A wool festival, a running race and Nivea care – Hamburg has it all.

The Alster, Hamburg

The Alster, Hamburg

We’d hardly been back from holiday three weeks and there I was yet again trundling my carry-on case up and down the stairs through the grubby Metro tunnels, fighting my way onto the airport train at Gare du Nord, dodging the meandering, confused travellers clogging up the inter-terminal shuttle lanes, tip-toeing through security with my carefully selected wooden knitting needles before finally relaxing with a few rows of sock knitting before boarding.  My reward; a weekend with Katherine in Hamburg and a Wool Festival – Wollfest Hamburg.

With a day and a half free to explore before our long planned weekend activities I had time for a long walk along the lake edge near Katherine’s apartment.  In the glorious sunshine there were blokes fishing, (and catching), runners – canines and homo-sapiens – and on the lake there were yachts and ferries, paddle boarders, kayakers and rowing crews.  I crunched along the path cheerily snapping pictures thinking oh my my, summer is not over yet.  The German signs amused me.  Mostly I can’t understand them at all but occasionally the meaning is crystal clear when you just say it like it looks.

Guess what you are not allowed to do here?

Guess what you are not allowed to do here?

On the topic of other things that amused….Hamburg, like other Big Cities, has a swanky big Apple Concept Store; its spacious clean uncluttered interior is populated with more than enough Apples for a sizeable pie.  But what you might not know is that Hamburg has a Nivea Concept Store just near Apple.  Yep, I discovered good old Nivea is a German brand, originating in Hamburg.  Impressed by the array of Nivea goodies, I stocked up on things and succumbed to the promotion for personalised Nivea.

Personalised Nivea

Personalised Nivea

The Hamburg Wool Festival ran over Saturday and Sunday.  I visited the market stalls on Saturday and limited myself to buying only yarns that I could not get in Paris.  That still left quite some choice, but since my dearly beloved has noted that my yarn stash has expanded to the proportions of a yarn collection, I exercised restraint.

The highlight was the “Manipulating Stitch Patterns” workshop with Ysolda Teague on Sunday.  I confess I felt on the edge of my comfort zone.  I’ve adapted patterns many times before in a she’ll-be-right, amateur kind of way but this was a glimpse into a more technical world where really talented, professional young designers are forging their independent design careers combining age old craft skills and technology to produce wonderful patterns.  I felt challenged, a bit lost at first and then a bit excited and inspired.  I enjoyed it immensely.  Ysolda is knowledgeable and entertaining, the three hours went by in a blink, and I learnt so much my brain was buzzing.  I’m working on my post workshop project while it’s still fresh.  The concept is sorted, the charting underway and swatching is to come.

While I was manipulating stitch patterns Katherine was participating in her first 10km run, the Alsterlauf, with DB as chief cheerleader and photographer under stern instruction to wait at the assigned place, keep a watch out for her and record the moments for posterity.  Katherine successfully completed the race and there are photos to prove it.  Our next visit to Hamburg is planned for December because there is a special birthday to celebrate.

Korcula: beach, balcony, view, bliss.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

The sea routes along Croatia’s Adriatic coast become almost a marine highway in the summer. There are ferry boats for people and cars, fast catamaran ferries, sail boats, super yachts (actually not yachts), cruise boats big and small all plying the sea passages between the mainland – the Peljesac peninsula – and other islands. We travelled on the Jadrolinija ferry from Dubrovnik up to Korcula on the island of Korcula; a smooth 4-hour trip. Korcula is the second largest island in the Adriatic (by population), home to about 17,000 people.

We had searched out an apartment with a balcony and view of the sea and booked months in advance. Once again we were not disappointed with our find; Apartment Adriatic, unsophisticated, comfortable and only 2 minutes to the beach for our morning swim. Everyday we enjoyed watching the comings and goings on the sea and each evening we watched the glow of the sun drench the stone buildings in the old town. We became expert on the arrival and departure times of the passenger ferry that plied the route between Korcula and Orebic, we watched luxury super yachts slip into their mooring spots and daring wind surfers and kite surfers zip, zap and take flight across the Peljesac channel (between mainland and the island). Korcula’s location on the eastern side of the island where the channel is only 1270 metres across means the Maestral wind is reliably strong, but not unpleasant, and the area seems to be a popular destination for windsurfers.

Windsurfers at play

Windsurfers at play

steps to swim

En route to a morning swim. Time to destination 2 mins at most.

With a rental car for a day we explored the whole island, stopping at remote beaches that were so picturesque they could have been in a story book. The town of Lumbarda was one of the main destinations on our must-see list. This village is famous for its white wine “Grk,” and is the home town of one of New Zealand’s most well known wine pioneers, Mr Nikola Nobilo. It is a beautiful place; acres of old vines stretched out down gentle slopes, the blue of the sea in the distance, and of course the dry stone walls that are familiar in Northland NZ where the Dalmatian immigrants settled. Our visit was completed with a winery stop, purchase of some Grk wine, and very friendly conversation about NZ once the proprietor realised where we hailed from. Other means of exploration included making use of the water taxis from Korcula.  A couple of times we made a picnic lunch and headed out to Badija island for the day to find remote swimming spots, our only company some rather pesky “biting flies” and wasps.

Speaking of exploration, Korcula is reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. The house where he was born in the Old Town is open as a museum. The fortified Old Town is itself very picturesque; stone buildings with terracotta roofs and narrow cobbled streets between. The steep streets on the western side run straight down to the water to allow the prevailing breeze in the summer to flow into the heart of the Old Town and the streets on the eastern side curve away to minimise the blast of the cold easterly wind during the winter. My favourite building in the old town was St Mark’s Cathedral with it’s beautiful bell tower. It dominates the skyline and its regular ding-donging routine was a pleasant marker of the leisurely rhythm of our days. One evening as the sun set we climbed up to the viewing balcony right beside the bells and were rewarded not only with a sublime view of the sun going down, but a close up rendition of the 8pm chimes. Magic.

Korcula turned out to be another great destination where we enjoyed the beach holiday delights as well as brushing up on our history and geography knowledge, more photos here. I will add that my chair on the balcony was one of the best knitting spots I’ve enjoyed. I’ve christened the red socks completed during the holiday Rosamond de Croatie after the pattern name Rosamond.

Dubrovnik – a beauty spot

Kia ora from Dubrovnik

Kia ora from Dubrovnik

The sun shone, the water was warm, crystal clear and bluer than the sky.  The Adriatic Sea did not disappoint.  We’ve spent the last two weeks in the Dalmatia region of Croatia that borders the Adriatic, staying firstly at the southern end in Dubrovnik then in Korcula town on the island of Korcula.

The main reason for the trip was purely for a summer beach holiday and Croatia’s Adriatic coastline could not have been better.  We swam every day at some beach or another; there are squillions to choose from, and all picturesque.  Most of the swimming spots are rocky, stony coves and inlets rather than sandy beaches.  At favoured spots people sit perched on rocky outcrops, drape themselves over the few weathered slabs of rock or nestle into worn hollows to soak up the suns rays, altogether looking a bit like a seal colony.  Other places are remote enough that you can have a small swimming spot to yourself.

In Dubrovnik Old Town we stayed in a lovely cool apartment tucked into a quiet corner inside the city walls near the Maritime Museum.  Our regular swimming spots only two minutes walk away included the area on the sea wall by St John’s Fort, and a spot through the hole in the wall at the end of Pobijana Street where Buza café occupies the most spectacular terraced site with views over to Lokrum island and out to the deep blue yonder.  Its also where daredevils jump off the rocks into the sea below.  (We didn’t).  A couple of times we packed a simple picnic lunch and took the ferry boat to Lokrum to enjoy the less populated spots there.

Besides all the swimming, Dubrovnik is a beautiful and historic city.  It has “atmosphere” in abundance.  In between close together stone buildings narrow streets are paved with smooth worn flag-stones that gleam in the sunshine as if polished.  In the baking heat tourists amble past sleeping street cats while swallows dart about, swooping up and around the terracotta roofs and the bell towers.  The old town is completely encircled by thick stone walls built progressively from the start of the middle ages to fortify the city; in the later stages (14th century) forts were built into the walls for extra protection.  Taking the 1.9km walk all the way round the city wall was definitely a highlight.  In the morning sunshine the views into the old city from the high perspective of the walls are magnificent and meant we avoided the crowds and the intense heat as the afternoons regularly climbed past 30 degrees.  That was swimming time!

We took the cable car up Mt Srd above the city to see the Fort Imperial built during the time of Dubrovnik’s occupation by our “old acquaintance” Napolean Bonaparte (he got around a bit).  Inside is an interesting exhibition of the history of Croatia’s Homeland War 1991-95; the time of the break up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  It was sobering that I remembered watching TV news bulletins of the conflict, that people we met had lived in Dubrovnik through that time.  Twenty years on, Dubrovnik is attractive, it buzzes with tourists especially in the evening when the restaurants come alive in the squares of the old town and down every street no matter how narrow.

It was hard to leave, but we had a ferry to catch and more beaches to explore.  Next stop Korcula………next post.

 

More photos here.

 

 
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At the beach in Paris

Paris Plage along Voie Georges Pompidou

Paris Plage along Voie Georges Pompidou

Paris has loads of beautiful things to see; art-works, architecture, gardens and parks, monuments, views and perspectives that will stop you in your tracks.  But, it doesn’t have a beach.  It’s not even within cooee of a beach.  Except from the 19th of July to the 17th of August the beach is brought to Paris.  Five thousand tons of sand is transported by barge from the canton Gaillon-la-Campagne in Haut-Normandie and deposited in three locations in the city to create beaches for Parisians; the Paris Plages.  This is the thirteenth year that the Paris city administrators have set up the beach city to bring a bit of vacation vibe right into town.

A stroll along the beach

Strolling along the beach

Alongside the right bank of the Seine on the Voie Georges Pompidou from the Pont Neuf to the Pont d’ Arcole there is a one kilometre stretch of golden sand beach complete with deck chairs, water sprays, ice-cream stands, tai-chi lessons, chair massage practitioners, petanque pitches, cafes, dancing lessons, a sand-castle building competition and more.  There are beach attendants in bright life-saver like uniforms and the Red Cross are there too in case of over exertion, over exposure (to the sun) or any other summer ailment.

One of the attractions at this city centre beach is the model of the Eiffel Tower made out of 324 red café chairs.  Why would anyone do this?…..Well to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the 324 metre high Eiffel Tower (built for the 1889 Paris Expo) and the typical folding café chair (aka bistro chair) built by French outdoor furniture manufacturer Fermob.  I was impressed; a very clever idea, and just how those 324 chairs are arranged is nigh on impossible to discern.

The big square at the Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall) is also covered in sand and is the location for weekends of beach volley-ball, rugby, beach tennis, and the FNAC music festival.

Out in the 19th arrondissement at the Bassin de la Villette (further upstream from the Canal St Martin I wrote about here) there is another beach installation.  At this beach there is a flying fox over the water, various water rides, boats and cruises as well as the deck chairs and beach games, ice-creams and cafes.

I’ve been spoiled living in Wellington with a walk along the beach front as my daily route to and from work and I really really miss the beach.  So a pilgrimage to check out the Paris Plages easily lured me one hot sunny day.  Crowds of people, (though not overwhelming), sunbathing, having fun and generally a thoroughly jolly atmosphere made for a pleasant stroll and if there had been any unoccupied deck chairs I might have stayed a while longer.  Sadly, I still couldn’t dip my toes in the water; even Paris can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  ( I cant resist showing you….)

 

Oriental Bay Beach, Wellington NZ.

Oriental Bay Beach, Wellington NZ.

Very soon I shall be dipping my toes, and hopefully the rest of me, in the Adriatic Sea.

 

Celebrating the National Day

Leading the parade along the Champs Elysees.

Leading the parade along the Champs Elysees.

Outside of France it’s called Bastille Day.  Here it’s just called “le quatorze juillet” – the day that France celebrates its nationhood; the republique and its values of Liberty, Egality and Fraternity.  The chosen day, 14 July, recognises the date in history – in 1789 – when the infamous Bastille prison in Paris was stormed by the revolutionaries principally to obtain supplies of gunpowder and bullets for their fight.  As a prison the Bastille was commonly used to hold prisoners at the whim of the ruling monarchy and as such the sacking of the Bastille and release of prisoners symbolised the destruction of absolute power of the monarchy.

Elsewhere around the world the events that triggered national days are equally interesting if a little less colourful.  The Americans celebrate getting rid of the British, (signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776), the Australians celebrate the arrival of the British (on 26 January 1788, they needed to replace the 13 colonies they lost in America), and in New Zealand we celebrate a treaty with the British (Treaty of Waitangi signed 6 Feb 1840).  The British themselves don’t have a national day as such, although they have plenty of other great pomp and ceremony days.

In the spirit of the original event in France (arms acquisition), the main event these days is a grand military parade along the Champs Elysees.  Having decided we ought to see the parade live at least once, (even though you probably get a better view watching at home on the tele) we arrived early and after passing through the security barricades took up a spot not far from Mc Donalds.  It was a glorious sight; the avenue that is, not the golden arches.  The majestic tree-lined perspective from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde bedecked with patriotic red white and blue tricolors, huge tanks, trucks, missile launchers, and I-don’t-know-whats lining one side of the road sporting full camouflage paint (a very fashionable palette in clothing right now) and military personnel in a great variety of dress uniforms from camouflage with coloured cravats and colourful epaulets to sweeping red and cream cloaks, some with red trousers and feathered hats, others with white knicker bockers and large floppy white hats, and many more.

en route to the parade

en route to the parade

Dress uniform

Two hours standing waiting was enough to get to know our neighbours; mostly non-Parisian, but visiting French folk, foreign tourists and expats like ourselves.  While we waited the army personnel put the final spit and polish on the military hardware.  It was already so impeccably clean I wondered if it had ever been used.  Anticipation built as the soldiers manned (and womanned) their stations for a final pre-start inspection of the troops and the hardware.  Ten o’clock start time, on time, hurrah.  Soon Monsieur le President drove past waving to the crowd, justifiably proud and probably pleased for a morning of popularity.  He was followed by immaculately groomed horses and riders; each rider’s headdress comprised a long ponytail, red for the ones playing musical instruments and black for the rest.  Next up, the spectacular fly over by jets streaming out lines of red white and blue behind them, followed by more jets and helicopters beating the air.

And then, more waiting, waiting, waiting.  At that point we realised a tactical error in the selection of our viewing point.  We were above the side street where the marching troops entered the avenue, so while our crowd waited getting more fidgety and impatient for action, the splendid parade including representatives of all the nations that took part in the first World War, filed down the avenue out of our sight!  Damn.

Of course we weren’t the only ones waiting……the military folk manning the heavy equipment had to bide their time too and naturally even well trained military bladders have to respond to the command of biology.  For their relief there were bright blue, completely non-camouflaged port-o-loos stationed at intervals along the avenue.  Desperate for some relief to the boredom the crowd cheered and applauded any soldier who availed himself of the facilities.  Eventually the big guns got moving; tanks rumbled and squeaked their way along the avenue, trucks carrying impressive looking missile launchers filed past and soon it was all over.  By the time we had navigated through the departing crowds into the side streets we met up with the big guns returning from Place de la Concorde and parking in the street parallel with the Champs Elysees.  People were taking photographs with the soldiers, some even hoisting kids up onto the tanks for a photo.  How cool!

 

At night we watched the firework display on the Eiffel Tower – the live televised coverage this time from the comfort of our armchairs.  Friends tell me that Parisians are more likely to celebrate 14 July by dancing at the traditional Firemen’s Balls held in each arrondissement in Paris and in many towns and villages around the country.  Apparently fire stations, public squares and the street frontages of mayoral offices are given over to an evening of music, dancing and festivity.  Sounds good, so maybe next year we’ll investigate that – and report back of course.  Vive la republique!

 

Summer season of friends.

Visiting favourite haunts

Visiting favourite haunts

It’s summer at last; a long spell of hot days with glorious sunshine in a piercing blue sky followed by long balmy evenings, and daily routines – especially blogging ones – thrown completely out of order.  I love it for all sorts of reasons; tennis (watching), gardens, Tour de France (watching), national holidays, World Cup football (watching), beaches and best of all, friends.  We’ve had a number of friends visit Paris in the last month, although I have to say it wasn’t always hot and sunny when the first visitors were here, but the last couple of weeks have been sublime.  Out on excursions I’ve found places I haven’t seen before even though I’ve walked the particular route many times before.  That is the beauty of leisure time, a casual pace and time to explore off the beaten path in the company of lovely people.  I really appreciate that our friends take time to get in touch and catch up with us when they are here.  It’s very special so thank you Di, Anne, Liz, Mike and Ingrid.

 

We’ve had a short excursion to England to visit long-time friends from New Zealand who live most of the year in Cheltenham, and some of the year in Auckland.  We spent a couple of wonderful days with them exploring the Cotswolds countryside and the beautiful regency town of Cheltenham.  Angie and David kindly took us to visit Hidcote Manor Garden, a place I have wanted to see ever since my “passionate gardening phase.”  I feel inspired all over again.  Gazing out across the rural vistas from the edge of the garden I could see exactly the sort of scene I had imagined years ago reading Thomas Hardy’s novels at school, even knowing I was in the wrong county.  We were perfectly far from the madding crowd.

 

We finished off the three days in Cheltenham with a weekend in London to see our son Sam and his girlfriend Anna who are settling into the thrill of London life, and excited to be living the Big OE dream.  (We are still excited to be living our OPOE* dream!)  Sam and Anna indulged me by posing for a photo shoot in their winter hand-knitted jersies despite London putting on the hottest temperatures for the summer so far.

 

Ready for winter

Ready for winter.  Anna’s jersey is from Debbie Bliss Fall/Winter 2011 magazine.  Sam’s jersey my own modification of two patterns.

The out-of-routine routine continues for a couple of weeks and then we will really be on holiday.  I won’t spoil the surprise yet and tell you exactly where we are headed, but you know I do like to be beside the sea.

OPOE – have you figured it out? Old Person’s Overseas Experience

War stories

Joe Sacco mural at Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station

Joe Sacco mural at Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station

There is a moving history lesson on display for commuters rolling along the travelator in the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station at the moment – until 31 August.  The folding “comic strip” artwork created by Joe Sacco depicting the story of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, has been blown up into a 132- metre long wall-sized poster story.

It’s impressive; it would be enough to stop you in your tracks if the moving carpet would allow.  I went back to the start, this time walking on the solid tiled floor to take my time looking and reading.  In the poster version the scenes are captioned in French below the pictures, with German and English translations above.  The drawings are so cleverly detailed; it’s the minutiae of each scene that brings out the tragic horror of the battle; thousands of soldier figures waiting, sleeping standing up, walking, marching, falling, wounded, dead.  Stark facts reinforce the enormity; thirty thousand troops lost in the first hour of the battle, knocked down like skittles.  Handsome, young human skittles.

Catastrophic losses sustained in the first hour of battle

Catastrophic losses sustained in the first hour of battle

Well worth a visit, or detour through Montparnasse metro station to see the mural.

Speaking of falling like skittles; the Tour de France has been rolling through the countryside in which the World War One battles took place.  You might have seen television coverage of the fields and fields of white crosses, or of fields of blue flowers, the blue cornflowers, called Bleuet de France.  The cornflowers grew in the battle riddled fields as did the red poppies, and like New Zealand and Australia (and other Commonwealth countries) have adopted the poppy as the symbol of remembrance for those who served their country in war, the Bleuet is the symbol adopted by France.  The French soldiers were also called the Bleuets because of the pale blue colour of their (new) uniforms.  Germany adopted the Forget-me-not flower (Vergissmeinnicht) as its symbol of remembrance.