Sunday, August 18, 2019

Exploring the Czech Countryside

Most of our time in the Czech Republic was spent in Prague. One day, however, we ventured out of the city to Krivoklat Castle, in Central Bohemia. We purchased our train tickets at the main station, and found our way to the correct train. We knew, from reading Rick Steves guidebook, that we would change trains at Beroun, to the cute little diesel train seen above.  

As our train curved and climbed through the hills and mountains, we saw people swimming in the river, lots of campsites, and green forests. At every stop, hikers and backpackers got on or off the train. Clearly, this area is well-used for recreation. 

Krivoklat Castle was first built as a hunting lodge before the 13th century. The Gothic towers lend a fairy tale air which is enhanced by the castle's setting in a lush forest. Later, the castle was used for incarcerating prisoners. The top right photo shows one of the kitchens - let's just say I'm very thankful for my small, but efficient, and light-filled place to cook. 

The castle is perched on a hill overlooking a small village. The steep climb from the train station, on a very hot day, had me looking for every bit of shade along the way. What a great view!

On the way back, we stopped at Nizbor for lunch in a converted former railway station. Flower boxes and tables made from old treadle sewing machines made it a charming stop. We ordered a traditional Czech dish, svickova - tender beef slices in a vegetable puree sauce, with dumplings and a bit of cream and cranberry sauce. It was filling (very) and delicious. It's one recipe I may try to recreate here. 

After lunch we walked across the railway track to the Ruckl Crystal factory and watched glass blowers and cutters at work. I admired the precision and speed of the gentleman above, cutting the patterns of lead crystal by looking through the glass. 

Soon we were on the train again, chugging our way back to Prague. The train station in Nizbor had these pretty geraniums on the window ledges. 

Venturing out of the more touristy areas and relying on public transport was an adventure that turned out well. I am so impressed by the graciousness of everyone we interacted with - we don't speak Czech, but English, on varying levels, is common - and so we muddled along. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Home Again

Well, hello there. It's been awhile. We were off gallivanting for 3 weeks and arrived home late on Monday night. We left Budapest at 3 pm and arrived in Victoria at 10:30 pm, however, there is a 9 hour time difference, so it felt much, much later. We're still recovering from jet lag - last night I tried my best to stay up until 9:30 and almost made it, but not quite. Then I was awake at 2:30, so I got up to see if I could see the meteor shower - no luck. I crawled back into bed and dozed a very little bit and thought a lot. 

On our trip we visited the Czech Republic, went on an 8-day river cruise, and spent a week in Budapest, Hungary. Because the river cruise started in Linz, Austria, and included air fare, that's where we landed, on a hot afternoon that just happened to be our 42nd wedding anniversary. We figured out public transit and made our way to our Airbnb on a farm property in Leonding, a small community just outside of Linz. Those striking blue doors were part of the farm complex where we stayed.

Although we were in Leonding for less than a day, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We wandered around the town and found a restaurant with a terrace where we enjoyed a dinner that featured local chanterelle mushrooms. Yum! Better than dinner was breakfast. In the freshness of early morning we walked to a bakery just across the square from the restaurant. There we sat outside enjoying fresh bread, a boiled egg, and coffee and tea. It was one of those "pinch me" moments. 

Later, we caught the train to Prague. I had asked our three eldest grandchildren to draw me a picture of themselves to take along on the trip. They did such a great job. The Flat Grands had many adventures along the way that I posted on Facebook for their entertainment. Here they are on the train, settling nicely into their seats.

We arrived in Prague 4 hours later and made our way to our lodgings. It was hot, very hot, during our 6 days there. Prague is beautiful, with striking architecture at almost every view. It was not damaged during WWII, so there are old buildings from medieval to Baroque to Gothic.   

Prague is known as the City of 100 Spires, but in actuality there are between 500 and 1000 spires, depending on one's definition of a spire.

We had an amazing trip, and I'll share some highlights over my next posts, but I don't want to bore anyone with the dreaded "come and see our slide show" kind of thing. The garden didn't take a vacation during our absence and we've spent the past two days wrestling it into some sort of order. Tim returns to work tomorrow and so we're slowly getting back into normal everyday life. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Postcard from Prague

Prague is such a beautiful city, filled with amazing architecture at every corner. Spires of all sorts stretch to the heavens against a cloudless blue sky. 

View from the Charles Bridge towards another bridge not so far away.

Such a pretty and interesting decoration over a building just off of Wenceslas Square. I love the beehive in the centre and the pale blue background.

Wonderful details.

Just a quick post - there is much to explore! Today we're off to a tour of Castle Hill and a classical music concert later. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Summertime, Summertime

On summer mornings, the days stretch out luxuriously with hours of delightful possibilities. There are few things I really have to do and many things I'd like to do. By evening I find that the day has sped by and I have little to show for it. Instead I seem to drift through the days, puttering here and there, tidying a drawer or two, picking raspberries and making a bit of jam, sewing, or sitting and reading a book. And I'm not at all concerned with the lack of list ticking. 

Every morning and most evenings, I wander through the garden, admiring, pulling a weed or two, and wishing the tomatoes would hurry up and ripen. The hydrangeas are glorious this year, large bushes with heavy blossoms that are lasting a very long time due to our cooler summer.

For the past few days I've been occupied with company of the very best sort. There have been hours of holding a sleeping bundle against my chest, singing the songs I sang to my own children and my other grandchildren, and the delight of looking into her beautiful eyes. 

This morning, before I took them to the ferry, we had a little photo shoot. Iris is at her best in the morning, and this morning she was stellar.

Watching my children with their little ones brings me much joy. I see love and delight, mingled sometimes with frustration, as is the case with all parents. I see wisdom and respect and I am so pleased with the varying parenting styles they have chosen.

Isn't Little Miss I's hair a hoot? We call her Miss Tiggywinkle sometimes, as we did her cousin who had similar hair. 

I planted several new-to-me dahlias this year and one of them is Cafe au Lait, seen above. I had hoped to grow them in large pots, but this one wasn't very happy, so Tim transplanted it recently. I think the pot contributed to short stems because the next blossoms will have longer ones. This 10-inch bloom is floating in a bowl and is such a lovely creamy colour. It's also home to an ant, I see in the photo. 

Television here is something usually indulged in on the weekends. However, when I eat lunch alone, I sometimes tune in to one show or another. Last week I watched Lidia's Kitchen on PBS and she showed a great recipe for tomatoes. I adapted it considerably and will share below. The plum tomatoes were grown in a local greenhouse on a small piece of land near to our home. 

Crispy Baked Tomatoes

7 ripe plum tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
2/3 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, if desired
more olive oil for drizzling

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the core and seeds.

Place the tomatoes in a bowl and pour the olive oil over. Toss with your hands to thoroughly coat the tomatoes.

In another bowl combine the bread crumbs, cheese and seasonings. Pour over the tomatoes in the bowl and again with your hands, toss together.

Place each coated tomato half onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Fill with the crumbs remaining in the bowl. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. The tomatoes should be meltingly soft and the topping crunchy. Enjoy!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Monet, Colour, and Choosing Paint

"Water Lilies is an extension of my life. Without water the lilies cannot live, as I am without art." (Claude Monet)

I recently went searching through photos for something (and I found it), but was enticed down a rabbit hole with photos from our trip to France and the UK in 2016. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Giverny where Monet lived, gardened, and painted. 

"I must have flowers. Always and always." (Claude Monet)

The garden was a riot of colour. Roses, poppies, sunflowers, agapanthus, phlox, hollyhocks - all the lovely flowers mingled together in generous beds between straight paths that led round to the house. 

"Everyday I discover more and more beautiful things. It's enough to drive one mad. I have such a desire to do everything; my head is bursting with it." (Claude Monet)

Although most of us would think a pink house with bright green shutters garish, it fit perfectly in Monet's garden. 

"Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment." (Claude Monet)

Most of the walls in Monet's house are cool neutral whites and pale shades. It was quite startling to walk into the dining room where vibrant, clear yellow dominates. Notice how even the furniture is painted the same colour.  And the red checkered floor. Blue and white tiles. Amazing. This is a room for lively conversation, for good food, for friends and family. One feels revitalized just walking into the space. 

"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love." (Claude Monet)

The kitchen is a riot of blue and white tiles, turquoise and white cabinets and those shiny copper pots that instill admiration and the desire to whip up a souffle or omelette. There have been a few books published about Monet's appreciation of good food, and how much he entertained his friends at Giverny. 

The photos of Monet's house got me thinking about my own. Like Monet I favour cool, clear colours. I have never liked the beiges and earth tones that were so popular a few years ago. Wherever we lived, if it was possible, I painted walls light and cool. The collage above is composed of photos from the Cotswolds and Wales, and you can see I have a tendency to blue. Clear blues of almost any shade are, and always have been, my favourite.

I even have a hard time taking photos of flowers that are orange or pale peach. They just don't appeal to me like the pink roses and blue delphiniums. Above is a collage of roses from the gardens at Sudeley Castle. I forced myself to take photos of those orange hues. 

This brings me to my current dilemma. Our living/dining room needs repainting. I've been thinking about it for a couple of years. It's very pale blue. When we lived in the jungle of Ecuador, the living room was painted white with the barest barest hint of pink - cool, clear pink, not swine-colour. I've been looking around and talking to paint experts and I think I'm ready to take the plunge.

"Try to forget what objects you have before you - a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, "Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow," and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own impression of the scene before you." (Claude Monet)

I painted a test splotch on the wall today and I think the colour will work (can't remember the name, but the clerk at Benjamin Moore said it was the palest pink they make). We have the best of guests for the weekend (Baby Iris and her parents) so painting will wait for awhile, but it feels good to start. 

I'm so happy the sun is shining this afternoon after a rainy, cloudy week. Hooray for summertime! 

Linking to Friday Bliss, hosted by Riitta of Floral Passions, where she mentions that Finland has also had a cool and rainy week.  

Monday, July 08, 2019

Boats and Beaches

Just a few years ago our children laughed gently at us for wanting to make plans more than a few hours in advance. "Be spontaneous," they said. So we tried. 

Fast forward a few years. Spontaneity is out the window, as once the grandchildren appeared, schedules ruled and calendars must be coordinated far in advance. 

So when the wind blew on a cloudy Sunday morning, Tim and I looked at each other and wondered if the planned-in-advance boating outing should go ahead. We decided to give it a try -we could always turn back and do something else, if needed. We're so flexible that way, now, you know. 

The wind lessened considerably before we left, but the clouds intensified. "Splat, splat" against the windshield went the rain. It looked like the sandpails and shovels were not going to be needed, after all. We ate lunch on the boat, then set out for a walk, first in the woods, then along the beach. 

We saw a number of Great Blue Herons, a Bald Eagle, a pair of River Otters, numerous Gulls, and a Killdeer faking a broken wing to lure a dog away from its nest. Very few people.

It was a monotone day, grey lightened by splotches of pale sand and yellow-green grasses. We got wet; my hair frizzled, my feet were cold. But boy, did we have fun!

These two cousins ran back and forth amongst the lions (aka adults), hid in the forest, explored the beaches, dammed up a small tricklet of water, giggled and chatted. Riding on an uncle and grandpa's shoulders gave them a wee break from running back and forth. I'm certain they put in quadruple the steps we adults took. 

A brick factory once operated on Sidney Island and evidence is left in the spread of broken bricks on the beach. Someone began piling up a few of them, and our two young adventurers contributed.

Although I'm longing for some warmth and sunshine, I'm learning to find the loveliness present in almost every moment. The layers of sky, sand, and sea on Sidney Spit undulate across the horizon in an ever-changing, ever-fascinating roll-out of subtle colour and dramatic texture.

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

Summer Days at Home

The first week of summer vacation is almost over. It's been lovely, beginning with dinner with friends one evening, a quiet Canada Day celebration with family, and days alone at home. So lovely. I like to stay busy, but this week I've deliberately slowed down. I needed this.

I've weeded and clipped back the garden, cut many bouquets of flowers for the house, and had tea with a friend on the porch.

Our temperatures are cooler than normal and the skies are mostly overcast. I wish it were warmer, but since it isn't, I cuddle up with a blanket to sit outside. The cooler weather is also beneficial for the hydrangeas. They are sensational this year.

I'm picking raspberries and blueberries every few days, both to freeze and to eat now. I've been sewing, but have nothing finished to show at the moment. 

We're planning a trip to Europe this summer and for the past couple of months I've been thinking about how much I would just love to stay at home. However, after this week of quiet and solitude, I'm getting excited about traveling. Most of my sewing is targeted towards the trip - it's hot in Europe and linen will be my best friend. 

Little Iris is almost a month old already. I wish she lived on this side of the water, but we'll see her (and she's bringing her parents) in a couple of weeks. Such a sweet, sweet bundle. 

It's time to fold a bit of laundry, put clean sheets on the bed, and think about dinner. I'm so enjoying the lovely slow rhythm to these beginning summer days. 

How about you? How's summer in your corner?

Linking with Friday Bliss, hosted by Riitta of Floral Passions.  

Exploring the Czech Countryside

Most of our time in the Czech Republic was spent in Prague. One day, however, we ventured out of the city to Krivoklat Castle, in Centr...