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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

1-Lead

Angelina and I presented a lecture at the Maine Flower Show in Portland last week. We had been invited to speak last fall and were looking forward to the drive to Portland, one of our favorite New England cities. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and did not snow as it had on and off all month — good for the show, better for us.

Even though our program slot was for 10:30 on Saturday morning right after the show opened, the lecture room was full with mostly Mainers but also visitors “from away” as they say in Maine — New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, New York and a few Canadians from New Brunswick. We thought that our “Roses for New England” program with an emphasis on cold-climate rose gardening would hit the spot and it did. The show provided a generous two-hour time slot for each program which allowed for plenty of Q and A after the PowerPoint presentation was complete. This is often the best part of  lecture and where we connect with our audience.

The flower show was staged at Thompson’s Point along the Portland waterfront. Unlike the slick convention facilities at other big New England cities, Thompson’s Point was a large older wooden structure that was transformed for four days into an oasis of spring amidst an otherwise wintry month of March in Maine. A big, heated tent connecting to the main building accommodated the overflow of vendors. The venue was rustic and absolutely perfect. Very Maine.

After our program, we walked the show and chatted with vendors and exhibitors.

2-Pick-upOne exhibitor took an old pick-up truck — a real beater, all rusty and dusty — and packed the bed with annuals that spilled out into the rest of the garden display. A wild explosion of color.

5-Water-FeatureAnother was a realistic water feature — a pond surrounded by native Maine plants and trees.

3-Stone-CourtyardMy favorite was an impressive fieldstone courtyard complete with niches, stone shelves and raised stone beds of flowers, herbs and lettuce plants. A dramatic display of Maine masonry.

Attendance was high with lots of foot traffic streaming throughout the garden area as well as among the vendors. The crowd was festive and, judging by the armfuls of merchandise, free spending — the life blood of every flower show.

Since we had a long drive home, we left early but first stopped to have lunch at Becky’s Restaurant on the waterfront — a popular Portland landmark with really good food at reasonable prices.

The state of Maine is huge, as large as the rest of New England combined, and Angelina and I have been driving up at least once a year for decades. We enjoy road trips along Downeast Maine’s jagged Atlantic coast up to Acadia National Park and beyond as well as long, long drives in rural Maine north and west into the mountains and on into Quebec.

The Maine Flower Show gave us another opportunity to visit this unique northern New England region, to enjoy a taste of spring in the middle of winter.

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Mille Miglia – Siena Italy

Sometimes the most memorable moments of traveling are those that are unexpected and spontaneous. Even though Mike and I enjoy planning our trips and organizing our travel itinerary, we find it’s often the unanticipated and unplanned events that are most rewarding.

1.-Pizzeria-Trattoria-on-ViOne was an impulsive decision that took us into a trattoria on Via Cavour in Florence. When walking back to our hotel, we saw a small sign that said Pizzaria Trattoria on a very plain looking storefront. We decided to go in. The place was small and charming with covered tablecloths. As we stepped inside, we were greeted warmly by the owner who spoke only a little English. We spoke even less Italian but communicated enough to convey that yes, we’d have his gluten-free pizza and a carafe of wine. We watched as he poured the dark red Chianti from a wooden keg on top of the bar. We lingered over the delicious wine as we enjoyed a very tasty gluten-free pizza. We still reminisce about this Trattoria on Via Cavour especially when drinking a glass of Chianti.

When we visit different cities, we are always on the lookout for rose gardens to visit. Even if the gardens won’t be in full bloom, we go any way and manage to find some aspect of the garden to enjoy.

We set aside an entire day to visit Le Parc de Bagatelle located in Paris’ 16th Arrondissement. With no easy access by metro or bus, we took a taxi. Our goal was the Roserie de Bagatelle – a very famous rose garden we had heard so much about; but it was late September so we knew that most of the roses had “gone by.”

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Sole e Luna at Bagatelle

While we were wandering around the garden, we came across a rose bush that had clusters of fresh, bright yellow roses surrounded by red buds. It was a variety we had never heard of – Sole e Luna. The hybridizer was an Italian rose breeder named Barni and the variety, not available in the United States, is one I would never have seen had I not gone to Bagatelle. What a treasure it turned out to be. Even though this rose is not for sale here in the US, my photograph of Sole e Luna is hung where it brings back memories of our trip to Paris and Bagatelle.

Roses aren’t the only unexpected treasures we experienced while traveling. While driving from Rome to Florence through Tuscany, our driver Marco stopped in Siena. After lunch, we took a leisurely walk through this ancient Tuscan hill town and wandered into the Piazza del Campo, the historic Siena square, looking for some gelato. As we enjoyed our Italian ice cream, a parade of magnificent vintage sports cars roared into the Piazza. We were luckily in the right place at the right time to see part of the famous Mille Miglia Classic Car Race, a 1000 mile race that goes through cities in northern Italy like Siena and Florence. (See photo above.)

5.-Thatched-Cottage-Adare-IOne thing we hadn’t planned on seeing when in Ireland were the famous thatched cottages which  are rapidly disappearing. But while driving to Limerick where we were to meet up with Mike’s cousin, we made an unplanned stop for lunch in the town of Adare. As we walked about the town after a quick lunch, we spotted a few of the remaining cottages with picture-perfect thatched roofs. Definitely a bonus to our Irish adventures.

While we’ll always remember the iconic attractions we’ve seen like the Louvre, the Colisseum, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Vatican, it’s the unplanned and unstructured components of our trips that are the most vivid and memorable.

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1-Nightlight

Several years ago, Angelina was rummaging through a box of things that had belonged to her mother and discovered an old fashioned nightlight. What made this nightlight interesting was the image on the glass light diffuser, a 3”x 4” replica of a painting, a painting of friends sailing into the surf on a catboat. The artist captured the differing values of ocean blues and teals, the rolling Atlantic swells, a solitary buoy leaning towards the boat, and the young sailors peering intently into the horizon seemingly pre-occupied with some unknown thing. Both Angelina and I thought this was a compelling marine scene, something you would expect to see somewhere in coastal New England, maybe on Cape Cod.

What was this painting in the nightlight? Did it have a title? Who was the artist? Where was it painted? Since the glass image had no identification of any kind, where did it come from?  The plot thickened.

We enjoy viewing this wonderful picture every day; it’s the last thing we see when we turn on the nightlight in the bathroom before turning in.

Anyway, fast forward to last May when we packed up for a two-week road trip to  Philadelphia then on to Washington, DC. In DC we stayed near the Mall making it convenient to visit all the monuments and memorials, the Air and Space Museum, the United States Botanic Garden, and the National Gallery of Art.

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National Gallery of Art

It was while we randomly roamed through the National Gallery of Art that we serendipitously discovered, totally by accident, the original art that inspired our glass nightlight — Edward Hopper’s “Ground Swell” — hanging in a gallery of American art. Eureka!

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Ground Swell by Edward Hopper

2-Ground-Swell-ID“Ground Swell” was, indeed, painted by Hopper on Cape Cod in 1939. We have since learned of Hopper’s recurrent themes of isolation and alienation and mystery. Much analysis has been made of “Ground Swell’ — just what did Hopper mean? Art critics claim it was a dark omen, a harbinger of World War Two. Really?

Angelina and I don’t know what he meant — maybe he didn’t mean anything — we just know that we like it. We bought a print in the gift shop and now that hangs in our home. Now we have two “Ground Swells” but we like the one in the small nightlight with its still unknown origin the most.

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1 Paris SlideWhile our first passion is rose gardening, our second passion is travel. There’s nothing better than visiting exciting, far-away destinations, settling in for a while, and becoming familiar with the rhythms of someplace new. After returning from our most recent European trip — a visit to Paris –we decided to broaden the topics of the programs we offer to include our travel adventures as well as our  rose themes. The result is “Armchair Travel” and the first program is all about our favorite overseas city to date —  the magnificent City of Lights, Paris France.

2 LouvreThis Power Point program titled, “Paris! City of Lights,” had its debut last month. It was attended by a diverse audience that consisted of  those who were planning an upcoming trip to Paris (some as soon as in a few weeks), those who had already been, and those who just wanted to visit Paris without leaving home. We included iconic venues like the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as some of our favorite places — Montmatre, St. Chapelle, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, rose gardens, and lots more we discovered along the way.

In our program, we discuss options of where to stay, where to eat, and what to visit. But mostly, we encourage visitors to explore not only the well-known boulevards and tourist attractions, but the back streets of Parisian neighborhoods.

5 Chez MarcelAnd since the French are known for their excellent cuisine, we share some of the intimate cafes and bistros where we had wonderful French meals while sitting among locals and other visitors from around the world.

Creating this program and sharing our passion for travel with others was very rewarding. We answered questions from members of our audience about the nuts and bolts of a Paris visit , gave tips on how to navigate around the city as well as suggesting the best way to gain admission to the busiest museums and other popular venues.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Paris! The City of Lights”, visit the Program Page on our website.

 

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1-Longwood-GardenLast spring, Angelina and I chose to skip the hassle of TSA and the rigors of a long plane flight and instead decided on a long-awaited road trip. We packed up the car and headed south on a two-week journey, first to the Brandywine area outside of Philadelphia then on to Washington, DC followed by a meandering ride back home with a stop in Gettysburg. The first leg began with a visit to Longwood Gardens located in the heart of the Brandywine Valley, 30 miles west of Philly.

12-Longwood-Garden-EntranceLongwood had its beginnings in 1906 when Pierre S. DuPont purchased a neglected farm in order to save its arboretum from lumbering and began converting it into what would become one of America’s leading horticultural display gardens.

We arrived early on a sunny Tuesday morning in mid May, got our tickets and headed for the rose garden first. This garden was one of the smaller gardens in Longwood but was well maintained with a dozen beds of bush roses, each bed featuring a single variety. Most were in bud stage with peak bloom still two weeks away. One exception was a dazzling bed of Sparkle & Shine, a bright yellow floribunda.

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City of York – Back of Stone Wall

Just behind Sparkle & Shine was a feature that I especially liked, the unique way the Longwood rose gardeners displayed a row of climbing roses named City of York. These climbers were planted along the back side of a six-foot stone wall and then trained to grow up and over the wall and cascade down the front side. Since both sides of the wall received enough sunlight, they grew beautifully with thousands of tight buds tumbling down the front of this handsome stone wall waiting to open. The bloom must have been stunning.

4-Topiary

Topiary

As a backdrop to the rose garden was a Topiary Garden that contained over 50 specimens of yews in various shapes such as spirals, cones and animals.

We took a break here for a few minutes to enjoy the bright sunny morning then strolled over to the Conservatory, an enormous greenhouse with four acres under glass — twenty rooms of plants from around the world. The day we were there, gardeners were removing the displays of spring flowers soon to be replaced with summer annuals which in turn would be followed by fall plantings. Even though the conservatory was in seasonal transition, room after room featured showy floral displays. Very Impressive.

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Conservatory

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Conservatory

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Conservatory

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Mummy Pack

The conservatory even had a Rose Room – one that had several rows of rose bushes. What interested us was the IPM measures employed to control insects. No pesticides were applied but small packets of “mummies” were  scattered among the roses. Tiny wasps emerged from the mummies, looking for aphids on which to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch and the new wasplings eat the aphids which keeps them in check. While not a perfect solution, it seemed to work well enough and avoided chemical pesticides.

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Rose Room

After lunch we wandered over to a section of flower beds that were also in transition from spring to summer. One team of gardeners were digging up clumps of spring bulbs, piling them up into carts then hauling them off to the Longwood compost site. All vegetative matter was converted into compost and nothing was discarded.

Another nearby bed had already been cleared and a gardener was raking it out for planting the next day. According to the gardener, no soil amendments were added at this point but each bed would be amended with compost in the fall when spring bulbs were planted. She went on to say that each section of gardens had dedicated teams that maintained those same beds season after season.

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Wisteria

Nearby was the Wisteria Garden in full bloom. What a display of Japanese wisteria in lavender, purple and white. It was a major attraction and provided visitors with a unique photo op.

By now the weather was getting very warm and we were growing weary so we started back to the car, which was when we noticed the Rose Arbor. This circular arbor surrounded an area which is often used for concerts. We were too early to see the arbors in bloom which would have been a spectacular sight of American Pillar roses chosen by Pierre du Pont himself.

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Rose Arbor

Like other great gardens we have visited throughout the United States and Europe,  Longwood Gardens had clean, modern facilities and the gardens and structures were neat and well maintained with plenty of staff. We had expected a very high degree of horticultural excellence — the ultimate hallmark of every great garden — and were not disappointed. Longwood Gardens should be on every gardeners bucket list.

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1-Crested-Moss ChuteAs I was reviewing my rose photographs during our latest snow storm, trying to envision what our garden will look like in just a few more months, I came across some photos of Crested Moss. I had taken these photos when we visited the Giardino delle Rose in Florence, Italy a few years ago and it was the first time I had ever seen a moss rose.

2-Giardino-delle-rose-FloreI recall walking through the rose garden that day and being delighted when I spotted Crested Moss (also known as Chapeau de Napoleon because the moss-covered sepals surrounding the buds are reminiscent of the tri-cornered hat Napoleon wore). Moss roses are unique because of this distinctive moss-like growth around the buds and bases of the flowers. In the photo above, you can see that the terminal bloom is encircled by at least 10 buds with pink petals peeking through what is often described as parsley-like growth. What a photo opportunity!

Moss roses are believed to have originated as sports, or mutations of centifolia roses. The mossy growth has a strong pine or balsamic fragrance most noticeable if the mossy growth is rubbed between your fingers.

2-Crested-Moss-bud-ChuteCrested Moss is a “Found Rose,” discovered in 1827. It has rich, clear pink flowers with a yellow button eye in the center, a damask, spicy fragrance and is known for its disease resistant. It clearly looked disease-free in Florence with its unblemished foliage. It  blooms once in late spring to early summer for several weeks. Our visit to Giardino delle Rose was in late May just as Crested Moss, as well as the rest of the garden, began to bloom.

We have never grown moss roses since we felt that they wouldn’t tolerate the hot, humid mid-summer Rhode Island weather. Now, after seeing the picture of Crested Moss again, I may just give it a try.

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1-sacre-coeur

Sacre Coeur

We are a lá carte travelers. We enjoy creating our own trips, day by day — from starting with months of research to arranging airfare to booking hotels to renting cars and especially to planning a flexible itinerary. This past September we returned to Paris for two weeks and re-discovered this magnificent City of Lights. Our schedule included places we missed on our first visit in May, 2012. This time, in addition to revisiting some of our favorite places, we explored Paris’s rich history of churches and cathedrals. Since we had been to the famed Notre Dame Cathedral several times, we targeted other well-known sites.

We began with a metro ride to Montmartre, one of Paris’s oldest neighborhoods and the location of a thriving artist colony and the Basilica of Sacré Coeur. While we walked from the metro stop to Montmartre, the last leg of the trip was a choice of walking up a some very steep stairs or taking the funicular, an electric tram. Tough choice…we took the funicular. However, that meant waiting in a long line but it went quickly.

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St. Michael

Once we reached the top, the sight of Sacré Coeur was impressive (see photo above). Throngs of people were seated on the steps that overlooked the city of Paris. After climbing these steps, we stood in a short line and passed through a security check in order to enter the church. (Security checks were at all public sites in Paris, churches were no exception.) We viewed the interior and admired a dramatic statue of St. Michael, lit a candle as we did in each church we visited and then rejoined the throng outside. Since Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, the broad steps of the basilica are popular with tourists for their panoramic view of the city.

We walked up the small, winding streets, had lunch at a small café and then roamed through nearby Place du Tertre, where artists set up stalls in the famous outdoor square. We purchased a small original watercolor from an elderly French artist as a permanent reminder of this iconic Parisian neighborhood.

5-montmartre

The next day was Sunday, the day we traveled to Chartres, a small town 50 miles outside of Paris and this called for a train ride. (We found train travel in France to be clean, safe, reliable and reasonably priced — round-trip Paris to Chartres cost €64 for two.) So here we were at Gare Montparnasse to catch the 10:06 train for the 90-minute ride to Chartres. 4-gare-montpanasseThe train was only half full and we enjoyed seeing the French countryside — lots of agriculture and cows, some shabby houses, some nice ones.

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Our Lady of Chartres

We knew when we were getting close to the town of Chartres because the cathedral, aka Our Lady of Chartres, could be seen from a distance, soaring in its gothic glory high above everything. A spectacular introduction to this medieval town.

Since we were here for the day, our plan was to explore the cathedral and the nearby town on our own, have lunch and then take a one-hour guided tour of the cathedral. The cathedral is surrounded by restaurants and small shops but, being Sunday, all the shops and most of the restaurants were closed. Sunday closings seemed to be the case throughout France.

After lunch, we met Elizabeth, our guide, who began the tour outside the church explaining the history of the cathedral as well as its gothic architecture. This was followed by a descent into the dark and deep Crypt, the remains of the old church. The tour finished with a walk through the cathedral and details describing the extraordinary stained glass windows.

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Stained Glass and Rose Window at Chartres

As we returned to the train station, we looked back one last time at this magnificent Gothic cathedral with its tall pointed steeples, towering stained glass, grand rose windows, gargoyles, flying buttresses, hundreds of statues, and a compelling history.

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St. Chapelle Upper Chapel

Next on our list was St. Chapelle which is located in the shadows of  Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité in the heart of Paris. We arrived at noon on a Tuesday and expected a long queue but found a short one instead. We bypassed the line anyway with our Museum Pass and entered into the lower chapel where we rented audio guides, a must to fully understand the history and contents of the church. (A Museum Pass doesn’t save much money but allowed us to bypass the line at many venues.)

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St. Chapelle

St. Chapelle was built in the gothic style in the 13th century by King Louis IX and has the most extraordinary collection of stained glass anywhere in the world. The church is divided into two chapels, the upper or royal chapel was for the king and the lower was for everyone else. The walls of the upper chapel consists of 15 towering gothic stain glass windows stretching 3/4 of the way up the wall, each a jaw-dropping 49 feet high, with a glorious rose window at one end. Each window has 90 or more panels and relates a biblical story or depicts an old testament scene. St Chapelle is much smaller than Notre Dame and only takes an hour, two at the most, to visit.

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St. Sulpice

If it weren’t for the Da Vinci Code movie, we may never have known about St. Sulpice Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Paris, second only to Notre Dame. After Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, and Chartes, the architecture of St. Sulpice is subdued, lacking dramatic stained glass windows and big crowds. What it did have, however, was a gnomon and an extraordinary pipe organ. It also provided the dramatic setting for a scene in the Da Vinci Code — which was actually filmed on a duplicate stage elsewhere.

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Obelisk

The gnomon, once used in the calculation of Easter, is a brass meridian on the floor that leads to a white marble obelisk. A ray of sunlight passes at noon through an opening in a window opposite the obelisk and rests on the meridian at various points throughout the year.

As luck would have it, we were in Paris on the autumnal equinox and went to St. Sulpice at mid-day along with a small crowd of visitors there for the same reason. We all saw the oval sunray cross the meridian on time at just the right spot. This was an unexpected bonus on the trip.

We returned to St. Sulpice the following Sunday to attend Mass, a little surprised to find the Cathedral only three-quarters full, and stayed for the organ concert afterwards. The 45-minute concert is presented each Sunday after the 11 o’clock Mass with a combination of ecclesiastical and classical  compositions. The great organ with 5588 pipes is a remarkable instrument dating back to the eighteenth century. The sound was amazing, easily filling every nook and crevice of the enormous cathedral. Afterwards, we took our time strolling back to the hotel through Luxemburg Gardens to start packing for the trip home.

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The Great Pipe Organ

This trip was special and we talk about it all the time. The great benefit of being a lá carte travelers is the blend of spontaneous events, chance meetings with locals and other travelers, and serendipitous happenings that occur while we are out and about in a far-away place that would not happen on a more structured trip.

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