Capitolio Nacional Cuba

Last week, I finally made it to Havana – a dream come true! It didn’t disappoint. What a vibrant city! If you ever get a chance, it’s a must see. Over the next few posts, we will visit Old Havana or in Spanish La Habana Vieja. We took one of those day trips from Varadero. This short little day trip left me wanting to explore it more.

Capitolio Nacional

Our first stop was the Capitol Building. Architecture look familiar? The inspiration for the building was the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. and the Pantheon in Paris. It was completed in 1929. Before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, it was the home of the Cuban government.

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The Capitolio Nacional Cuba contains the third largest indoor sculpture in the world (after the Buddha sculpture in the temple complex of Nara Japan and the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln in Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial). The Statue of the Republic (Estatua de la Republica) is an idealized representation of Cuban nationalism modeled after a beautiful Cuban female model, Lily Valty. Cast in bronze and covered in 22-carat gold leaf, the statue dominates the main hall of the Capitolio Nacional.” Click on the link above to read more about El Capitolio on the mycubavisit.com site. Found this photo of the Statue of the Republic.

"Larepublica" by Angelo Zanelli - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Larepublica.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Larepublica.jpg

“Larepublica” by Angelo Zanelli – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Larepublica.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Larepublica.jpg

Parque Central

Other sites around the Capitol Building is Central Park (aka Parque José Martí). That’s the statue of José Martí in the middle. José Martí was a poet and a Cuban National Hero. He died in 1895 fighting for Cuba’s independence.

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IMG_9001Gran Teatro de la Habana

This beautiful building beside the Capitol is home to Cuba’s national ballet and opera – the Gran Teatro de la Habana. “A theater since 1838, the building contains the grandiose Teatro García Lorca, along with two smaller concert halls: the Sala Alejo Carpentier and the Sala Ernesto Lecuono – where art films are sometimes shown.” (via Lonely Planet)

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Check out the details on the facade!

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Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

Across the street on the other side of Parque Central is the National Museum of Fine Arts established in 1927.

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Stay tuned for more on Havana, Cuba.

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Sightseeing in San Francisco

San Francisco is a walkable city but some may find the steep streets a bit of a challenge. When we were there a couple of years ago with our parents, we didn’t do as much walking as we did when it was just me and the hubby. The last sites I’ve chosen for this post are the Palace of Fine Arts, the Painted Ladies and that very crooked street, Lombard Street.

Palace of Fine Arts

I always get a little obsessed with the Palace of Fine Arts. I love just sitting in front of the lagoon and admiring the view and of course, taking a ton of photos of such a beautiful subject. It’s easy to see the influence of Greek and Roman architecture. There’s a lot of detail to take in from the weeping women atop the colonnades to the rotunda itself and all the sculptural frieze. I never tire of it.

The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District. It was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in the Beaux-Arts style. But this is not the same structure from 1915. The original palace was actually not built well, so it was demolished and re-built in the 1960’s and renovated in 2009. It used to host art exhibits, theatre and was the home of the Exploratorium museum up until last year.

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As you walk around the lagoon, try to see if you can find the wildlife that live there like this bird. Some are well disguised so look hard.

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Panoramic view of the Palace of Fine Arts from 1919 (via Wikipedia).

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The Painted Ladies

You’ll find “Painted Ladies” all over San Francisco – they refer to the Edwardian and Victorian houses that are painted in multiple colors to enhance the architectural details. The ones below are located near Alamo Square. It was very foggy during our visit and quite cool and windy so we couldn’t appreciate the view or enjoy the park. But I managed to take this photo of the Painted Ladies which are often seen in postcards.

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Here’s an ideal view from Alamo Square Park on a bright sunny day courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Check out the angle of this street! But this not even the steepest street in San Francisco.

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Lombard Street

I’m sure you’ve heard of Lombard Street. It’s usually listed as one of the must-see sites of San Francisco. It is a very steep street with eight very tight turns. The traffic sign at the top states a speed of 5 miles per hour but you don’t have to drive down, there’s a sidewalk if you choose to walk. In the summer, it is filled with flowers; the photo below was taken in January, so no flowers. You can take the Powell-Hyde cable car from Ghirardelli Square or Union Square to the top of Lombard Street so it’ll be easier to walk down. The best spot to take a photo is at the bottom from Leavenworth Street. Just be mindful of the traffic. I can’t even imagine how the people that live on this street put up with all the tourists that visit. But maybe it’s worth it for that view.

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The view from the top of Lombard Street looking east towards Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. Pretty awesome view, isn’t it?

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Here’s a close up view from the top of Lombard street; you can see the Coit Tower and the church steeples of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.

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To get a better idea of how tight those turns are, here’s a view of Lombard Street from Coit Tower via Wikipedia.

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And there you go – a few sites you could visit for free in San Francisco. There are lots of ways to get around the city but you may want to consider driving – who knows, you may find it fun (or scary) to drive up and down those steep streets.  If you do decide to drive, try this route and start at the Palace of Fine Arts, then to Lombard Street (take a detour to Filbert Street which is just a couple of blocks east), next to San Francisco City Hall and then Alamo Square. Enjoy!

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An Afternoon in Napa Valley

We stopped in Napa Valley on our way to San Francisco from Yosemite National Park. The view from that drive reminded me one of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, “Christina’s World“. I think it was the colour of the landscape. Tell me if I’m stretching…

This is Christina’s World (image via Wikipedia):

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and this is the view from that drive…

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It’s the colour right? And the rolling hills? But no house on top of the hill like in the painting.  Christina’s World, by the way, is part of the permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The MoMA has an amazing collection that’s not to be missed.

Napa Valley

I tend to take photos from the car and hope that they’ll turn out okay which some of them did. Aside from photos of vineyards, I thought this was an interesting photo. I see a face from the facade of the building – can you see it?

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If you don’t know where to start, visit the Napa Valley Welcome Center located at 600 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559. They were very helpful. They also provided a map of all the wineries in the area.

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Beringer Vineyards

So many wineries to choose from and we decided to visit Beringer Vineyards located at 2000 Main Street, St. Helena. Beringer, founded in 1875, is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley. The estate was designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Rhine House is the main house, which dates back to the 19th century, is now a shop. It is worth a visit to see some of the architectural details like the stained glass windows.  Here’s an excerpt from the Beringer site: “Completed in 1884 by architect Albert Schroepfer, Frederick Beringer’s former residence is now the centerpiece of the expansive Beringer property. Exhibiting the fine, detailed craftsmanship of the period, the Rhine House has beautiful exterior stonework, stained-glass windows and interior wood paneling. When building his 17-room mansion, Frederick wanted to mimic the Beringer family’s impressive German home at Mainz-on-the-Rhine. Built at a cost of about $28,000 (with the 40 panels of stained glass accounting for $6,000) the Rhine House is a classic example of ornate Victorian architecture with its many gables, turrets and ornaments.”

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See that big tree stump in the garden? That tree was alive at the time of the signing of the Constitution, as stated on a plaque found beside it.

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We caught the half hour Introductory Tour which started through these double doors…

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We were taken through the old winery and its wine-aging tunnels. It was very dark in those tunnels. “Rare among Napa Valley wineries, the aging tunnels of Beringer were dug into the hillside of Spring Mountain from the late 1870s to the early 1880s. Chinese immigrant workers completed the tedious and strenuous task of hand-chiseling the 1,200 linear feet of tunnel. The hillside rock acts as a natural insulator and keeps the temperature in the tunnels at an ideal 58-60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round with a humidity—perfect conditions for storing wine.” (via Beringer site)

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If you are looking for something to do for a day outside of San Francisco, I think Napa Valley is a terrific option. We found the weather to be very comfortable in Napa; warm but not uncomfortable, with little humidity. Not sure if it’s always like that but it was perfect on that day when we were there.

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Before the Golden Gate Bridge, there was Hyde Street Pier

Didn’t realize how much time had lapsed since my last post. I thought we could go back to California and finish off our tour of the piers in San Francisco.

If you keep walking towards the Hyde Street cable car stop, on the other side of the street from the cable car stop is Hyde Street Pier. Before the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge were erected, this is where you would catch the ferry boat to Sausalito.  Today, the pier is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park where you’ll find some historical ships. You can even see Alcatraz clearly from the end of the pier. It looks like it’s much closer as well.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

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Eureka

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The ferry boat on the right, behind the sign “Hyde St. Pier” is the Eureka built in 1890. It used to be the commuter ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito until 1941 when the ferries were cancelled. At the time, the Eureka could carry up to 2,300 passengers and 120 automobiles. I didn’t think it was that big but then I have a poor judgement of space. Some interesting facts about the Eureka from the NPS site:

  • Overall length 299.5 feet
  • Extreme Width 78 feet
  • Gross Tonnage 2420
  • Horsepower 1500
  • Passengers 2300
  • Automobiles 120
  • Eureka is a wooden-hulled, sidewheel paddle steamboat.
  • From the passenger deck up, she is nearly identical fore and aft.
  • Her “double-end” design made disembarking quicker and easier.
  • Eureka’s large “walking beam” steam engine remains intact.

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Hercules

This is Hercules, a steam tugboat built in 1907 and went out of service in 1962.

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Hercules with Alcatraz in background to its right.

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Balclutha

I really don’t know much about ships but the Balclutha, also known as Star of Alaska, Pacific Queen, or Sailing Ship Balclutha, caught my eye and wondered how many people it takes to maintain a ship like this in the water. It looks like a lot of work with all those rigging. Here are some facts on this ship from the NPS site:

  • Overall length 301 feet
  • Length of Deck 256.5 feet
  • Beam 38.6 feet
  • Depth 22.7 feet
  • Gross Tonnage 1689
  • Height of Mainmast 145 feet
  • Balclutha is a three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship built to carry a variety of cargo all over the world.
  • Launched in 1886 by the Charles Connell and Company shipyard near Glasgow, Scotland, the ship carried goods around Cape Horn (tip of South America) 17 times.
  • It took a crew of about 26 men to handle the ship at sea with her complex rigging and 25 sails.

Did you know that it took about 6 months to sail from Cardiff, Wales to San Francisco back in 1887. That’s a long time to be out on the water. (I wonder if it would still take that long today.) This ship has had quite the career from being a British Deepwaterman, Salmon Packet and a movie star! Yup, it was in the film Mutiny on the Bounty starring Clark Gable. Read up on the voyages of the Balclutha here. It’s fascinating and also glad that such a ship has been restored for the rest of us to appreciate.

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(via National Park Service)

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There are many more ships in the area. Go ahead and explore. If you’ve brought swimming trunks, feel free to jump in the water. I noticed an entrance into a small beach just behind the Park Store.

See what I mean? Alcatraz looks so close…

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What else is around the area? There’s the Cannery, Ghirardelli Square and of course, the cable car stop!

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A Stroll Around Pier 39 in San Francisco

San Francisco is known for its piers so, just like other visitors to this beautiful city, that’s where we headed on a clear day in August of 2012. You’ll find shops and restaurants and even a merry-go-round or is it a carousel?! From Pier 39, you have stunning views of Coit Tower and Alcatraz. I used to remember seeing sea lions around the pier but I don’t remember seeing any when we were there. Notice what the people in the photo below are wearing (more on this later).

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Here’s a view of the Coit Tower from Pier 39. Coit Tower is in the neighbourhood of Telegraph Hill. I was there many years ago but we didn’t go there on this visit. Notice the art deco style of the tower? It was completed in 1933. The Golden Gate Bridge was completed a few years later in 1937. You can go up to the observation deck for a fee for a view of the city.

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Remember I mentioned that we visited in August of 2012 in the middle of summer and yet look at the photo below. Look at what the people are wearing – pants, jackets, sweatshirts or fleece. And for those that are wearing shorts and t-shirt, let me tell you, they end up running into one of the stores for a fleece jacket. My one piece of advice when visiting San Francisco is to always pack a light jacket or a fleece because you never know what kind of weather you’ll get. Even the residents had busted out their leather jackets. It’s always cooler by the water. We saw the temperature steadily decrease driving from Yosemite where it was the high 30’s or even low 40’s degrees Celsius to the mid-teens by the time we reached Sausalito and San Francisco. Another word of advice, if you’re driving to the pier, do not park at the parking garage across Pier 39. They charged $40 for all day parking two years ago. I can only imagine what they are charging now. There are more reasonable parking around the area. But we got stuck in the queue with no way to back out.

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Here’s that two-tiered merry-go-round or is it a carousel? I’m not exactly sure but it’s quite pretty.

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And there’s Alcatraz. If you want to visit Alcatraz, I would recommend to book your ticket at least 2 weeks in advance. They sell out very quickly.

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Another must see is Fisherman’s Wharf and if you’re hungry, it’s the perfect place to stop for a bite. Choose from one of the many restaurants around. You may want to try the Dungeness crab and the clam chowder served in sourdough bread.

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Here’s a photo of those Dungeness crab courtesy of Wikipedia:

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Musée Mécanique 

The Musée Mécanique is one of the neatest places to visit. It’s located just behind the “Fishermans Wharf” sign and admission is free. You can walk around and see the antique music boxes and arcade machines. They even have arcade machines from your childhood – like the Pong video game! I’m not joking and you can actually play with all the machines. It’s quite awesome. So, don’t miss it!

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Cable Cars

If riding the cable cars of San Francisco is on your list of things to do, well, pack a lot patience because the line-up and wait time is long. Catch them at Powell & Market streets. If you’d rather keep exploring, from here, you can head on to Hyde St. Pier which is located just at the bottom of this street, but that’s for another post.

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A Quick Walk through Balboa Park, San Diego

With only an afternoon to spend in San Diego, we had to choose what we wanted to see and I really wanted to visit Balboa Park. When I hear “park”, I think gardens. Balboa Park is much more than just gardens. Balboa Park is an urban park with museums, performing arts theatres, gardens, restaurants, an art village and the San Diego Zoo.  “Named for the Spanish maritime explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the park hosted the 1915–16 Panama–California Exposition and 1935–36 California Pacific International Exposition, both of which left architectural landmarks. The park and its historic Exposition buildings were declared a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Landmark District in 1977, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.” – Wikipedia. We only got to visit the grounds of Balboa Park, so I definitely have to go back and check out the exhibits.

Balboa Park Visitors Center, House of Hospitality

To start your visit, make your way to the Visitors Centre at the House of Hospitality. They’ll explain what to see and do in the park. I was immediately impressed with the architecture of the House of Hospitality. If you have more than a day, you can buy a pass to access the numerous buildings and exhibits in the park.

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The next couple of photos were the view from the courtyard of the House of Hospitality.

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Spreckels Organ Pavilion

The Spreckles Organ Pavilion houses the “second largest outdoor organ in the world with 4,518 pipes comprising 73 ranks” per sandiego.org. They have concerts every Sunday from 2:00 to 3:00 pm and Monday at 7:30 pm in the summer.

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We parked behind the organ pavilion so it was actually the first structure that we saw. As you walk towards the Visitors Center, make sure you stop and admire the view of the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego or you could buy a ticket and explore the garden more thoroughly.

San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art is one of the first buildings you’ll notice from the Visitors Centre. The collection includes Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings, and 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures. Isn’t that quite the facade?! If you’re planning to visit, their hours of operation is as follows: Sunday: 12:00 to 5:00 PM | Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM | Friday: 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM | Wednesday: Closed

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As you wander the grounds of Balboa Park, make sure you keep an eye out for the wonderful sculptures such as the two below. The second one is very kid friendly.

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Casa del Prado

Casa del Prado is one of the reconstructed buildings from the 1915 Pan American Exposition. It is now home to the San Diego Junior Theater and the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet.

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Casa del Prado Theatre

The Casa del Prado Theater, is adjacent to the Casa del Prado. The entrance is decorated in the Spanish Rococo style known as Churrigueresque ornamentation. The Casa del Prado is decorated in the same style.

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San Diego History Center | Model Railroad Museum | Museum of Photographic Arts

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Botanical Building

The Botanical Building was one of my favourites. It’s so perfectly situated with the lily pond in front. I took quite a few photos of those lilies.

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San Diego National History Museum

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Spanish Village Art Center

Loved browsing through the Spanish Village Art Center. These are artist studios and galleries. You might even see some artists at work! It’s located just behind the National History Museum.

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The Old Globe

Feel like catching a show or maybe a Shakespeare play? Check out the Old Globe theatre. There are three stages to choose from and 15 productions per year.

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The California Bell Tower | San Diego Museum of Man

Notice the weather vane on top of the tower in the shape of a ship?

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El Cid Sculpture

This El Cid statue faces the San Diego Museum of Art. I didn’t know anything about El Cid. I had to Google it. Per the website waymarking.com, the El Cid sculpture was installed in Balboa Park in 1930 and was made by Anna Hyatt Huntington (not sure if she’s Huntington of the Huntington Library). But who is El Cid you say? ““El Cid Campeador” (the nickname is a Spanish/Arabic amalgam meaning “lord champion”) was actually named Rodrigo Diaz. He was named commander of the armed forces of the kingdom of Castile at the age of 22, and led them in campaigns against neighboring kingdoms in Spain, both Muslim and Christian. After political reverses and exile, he changed allegiances and served the Moorish state of Saragossa, then managed to conquer and himself rule the kingdom of Valencia.

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And there you have it. A quick half day walk through Balboa Park. Next time we go back to southern California, this will be on top my list of places to visit.

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The Gardens at Huntington Library

The Huntington Library is one of my favourite spots in the Los Angeles area located in the San Marino. Not only do they have an impressive art collection (featuring some famous works such as Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, Mary Cassatt’s Breakfast in Bed, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, and a terrific collection from the Arts and Crafts Movement), and you can’t help but admire the Huntington family’s impressive Beaux-Arts mansion which now houses the Art Gallery, but I particularly love their gardens. I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves and I think it’s fair to say that the Huntington Library is worth a visit next time you’re in the Los Angeles area. Give yourself a lot of time for the visit because the place is massive. We didn’t have time to see everything last time we were there.

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The Chinese Gardens

Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is stunning. The whole meaning behind the design escapes me but the pavilions, bridges, covered walkways and architectural designs against the back drop of the natural elements evoke such nice harmony and balance. I could have spent all day in this garden. For a virtual tour of the Chinese Gardens, click here. But if you’re looking for more in depth information and meaning behind this garden, click here for the link to Huntington’s site.

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The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden was completed in 1912 but has been recently renovated. I think they had just finished the renovations when we went in August 2012. Another stunning garden with a historic Japanese house, a teahouse, a moon bridge, koi-filled ponds, rock garden, and a bonsai garden. This garden is so serene and peaceful. I could have sat for awhile by that pond under the moon bridge watching those koi fish or under this wisteria covered walkway.

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The Rose Garden

What can I say? If you love roses, then you have to check out the Rose Garden. The roses were so beautiful. Dad would have loved this garden.

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The Conservatory

This is the Conservatory which we didn’t get a chance to see because we ran out of time. According to Huntington’s site: “Living plants fill a 16,000 square-foot greenhouse that comprises three different habitats (a lowland tropical rain forest, a cloud forest, and a carnivorous plant bog) and a plant lab devoted to experiment stations focusing on the parts of plants.”

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The gardens I’ve mentioned here is just a part of what makes up Huntington’s Botanical Garden. You’re just going to have to go there to see them all! Click here for more info on the gardens below:

  • Australian Garden
  • Camellia Garden
  • Children’s Garden
  • Chinese Garden
  • Conservatory
  • Desert Garden
  • Herb Garden
  • Japanese Garden
  • Jungle Garden
  • Lily Ponds
  • Palm Garden
  • Rose Garden
  • Shakespeare Garden
  • Subtropical Garden
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