Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sailing the Danube to Passau, Germany. . . . . . .

The second longest river in Europe, the Danube begins its journey in 
Germany's Black Forest and runs through 10 countries to the Black Sea. 
It remains one of Europe's most significant and historic waterways, passing
 through some of the most breathtaking regions,  as seen in these photos as we 
sailed on our northerly course through Austria's picturesque Wachau Valley toward 
Passau, Germany.

Early morning mist enveloped the countryside as we sailed up river - the silence 
was so peaceful early on a Monday morning. 
All pix taken from our cabin which had a floor to ceiling sliding window 
(called a French Balcony in case you want to book a river cruise).

I loved the countryside along the river. Being early Spring there were still 
blossoms. The freshly leafed out trees, all so lush and brilliant, along with fresh 
grass and new crops in the fields, made the landscape truly beautiful.
The cleanliness of the small towns, villages, and around the farms was noted, 
everywhere pristine, tidy, and so well-cared for.

 Docking in Passau - somewhat cloudy but perfect temperatures for going 
ashore for sightseeing.

More on the history of Passau next time.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Melk, Austria. . . . . . . .

With cobblestone streets and it's majestic abbey, possibly the most famous 
in Austria, Melk was a highlight of the Danube Valley visit. Built between 
1702 and 1736, it stands on an outcrop rising above the river, resplendent in 
a golden hue, crowned by towers. Originally a royal palace, it has ceremonial 
courts, guest apartments, grand halls and a fabulous library containing 80,000 
exquisite medieval manuscripts (no photos permitted sadly).
View of Melk from a window high in the abbey which was presented to the 
Benedictine monks in the 11th century. The highlight is the Stiftskirche
 "Abbey Church" with a jaw-dropping interior of baroque extravaganza.
The monastic community of Melk is more than 900 years old - it is also a 
prestigious monastery school with more than 700 students.

Leaving misty Melk through the abbey gardens - back to the Danube for the scenic sail to 
Passau, our first stop in Germany.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sharing homes in the bird world. . . . . .

The House wren - our latest Home Sweet Home tenant

This was a surprise on our return home! The little painted birdhouse hanging 
on the front porch, a sweet gift from my neighbor last year, has become a very 
popular home for our smallest garden birds.
It first housed the Carolina wrens last Spring, then early this Spring a pair of 
chickadees built a nest and raised a family - those babies must have fledged 
whilst we were in Europe.
Now we have new tenants, the House wrens (above) - a wee bit smaller than
the Carolina wren, all brown, and without the white 'eyebrow'.

This Carolina wren nested here last year, the first tenant

One of the pair of Black-capped chickadees on the porch early this Spring - they nested 
and raised a family in the little birdhouse

I've tried to see inside the house but this little bird squawks at me! 
I did hold my camera up when it was gone, but could only see a blur of twigs and 
such - not certain there are any eggs yet.  
The pressing question for me is - are these three birds using the same nest or has 
each one cleaned it out and started over? 
I did see the chickadees bring twigs back in April but have never seen birds 
taking nesting materials out. There is no way to open the house and
it just has that one small entry hole.

Are you enjoying your garden birds now Spring is here?
Don't you find their habits quite mesmerizing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

More on Budapest with the Splendid HATTATTS. . . . . . .

A perfect April sunny morning - up early, friends to meet.
Looking from our hotel room across the Danube to hilly Buda.
I promised more on our two days spent with very special blog friends
in Budapest prior to boarding the ship for the river cruise. . . . . . 
so here goes. Hang on to your hat because it was a busy time and we 
thoroughly enjoyed every second!

The lower, flatter side of this split city, Pest, curves along the bank of the Danube 
River. This is where the inimitable Jane and Lance Hattatt live for much of the year.
Quite honestly I would give up my cottage, and garden, to be neighbors in their 
charming historic center city apartment building.  
Some of you already follow this charming, sartorially resplendent British couple 
so know of whom I speak.
Jane just might be the complete opposite of the stern British headmistress - 
which she perhaps once was!  She is funny, bouncy, with a deliciously loud laugh, 
continuously giggling and throwing out quips and witticisms which make one feel 
nothing less than on top of the world. It made me wish my own haughty English school 
'Head' had taken lessons from Jane - perhaps school would have been a lot more fun.
With this photo I caught what just might be the essence of Lance. 
Still a real British gentleman despite his many years in Budapest, kind, thoughtful, 
with a deep appreciation of art and evolving young artists. During our visit 
to his friend Ari Kupsus, whose gallery was a small gem full of beautiful paintings, 
 listening to the conversation between Jane, Lance and Ari, made me envious as 
they discussed the work of many local artists and students at the academy. 
Many years back when I worked in art and advertising, I too was active in our 
local art scene and I miss those days. 
While at the Hattatt's home I was also privy to turning the pages of some of Lance's 
beautiful published horticultural tomes - large, drenched in color, coffee table sized books 
full of flowers, plants, and exquisite gardens in England from his career as a designer.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning walking through Pest's charming city streets, squares 
and parks, many of which the average tourist never visit. 
Jane and Lance made it so interesting, sharing details of Budapest's historic struggles, 
and stories of the beautiful buildings we passed.
We were then thrilled to be welcomed to their beautiful apartment for champagne, 
and the most delicious luncheon prepared by their housekeeper, the sweet Timea. 
Other guests were delightful, a lovely young art student Julia, a gregarious young man
 of the world, and from a Baltic country, the most charming Ambassador and his lovely 
wife. . . . . . . . .all of whom made the luncheon conversation fun and interesting.

Later that evening we enjoyed a visit to meet and view a famous Hungarian 
photographer's amazing exhibition 'Floating Aspect'. 

In the small gallery displaying his photos, Jane and Lance kindly introduced 
us to many of the hundred or more interesting people milling about 
enjoying wine and conversation, mostly in Hungarian of course. We loved that 
young and older people mixed together so amicably.
Here's the link to the exhibition photos where you can see them more clearly. 
All Gyula's photos were taken of barges passing under bridges and are just amazing.
Floating Aspect

On the second morning, a little showery, Jane and Lance even took us on 
Budapest's subway system - where we rode the oldest and newest rails. 
The tram above was another fun mode of transportation we utilized later on 
our own - one doesn't require an automobile in the city.
We enjoyed a great lunch, joined by their famous designer friend Richard Adams, 
and, after bidding Jane and Lance "adieu", we had a couple more hours to wander 
around the city (more pix in another post).

Leaving Jane and Lance to join our shipmates on board for the cruise was 
bittersweet. We were so thrilled to have the opportunity to meet such a special
couple, once again all made possible by connecting via our respective blogs a 
few years ago. It was like spending time with long lost friends, they made us 
so comfortable, were attentive and such great fun, and we'll always look forward 
to perhaps returning to Hungary and enjoying time together again.
So off we sailed. Jane and Lance flew back to England to 
visit their newly acquired home in Norwich prior to returning to Budapest to become
movie stars. . . . . . . yes, their movie 'Love in Budapest' starts shooting in June.
Go visit the Hattatt's HERE where there are more details on the movie and 
life in both Budapest and England.

The wonders of travel never cease to amaze.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bring on Summertime. . . . . . . . . .

Trying to get back in the groove after being away three weeks is keeping me busy.
This morning I brushed aside everything else requiring attention as I just needed 
to do something to make the cottage look a wee bit more 'summery'. 
Coming home to temperatures hovering around 90F left the dusty rooms looking
dull and completely out of season. Think 'Miss Havisham' of Great Expectations 
with her omnipresent spider webs! Yes, I admit, I even have webs - apparently
spiders, like mice, play when one is away!

A few shells. . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . some bright white china veggies

. . . . . . a delicate bridesmaid's dried posy

. . . . . . . . and freshly washed bright collection domes

More plans for brightening up the cottage - lots of lanterns and white 
candles should work.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Peonies are always beautiful. . . . . . . .

I was hoping that perhaps my peonies would still be blooming when I returned 
from Europe. They have always been at the top of my list of favorite flowers. 
My late mother grew beauties in our English garden - she had a green thumb for 
certain. As a child, I would cut bunches of fragrant blooms for the house and to
share with neighbors. People would comment on our abundant peonies as 
they walked by our Devon garden.

Arriving home last Friday there were several blooms, but in no shape for cutting, 
This one was just holding on enough to come indoors. It has shared its 
gentle perfume all week as I've rallied from my sickbed!
The weather is beautiful - the very hot and humid days of early week tempered 
by a cool front and some rain thankfully. This morning I see more buds opening 
so will perhaps be cutting more gorgeous peonies for the holiday weekend.
Meanwhile, I'm much better and am working on those travel posts to share 
with you later.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kinderdijk, The Netherlands - The Windmills

Kinderdijk received UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997.  
Here stand the remaining nineteen of twenty eight working windmills. 
There were originally more than 150 in this area of South Holland.  
Kinderdijk is the only place in the world with so many antique windmills 
so close together. They are used to pump water from the polders using internal 
or external scoops into reservoirs on two levels. These thatched bonnet 
windmills were built in 1738 and 1740 and are called 'ground sailors' as their 
large sails come within one foot of the ground. They represent the courageous 
fight of the Dutch people against the ever encroaching sea.  Few countries 
have so much land below sea level, about half the country is reclaimed land.
The entire country is roughly half the size of the state of Indiana. . . . .I had 
no idea!

The lovely village was an oasis of peace and quiet, filled with gentle wildlife
including some beautiful ducks and geese, the pathways well maintained for 
walking and biking. 

Group of young gymnasts visiting from the Czech Republic.
No need to tell you just how much I loved the wildflowers!

After a lovely afternoon walk to view the polders and windmills, we were able to 
enter one and climb to the top. Life in a windmill often included families 
with several children. Stairs were very steep, space very restricted for sleeping, 
cooking etc., and the miller was never allowed to leave the mill unattended.
The visit to Kinderdijk was memorable and, as you can see, the weather 
cooperated with sunshine and blue skies. All in all, a lovely way to be welcomed 
to the Kingdom of The Netherlands.