Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens with Sonja

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-1

Last week I tagged along with Payam for a work thing and since it happened to be in my friend Sonja’s neighborhood, I decided to visit my old 7days buddy. It’s been a few since we last hung out, sadly. But you know what makes me happy? She didn’t even mention that I haven’t visited in forever and she took me on a walk with her boys to Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens! I LOVE that she thinks nature trails when I come to visit. That’s the kind of friend I want to be.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-10

It was a beautiful spring day, squeezed in between weeks of dreary rainy days so we felt like we won the lottery with the weather. It was so nice! Look at that snow! I’ve been scrolling past post after post of snowmageddon images on Instagram feeling major FOMO so getting a glimpse of snow like this is gleeful. Wee! Snow! If only I owned a cabin and we could pile the dogs in the truck and head up for a day of it. Not gonna happen though. I am on budget-watch 2019 and no trips to the snow are included. Sad face.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-2

But that’s okay because we have things we can do for free like visit nature trails and look at native plants and art installations…

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-6

This particular installation was so perfect for the gardens. If I was a sculptor making stainless steel origami statues I would definitely want them placed strategically around these gardens. It was wonderful. Walk into a clearing, there stand some iron origami horses. Look sideways into a dark patch of evergreens, there’s a tower of origami cranes. 

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-3

Paper airplanes, floating boats, standing bison, iron eagles… it was very imaginative and fun. Hats off to the artists.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-9

Of course there were animals to watch too.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-4

We brought our very own wild animals with us. Just kidding.

Sonja’s boys are not wild animals but they are boys and therefore very different than girls, which is what I’m used to. No chatting about ASMR or singing Ariana Grande songs or whining about who gets to sit in the front on the way back but definitely lots of climbing, stick stealing and rock-throwing… At one point we were by a pond and her boys were throwing big boulders into the pond. Sploosh went the boulders one after another until a woman nearby who was eating her lunch chided them to stop. They stopped and threw little pebbles into the pond instead.

Then later they were sliding down a stone wall next to a staircase and someone piped up that they sure hoped they didn’t get hurt which passive-aggressively meant: please stop doing that. Sonja very kindly informed the woman that the boys were fine and she was keeping an eye on them. I had to admire her parenting because if boys can’t play in a botanic garden full of nature, where can they play? I suppose the commenter preferred they sat quietly on a bench sketching or something but if anyone knows boys, they know that is just silly.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-8

I supremely enjoyed myself even without any quiet sketching. I could have easily wiled away an hour or two sketching my favorite plants but it was fun to see the park through new eyes. Not just flora and fauna but fun jungle gyms and rock launchers, stinging nettles, noisy palm fronds and which stick would make the best walking stick.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-7

I suppose this post is going to be pretty boring to most. Except the 2 percent who love native California plants like I do. Hey there 2 percent! Let’s be friends! Happy, sunny black-eyed Susans, curling spindly reddish manzanita…these are a few of my favorite things!

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-5

Don’t hold back on the spikes dudes!

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-11

Before I close up this post I should also mention that they have lovely facilities if anyone wanted to throw a gala event or a wedding. How pretty, right? There were white paper solar powered lanterns everywhere.  I would love to come back at night and see how they glow.

Rancho-Santa-Ana-Botanical-Gardens-Walk-12

Very lastly, on the way to the parking lot actually, we visited the nursery. I wanted to take home a few spikey friends but my drive was long and I didn’t really do my research yet on where I should plant them at home so they stayed there. Next time!

 

Italy, Chapter 4: Florence!

01-first-impression-of-florence

Ah, Florence. The last leg of our great epic girl’s trip to Italy. What do I think of Florence? I don’t even know. It was pretty. It was vast. There were a lot of churches. There was a lot of shopping. I would go again, definitely. It’s not top of my list like Varenna but it was fun. I would definitely go back to buy shoes, leather bags and belts.

02-funky-hotel-in-florence

First off we stayed in a pretty hip hotel.  The San Gallo Palace .  I dug all their weird cool art and the fresh take on breakfast. It was a bit kitschy, a bit modern, a bit zany like Italy is. I loved the funky chairs in the lobby and the little tiny cacti plants at breakfast. They had a garden outside too that I wanted to explore but by the time I got around to it a storm had rolled in and it was a bit chilly!

03-view-of-florence

Before all that, we took a quick trip on the Hop-on-hop-off bus to get a lay of the land. Teresa (and me) always recommend this to weary travelers. It’s a great way to relax, see the sights, get your bearings and get around! You can sit and relax or use the ticket for 24-48 hours just to get from here to there. It’s really a great value. Don’t worry about the cheap headphones and knowing what is really going on. You’ll figure it as you go and if you don’t figure it out, no biggy! Just go around again! Florence had two hop-on-hop-off bus routes. One was about an hour and the other two. We didn’t see all of the routes but we did get around. Our first stop was the statue of David at the top of the hill over-looking Florence.

04-view-of-florence-2

What a view! Not of the girl, though she is pretty too but of the Duomo and the city! It was really nice to start off our tour with this view and get an idea of what was to come. We walked around, admired some water-colorists street art and ate a delicious lunch.

 

05-food-in-florence-1

Apperol Spritz and thinly sliced meats were on the daily. Not pictured was of course burrata caprese salad! We ate that at every meal.

06-shopping-in-florence-1

Then down the hill to do some shopping! Shopping in Florence is what everybody does.

07-shopping-in-florence-2

There are little shops everywhere! Selling everything! And most of it really really nice things, not just cheap souvenirs.

08-the-duomo-florence-1

Of course we visited Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore up close and not just afar from the hillside. At night it was the most dramatic. The black and white marble looks almost like paper when juxtaposed with the other orange and brown buildings around it. It was all very surreal.

09-the-duomo-florence-2

10-the-duomo-florence-3

And of course we shopped.

11-shopping-in-florence-3

Teresa found a jaunty leather jacket and I almost bought those boots with the red elastic insert, but I didn’t.

12-signs-in-florence

The next day we took off to see the church at the top of the hill that we didn’t get a chance to see the day before.

13-San-Miniato-al -Monte-florence-1

It’s called The San Miniato al Monte and it’s very pretty. We happened to go there on a Sunday and actually got to see a Mass being performed which was crazily dramatic for me, the non-Catholic of the group. There was incense being swung back and forth, monks speaking in latin and the most dramatic and scary song being played on a loud organ. It sounded like Dracula himself was about to appear! But it wasn’t. It was just a traditional mass.

17-San-Miniato-al-Monte-florence-5

18-San-Miniato-al-Monte-florence-6

After that excitement we wandered around the cemetery outside and soaked in the sunshine.

14-San-Miniato-al -Monte-florence-2

We visited a little pharmacy store next to the church that the monks make essential oils for. I sampled their famous coconut ice cream. It was delicious, of course. So simple and light! Teresa was skeptical because she thinks coconuts only grow in Hawaii and the monks have no business messing with them. Either way the shop was really cute and we went home with several tinctures and potions.

15-San-Miniato-al -Monte-florence-3

The cemetery was beautiful. So many graves of children tugged at our heart strings.

16-San-Miniato-al -Monte-florence-4

Then back down the hill we bussed to see the famous bridge: Ponte Vecchio. It doesn’t look like it’s a bridge because it’s covered with little buildings but it is. All the little buildings are little shops. Some of them are so small they are cupboards that lock and unlock with a series of levers and pulleys that are all interconnected. It’s quite interesting and complicated. I’d love to go back when they are opening or closing and see how all the mechanisms actually work.

19-Ponte-Vecchio-florence-1

Pretty pretty postcard shots! Teresa took one from inside a shop which is a much more original idea. Too bad I didn’t think of that!

21-Ponte-Vecchio-florence-3

When we were there half the shops were closed because it was Sunday, which was fine with me because I was pretty much out of spending money by that point and less shops equals less people shopping so it wasn’t so overwhelmingly crowded.

20-Ponte-Vecchio-graffitti-florence-2

I can only imagine what it is like on a busy tourist day. Crazy!

22-Ponte-tourists-of-florence-1

Next we visited the Piazza della Signoria and admired all the violent sculptures. I’d love to go back as a history student and learn all the stories behind them.

23-Piazza-della-Signoria-florence

Christine pointed out some graffiti by Michelangelo. There are a lot of tall tales about how it got there. I’m not sure what is true but it was kind of cool to see. And nobody was really looking at it, so maybe it’s not that well known.

24-Graffiti-by-Michelangelo-florence

Tourists, tourists, tourists. They are an amazing spectacle on their own. Sometimes it’s fun to turn around and take pictures of all the people taking pictures.

25-monks-in-the-Piazza-della-Signoria-florence

We got a kick out of a flock of Tibetan monks that swarmed the square around us. I think the feeling was mutual.

26-street-art-in-florence

And the street art!

27-street-art-in-florence-2

I wonder what this chalk street art looks like when it rains.

28-streets-of-florence-1

We putzed around poking in and out of shops. The shopping seemed like it could go on forever. Much longer than I or my budget ever could.

35-last-looks-of-florence

But I could definitely take pictures of shops!

29-not-so-great-gilli-florence-1

We stopped by the famous Gilli restaurant from the famed American in Italy photo. Sadly we happened upon the one rude waiter in all of Italy so our experience wasn’t the best. I guess that is what we get for being American tourists. I’m sure Italy is very sick of us.

30-not-so-great-gilli-florence-2

The deserts were camera ready but not quite as tasty. Maybe our rude waiter tainted our opinions. I don’t know but I do know I am definitely NOT a cafe con panna girl. It was a little too much panna for me! It looks pretty though!

That night a storm rolled in and we were so late to get out to dinner that all the restaurants closed on us! It was Sunday after all. We were just about to stay in and order room service when we discovered the cutest little restaurant right next door to our hotel. It was very small and managed by the most capable older woman with fluffy blonde hair, probably the matriarch of the place. We huddled inside to keep warm.  In America they would have turned us away but she let us stay there in the entryway with a few other couples crowding everyone. Every table was filled but we stood there patiently until finally a few families left. They weren’t even rushed by the woman. They just finished and got up to go of their own accord. I love that about Italy. No one ever rushes you. You can stay all night until the restaurant closes! We know because we closed down a few!

I don’t have any pictures but you’ll just have to imagine it. It was called Ristorante Alfredo. It was so cozy and warm and welcoming. I love little family run restaurants! They really treat you the best. I ordered some kind of tomato zuppa (soup) (because I’m not a fan of fish and that was their specialty) and when it came, it was the heartiest thick, bready, crumb stew you have ever seen! My spoon stood up straight in it! It was a comfort food dream come true, perfect for a cold fall night AND perfect for our last dinner in Italy!

32-Santa-Maria-Novella-1-florence

The next morning while Teresa got her travel agent affairs in order, Christine and I did one last power walk to see Santa Maria Novella. There are so many amazing churches in Italy but this one seemed the most steeped in history. It was quite big with many rooms and courtyards. I want to go back and spend a year learning about it an all the frescos and art. A year might not even be enough time!

33-Santa-Maria-Novella-2-florence

Then after that power walk tour we headed across the street for my last standing cappuccino.

34-Santa-Maria-Novella-cafe-florence

Italian cappuccinos are so, so, so good. It’s very strange to me to stand and drink a cappuccino at the bar. I think we should adopt this custom. Especially the $1 part. So good and so cheap! The woman pouring my cappuccino recognized a friend who came in and shouted out “Ciao Bella!” so loudly and enthusiastically that Christine and I were quite smitten. Wouldn’t it be great to be greeted like that every day?!

So we did just that when we got back to our hotel and reunited with Teresa. Ciao Bella, Teresa!

36-ciao-bella

I think learning a new greeting is probably the best souvenir of all!

Ciao Bella, Florence!

Next up: Robbed AGAIN (!!!) in Milan