A bowl of cherries

I harvested some cherries in the garden today and was about to eat them when an idea struck my mind.  They look so lusciously good, I must photograph them!

So the photoshoot began and it actually required a lot of decision-making ….

First,  a beautiful subject (the cherries) must be accented with  an equally beautiful prop (the bowl).

Thought I should add a branch that shows the fruits but was at a loss where would I place it.

 That’s better!

 

Noticed the vase of flowers.. hmmm, colourful!

 

Such a beautiful clematis, by the way, I should take a close-up.  The chamomile flowers look great, too!

* * * * *

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving.
What you have caught on film is captured forever…
it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.
……Aaron Siskind

My late Spring garden

…”It gives you an excuse to wear silly hats that keep the sun off your neck
and hang out with other gardeners who will covet your silly hats.

It’s important because when your gardening days are finally done,
some young couple will come along and rediscover your long-neglected garden.
As they are cutting back the overgrown shrubbery they will encounter some fragrant treasure
that you sowed so many years ago. That treasure will spark in them something
that they will pass along to their own children.”


Excerpt from “Gardening” by Anonymous

************

During the last 16 years, having moved homes X number of times, I had the sheer joy of creating gardens from a blank canvas.

From a large L-shaped balcony of an apartment to a 3-tiered land of a little house in the prairie, then moving to a roof terrace of a 200-year old village house  to a small plot of land bordering a chalet, it was a real challenge and highly rewarding concocting and maintaining my very own miniature paradises and  thanks to endless hours reading gardening magazines and books,  I learned so much about this ultra therapeutic hobby like a pro.

Here in  Hungary, at our Nth and present home, there is already a 2,000 square feet of garden that is relentlessly open for discovery.  We bought the property three years ago, in the peak of Winter,  when the ground was all covered in snow and everything standing was leafless except for the conifers so we didn’t know what to expect.  When we returned in June the following year, it was completely overgrown with weeds that we had to mow the whole area flat.

It was only this year that we decided to stay here longer and boy, I never stopped being in awe since!

First, the closing of winter brought snowdrops, then came the daffodils, followed by the lilies of the valley,  irises and heavenly cherry blossoms.  And now that Spring is just about to go, roses are blooming from everywhere, and there’s the deutzia  and the others, too.

Whoever were the previous owners of this garden, I thank them profusely for their creation that is giving me so much joy and excitement each day.  They have been planted long time ago, matured in time and are now giving the best-looking blooms.  All I need to do is to nurture them well and make them even better for the next owner to luxuriate in.

Welcome to my garden!

An old well makes a good backdrop for these deutzia and rambling rose plants

Geraniums

Clumps of roses

Charlie also loves flowers.  This is an abundant flowering Peony plant.

Peonies up close

Chard amongst the lettuce garden

Making them last longer (pink and white peonies and a couple of roses)

24 hours in Graz

We needed a break. H and I have been toiling relentlessly at home and in the garden for weeks since we got back from Siracusa and we were close to burning out.

Well, I should say, we are desperate for a change of scenery. Not that we are complaining about our own. The endless blooms in the garden, the warm biscuits and tarts coming out of the oven, the new shelves DIY’d by H in the kitchen, office and walk-in wardrobe make for good tinkling of glasses of wine every end of the day, revelling at the fruits of our own labour and at each other’s sense of accomplishment….

But we are missing TRAVEL! Oh how we get deliriously transformed everytime we hop into the car looking forward to discovering a new place, its people, its food and everything different from what we are used to.

And we chose Graz.
This second biggest city of Austria, after Vienna, is only 1.5 hours drive from where we live.    H and I frequently talked about going there one day, and it happened last weekend.

But first, we had to figure out what to do with Charlie (the dog) because we were intent to explore this city all to ourselves.

 

Saturday, 12 noon

We dropped Charlie at a hundepension (dog hotel) in Austria, 20euros a night, not far from Graz.  His board includes food and a run  in the hotel garden.  It’s about time he takes his own  holiday, we thought.

Saturday, 6pm

We arrived in Graz on a scorching  afternoon, too hot to do any serious sightseeing so we decided to take a rest and go out at 6pm when it gets cooler.   The hotel is 15-minute walk to the center so we ambled our way following the map.  It was a pleasant walk – lovely architecture that is more Italian than Austrian,  and since this is late Spring, the season of roses, we feasted our eyes on the different floral varieties we saw on every corner.  This one on the photo is a rose garden behind the Opera house.

 

Not long afterwards, we came across this maze of squares and alleys filled with cafés and restaurants.  The  Mediterranean feel is so strong, it reminds me   of Nice in the south of France.

It’s Saturday evening (past 7pm) so customers are brimming everywhere.  Some are only too happy to  pose for my camera!

 

We noticed the prevalence of religious artworks – painted or sculpted – infront of buildings.  The facades are colourful, too.

The “Painted House” is the name given to this building in Herrengasse street (few steps from the Rathaus) because it is covered with frescoes depicting Greek and Roman gods.  It was painted in 1742 by Baroque artist Johann Mayer.  This was the official residence of the Habsburgs as princes of Styria up until the second half of the 15th century.

 

While browsing for Graz’ Things-to’do, I read so much about its magical courtyards located in the historic center so I became obsessed searching for open gates or doorways to gain access.  I was not the only one though.  These two gentlemen are also courtyard-spotters!

Here, I am standing at the courtyard of the Landhaus (where the Styrian Parliament convenes in the Assembly Hall).  The arcaded inner courtyard is a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance and this is where festivities, concerts, theatersare regularly held.

 

A courtyard bicycle parking to die for –

Probably the most photographed street in Graz is the Sporgasse.  It is also the oldest, pre-dating the city itself and the most picturesque.  For architectural buffs like me, there are plenty of architectural wonders waiting to be discovered ..

The awe-inspiring  Luegghouse building with its stucco facade  is the first building that stands at Sporgasse (corner Hauptplatz square)

A city of bicycles and a city of universities.  Both.
Graz is Austria’s cycling capital.  It is also the country’s no. 1 “Student City” as one in every 6 inhabitants is a student.  The city is proud of its six universities.

 What is that? A sea monster?  The locals call it the  “Friendly Alien” –  the Kunsthaus Graz (Graz Art Museum).  It was built during the 2003 European Capital of Culture celebrations and became a landmark of the city.

A floating shell, an artificial island, a ship –  it acts as a bridge over the Mur while serving as an amphitheater, café (with children’s rope climbing net, my favorite!).  Also built for t he 2003 European Capital of Culture.

This is the stairway to Castle Hill all at 260 steps!  Called The Schloßbergsteig (Stairs of the Schloßberg), it was built between 1914 and 1918 by Austrian pioneers and Russian prisoners which is why they were named Russeinsteig (or Russian steps) or more familiarly Kriegsteig (or war steps) as they were built during World War 1.

We were already knackered to climb it so we promised ourselves to do it first thing tomorrow.

The monumental statue of Francis I, Emperor of Austria, at Freiheitsplatz or Freedom Square.
It was from a balcony of the  Schauspielhaus theater in the square, in 1918,  where it was proclaimed that  Austria would henceforth be a republic.  It has become a popular meeting place  for students.

Turning towards Sporgasse again, we finally saw the neo-Baroque oak portal of  what probably is the oldest bakery in Graz.  Though the building dates from 1569, it became a bakery in 1850.

It could easily be said that the national pastime of Graz residents is window-shopping –  what with a plethora of designer boutiques, antique and miscellaneous shops even food stores displaying their items in such stylish and delicious manner.

Sunday, 09:35 am

Craving for an authentic café atmosphere, we skipped the hotel’s breakfast and went searching for a coffee shop .  We were distracted, of course, by this antique market (Grazer Trödelmarkt @Petersgasse) so huge and welcoming.  This is the sofa that we wanted to take home –  but our wallet simply won’t let us!

 

…. and this is the trendy café we chose to have our capuccino and viennoiserie while soaking in the lovely morning sun.   What I enjoyed most about this place is the free-flowing refreshing pitcher of water infused with leaves of mint and slices of oranges.  I give them a mark of 9.5!

We already noticed this square yesterday as we were approaching the Opera House.  It was surrounded by kiosks but they were all closed except for a couple of  biergartens where some students and/or young urban professionals were enjoying their Saturday afternoon over cocktails.   We passed by it again this morning and still closed.   I later found out that this is where the biggest Farmers’ Market in Graz takes place every day except Sunday.  Shame.  This is the bane of  going sightseeing on a weekend, we miss the true colors of a city.

I just had to see for myself how this double spiral staircase looks like, and I was not disappointed.  Located at the Burg, the seat of the Styrian regional parliament, this  masterpiece of stone masonry dates  from the end of the Gothic period.  If you find this image a bit bizarre, that’s because I have photographed it from below the stairs.

It’s time to climb the 260 steps by foot.  Good exercise, says H, but I was puffing and huffing and I thought I was going to collapse midway!  But everytime I look down below and see the staggering view of Graz’ rooftops, my energy seems to pick up quickly.

 

 

A city of a thousand spires, they say of Vienna, but Graz definitely comes second!

 

The Castle Hill gardens – a postcard beauty.

+

It must be romantic up in the Castle Hill for we stumbled upon many couples in love.  This couple chose the Chinese Pavilion as witness to their everlasting love.

Speaking of romance, you don’t only feel it up the Castle Hill, they’re everywhere!

This is the view of Graz and the river Mur seen from the Pavilion

After more huffing and puffing – as the Castle Hill seems to be a never- ending climb (but it’s all worth it, mind you), thank goodness we didn’t have to walk down anymore.  This cable car, or I prefer to call it funicular, is quite an experience  in itself.  Imagine the 61degree gradient, practically taking a vertical descent but you get to see more views of the city plus getting the chance to photograph the other funicular coming from the opposite direction.  Ticket costs 2.10 euros one-way and includes transfer to the lift (a breezy way of reaching the Castle Hill), tram or bus and valid for one hour.

 

 One of the many photogenic subjects of  the city is the ornate wrought iron shop signs.  They are not as many as Salzburg (where you find a single street seemingly competing for the most-gilded or the most ornate) but there are still  aplenty scattered everywhere.  The one above hangs over a shop selling Austrian costumes.

 

 This is Sackstrasse, the street of arts, where you will find antique shops, galleries, museums including the K&O (left), the most beautiful department store not only in Graz but in the whole of Austria.

It’s been a long and hot day and we needed to pick up Charlie at 5pm so we decided to have lunch at one of the courtyard restaurants before calling it a day.  This one in Sackstrasse is a very popular place, customers coming non-stop, not only for the great food but the charming setting.  Tables and chairs sandwich the doors belonging to different tenants and two cars parked at the end wall.  Very interesting set up but it sure works in Graz!

In one of our shortcut walks, we got to see this inner courtyard of Landhaus …

… which exits to another charming pedestrian street called the Schmiedgasse.   Lovely shopfronts and cafés vying for the trendiest style – and this one might have won our hearts.  Wooden pallets are very popular upcycled items these days!

 

Bye lovely Graz!  We shall return!
(Already, I read that they hold Christmas markets in December.  Another reason to go back!)

Five hours on the Amalfi Coast: stuck in traffic and loving it

If there is one thing H  dreads and despises about our modern society, it’s the ubiquitous traffic jam. He would howl and gnarl at the first sight of  gridlock taking form on the road.

I, on the other hand, born in Manila renowned for its slower-than-snail-paced traffic, would just shrug my shoulders and dig out my knitting needles and/or camera to make myself busy during that standstill on the road.  I tell him, whether we like it or not, we cannot do anything about it, that traffic is a fact of life akin to breathing and sleeping so the best thing to do is stick to our seats and make the best out of it.  My woolen cap project  needs completing anyway and, as a multi-tasker, I have my pre-set camera on my lap ready to shoot any photo opportunity that could be lurking anywhere.

But it was exactly a month ago that this loathing of traffic jams by H turned into wonderment and genuine pleasure.  For the first time in our married life, I saw his eyes glittered with excitement as we crawled along a snaking gridlock spanning tens of kilometers, over five hours and he loved every second of it!

We were on the Amalfi Coast.  We left Sicily the day before and wanted to tour the world’s most beautiful coastline  on our way back home to Hungary.

 

 

“Oh no, I can’t believe this!” H moaned, but I was enjoying the sight and kept snapping photos.

As cars from opposite directions stood still on the road,  motorcyclists recklessly drive past down the middle, through the white line, creating quite an entertaining and hair raising spectacle!

And it’s not only the motorbike riders – cyclists think they have as much right to squeeze themselves, too.  So now, we have a two-way traffic (between two-wheelers)  within the bigger two-way traffic (the four-wheelers) on a winding narrow road.

Traffic congestion along the Amalfi not only creates entertainment, it also makes friends out of neighbouring drivers, such as our encounter with this group from Napoli.

“This is the most beautiful coastal road in the world!” so he says in a typical lyrical Italian talk and gestures.

“You must go to Ravello and try their pasta ai frutti di mare!….  Yes, you can take my photo!”

 

Tourist buses show up every few hundred meters, their drivers struggling to negotiate the restricted road.  So no wonder traffic comes to a stand still every now and then.  I was thinking, these bus drivers either have the patience of a saint or just love crawling along the beautiful scenery.

We started the drive at about 10am and were hoping to stop at a restaurant suspended over a cliff, but the bottleneck  showed no sign of abating.   Luckily, our cooler was packed with bread, cheese, prosciutto and dessert, plus a flask of coffee which I prepared at the hotel this morning.   This is lunch al fresco!

 

 

The slower we progressed, the more we discovered so much about the Amalfi – from the comfort of our seat.  For five hours stuck in the car in traffic, the adventure on Italian soil was just as strong as if we were doing it on foot.

The Amalfi Coast is the 60 kilometer stretch of coastline between Salerno and Sorrento.  Picturesque villages adorn this beautiful landscape of verdant hills and mountains, turquoise waters, dramatic coastline and craggy rocks interspersed with terraces of lemon groves and olive trees.

It was added on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1997 as an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values.

 

As soon as we entered the  Strada Statale 163, the coastal road of Amalfi, we noticed  ceramics everywhere;  buildings with their ceramic-tiled facades,  shops ablazed with hand-painted ceramic ware..

… ceramic vases as street furniture along the Strada

more ceramic decorated buildings

Vietri sul Mare, the first of the 13 pearls of the Amalfi, is the ceramic capital.  It is also the largest.

 

The hills and mountains hugging the coast render the area its picture-postcard beauty.  The only problem is, it doesn’t have enough land to grow the very fruit that would eventually make it even more famous – the limoncello.

So they carved out terraces and planted lemon groves.  They are covered with black nettings in the winter to protect the fruits from the cold and sea breezes.

Amalfi lemons are famous worldwide so if you don’t get the chance to stop by at the market to buy some, don’t fret.  You can purchase them on the roadside, while stuck on traffic.

The advantage of your car being motionless on the road is that, you can take photos of people without being noticed.

We were practically cemented on this bridge  for ages when I noticed drivers and passengers getting out of their cars to look and take photos down below.  I was about to get out to join them but H said we could be moving any second.  So as not to miss the chance, I raised myself up from the seat and took this shot.  Incredible!

This is Furore, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

 

 Arriving at another pearl is the town of Praiano

They’re also wearing the colour of the blue sea, cool!

 Balconies to die for!

 

 Carpark to die for –

Here, parking is expensive and a privilege.  They have to build a suspended carpark for lack of hard ground.

 Stairway to heaven

 

 

Amazing pools – only in Amalfi!

Vertical neighbours – and there’s the steps going down another! (Indeed, I took this photo from our unmoving van)

 

Positano, the jewel of the Amalfi Coast

I could go down for a much needed sunbathing while the van is stationary.

 

 Another picture postcard beauty.

This couple thought of taking a walk while waiting for the traffic move.

Next:  Our stay in Sorrento