we head south to the eco-modern cabins in the Yorkshire Dales - Natural Retreats.

Travel Quote of The Week - “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” - Mark Twain

Guid cheerio the nou!
DLS The Nomad Architect

Video Artist of The Week - Jars of Clay - This ground breaking, award winning Gospel Rock group brings the Good News with intelligent lyrics, passion and great musicianship.

Friday, June 17, 2011

After Wales I Didn't Think It Could Get Any Better - But Then There Was Keswick , Howe Keld and The Lakes

After sleeping and eating at the Cross Foxes Hotel - and marking it down as an absolute Nomad Keeper - we headed north through Snowdowdonia towards our destination for the night in the very small, very hip, very non-tourist village of Keswick. As we were driving through Northern Wales back into England, I was struck by the beauty and diversity of the countryside in the UK - and water is everywhere!! It seemed like a river, lake, stream or waterfall was around every bend as we wound our way through the UK's largest national park.

Another note here about driving in England. I highly recommend searching out the back roads for obvious reasons - less traffic, more interesting scenery and the occasional serendipitous adventure into the unknown - and if you are a slow driver - you will not be well liked on ANY highway, large or small. Of course that worked fine for me, since I consider speed limits to be a minor inconvenience intended for other drivers. As we got closer to Keswick, we had to traverse the M6 Motorway. We did get to see the Irish Sea, albeit from a distance. The point is - getting there is half the fun - so go where nobody else is going - you'll thank me later!

Back to Keswick and The Lakes. Keswick has everything you want in a small village. Great old buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, great little shops and friendly people. What it does not have is a lot of tourists. This makes it a perfect stop for anyone who wants to enjoy the vibe of a small English town without the usual kitsch in every other storefront. However, Lake Derwentwater is the star of Keswick. Surrounded by wooded fells, it is one of the major bodies of water in The Lakes District National Park.

Upon checking into the recently renovated and very well appointed Howe Keld B&B, it became very apparent that the old school of B&B's with the bath down the hall and chintz curtains most people associate with England, is being replaced by places like The Howe Keld with a new, modern clean design, a killer bathroom and all the accouterments you would expect in a small high quality hotel. And the personal attention afforded us by the owner and his staff was five star caliber. From the efficient check-in to the great breakfast in the well appointed, light filled dining room, the service was excellent and always delivered with a smile. It was great to talk with the owner about the new design and renovations that have been completed to put this small hotel on the map. With design touches like locally designed and built furniture and beds to die for, Howe Keld is just the kind of place that any Nomad is looking for.

After getting settled in, we decided to to take a walk through the woods along the lake to Friar's Crag, a promontory overlooking this intensely beautiful body of water. Historians tell us the name came about because it was the point of embarkment for monks making a pilgrimage to Saint Herbert's Island, located south west of the crag. In addition to its beauty and peacefulness, the crag is also known for it's association with the art critic, social thinker, poet and artist John Ruskin, who once said that Keswick was almost too beautiful to live in. There is a stone sculpture to commemorate the bond between this lovely lakeside village and this observer and chronicler of art, history and social theory. In addition to the lake, the village and the hotel, there are many other things to do while in this very cool little lakeside town. The Theatre By The Lake is the area's only year round professional theatre. Other items on the To Do List include The Keswick Film Festival in February, The Literature Festival in March and The Keswick Jazz Festival in May.

After returning from our walk along the storied Lake Derentwater, we returned to our room and asked the owner where we might eat. His recommendation for a small restaurant, only a ten minute walk from the hotel, would be the culinary highlight of our tour of Great Britain. I have always felt that the best source for what to do, where to eat, places to go, etc. is the person who runs the hotel you are are staying in. First, they are local. Second, they get continual feedback, good and bad, from other guests. His recommendation, A Different Taste, a small bistro that seats about thirty, was exactly what the doctor ordered to finish the great day we had exploring Keswick and its environs. When we first arrived, there was only one couple in the place, so we were a little concerned. Well, an hour later, that concern proved to be utterly unfounded, as it became packed with other diners who know where to eat in Keswick.  From the appetizer to the main course, we all agreed - A Different Taste was an absolute member of the Nomad's Well Designed Road Food Hall of Fame. With a menu that changes daily, everything is prepared with fresh, local ingredients by a top chef and served by an exceptional staff.

After dinner, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the hotel which brings to me to the single most important aspect of any hotel - the bed. Travel can be a very intense, physically demanding experience. Walking everywhere, climbing stairs and mountains or roaming around some ancient ruin can make a body tired. This means that the bed you sleep in must be comfortable in order to allow quality R&R for the stalwart Nomad. With exceptionally comfortable beds,  Howe Keld makes sure that when your head hits the pillow, you are going to have nothing but sweet dreams until morning. After a relaxing night of sleep, we were treated to an outstanding breakfast served by a friendly, efficient staff in the intimate dining room.

So there you have it - The Third Leg of our UK Tour. Great hotel, great food and a great location in one of the most charming and beautiful areas of the realm. Next up - Scotland and the beautiful urban enclave of Edinburgh.

This Week's Video Artist - Prince - This uniquely gifted performer combines old school R&B and funk with pop, jazz and rock to create great music- always controversial and hip to the max - Enjoy.


Travel Quote of The Week - "One certainty when you travel is the moment you arrive in a foreign country, the American dollar will fall like a stone". Erma Bombeck (Editor's Note - I have said it before - Insanely true in Great Britain)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sleeping With Genius - The Seth Peterson Cottage By Frank Lloyd Wright

I know I said in my last post that I would write about the third leg of our UK Trip in The Lakes District. However, this past weekend I happened to watch the Ken Burns Documentary Film on America's greatest architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Though I have read virtually every book by and about Wright and visited numerous houses and buildings designed by him, after watching this compelling documentary chronicling the life of this flawed genius, I decided to post about one of the most unique places we have ever stayed - The Seth Peterson Cottage in Mirror Lake Wisconsin.

First, a little history. This small 850 square foot gem was one of the last houses designed by Wright in 1958 when he was ninety. William Wesley Peters, Wright's son in law and trusted apprentice at Taliesen Fellowship and Studio, said the cottage "contained more architecture per square foot than any other building he knew". Sadly, this architectural work of art was never seen by Wright or Seth Peterson. Both died before it was finished. The cottage embodies all of the "organic" design principles espoused by Wright over his seventy plus year career. It is an amazing accomplishment, by America's greatest architect, that he even had time to design this small intimate cottage in the Wisconsin woods while designing major projects in the US and Europe.

Unfortunately, the house was sold, later abandoned and fell into disrepair. Fortunately, in the late 1980's, the run down building was discovered by a lover of architecture, Audrey Laatsch, who started a grass roots campaign to restore this work of the master architect. The full restoration was completed in 1992 at a cost of $300,000. The original 1958 budget was $15,000! The Seth Peterson Cottage Web Site has the complete, fascinating story of the history of this amazing little house. It also has reservation information. It is one of only a hand full of Wright designed houses you can actually stay in.

Upon visiting any Frank Lloyd Wright designed house, you come to realize that it transcends what any writer, critic, historian or architect can say about this amazing architect's work. My take, as an architect, is simple. Wright houses are ancient and modern at the same time, cave like but with intense light - structure and space so "organically" rendered that you just want to stay and enjoy the serenity of stone, wood and glass assembled to make a work of art. The Seth Peterson Cottage embodies all of these elements. Built on a bluff overlooking rural Mirror Lake in the Wisconsin Dells, it provides the perfect romantic getaway - an easy three hour drive from Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Another note here - I highly recommend making reservations for the cottage at least a year in advance.

Enough history, let's get on with the trip. After landing at O'Hare, we picked up the rental car and headed north to rural Wisconsin. Since the cottage is in a fairly remote area and restaurants are few and far between, we purchased enough food and wine for our three day stay at a local grocer and wine store near Mirror Lake. There are numerous options in the area, including a local Walmart that caters to Mirror Lake State Park visitors. The staff at the check in center have loads of information on this and other stores in the area. After picking up the key and getting directions to the cottage we enjoyed the beautiful spring day as we drove through the pastoral Wisconsin countryside.

Upon arriving at the Wright designed private gate to the cottage, there it was in the distance. This architectural masterpiece, by the greatest architect America has ever produced,  was going to be ours for the next three days and nights.  The massive stone fireplace and vertical core of the house, like so many designed by Wright, make the house appear as though it has been there since ancient times, yet it blends the flowing, horizontal stone forms that give it a modern, timeless quality. After entering the rather small doors (Wright was very small in stature), you see what William Wesley Peters was talking about. Every square inch of this intimate house is detailed as one flowing organic spacial composition. From the stone floors to the south facing glass wall to the sweeping built in sofa, it's all in order.

The mahogany ceiling of the main Living Space, with the massive stone fireplace at it's core, soars from a low of seven feet at the sofa to a height of twelve feet at the glass wall containing fretted mahogany frames and a continuous row of mahogany casement windows - all designed to let you enjoy the light and breeze from your seat on the sofa or one of the Wright designed plywood chairs around the fireplace. The Bedroom, with seven foot ceilings and eye level transom windows is like a small cocoon with views of the woods beyond. The only "modern" element of this restored gem is the stainless steel walled rain shower in the more than ample Bath. The small Kitchen is also well equipped with high end appliances and all the dinnerware, flatware and utensils you need to be your on gourmet. There is also an outdoor gas grill for the steaks.

In addition to the amazing interior, there is also a large stone terrace overlooking placid Mirror Lake a hundred feet below - the perfect spot to enjoy morning coffee with nature while sitting in the shadow of a modern classic. And you will not run out of things to do. There are ample outdoor activities in Mirror Lake State Park - hiking, canoeing and swimming in spring, summer and fall and cross country skiing in winter. It's also very cool knowing that you can enjoy the idyllic bliss of the Wisconsin countryside from your little house of stone, glass and wood by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright. Staying in a work of art is something every Nomad should experience at some point in their travels. The Seth Peterson Cottage delivers on its promise as one of the truly unique sleeping experiences available to the vagabond wanderer looking for those Places To Sleep Before You Die.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the mandatory visit to Taliesen East, The Frank Lloyd Wright Estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin. This sprawling complex of Wright's family home, studio and school with barns, courtyards and other out buildings was built over many years by Wright and Taliesen apprentices to support a utopian vision of agrarian self sufficiency. Whether or not it worked is a subject for another day on another blog. But it is a must see for Wright aficionados.

And one last note - if you want to hang out in Chicago, the best big city in the USA, then by all means, stay at The James, a thoroughly cool hotel only steps away from the Magnificent Mile and a short cab ride to The Theatre District and The Art Institute of Chicago. The rooms are plush and completely modern with all amenities and the staff is amazing. The Joel Ross Room 28 Suitcase Sculpture in the lobby, featuring stacks of old vintage suitcases filled with all of the materials deconstructed from a motel room outside of Austin, Texas, is worth the price of admission. The other great piece of The James is The David Burke PrimeHouse Restaurant next door which serves Angus steaks from steers all sired form one bull.  His name - you guessed it - Prime!

So, there you have it. If you want to take the one you love to one of the most fascinating and romantic places in a setting of unparalleled pastoral beauty, you will not go wrong with the Seth Peterson Cottage and you will always be secure in the knowledge that you have indeed slept with genius.

Next post picks up with the United Kingdom Trip.

Travel Quote of The Week
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going - Paul Theroux

We'll Talk Soon
DLS The Nomad Architect

This week's Video Artist is Canadian chanteuse/jazz pianist Diana Krall.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Come one - come all - to review, peruse, be amazed by and otherwise go gaga over the re-launch of the new and improved travel blog from The Nomad Architect. We have changed the graphics & colors, the lead photograph & logo, which was taken by a new, creative photographer, one Lauren Stafford, of a small chapel on the southern coast of Portugal at dusk. We have also made the site more interactive by adding a SLEEP page with clickable links to dozens of hotels, an EAT page with links to restaurants and a DESIGN page with clickable book, website and blog lists - even links to to an Itinerary Planning Site & a Travel Budget Site. We still have all the links on the BLOG  Home page plus the YOU TUBE VIDEO ARTIST OF THE WEEK link.

So I hope you like the new look, as well as the page additions with all of the links. My goal with this blog is to introduce people to the idea of independent travel to places that are unique and generally off the main road. If you have any suggestions on how to improve the blog, or if you have been to a hotel , restaurant or unique place which meets our criteria of good design and great spaces, E-mail me at I have just begun to write about the places all over the world, so stay tuned. We will also have some guest posts from other wandering vagabonds to keep it real.

Next up, I will post about the third leg of our UK Roadtrip to Keswick in The Lakes District and the best restaurant in all of England. John Ruskin said Keswick was almost too beautiful to live in. I think my next post will bear that out.

This week's Video Artist - Steely Dan.  Lead by singer Donald Fagen and guitarist Becker, these purveyors of Post Modern jazz, funk, R&B, rock and pop have been laying down the tightest tracks and intriguing lyrics since the early seventies.

See You Soon


Travel Quote of The Week "We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey"
John Hope Franklin