Sunday, 24 February 2013

Cold comfort

I caught a cold this week, which has somewhat curtailed my blogging experience.

And of course, it has been snowing on and off - but the bulbs don't seem to mind.  

The weather has been blustery with a cold snap having drifted our way from Greenland of all places.  Everyone bundling up against the cold:
This squirrel lives with a group of others, in the trees outside our apartment.  He (or she) sat huddled up on this tree branch stump for about an hour, bowed down against the wintery blast!

However all is not doom and gloom because we now have two new neighbours!  
A little Blue Tit and his mate have moved in to the bird house that sits on our apartment wall.  We are being very careful not to disturb them as this is the first time that a bird has moved in on a more permanent basis.  We did have a wren in there some time back but it was only a passing visit.
Meanwhile the pot of winter aconite we bought during the week, is in flower: 

And I made bread this morning:

 . . . from which we cut large doorstop slices to be buttered and eaten with bowls of homemade pumpkin soup:

 The results?

As for me, I am at that stage of a cold where the worst has passed but one still feels sniffy and in need of constant pampering.
So I am sitting ensconced in silken luxury on the sofa, reading books and taking tea in between naps.  It is a hard life...
The two books are: Howitt's 'Visits to Remarkable Places' (which I purchased on our last holiday) and 'Crusader Castles' by T. E. Lawrence - yes, that T. E. Lawrence -  and a really good read too!

Friday, 15 February 2013


While it is nice to enjoy a week's holiday lounging around at home, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that; it is also rather nice to go out for the day.
And so with that in mind we sallied forth taking the tram in to Dusseldorf.

It was cold of course, and snowing but blue skies were confidently predicted for the afternoon...

We had an important mission in mind: To visit the Museum Kunstpalast:

The Palace of Art. 
Way way back in the 1700s Johann Wilhelm, the Elector Palatine (and a native of Dusseldorf) gave exhibitions of his collection of art works at the royal palace.  The palace is long gone and the art collection was whisked away to Munich but in the 1840s the people of Dusseldorf elected to create their own Art Collection and this formed the nucleus of the collection housed at the Kunstpalast today

I took this photograph as we left at the end of our visit and as you can see, blue skies did indeed eventuate!  At first glance it is not the most handsome of buildings, looking more like a hospital to our eyes:

However this building is one of the fruits of the short-lived Weimar Republic.  Built to plans by the architect Wilhelm Kreis who also built the Concert Hall a short distance away, it showcased the 1925 exhibition entitled: 'Großen Ausstellung für Gesundheitspflege, Soziale Fürsorge und Leibesübungen' (Great Exhibition of Health Care, Social Welfare and Physical Exercise).
A few years later and the Art collection moved in from the old Kunstpalast which is now the Art Academy.
Here is the Kunstpalast all shiny and new in 1926:
This photograph comes from the Museum website:

Upon entering, the first thing you see is the huge stained glass windows by the famous Dutch artist, Jan Thorn Prikker:
I found this window to be soothing.  With its jazz-age overtones I think that it compliments the building perfectly.

Here are a few highlights from the kunstpalast that I thought I would share with you but I should warn you that some of the photographs may be a little blurred because naturally, no flash photography was allowed inside.

Look at the beauty to be found in the wonderful hymnal.  I liked the little attention to detail in the birds:

These sixteenth century prancing, capering angels are wonderful!  I had never seen them carved with a covering of feathers before.  I really like them:

There is a large collection of Japanese netsuke (toggles) on display as well.  I like this one of the half mouse (?) half man.  Next to him was a kimono wearing cat person:

 This painting of 'Jonah and the Whale' could quite happily live in our apartment:
 Painted by Pieter Lastinan it shows the whale literally spitting Jonah out of its mouth.  Jonah goes flying through the air although his robe always remains strategically placed.  I particularly like the velvety look to the body of the 'whale' and its unusual eye!

Although I seriously blurred this photograph of a fifteenth century carving of Our Lady, together with the Infant Jesus and her parents, I wanted to show it because of the wonderful attention to detail, and skill used by the carver:
Just look at that hand turning the page of the book.

And speaking of attention to detail, look at this wonderful painting by Adrien van der Spelt:

UPon entry we were told that parts of the Art Gallery were closed but we didn't mind because it gave us longer to visit the Hentrich Glass Museum which is in the same building.  It is one of the largest glass museums in Europe and has glassware dating back over 2,000 years...

Roman and Egyptian glassware:

These 19th Century vases are beautiful:

This 16th Century vase is made to look like cracked ice:

This very pretty, hand painted vase is rather small but the detail is wonderful:

Isn't this 16th Century glass plate magnificent?

Here is a sixteenth century novelty jug in the shape of a soldier (without head):

There was a large collection of modern glass creations as well:

But could they match this 17th century glass teapot from the Netherlands?  It would fit very well into my own collection!:

Finally,  I'm not sure but that blurred, ghost like person walking down the stairs in front of me could be AGA...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Snow Schmow
So there we were: Walking to work.  
AGA suggested taking a camera with us because it was snowing and we could get some photographs for my blog:

The large flakes of snow, falling gently to earth, lent a magical air to the proceedings, despite the fact that it was freezing.   I was even feeling good enough to allow AGA to take my photo:

As we got nearer to our place of work I put the camera away and we chatted about the day and how pleased we were that the following week was half term holiday. . .

Then I stepped on a large piece of plastic hidden by the newly fallen snow.  

The next thing I knew I was laying flat on my back involuntarily making a snow angel!

I was so lucky that AGA was with me as I don't think that I could have got up by myself at that moment, having hit my head on the pavement in the process of falling.

Without going into all the details, I hurt my hip and suffered mild concussion.  I didn't have to stay in the hospital (although I was obliged to go there for a check) but I did have to stay home for the rest of the day and the next, however there was to be no computer, no TV and no watching DVDs.
I didn't mind so much as I was allowed to read and loving reading as I do, it was like experiencing guilt free laziness: reclining on the sofa, drinking tea and reading (or sleeping) all day long - and all on doctor's orders!

And it extended into the next day too, with my employers telling me to stay home and rest.

So I did.

* * * *

Lots of thoughts milled around my head - some of it revolving around the fact that I have always disliked the snow...

I'm not sure whether I have told you before but the place where we live is called Kaiserswerth.  It is an ancient settlement dating back to at least the 7th Century, when the English missionary Swidbert (known in German as Suitbertus) was given Kaiserswerth and asked to set up a small monastery there.

All sorts of things have happened since that time: Friedrich Barbarossa built a huge fortress here, the town was invaded at various times by the Spanish, the Hessians, the Brandenburgers, the Dutch and the French.  Napoleon was here.  So was Florence Nightingale.  American soldiers were here too, towards the end of WWII.  King Heinrich IV was kidnapped from Kaiserswerth by the archbishop of Koeln during a palace power struggle in the Middle Ages; and the town was given control of the lucrative collection of tolls on the Rhein.

And during all that time Kaiserswerth was an island.  At its peak it looked liked this:

(This photograph comes from the Kaiserswerther Brudershaft ( and I have seen the original painting displayed within the shoeshop in the High Street.)

Nowadays, Kaiserswerth looks like this.  You can see the now-ruined Barbarossa's fortress in the foreground on the river bank (It was blown up by the Spanish in 1702, or thereabouts): 

Both of these photographs comes from this website:

Kaiserwerth is no longer an island because (I am told) the Rhein silted up.  I don't know when this happened but in this photograph, the green belt that surrounds the town is the old river bed.  It goes all the way around and to enter Kaiserswerth, you cross a bridge that is near to the tall building on the right of the photo although now all that is below it is the town ditch which has been made into a park. 

Kaiserswerth is only about 28m above sea level.  The land is very flat which is ideal for bike riding.  

It is also ideal for flooding.

The water table is close to the surface and it doesn't taken much for it to cause problems.  Then we get this:

The Rhein is on the left of the fencing.  The path along the town walls is (submerged) to the right.

And so all this snow falling, then melting and then being followed by more snow, is not helping matters.  On Saturday I went down to the Rhein to take a look:
It is getting higher - and faster too.  Those branches are the tops of the trees that border the small stony beaches that are visible in summer.  The pole in the top right photograph indicates where cars usually drive to board the ferry to the other side of the river...

The fields were the farmer keeps his horses in the summer, and where a few weeks earlier the children were whizzing about on their sleds, is now a large lake:

Our apartment building is at the back of old Kaiserswerth, where the town walls used to be.  It overlooks the old river bed.  Interestingly, water is appearing there too as the ground water rises from beneath the surface:

And directly opposite us, albeit 'down in the ditch' the water has suddenly appeared so that over the space of the week it has changed from a snowy place to walk the dog, to a series of serpentine ponds:

As long as it remains like this and doesn't get much higher and cause the town flood barriers to be set up, we will continue to find it all rather exciting. . .

And so, as the water rises, we seek comfort in simple things:

 Flowers: harbingers of Spring and the return of the sun.

And of course cups of tea . . . and home-made Eccles cakes (you just can't have enough of them at this time of year).

And cherry tart: 
(made by me!)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

What about me?

It has been a funny week.  The weather has been up and down.  No snow now but plenty of rain and suddenly we are all acting as if 4c is like 24c... and now they tell us that we will probably have snow again all next week.

Added to this I have had a great deal of trouble posting comments on blogs.  I am not sure what the problem was but at least now things are back to normal.

* * * * * *

The other week my new blogging friend Olympia over at Old Things, chose five people to answer a series of questions: and I was one of them.

I have given the questions some thought and am now ready to post the answers:


Do you garden?
Yes I do garden although I would be telling a lie if I said that I garden a lot - that is AGA's department.  Here in Germany we have a small balcony and there is not much you can do - it is frustrating.  In Melbourne however we do have a garden and I have enclosed a few photographs of it for you.

What is your hobby?

I have a few hobbies:
I enjoy reading - a lot.  
I like to read history, gardening, poetry, interior design, select biographies, and murder mysteries: not those graphic ultra-violent ones that seem so prevalent today, but the old fashioned type from the 1930s written by such as Dorothy Sayers.  Mind you, I also loved reading Ellis Peters' Medieval Murder mysteries and the wonderful Phryne Fisher stories by Kerry Greenwood.
I like collecting antiques, porcelain and china.  
I like to write and am attempting a biography of King Henry III.
I like to cook.  Cakes and desserts are my main products.  Today I made Bara Brith (Welsh tea cake) for the first time but it didn't turn out exactly as planned so I shall make it again next week with modifications.  I also like to collect old cook books.
I enjoy taking photographs too, and at present I am enjoying writing a history of our family for my nephews and niece.

One thing that is definitely NOT a hobby of mine is ironing. Ironing sheets is my most unfavourite ironing job which is why the photograph below shows the deft hand of AGA attending to the task.

I also enjoy playing the harpsichord although AGA is much better than I am.  One day I will introduce you to our harpsichord.  We have one here, a copy of an 18th century French instrument and one back in Melbourne, a Flemish single-manual instrument that AGA built.  My mother who is a pianist, is looking after it.

This is the harpsichord we have here in Germany. 

Your favourite plant?
I have a few.  Roses.  Bluebells.  Bougainvillea.  Asters.  Soleil  d'or Jonquils.  But my favourite would have to be yellow daffodils.  There is something so regal, and so beautiful about them!,

Where have you travelled?
I have travelled to lots of places: All over the UK and many places in Europe, Asia, and Australia.  I have not travelled to Central or Southern Americas, and my only visit to North America was to New York for Christmas shopping one year.  We enjoyed ourselves a lot despite the freezing cold winds that I thought might kill me!

What was your favourite trip?
This is tricky.  I think that it would have to have been my first visit to Pompeii about eight years ago.  I had always wanted to go there since I was a boy and so it could have been described as a dream come true:

This photograph was taken at the main entrance to the city.  I can't describe how excited I was (beneath the calm exterior shown in this photograph) to think that I was about the enter Pompeii!!

I would like to add however that to be honest with you, every holiday I have ever had with AGA could be classified as a 'favourite trip', whether we have been visiting a city, or striding through a muddy field to visit a ruined abbey or castle in the middle of nowhere:

We always have a wonderful time. I guess it is because he is such a wonderful partner and soul mate.

Your horoscope?
Taurus.  I do not know much about horoscopes.  I found out the other day that my Chinese horoscope is a Rabbit.

Your favourite painter?
Another hard question: Simone Martini; Sir Arthur Streeton, Parmigianino, Tiepolo, Giotto, Botticelli, Constable; to name a few.

A particularly favourite painting of mine is Simone Martini's 'Annunciation' which I have had the ultimate pleasure of viewing in person at the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence:

What kind of music do you like?
Mostly music of the Baroque period.  Jean Philippe Rameau is my favourite composer, with Handel trotting in a very close second.
I also like music of the Renaissance and in particular Monteverdi and Vittoria.  Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of 1610 is a wonder!

(In the 1980s and 1990s I was a big music fan - I loved all those dance tunes, new wave songs and the beginning of 'techno'.  I am more sedate these days although we still take our Bananarama CD with us in the car so we can sing our hearts out while travelling from one place to another...)

Your favourite food?
Comfort food - the sort of food you make yourself and which leaves you feeling full, content, and sublimely happy afterwards.  I also like  Italian, Afghan and Vietnamese.

Do you have pets?
Alas no.  I did have a wonderful dog.  A true friend named Portmac Wee Hamish of Portland (Hamish for short) but he died 9 years ago.  I miss him:

AGA has said that when we return we will have two dogs.  I also want a house cow but this is still under negotiation (I think AGA suspects I'll let it sit on the sofa!) - and some miniature sheep.  I would like a cat - black with green eyes: a witch's cat!

Well,  these are the questions and my answers.  I hope you enjoyed reading it.  I am supposed to choose five people to answer the same questions however I do not wish to impose upon you so I will say that if you want to take part then feel free to do so!