Greystone Mansion – Los Angeles, California

Back in June my husband had to be in Los Angeles for work so I tagged a long for a semi cheap vacation. I did a lot of walking while down there, since he had the rental car and I was mostly on my own. I spent a lot of that time wandering around the Sunset Blvd. And one of those ended (not really ended because I had to walk back) at Greystone Mansion. Greystone is the former home of Ned Doheny, son of oil tycoon Edward Doheny .  Ned’s life ended in scandal in a mysterious murder suicide with his male secretary only a short while after having moved into his newly completed home.

He was survived by his wife and five children. The house is now a city park, or at least the grounds are. The house itself is used privately for events and not open to the public normally. Though tours can be arranged through the Friends of Greystone, the organization that currently manages the park.

However the grounds are free to the public for 10am to 6pm daily. To see the interior of the building however, you can check out the wide array of movies and TV shows that used the location. Such as my all time favorite Gilmore Girls, where it was used as Rory’s high school, Chilton Academy. It was also used as the Royal Children’s Hospital in Star Trek into Darkness, where can watch Benedict Cumberbatch stand outside the building looking ever so dreamy.

The rules of the grounds are quite strict. Though given how incredible they are and how impeccably well kept I can’t blame them. No dog, picnics, skate boarding allowed. And professional photography is only allowed via permit attained at the park office (so please forgive my unprofessional photos, which they always are, because I am lazy).

To get into the grounds you surprisingly go past the main gate up the road….and turn left. Then continue up past the house to the parking lot. The hill is steep, and I was on foot. I thought I was going to keel over, I was so thrilled when I got to the top and caught my breath enough to enjoy the gardens. I walked all over the grounds, snapping unprofessional photos and enjoying the view.

The mansions exterior is stunning. I walked so far around the grounds I wound up at the bottom of the property on the inside of the main gate, which was not an exit. I was promptly turned back around by the security guard and told to exit the same way I came in. Which was at the top of the giant hill I had just walked up and down. I may have whimpered a bit at the realization that I had to walk back up it. Oh well, I took the stairs with my chin held high, well I was actually watching the stairs because I was about 8 miles into my day and my legs were getting a little jello-ie.

The voyeuristic side of me wished I could have toured the interior. And I may have more than once tried to tiptoe through the rose bushes to see into the windows. That being said, the grounds were truly stunning and the view unforgettable. For everyone with time on their hands and an affinity for architecture or garden design I would highly suggest a visit.

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Mel’s Drive-in – Los Angeles, California

When I was last in Los Angeles I twice saw an “Original Mel’s Drive-in”, in two different neighborhoods. I am a huge movie buff so I of course recognized the name as the diner from the movie American Graffiti. However it has been years since I had actually seen the movie and couldn’t recall just by looking at the diner and surrounding area to recall which of the two locations were actually used in the movie.

We were pretty busy when we were in LA, so I completely forgot to look up while we were there which location was used. And then as we were headed out town we needed to grab a bite to eat so we popped into the Sunset Blvd location, which my dad had also suggested as a decent place to eat. I later looked up filming locations of the movie and it turns out neither of the LA locations were used, as the movie was mostly filmed in San Francisco and the original location has since been demolished.

Despite not actually having been used for the movie the Sunset location is full of movie memorabilia and holds true to its 50s style decor and menu.  There isn’t a lot of information out there that I could find out the diner’s history or at least there appears to be some contradictory information. But the general idea is that Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs built the first location in San Francisco, a true drive in style diner which catered to the ever growing car traffic on the west coast.

Several more locations were added over the years and ownership has since changed hands from the original families that built the drive through empire. Regardless that the location we ate at was not the original we thoroughly enjoyed our experience. As I mentioned the waitstaff was incredibly friendly, helpful and prompt. The diner was clean and while we were there blissfully empty. Which was a nice reprieve for us from the busy LA mood.  I would most certainly go back if I find myself near a Mel’s location, the kitschy decor and delicious diner food made the whole experience quite fun.

Book Soup – Los Angeles, California 

Book Soup is an independent book store and mainstay on the Sunset Blvd since the 1970s. Popular with tourist and celebrities alike the store specializes in hard to find and high end art books but also has a very comprehensive fiction section as well.

The store will suck you in from the street with a beautiful New York style newsstand display at the front door. Where you can then see the curved and towering bookshelves that are begging to be explored. Once in a person could spend hours (and I did) browsing the displays and finding all sorts of new books you want to read.

I found no less that 10 books immediately that I had not heard of and wanted to read. And that doesn’t include the pile of glossy art books that I would have snatched up had I not been on foot and several miles away from where I was staying. I went in more than once, spending at least an hour on my own. But I also wet in once with my family. Every time we were ready to leave we would be missing a member of our party, and in going to try to find them we would find more books that caught our attention and then again someone would be missing and the cycle would continue. Like I said it sucks you in, in the best possible way.

I sadly did not have the pleasure of being there on days with any special events or while one of the many famous locals made their way into the shop. But it is known to be a popular location for celebrity sightings and hosts a large number of events including talks on art and literate as well as book signings.

If you are a fan of books this is a Los Angeles sight not to be missed, but come with dollars because you will windup spending a lot. Even if not on their perfectly curated collection of books, their gifts and souvenirs are impossible to pass up and I wound up spending way too much money on greeting cards which I in no way regret doing.

Azulejo – Lisbon, Portugal

If you have seen even just a single image of Portugal, chances are it had azulejo in it. Azulejo is a form of painted glazed tile, whose history dates back to the 13th century. These beautiful painted tiles are synonyms with the country and Lisbon in particular. And for good reason, they are stunning.

My research so far seem to point to Seville Spain being the epicenter of the Azulejo movement in the 13th century, at the time it was heavily influenced by Moorish culture and as such the tiling technique were perfected here.  King Manuel introduced the techniques to Portugal after a visit to Seville and the rest his history.

The Sintra National Palace has an impressive display of both indoor and outdoor tiles. We wound up skipping  it because of sick family members and a want to get settled in Lisbon before Christmas but I would love to go back and visit. There is also a tile museum in Lisbon we didn’t make it to that would probably worth the time if you had an interest in ceramics and history.

My favorite tiles I saw in Portugal were at the Pena Palace in particular the gold tile in picture above. The room was dark so the picture is terrible but I was memorized and wound up holding up a long line of tourist trying to take pictures of it.

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A slightly better picture of the gold tile seen above, but it doesn’t show off how vivid the gold was.  I just want to touch it. Which is frowned upon and often ends in being ejected from the building. So I resisted, this time…

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Pena also boasts a large college of relief tiles, I couldn’t find any information on the history of the relief tiles, though given when Pena was built I would imagine it was all the rage in the 1800s.

Where as the more standard and repetitive tiles were more common closer to the 15th and 16th centuries.

At various points in history production of tiles moved out from Spain and Portugal to their colonies, a large amount of which landed in Brazil.

Where as the blue and white tiles were more likely from the 18th century and of Netherland origin.

And the blue and white tiles with scenic motifs are possibly even newer and mass produced with industrialized methoods in the 19th century.

If you are really intrigued by the history and tile facades Lisbon Lux has a nice round up of the prettiest facades in Lisbon. Complete with addresses for each building so you can go see them for yourself if you are ever in the area.

Lisbon Lux also has a nice round up of the best tile panels in the city, if you are more interested in the mosaic picture rather than the repetitive patterns.

Tram 28 – Lisbon, Portugal

Tram 28 is the longest public transit route in Lisbon. Starting in the Baixa district, making it’s way up into the Alfama, back down through Baixa and over through Estela. The cable cars that consist of the Tram 28 route are the original 1930 Remodelado cars complete with polished wooden benches, dials, doors and windows. Everyone likes to reassure tourists that the breaks have been updated since the 1930s, though the joke is that they are a bit too good, stopping can be quite jarring.

We took some advice from the rental office of our apartment and went to search for the starting stop of the tram line but it wasn’t where we were directed to go. This could be the fault of our inability to follow directions though. So we popped on a stop in the middle of the Baixa at about 7am and made our way up the front of the Alfama district.

The tram winds up through the ancient and narrow streets toward the castle, eastward into a slightly more suburban looking part of town then down the back side of the hill and back into the Baixa. At this point we didn’t actually know what was happening…everyone got off but it was the middle of a square and we thought everyone had just gotten off to go to work. We saw another tram up ahead with a huge line waiting to get into it and scoffed that the poor people that didn’t have the good sense to get on earlier. Then we got kicked off because evidently we were at the end of the line. Whoops.

So we very sulkily got off the tram dashed across the street to the other stop and waited in line to get on the Tram at the start of the line and we promptly got back on the same Tram we had just gotten booted off. It was all very silly. To avoid this confusion and embarrassment and a wasted Tram ticket, go to the actual start of the line at R. Sra. Saúde 6B, 1100-390 Lisboa, Portugal and try to get there as early as possible. You will see why later.

We enjoyed seeing the city from the new point of view, getting to see parts of town we had missed because we were always on foot and getting to watch people go about their daily lives is always something I thoroughly enjoy.

There is a lot of ongoing construction in Lisbon, this guy was just walking his work tools to work in the middle of the street. The mix of new and old is lovely and as always makes me dream of getting the chance to save an old crumbling building by brining it back to life.

These two building were right next to one another, one a crumbling shell of a building, only a façade left standing. If you look carefully you can see daylight through the windows as the building had no roof. Then directly next to it, this beautifully restored multi purpose apartment and shop building.

I am sure the Tram 28 cars are still operational for aesthetic reasons in part, as it does draw a good number of tourists to the area. However part of the reason why they are still operational is because modern day train cars cannot pass through the narrow streets. During most of the route the car swung through curves and around corners with only an inch or two to spare which at first startled me a bit but toward the end I felt a bit like I was on a ride. Or at least I did until we met a tour bus that clearly didn’t realize it wouldn’t fit up the street, and we came to such a quick stop I think I may have bruised a rib or two. The tram and the bus stood at a stand still for a good while, the bus eventually had to try to maneuver around the corner and past the tram on the VERY narrow street, I think the side mirrors touched. And as it passed I could see the look of sheer terror on the bus passengers faces. It all ended well and safely but what an adventure.

We chose to get off at the Baixa again as the tram was starting to get crowded and we didn’t have enough rides on our bus tickets to get back. Tickets again are bought at newspaper/lottery stands which bear the sign “Jogos Santa Casa” they are hard to miss and can be found on more than one street in the Baixa. We spent an hour or so after that eating gelato and watching the tram go by, it didn’t take long for the tourist crowds to take over and pack the tram to an uncomfortable level.

Close up, LOOK AT ALL THOSE PEOPLE! Needless to say, go early and go to the origination stop so that you can get a seat next to the window to fully enjoy the ride.