Record breaking rain in Seattle

We’re breaking records for the second year in a row for cold and wet. Even us Seattleites are getting testy. The trees are doing their best, though, to cheer us up and keep us oxygenated–cherry trees, pear trees all in bloom, chestnuts coming on, rhodies and azaleas, camellias, daphne,and all the bulbs soldiering on…and here’s a peek at our backyard.

Bleeding heart and daffodils

lady’s mantle mostly

Worry People

Worry People lined up on my desk, waiting for a worry to take away

A long time ago a writer friend of mine gave me a tiny cloth pouch filled with tiny amulets and magic seeds which she said would ward off writer’s block. I recently had cause to explore the pouch in more detail. One of the items is a minuscule wooden box painted yellow with red and green swirls. It’s shaped like a coffin and it holds six very tiny people dolls, each dressed differently, each with faces painted in slightly different expressions.

Folded into the box is an explanation of them, in English and Spanish, telling me that these are Guatemalan Worry People. Apparently the Mayans in Guatemala (then or now, we don’t know) would tell their worries to little dolls like these, and then put them under their pillows at night. “By morning the worry people have taken their worries away.”

(I should also add that this is the first time I’ve used my laptop as a camera–more practice is clearly required.)

Women’s March in Seattle January 21, 2017

Sunny day, cheerful atmosphere, creative signs, 150,000 women, men and children (about 20% men, I’d say), zero arrests! We took up the entire 3.6 mile route from beginning to end. So many people it took almost an hour for me to go the one block from the Judkins Park gathering site to the first marching street. A wonderful site during that part: two bald eagles circling overhead in the blue sky.

Let the photos tell the story:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


On the Road in Croatia and Slovenia

Dubrovnik's little harbor and giant medieval walls.

Dubrovnik’s little harbor and giant medieval walls.

The last two weeks of April saw us driving the coast roads, with a dip into the interior, of the old Yugoslavia. People still use that term, but seem glad of their new countries. The terrible 1991-5 war amongst them that created those countries is still very much with them. This part of the world reminds us of Sicily—a land in the middle of vicious contests between neighboring empires for thousands of years. The Slavic region was the battleground between the Venetians and the Ottomans ever since the collapse of the Roman empire. And of course the Romans wreaked their own havoc during their heyday here.

Dubrovnik walls at night

Dubrovnik walls from the outside at night with Croatian flag flying and their protector St Blaise spotlighted above the moat entrance

We started in Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage walled town on the coast of southern Croatia. Sunny, shiny cream-colored limestone everywhere, this is a walled city with no industry at all other than tourism. The Adriatic sparkles and is clear for fathoms, the air is blue and soft. As we were there early in the season, it was not too crowded, but it apparently gets like Disneyland in the summer. Looking down on Dubrovnik from a hillwalkIts ancient stone streets, walls and squares were the site of many Game of Thrones scenes, and there are the trinket stores to prove it. (Game of Thrones also turned up in the labyrinthine basements of Diocletian’s palace in Split, just up the coast, where we stayed later. Meaningless to us, as we never watched the shows.) This photo is from our walk up the hills to the east of the city. You can see much of the wall around it–which obviously provided no protection from the incoming shelling in 1991.

We were told not to do too much overland walking though, as there are still unexploded landmines about. Several churches and other buildings in Dubrovnik (and the other towns we visited) still had pock marks from artillery fire. Dubrovnik was shelled from the hills to its east, causing much damage and lots of fires. Most of the red tile roofs in the city are new.

Laundry and greenery on Dubrovnik street

Laundry and greenery on Dubrovnik street

From Dubrovnik we headed north (on wonderful roads—both countries seem to be investing a lot in infrastructure), crossing the border into Slovenia, and driving up to Ljubljana (stopping in Portoroz and taking a little walk to the neighboring town of Piran). Slovenians are very proud of their EU membership—they are on the euro, as opposed to Croatia, which remains on its kuna.

Ljubljana riverside street and big church in background

Ljubljana riverside street and big church in background

Ljubljana, the only town we stayed in that was not on the Adriatic, is a bustling, charming student-filled, café-based town along a winding river. Full of the usual grandiose churches, busy open squares, pastry shops, farmers’ markets and lovely green spaces, we found it a bit like a smaller Lyon. Huge banners fluttered on buildings proclaiming that Ljubljana had been voted Europe’s Greenest City for 2016.

Walking down Ljubljana's lovely riverside

Walking down Ljubljana’s lovely riverside

There’s the required castle-on-a-hill too, which we found in every tiny town we saw here. These castles, fortresses and churches often doubled for each other’s functions at different times over the centuries. Basically, the middle ages was a very paranoid time.

Ljubljana from its castle tower

Ljubljana from its castle tower

Then back to the coast and south. We met our friends from Berlin in Split and traveled with them along the Adriatic coast through Trogir, Sibenik, Zadar, Pag, and Senj, and then onto the Istrian peninsula to Kamenjak national park at the tip and an overnight in Rovinj. From there we took the ferry to Venice, which is where we are for this last month of the trip.

Our days in Split were spent in a tiny hotel chiseled into the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. Amazing to see how people use and re-use the materials of the past. Diocletian ruled the Roman empire for a while in the 300 AD period. He was born in Croatia, and came back here to retire in this palace. He is famous for torturing Christians and for creating the tetrarchy—government by four people, not just one, because Rome had gotten so far-flung, etc.

Sunrise in Diocletian's palace--right outside our hotel window

Sunrise in Diocletian’s palace–right outside our hotel window

Living today in Diocletian's palace. How would you like to live in a house that was 1,700 years old?

Living today in Diocletian’s palace. How would you like to live in a house that was 1,700 years old?

 

It was fun visiting these tiny towns, each with its own high point to boast about, each with its ancient church (9th century in Zadar, made with bits of the Roman buildings the finally-free Christians had gleefully taken down), busy town square, tiny streets, wonderful ringing church bells and lovely harbor. Zadar is famous for a wind organ that creates music from the waves and wind under the sea wall. .

Diocletian's front patio was also our tiny hotel's front patio

Diocletian’s front patio was also our tiny hotel’s front patio

Senj is famous for an incredibly high wind called “bora” that sweeps down from the Velebit Mountains behind it into a slot that intensifies it right at the town. We can testify to its ferocity. We also took a little walk into those mountains and encountered SNOW!

View from top of hike in Velebit mountains above Senj

View from top of hike in Velebit mountains above Senj

The bora whipping up the Adriatic in Senj outside our dinner restaurant

The bora whipping up the Adriatic in Senj outside our dinner restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for food, needless to say most of it is fresh seafood. Both countries are proud of their growing wine industry as well. We found the reds better than the whites—neither are grown in enough volume to be exported much. Chatting in one wine store, we learned that Grgich Hills, the superb Napa winery, is owned and run by the Croatian Mr. Grgich, who has also returned to Croatia to start a winery there. Croatia is also very proud of native son Nicola Tesla—every town seemed to have a street named after him.

A few more pics:

See artillery damage from 1991 war to Roman column in Zadar

See artillery damage from 1991 war to Roman column in Zadar

Sunset in Ravinj from church square

Sunset in Ravinj from church square

Leaving Ravinj for Venice at sunrise

Leaving Ravinj at sunrise, heading for Venice

Wales and the West Country

South West Coast footpath sign

South West Coast footpath sign

Leaving Lyon we made a quick ten day swing around a part of the UK we had meant to visit in January, but didn’t. We started by train from London to Burgh Island, not too far from Plymouth. Burgh Island is one of those islands that exist as an island only at high tide, like Mont San Michel and St. Michael’s Mount. There is a hotel there that has been kept in its original art deco 1930s style, down to no TVs and big clunky telephones in the rooms. The hotel has been the set for several TV shows and movies of that era—old Poirots for instance. Each room is named after someone who has stayed there: Agatha Christie, Noel Coward…we stayed in the Josephine Baker room.

Noel Coward's typewriter at Burgh Island

Noel Coward’s typewriter at Burgh Island

You have to dress formally for dinner. We went for our 34th anniversary all tuxed and long-gowned and had a great time.

 

Then we went to St Ives near the western tip of Cornwall for 3 days. Loved it! Charming, artsy seaside town made famous by the luminescent sea-toned light loved by artists and sculptors. Also Virginia Woolf’s family went there—all made famous in her book To The Lighthouse. We were able to take several long walks along the SW Coast Path in both directions from the town. The weather was breezy and in the low 60s, but that doesn’t stop the Brits from enjoying their beaches.

St Ives harbor; tide's in

St Ives harbor; tide’s in

 

Brits at the beach on a St Ives Sunday

Brits at the beach on a St Ives Sunday. Why does everyone love digging holes in sand?

We also went out to St Michael’s Mount one day, which is near Penzance, on the south side of the Cornwall peninsula (St. Ives is on the north side). Interesting walk around and up the island. It’s quite different from Mont San Michel, although it was founded by monks from there. It’s smaller than its French counterpart, and has been a privately owned house for about a thousand years, managed today partly by the family and partly by the National Trust. We timed our visit to be able to walk out at low tide, and then took the boat back.

Tide washing over path to St Michaels Mount

Tide washing over path to St Michaels Mount

On our way north to Devon and Somerset we went to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’d read about this place for years in British gardening magazines…a large garden that fell to weeds and was totally lost after World War I when the gardeners joined the military and were mostly killed, along with the family who lived there. Probably something that happened to lots of country-house gardens, but here, the garden was rediscovered by some botanists and has been brought back to life. The most interesting part is what the owners have done to research and commemorate the lost gardeners, local handymen, all young and killed in the terrible mud and trenches of France. A couple years ago, to honor the 100th anniversary of WWI, sculptors made lifesize ice statues of the men and put them around the garden in the evening, and they all slowly melted over the night and next day. Today’s gardeners and local artists are making living statue today:

The sleeping lady of Heligan

The sleeping lady of Heligan

 

The ghost lady of Heligan

The ghost lady of Heligan–harder to see!

 

A quick visit to Coleridge’s cottage in the Quantock hills got us on our way to northern Somerset, where we stayed in Minehead, a small town on the coast of Bristol Bay, just south of Wales, and on the eastern edge of Exmoor National Park.

We walked a couple of miles to the mediaeval village of Dunster and its attendant castle, excellently run by the National Trust. The Trust has put a lot of effort into making its holdings accessible and fun for families—at Dunster the grand Lady’s dressing room was a real dress-up room for kids, with clothes to try on and play in.

One of the drawing rooms was open for all to sit on the furniture, play cards, do puzzles, read newspapers, just as if you were a guest there. This library was NOT one of those rooms:

 

Dunster Castle library. NOT one of the rooms open for guest lounging!

I loved the sign on an old quilt on one of the beds:  so much nicer than simply “Don’t Touch.”  It said: “This quilt is almost 200 years old and very fragile. Please help us to look after it by trying not to touch it.”  

We also were able to walk a bit of the SW Coast Path, which starts here. It was breezy and rainy, perfect for rainbows. On our walks and drives we noticed lots of solar panel farms and lots of wind turbines, many more such installations than you see in the U.S.

Double bridge at Dunster,;

Double bridge at Dunster near watermill that still grinds wheat for flour.

 

 

 

 

 

Then off to Wales! Northern Wales in fact. While most people were chasing warmer weather, we were heading increasingly north (we didn’t see fully leafed out trees until this week when we finally arrived in Milan.) In Wales we stayed at a country house in Llandudno owned by the National Trust and run by a hotel company. It was quite elegant and the views were spectacular, looking over the waterway that separates mainland Wales from Anglesey at Conwy Castle, and the snow-dusted Snowdonia mountains.

Sunrise over Snowdonia and Conwy Castle from our country house hotel window

Sunrise over Snowdonia and Conwy Castle from our country house hotel window

We heard a lot more Welsh spoken, by people of all ages, here than we had on a previous visit years ago. We laughed when our google maps GPS lady gave up and started spelling the road and town names instead of pronouncing them.

Caernarfon Castle (and seagulls) where Princes of Wales are invested (only 3 so far--ancient tradition with long middle period where it didn't happen--politics and wars intervened

Caernarfon Castle (and seagulls) where Princes of Wales are invested (only 3 so far–ancient tradition with long middle period where it didn’t happen–politics and wars intervened

While here, we got quite an education about the middle ages and castle building. They were dark days indeed, cold and full of awful battles with axes and swords and boiling oil, and the women having baby after baby, mostly all dying. Two of the castles we visited, Conwy and Caernarfon, were run by the Welsh National Trust, so the signage and descriptions included lots of digs at the Brits.

 

Conwy Castle from mainland; tide's out

Conwy Castle from mainland; tide’s out

 

Bodnant Gardens is a spectacular garden in lovely spring bloom—amazing hellebores and grassy fields of daffodils…on the roadsides everywhere these two weeks were spreading clumps of lovely pale lemon sherbet primroses.

Just a ppart of the  hube fields of daffodils in the grassy fields at Bodnant

Just a part of the huge fields of daffodils in the grassy fields at Bodnant

Took the train from Liverpool (dropped off the car at the John Lennon International Airport) to London and then on to Milan. Train was run by Virgin—practice for us, I guess, for Alaska Air’s latest acquisition.

 

Sign at end of driveway of oBodysgallen, our Llandudno country hotel

Sign at end of driveway of Bodysgallen, our Llandudno country hotel