Hunter’s Café

Road trips for us inevitably take us off the beaten path, especially when we ask locals about the best places to eat.

Take Hunter’s Café.

While stopping in a wine and cheese shop in Darien, Georgia, we noticed a lovely oil painting of an old weathered clapboard restaurant. The rendition of the small café showed it on a dirt road, surrounded by huge live oaks and looked too interesting of a place to pass up. Being supper time and hungry, we inquired about its location, if it still existed. The owner of the wine and cheese shop was the talkative, friendly sort who gladly gave us directions.  I loved his southern drawl and charm.

After getting in the car, we repeated the directions to each other but didn’t bother to write them down, confident that we understood them clearly.

The cafe is located off of hwy 17 on Shellman Bluff in Georgia’s coastal low country. Sound’s easy, but it wasn’t. It took us two stops along the way, asking for directions.  Advised with new information and gas, we headed down dirt roads, lined with massive live oaks with their gnarled branches reaching out over the road. Finding the correct dirt road to get to the sound was the tricky part.

“There it is,”  I proclaim. “Just like the painting.”

Hunters Cafe, Darien, Ga- Hunters Cafe, Darien, Ga-

Definitely off the beaten path, the crab stew, sweet potato fries and cold beer was worth it, and so was the front porch view of the marsh adjacent to the Julienton River which meanders towards the Sapelo Sound.

Hunters Cafe, Darien, Ga-

In business since 1967, the waitress couldn’t imagine why we had such a hard time finding this iconic place.

“Why honey, everyone knows how to get here. You just didn’t follow the right person. Next time, look for a truck with fishing poles and follow them here,” she laughed.

If only it were that easy.

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See You at Sunset : Mallory Square ~ Key West

“Another day in this carnival of souls. Another night settles in as quickly as it goes. ”  Unknown

To celebrate the close of another day in Paradise, visitors find their way to Mallory Square located on the waterfront in Key West’s historic Old Town, overlooking the tranquil Gulf of Mexico. It is here where jugglers, psychics, musicians, artists, and food vendors gather to entertain and feed the tourists and have some fun. Get here early to feel the carnival like atmosphere and then stand back, ooh and aah as the sun sets.

Dominique and his Flying House Cats put on an entertaining show while  coaxing them through hoops of fire. There have been several “cat men” over the years, but Dominique seems to get the most attention.

Mallory Square, Key West, FL       Mallory Square, Key West, Flo

Part of the sunset ritual is jockeying for position to get the best views while watching the catamarans sail by.

Mallory Square has a long history as being a center of activity in Key West. Once it was the chosen anchorage of pirates, and has also been the center of the wrecking industry and the assembling point of American forces for four wars.

Many noted figures have enjoyed the view of sunset from Mallory Square over the years. Audubon wrote glowingly of the glorious Key West sunsets while visiting in the early 1800′s, and legend has it that Tennessee Williams initiated the ritual of applauding the sunset at Mallory Square, gin and tonic firmly in hand.

As you can see, the island is a mix of creative and eccentric characters with carefree attitudes. It is just the way the natives like it; definitely a laid back kind of life.

Mallory Square, Key West, Flo

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Key West ~ Southernmost Paradise

The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Key West, Florida photo

Joining in on Marianne of East of Malaga’s One Trip Every Month Challenge, come with us as we walk the quiet side streets of Old Key West admiring the “Conch” architecture and the lush tropical vegetation that surrounds each abode. Dating back to the 1900s and earlier,  these homes are a mixture of styles that have several features in common: metal roofing, gable porches with lattice and or gingerbread trim, and perhaps a cupola or turret. Oh, and an abundance of white fences. All in all, it adds to the Caribbean feeling.

The main styles include classic revival with gabled roofs and columned porches. Many are private residences while some have been converted to B & Bs.

Key West, Florida photo

The eyebrow house, a style unique to Key West, includes a roof that overhangs the top-floor windows to keep the sun out.

Key West, Florida photo

There are still some Bahama style homes with wraparound porches and floor-to-ceiling windows to best ventilate its interior.

Key West, Florida photo        Key West, Florida photo

The Queen Anne has a pointed turret.

Key West, Florida photo

Key West, Florida photo         Key West, Florida photo

One of the most common is the shotgun, single-story house also known as cigar maker’s cottages. These are popular and many have been renovated and used for vacation rentals. At one time, owners stuck to a pastel color palette, but some are much bolder, now.

This bungalow is joined to its neighbor giving it a contemporary look. A lovely walkway lies between them. Creative use of stained glass mixed with bright blue shutters has curb appeal.

Key West, Florida photo       Key West, Florida photo

One house has metal black crows attached to its roof.  I wonder how many people have stopped, wondering if they will fly off.

Key West, Florida photo

Weathered houses and worn shop fronts are filled with history and stories of their own.

We noticed how popular gable brackets are which give a plain house some island character of its own. House and shutter colors are pleasing to the eye and harmonize with the tropical foliage.  Carved wooden front doors are unique as well as porch decor and yard art.

Key West doesn’t wake up until noon making walking these side streets easy. The couple we traveled with love architecture and history, so it made for great company as we discovered quaint or funky alley ways and beckoning garden paths all laid out in this island paradise known as the “conch republic.”

Key West, Florida photo

“Houses are like people – some you like and some you don’t like – and once in a while there is one you love.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Emily Climbs

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Sunrise at the Taj

“The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Taj Mahal photo

It is sunrise at the Taj Mahal.

I stand in wonder and awe.

The scene before me literally takes my breath away even though I know what to expect. I know its history

As visitors from all over the world begin gathering in front of the reflecting pools, taking it all in, there seems to be a collective silence. It is this silence that leaves a tingly feeling running through my veins and reminds me I am actually here. I want to linger.

Taj Mahal photo

Now we are home, sifting through our memories and pictures of our incredible trip to India, and I am relieved that travel experiences haven’t jaded me to where everything is just a check list.

While our pictures of the Taj, one of the best known buildings in the world, document the splendor and glory of another era, the image stirs up feelings and emotions and our capacity to feel. This is what makes travelers human, keeps us appreciative and humble.

Taj Mahal photo

This exquisite marble structure, an iconic example of Mughal architecture, is not a palace, but a mausoleum, an enduring monument to the love of a husband, Shah Jahan, for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal or “Jewel of the Palace.” The poets at Agra’s Mughal court said her beauty was such that the moon hid its face in shame before her.

Mumtaz Mahal’s death, in 1631, following the birth of her 14th child, inspired the legend that she bound Shah Jahan with a deathbed promise to build her the most beautiful tomb ever known. Promise or no, Shah Jahan poured his passion and wealth into the creation of just such a monument. It is said that 20,000 stone carvers, masons, and artists from across India and as far as Turkey and Iraq were employed under a team of architects to build the Taj Mahal in the lush gardens on the banks of Agra’s Jamuna River. They completed the epic task between 1631 and 1648, whereas, the outlying buildings and gardens were finished five years later in 1653 AD.

The English meaning of Taj Mahal is “Crown of the Palace”.

The Taj Mahal’s familiar marble domes feature four minarets, a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each is designed with a slight outward lean; presumably to protect the main mausoleum in case one of them should collapse.

Taj Mahal photo

The calligraphy of the Taj Mahal mainly consists of the verses and passages from the holy book of Quran. Instead of painted on, it was painstakingly created by inlaying jasper in the white marble panels.

Taj Mahal photo

Most Taj Mahal postcards just focus on the white marble domed mausoleum and fail to include the other magnificent structures sharing the plinth.

Two red sandstone buildings flank the main mausoleum. One, to the west, is a mosque which is open only for Friday prayers while the Taj is closed that day to tourists. This mosque is made of red sand stone and has a similar design to the Jama Masjid in Delhi. Another red sandstone building – a replica of the mosque – was constructed on the east side just to balance the overall symmetry of the architecture. This building houses a guest house and is called the Jawab, meaning ‘response’ since its purpose is to harmonise the scenery.

Taj Mahal photo Taj Mahal photo

The Mughals were at the peak of their power and wealth during Shah Jahan’s reign, and India’s rich lode of precious gems yielded him much wealth and power. He spared no expense in using these gems in the design and building of the mausoleum.

The interior of the Taj is beautiful but unfortunately no photography is allowed. The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels which have been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid in extremely delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.

Taj Mahal photo Taj Mahal photo

Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and later, Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca.

Standing on the plinth and looking back toward the public entrance is the Great Gate to the Taj Mahal. Also made of red sandstone, it has a grandeur and beauty of its own.

Taj Mahal photo

Later in the day, we photographed the magnificent Taj from across the Jamuna River.

Taj Mahal photo

And it is from this window in Agra’s Red Fort that Shah Jahan sadly gazed upon that splendid monument for his beloved wife. Ironically, he spent the rest of his days imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, who seized his father’s throne.

Taj Mahal photo

The complex fell into a state of disrepair by the 19th century, but was eventually restored, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Proof that we were there. Our 50th wedding anniversary. The best kind of memories.

Taj Mahal photo

“Did you ever build a castle in the Air? Here is one, brought down to earth and fixed for the wonder of ages”. ~ American novelist, Bayard Taylor

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Bridges of Tranquility

“Golden bridge, silver bridge or diamond bridge; it doesn’t matter! As long as the bridge takes you across the other side, it is a good bridge!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Bridges of Tranquility photo

Magnolia Plantation located south of Charleston, South Carolina, lies along the Ashley River. It was built in 1679 and has lasted well over 300 years. Although occupied during the American Revolution and the Civil War, it managed to survive.

Bridges of Tranquility photo

The best time to visit any southern garden is in the springtime and as this name suggests, the grounds are covered with magnolia trees, azaleas and camellias. But we visited on a hot summer day. What it lacked in spring blooms, its shady ponds and bridges more than compensated. Appealing and tranquil.

Bridges of Tranquility photo

Presuming that all the bridges were white, it was a bit of a jolt when this red bridge appeared.

Bridges of Tranquility photo

Another, red bridge. This one at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina. Again, a very hot, sticky summer day, but this Japanese bridge added beauty to the surroundings and for a moment cooled us off. The grand children ran to the edge, splashed water on themselves and then on us.

Bridges of Tranquility photo

“The wisdom of bridges comes from the fact that they know the both sides, they know the both shores!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

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Close Encounters with India’s Future

Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation. – C. Everett Koop

Children of India photo

No matter where I am traveling, my camera gravitates toward children. Being a mother and grandmother I am drawn to their innocence and antics. I would like to think all children don’t mind this intrusion from a complete stranger, one who holds a scary camera and speaks a strange language…and even has white hair. My close encounters with India’s kids show typical reactions. The babies are shy and some down right scared. Older ones just do the normal thing…smile and look in the camera and can’t wait to see the play back. Often while I photographed kids, someone in the family would take out their phone and photograph me. I too, became a curiosity.

English proverb   “The soul is healed by being with children.”

Just look at these babies with their dark, exotic eyes accentuated with kohl. In India, Kajal or Kohl is a form of eye makeup which has been used since ancient times. Many women today, apply a small dot on the forehead of their toddlers as well as under or around the eye. These parents are delighted at showing off their little ones. In the city’s forts, palaces and monuments, it was usually the father who proudly held the wee ones.

Children of India photo Children of India photo Children of India photo Children of India photo Children of India photo Children of India photo

“Outings are so much more fun when we can savor them through the children’s eyes.” ― Lawana Blackwell

While at the Thirrunakkata Utsavam Temple Festival in Kottayam, this toddler just took it all in. No smiles. He was as serious as his father. Perhaps the musician who is dwarfing him is making an impression or just has his curiosity.

Children of India photo Children of India photo Children of India photo

“What feeling is so nice as a child’s hand in yours? So small, so soft and warm, like a kitten huddling in the shelter of your clasp.”― Marjorie Holmes

Children of India photo Children of India photo

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” — Nobel Prize-winning, South African leader, Nelson Mandela

School boys and  girls in Puskar look at the camera, while school kids along the backwaters in Kerala go about their business, ignoring our boat as it glides by.

Children of India photo Children of India photo Children of India photo

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they grow up in peace.”   Kofi A. Annan, UN Secretary-General

While in Delhi, we signed up for a city walk with the Salaam Balaak Trust, created in 1988 by local community leaders. It is a foundation that gives shelter, education and hope to street kids. Our guide, once a street child himself is now in night school and is on the road to independence. While walking the inner city of Paharganj and the area around New Delhi railway station, he shared his story with us. We then visited a classroom of mischievous boys who are used to classroom interruptions. The city walk is a unique way of providing an insight into the lives of these children and an opportunity for them to improve their communication and speaking skills. This was a worthy experience and money donated to an important cause.

Children of India photo Children of India photo

“Only where children gather is there any real chance of fun.”  – Migon McLaughlin

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“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”  – Mohandas Gandhi, political and spiritual leader in India

Children of India photo Children of India photo

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STORY BOOK TOWNS: Shekhawati Region, Rajasthan, India

Culture is something that evolves out of the simple, enduring elements of everyday life; elements most truthfully expressed in the folk arts and crafts of a nation. ~ Thor Hansen

We just spent a lovely night at Castle Mandawa in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan and now it is time to see the 18th and 19th century frescoes of which this region is well known.

Havelis (5)

No better way to do this than by foot. Our guide, Ashoka meets us at the castle gate and we walk into town listening to him sharing his knowledge of the area.

He relates how Mandawa was a prosperous trading town in the 18th century and was strategically located on the ancient spice-trading route. Traders, merchants and wealthy business men began to settle here and eventually built large mansions (havelis). These rich business people commissioned artists to paint frescoes on their homes as a sign of opulence.

Havelis (19)

Painted havelis cropped up all over the desert landscape and today, it is considered one of the largest open art galleries because of the intricate painted frescoes.

Ashoka takes us to two havelis, one of which has residents, but we are welcome to visit and photograph. He explains that the havelis were constructed with two courtyards. Outer court termed ‘Mardana’ for male family members and the inner court termed ‘Zenana’ for females. In all the palaces Ron and I were in throughout India, there were always separate quarters for the men and women. This was no different.

Havelis (3) Havelis (4)

Haveli Fresco Painting photos

Havelis (18)

Many of the frescoes exposed to the elements have faded or eroded, but there is still a beauty of what was once there. A story book town, capturing the life and times of these people. Subjects range from scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to geometric and floral patterns.

Havelis (16) Haveli Fresco Painting photos Havelis (21) Haveli Fresco Painting photos

The next haveli has a caretaker as the owner lives elsewhere and keeps this one somewhat maintained. We were allowed in the outer courtyard, only. Ron was more interested in the pots and cooking ware in this one.

Haveli Fresco Painting photos Haveli Fresco Painting photos

Ashoka tells us that the painters were members of the potter caste who became masons. They had no formal training in the arts, but they had an understanding of how to prepare the walls using a mixture of limewater, sugar and yoghurt. “They understood chemical bonding,” he said.

Ron and I were amazed at the immensity of these projects and how they applied the paints to a wet plaster in this arid, desert like region without them immediately drying and cracking.

Next, he tells us that only vegetable or natural pigments were used: kajal (lamp black) for black, safeda (lime) for white, neel (indigo) for blue, harababhata (terra verte) for green, geru (red stone powder) for red, kesar (saffron) for orange and pevri (yellow clay) for yellow ochre.

At one time, according to Ashoka, yellow was derived from the urine of cows that were fed mango leaves. This was discontinued after the cows became sick.

The British merchants who traded in this area told stories of great inventions such as the railway train, air plane, automobile, telephone or gramophone and bicycle. These artists had never seen these marvels, but used their imagination to interpret them and incorporate them into the frescoes. Sometimes, the number of wheels on a car or on the train didn’t make any sense, or the steam from the locomotive was drifting the wrong way, all proof that these creators were working from their mind’s eye. Some frescoes even show British officers in sola topis (pith helmet).

Havelis (2) Havelis (1) Havelis (24) Havelis (17)

The large doors, we were told, had to be tall enough to accommodate camels who were bedded down in the men’s quarters. The small door is the people door.

Haveli Fresco Painting photos

Many of these havelis are closed, neglected and in disrepair. India’s burgeoning  tourism industry sees a need for revitalizing and preserving this heritage craft region. This is a six city region and well preserved havelis are scattered through out. One just needs a guide and some walking time. Well worth it.

After leaving Mandawa on our way to Samode, our driver Rajinder takes us into Dunlod to see a haveli. This one has a small admission fee and is more like a museum. The wife of the caretaker is sitting in front of her fan, watching TV,  and our milling around doesn’t prevent her from enjoying her favorite show.

Haveli Fresco Painting photos Havelis (25) Havelis (26)

Am glad we stopped here. The room exhibits were quite impressive with castings of life like people.

Indeed. An open air story book region. Lets hope more havelis are preserved. The Ministry of Tourism claims there may be as many as 5,000.

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