Where Winter Wonderland Comes From


We have discovered where winter wonderland comes from! It’s from a tiny mountain village of Idyllwild in Southern California. For us, it is undoubtedly one of the most significant discoveries of 2017.

The place is exactly what is sounds like – Idyllwild. Say it. Taste it. Feel the tremble of expectation, the urge of discovery rising inside? That’s the subtle magic of Idyllwild.


img_20161231_120006Silence and grandeur enwrapped us upon arrival. For city dwellers like ourselves, silence was quite a unique pleasure.  And as if the majestic surrounding was not enough, there were squirrels and elks right at our doorstep. This squirrel is almost like a pet of our hosts – it comes daily at breakfast time for his share of peanuts.

Speaking of magic, Idyllwild sure enjoys a pun or two with a gullible visitor. For us, the Mountain Center pun was the best played. For you see, from its name, we expected it to be a Visitor Center of sorts, on the top of the mountain, of course. But what do we know?! It’s an actual geographical center of the mountain! Without a visitor center but with a lovely homey cafe (Mountain Center Cafe) and a gas station (with very reasonable prices).


The other trick – quite literally, the Riddle of the Sphynx type of trick – is getting to Idyllwild. Since Idyllwild in located in the mountains (on the Hill, as locals say), the road from the surrounding plateau (Valley, as the locals refer to) is winding (from Banning, CA). And believe me when I say it’s winding. The fact that the road is called a Panoramic Highway does NOT compensate for the stress of driving up along it. 80 miles of head-spinning up-going winding-ness!


The trick is to take a less winding route (through Hemet, CA), which is longer and therefore not suggested by the cursed GPS.

We, naturally, took a shorter route. And since we were going to celebrate the New Year there, it was winter as we drove from Las Vegas to Idyllwild, implying that it gets dark early. By which I mean that we got to Banning, the starting point of the 80-mile ascend, at dusk. Those of you with good imagination may easily envision how much we enjoyed the Panoramic Highway, driving in the dark, for the first time, not sure of the road conditions, slowly creeping like a turtle not to miss a turn. Oh, did I mention the screaming baby in the back seat? Well, now you have a full picture. Be happy you were not the driver that day 🙂

But it was all worth it! Idyllwild Nature Center, Humber Park and the downtown are a candy to the eye and joy to the heart!

The world’s largest pine cones grow at Idyllwild Nature Center grown  – at least that’s what we were told by the Canter’s ranger. Granted, those pine cones are ENORMOUS,  larger than those we saw at Big Bear Lake, and in this pic they are still closed:


The downtown is all rustic and wooden, with plenty delicious locally-owned restaurants and TWO huge Christmas trees! Both of which are a growing trees, a part of the community. Isn’t that precious?!

If you are not yet convinced that Idyllwild is the most idyllic place to celebrate winter holidays, I give you my ultimate reason: Wishes come true here.  Mine did. Idyllwild made my first wish of 2017 come true! I wished for snow. Seriously, having spent 5 winters in Vegas I longed for snowy New Year. And it happened! It started snowing on New Year’s Eve and on the first day of 2017 this is what we woke up to:     




Rotterdam in a Day (part 3)

Last fall, when we traveled through Europe, we spent 1 day in Rotterdam. I did not know anything about Rotterdam other than it’s in the Netherlands and that there’s this remarkable bridge – Erasmus bridge. But that one day became the most vivid memory of our trip (the gardens of Versailles is the second best).  This is where we began our day and this is where we ended up. This post is a promise given to Restless Jo – I’m posting all the photos of Rotterdam we had taken during our visit, except those I had already blogged about.

This is what we saw from the window of our room. To the left is the red bridge we walked on, to the right is the glimpse of the iconic Erasmus Bridge. A freight vessel in the middle.

Some views of the city:

Parks and canals – and ducks 🙂

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And finally the icon of Rotterdam – Erasmus Bridge. It’s massive despite its seemingly light and airy construction!  Oh, and its nickname is the Swan 🙂


I hope you enjoyed a day in Rotterdam and will consider visiting this fascinating city next time you are around!

Rotterdam in a Day (part 2) – Windmills – Jo’s Monday Walk

Our day in Rotterdam began with a typically European picturesque Saturday market surrounded by mind-twisting architecture.


After lunch we rented beautiful most comfortable cruisers at StayOkay hostel located in the Cube Houses and went to explore the city. The weather gave us its best gift – perfect warm golden autumn day!


The whole point of renting a bike is to – wait for it! – see the windmills!!! I mean, how can one visit the Netherlands and not see the windmills!? What’s the point, right? Especially if you are only 15 km away from the largest concentration of old wind mills in the Netherlands! Yep, you heard it – Kinderdijk is a small village 15 km away from Rotterdam with the largest concentration of wind mills from 1740! It’s a UNESCO heritage sight, too. (Wiki here)image

To get to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam you take a waterbus. Yes, that’s public transportation in the Netherlands 🙂 It’s exactly what it’s called – a boat packed with people and bicycles, just like a bus 🙂


30 minutes of joy ride and you are in windmill heaven! Well, technically you still have to walk/bike to the wind mills for a little bit. But the path runs along the river, through the village with most adorable – and envy-inspiring – ginger-bread houses imaginable so no-one in their right mind can possibly complain!20141018_171125

There is a lovely legend about the name Kinderdijk which In Dutch means “Children dike”. Back in 1400’s after a particularly severe flood, when people went to check the  location, they saw a cradle floating in the water. A cat was jumping from side to side to keep the cradle afloat. When people fished the cradle out of the water, they found a baby, peacefully sleeping in it, dry and unharmed. The cat saved the baby 🙂20141018_172658

Another curious thing is that the windmills were built to drain water from the area and not to mill wheat, as I had always imagined! Nowadays water level is maintained by diesel power stations, although some of the windmills are still operational.

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We returned to Rotterdam the same way we arrived – by waterbus 🙂 And even though our One Day in Rotterdam was over, I still have one more post on Rotterdam to treat you to. Hope to see you back next Monday!

This post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk. She is inviting us to follow mountain goats and she’s got quite a company with her, too! Go check them all out – so worth it!

Rotterdam in a Day (part 1) – Jo’s Monday Walk

If you have only one day to spend in Rotterdam, let it be a Saturday. Because Saturday is market day. The central square is transformed into a wonderfully atmospheric old-fashioned market, with its friendly buzz, a melting pot of colors, smells and tastes, a treasure hunt and a sociologist’s dream. Such markets are found only in traditional Europe in a weekend.


We started off from Noordereiland, which is an island in the middle of the city, crossing Willemsbrug, a huge bridge with red pillars.


Rotterdam’s architecture is impressive. Impressively modern – high, large and whimsical. But also dramatically modern. The history of the city goes back to 1270 and as such one would expect at least the downtown to represent such respectable age. Unfortunately, the only remnant of the medieval city is Laurenskerk, a Protestant Cathedral completed in 1525. The rest was destroyed by the Germans in air attacks during World War II. The Cathedral survived because it served as a beacon to aim. The Town Hall is another survivor because Hitler wanted it for his headquarters.


Today, however, the most popular tourist attraction in the center are the Cube Houses.


Despite their awkward anti-dwelling shape, it’s a multi-apartment building where real people actually live 🙂 Designed by architect Piet Blom, it’s based on the concept of “living as an urban roof”: high density housing with sufficient space on the ground level. His design represents a village within a city, where each house represents a tree, and all the houses together, a forest. (Wiki)


Each apartment has 3 floors and is about 100 square meters. For a nominal fee anyone can visit a Show Cube to see what it’s like to live in a Cube! The open space beneath the apartments hosts a surprisingly interactive Museum of Chess Pieces:



Adjacent to Cube Houses is Pencil Tower, another creation of Blom. Hard to miss:


But we are here for the market, aren’t we? Flowers, fruit, veggies, smoked meat and sausages, cheeses, fish cooked for you in a blink, fresh breads and mouth-watering olives. Hope you are hungry! This place can satisfy any picky taste.

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And just when you thought you’d had enough, turn around. This bubble of a building is a food pavilion! Excuisite wines and cheeses, best coffee from around the world, fancy bakeries and more olive stalls – there is no way to leave empty-handed nor empty-stomached 🙂



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Now when you’ve eaten to your heart’s content (read: tasted all the goodies you could get your eyes on!), it’s time to get on a bike. StayOkay international hostel is right here, in the Cube Houses and they rent out bicycles!


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At this point you might think “A day cannot get better than this!” but don’t bet too high just yet. Come back next week to see what One Day in Rotterdam has in store. Promise, you won’t be disappointed!

This post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk. This week she is taking us to Thorp Perrow Arboretum to enjoy spectacular autumn! I also encourage you to visit the other walks – there is seething for every taste this week!

Where is Solothurn?


St. Ursus Cathedral and the cupcake tower to the right

Where in the World is this place!? Switzerland, my friends. 30 mins drive North from the capital, Bern.  This idyllic town is the perfect setting to satisfy you appetite for All Things Medieval.  Welcome!




According to Wikipedia (and who would doubt the integrity of the source?), the settlement of Solothurn dates back to Paleolithic era. Well, I have not witnessed much influence from those times, but the presence of the Roman Empire is in the air and in the cobble-stone streets.  The fortress, or rather the walls surrounding the city with monasteries (what a diverse lot of those!) and numerous houses of nobility, was first erected around 350 AD. The following centuries and ruling nations (Romans, French, the Swiss and French again) by the 16th century have shaped these walls into the cutest fortress with most delicious 3 cupcake towers!


And more towers. Some more adopted for living in than others:




This last one is ancient and is lovingly referred to as the Leaning Tower. Why? Because it is! However, unlike its more famous sister in Pizza, that is leaning due to the unstable ground it stands on, the Leaning Tower of Solothurn is a man-made… well, accident 🙂

Naturally, no Medieval city is truly Medieval without the Market Square and the Clock Tower. Solothurn Clock Tower, built in the 12th century, is truly magnificent, a masterpiece of craftsmanship and an impressive piece of machinery:




Life & Death, Day and Night, in everlasting dance

The Hour Hand – a large hand with 3 finders raised in oath taking – indicates the time of day.  The Moon Hand – a hand with crescent moon, rotates anti-clockwise (!) – marks the day in the 27-day moon cycle, along with the phases of the Moon. The Sun Hand – a little hand with the Sun – keeps track of the current sign of the Zodiac.

As for the churches, another trademark of a Medieval or – let’s be honest – any old city, Solothurn is quite a treasure box. St. Ursus Cathedral is a Swiss heritage site of national significance. The remains of St. Ursus, an early Roman martyr, are kept here. The first church was build in the early Middle Ages. The Cathedral in its present shape was constructed by the end of the 18th century.



He sees you – so better be good



249 winding stone, wood, very old and rotten wood and finally new wood steps eventually brought us to this:


20141021_143551This is where I leave you, my dears, because there is no better place to stay. Don’t forget to breathe!

Inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk.

Oh, Versailles!


Versailles. Do I need to say more? No, I don’t. But I still will!

Literary genre: A travelogue

Atmosphere: The most romantic warm and sun-felt day in October

Background: The most romantic palace in the world

Plot: A girl walking to where her dream comes true, through a battle with the society, overcoming personal weakness, to the fulfilling achievement and enriching experience.

I bow to His Majesty, King Louis XIV and walk  the 350-year old cobble stone courtyard (if stones could talk!) to the Gates.


20141014_131221It’s time for my first challenge. I have to combat impatience and wait the line to be admitted into the Heaven on Earth. This is what the 17th century nobility must have experience waiting for Le Roi Soleil to grace them with his appearance.

Elbowing through the rooms of the palace is a battle with time and society. Though it’s past the peak season, the crowds are insane! A natural thing like private space ceases to exist in this blinding splendor. A simple desire to be left alone, to absorb the moment, to admire – or at least to take a good look! – at the beds, chairs, clocks, vases, mirrors, crystal chandeliers, golden statues and the artwork that were every day life trifles for the King and his court becomes irrelevant.

But everything comes to an end. The palace did, too. Releasing me from the heat and the frowsty grandeur to the pearl of my dreams – the Gardens of Versailles.


This is where previous diligent planning payed off. It was the Musical Gardens Day! I walked all the way to the end of that canal, stretching up to the horizon. And though I have not seen some fountains at work, the music from each of them transformed a piece of reality around it, taking visitors back to the days of luxurious dresses and wigs and courtesy and everything a girl has ever dreamed of.

The Gardens of Versailles are filled with fountain-hugging statues, fountain-lounging statues and free-standing statues. Some are more impressive than others. Don’t be surprised if you see statues of children torturing someone or something, or a child chained by the neck. Some scenes are openly cruel to a modern day observer. How that could have been a pleasing sight I know not. But there are only a few of those. Most are delightfully mythological!  Like these ones:

Garden babes


Speaking of statues, my Love has made an acquaintance with “America” and seems to be feeding her crocodile


 While I prefer the company of Seasons: Madame Summer and Monseigneur Winter

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The Grove of Enceladus is the most mythological and the most impressive. To us, even more than the most well-known and all-time favorite Apollo’s Chariot. 20141014_162005 20141014_162334

According to the Greek Mythology, Enceladus was a Giant, son of Gaia and Uranus, one of many who rebelled against the Gods in fight for Cosmos. He threw rocks aiming to kill the Gods on the Mount Olympus from the Earth, but he rocks, cursed by the Gods, would fall back down and bury Enceladus. Thus, Mount Etna in Sicily was formed.

Apollos’ Chariot is just that – no less.  Emerging from a sizable body of water, mounting a chariot of numerous horses, Apollo is magnificent! This fountain breathes physical power such as I would not want to stay in the way of.

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Apollo’s Baths Grove is an unexpected sight, the more likable for that, of course.
20141014_170856A close up and information for the curious:




This lonely fountain seems to have forgotten its role, making a perfect setting for a dreamy fall day in the woods.

20141014_155728It was almost sunset when I came to this corner of the Gardens, and though I did not manage to take good pictures, it was a wonderfully peaceful and people-less end to an unforgettable day spent in a garden




This post was in large inspired by Restless Jo and her impressions of Versailles. 








Jo’s Monday Walk – Mosaic in Odessa

Inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk around Santa Luzia

There is a mysterious mosaic in Odessa, known to few, noticed by no-one. Not in a church, but out in the open, up above the heads of passerbys, beneath the rooftops. It is right there, just a few steps into the city from the famous Potemkin Stars. It is right there, facing the Empress, Katherine the Great. Yet, it is hardly ever noticed, but for some very local tour guides.


I am a 7th generation Odessite and here is the story my grandmother told me.

Odessa was born as a sea port, Southern Gate to the Great Russian Empire, where seamen were a common lot. A most superstitious and religious lot, at that. Before every trip to sea, they would pray. Pray to Saint Mary. For protection, for good trade, for what not. This was the very icon, icon of Saint Mary, all seamen prayed to before setting sail and its location is not accidental. It was placed high on a building, on one of the very last buildings one passes going to the post and one of the very first buildings on the way from port to home.

Another version claims it was a portrait of Katherine the Great, who was no less than a patron saint for the people of Odessa!

With time, the icon was forgotten and almost destroyed in WW2. After the war, a woodworker discovered the remains of the mosaic during a reconstruction of the building. He was no artist, no professional. But he took it to restore the mosaic. He created mosaic tiles from wood, painted them and recreated the icon. The rumor has it that the good man immortalized the image of his wife in the mosaic.

  This is how the mosaic looks now, hidden by trees, still gracious and impressive, surrounded by numb decay: