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Archive for the ‘trips’ Category


On Saturday I travelled over to Jutland to visit my Mum, and though the plan had initially been for me to help her with some of the work still to be done in her new garden (levelling soil, shifting a few shrubs that have keeled over in the rather harsh winds around her hill-top house) this was hampered by frozen soil and four inches of snow. Not much point in trying to do anything in the garden… So I ended up setting up her new smartphone, downloading some apps she might like and getting her a cheap data subscription.

However, I did get to check up on my dahlia tubers that I sent on winter holiday chez Mum. They are doing fine, it seems, in her frost-free shed, and I can’t wait to get them home and into the soil, though that will not be for another 3 months. I still find it silly that I’ve actually taken my dahlia tubers across the country to over-winter at my Mum’s, but then I just don’t have a frost-free place to store them in the Summer House – or at least not a place with a constant temperature, as the house itself is heated to 5 degrees Celsius when nobody’s there but 22 degrees when I go there… I think the changes in temperature would confuse the tubers and possibly stress them, so they are better off in my Mum’s shed.

I look forward to getting them back, though, and there are a few other plants that my Mum bought for her garden but then decided against (including a plum tree with the name ‘Anita’, which also happens to be the name of my Mother-in-law) that she will be bringing over to the Flâneur Garden some time in spring. I’ll need to think hard about where I might find room for a tree… Because clearly I’m not turning down a free tree! The other plants are smaller and can more easily slot into the garden wherever there’s room, but a tree that’s already 3 meters tall will need a bit more consideration, especially because it’s not going to be as easy to move as, say, a pot of heuchera or a dahlia tuber…

Anyway, after visiting my Mum for a few days I headed for the island of Funen to visit my Grandmother. She’s 89 and was recently in hospital for 5 days, so it was sort of a “enjoy it while it lasts” visit. Her “new” house where she moved with my grandfather in 1992 or 1993 has a small suburban garden, and it’s slowly becoming less and less intricate. She has hired somebody to keep it for her, of course, but she is accepting gracefully that it’s becoming a “survival of the fittest” garden where some of her specimen plants perish because they are out-competed by their neighbouring plants. It’s still a lovely garden with great variety, though, and of course the stunning view over Storebælt, the Great Belt between the islands of Funen and Zeeland.

She’s a wonderful woman, always was. My Mother-in-law insists that she is gentle and sweet, but while I admit that she is that, too, she is also headstrong and stubborn. She’s a Strong Woman, as farmer wives have to be. But in this context, it’s perhaps most important that she’s a Gardener. My grandfather was in control of the pigs, the fields and the orchards, but she was in control of the house, the garden and the vegetable garden.

Her vegetable garden on the farm was so large that, rather than digging it, my grandfather would use a tractor and a harrow to do the autumn digging. At the back there was a long row of berry bushes; raspberries, red currants, black currants, gooseberries and so on. They would yield hundreds of pounds of berries every year, and provided the resources for gallons and gallons of cordial, jam and freezer bags. Then came row upon row of leeks, cabbages, marrow, carrots, potatoes, beans (peas were grown as a commercial crop, so part of that was frozen for home-use), and of course various herbs. Everything was interspersed with flowers, especially marigolds; they weren’t there to attract pollinators but simply to be used as cut flowers in the house. The scent of marigolds always reminds me of that vegetable garden.

The garden proper was vast. There was a vast expanse of lawn, stretching down from the perennial borders by the house down to the shrubberies before the hedge towards the road. There were huge trees – 2-300 years old – and lots and lots of flowers, but most of all there was a feeling of hiding places. You could always find a corner that nobody could see.

Her “new” garden is much smaller, of course, but it’s still lovely. There’s a flat area around her house and then there’s a steep, densely planted slope down to a more gently sloping lawn with a single flowerbed intersecting it. The lower part of the garden is interesting because of the plants, but from the top part your eye keeps being drawn – literally – out to see.

Both my Mum’s and my grandmother’s garden have sea views, which obviously helps any garden, and both are very much based on “back bones”; shrubs and structural plants that makes everything look ordered and tidy, even if the smaller, more fragile plantings might have been overgrown by more vigorous plants. I guess that’s the key to any elderly-friendly garden plan; to have something that looks neat and tidy as long as you get somebody in to mow the lawn and cut back some bushes every so often.

And, incidentally, that is also the key to a low-maintenance garden for a holiday home, so I really want to emulate their current gardens, rather than the gardens these two women used to have. (Even if the latter remains my secret ideal, it cannot be my ambition.)

On a more personal note, my Grandmother is growing old, which is in some ways sad and in some ways just the way things have to be when you’re pushing 90. I spent less than 24 hours at her place, yet she repeated the same stories perhaps 3-4 times – many of which she has already told me over the phone within the past few weeks. It is what it is. She’s still lovely, and she still has a lot to offer, conversation-wise – even if some of it is repetition. In the evening she went out to the large dresser in her hallway and asked me to open the concealed drawer – SO COOL with a concealed drawer, and many of her large chests of drawers have that sort of thing built into the top console – and we spent two hours going through old papers, drawings, genealogies and various artefacts. My great-great-grandfather’s book of recommendations from various employers, my great-grandmother’s handmade book marks, my grandfather’s service records from the army… I do love family history, and I like knowing where I come from.

And yes, I can trace at least parts of my family back to the 1600’s – though there are very few claims to fame in there. It’s mainly farmers, pottery-makers and the odd dairy-manager… As for exotic touches, there are none. Through the past 13 generations it seems there are just Danes, Danes and more Danes… However, I have personal stories from my great-great-grandparents and onwards, so that makes it exciting. I know where they lived, what they did, what their hobbies were.

And yes, in the Summer House we have a picture wall where both the Flâneur Husband’s and my family are on display. His family is portrayed back to his great-grandparents and I have my great-great-grandmother up there as well – a widowed mother of 7 who managed to put all of her kids through school and who is generally considered to have been quite a character. I have two pictures of her; one of her as a young girl, trying to look serious before the camera, and one of her as a stern-looking old woman with her hair swept back into a tight knot. I never met her, of course, but I knew three of her daughters – who died at the ages of 97, 99 and 103 respectively – and you can’t help but have the greatest respect for a woman who raised three daughters who turned out so different from each other. From the farmer’s wife (my great-grandmother) to the Copenhagen debutante-turned-singing teacher to the first woman to be elected for the Copenhagen city council – and also the first female school principal in Denmark. The latter two lived together as spinsters to the end of their lives, and they bequeathed their rather significant savings to foundations for “young female performing artists” and “single mothers under education” respectively. How cool is that?

Of course, in my book case there are also the memoirs of several of my grandparents and great-grandparents. And I’m currently proof-reading my grandmother’s edition of my great-grandfather’s memoirs. They’re not published, but they are printed for the family to read and keep so the stories will not die out with the older generations. People live and die, but stories have the potential to live forever. Like the story about how my grandmother was taken on family visits by riding in the side-car of my great-grandfather’s motor bike, travelling 200 miles to visit my great-great-grandparents. Or the story of my great-grandfather stealing my great-grandmother’s diamond engagement ring to cut a heart and their initials in one of the window panes in front of the kitchen zinc as an act of apology after having – once again – spent too much of their savings on yet another painting… (That pane was removed when they moved from that house, and my mother currently owns it, though she hasn’t hung it anywhere at present. She must, or I’ll insist she give it to me. It’s the most romantic family heirloom I could imagine.)

Anyway, that was a very long entry with no pictures, so if you’ve read this far in this rambling entry, thank you. Have a picture of my Mum as a reward:

Mum in LA in 1972

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I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of our weekend in Vienna, but…

We had a great time! We arrived in Vienna around 9AM on Saturday morning with very few ideas about what to do, but when we left Sunday afternoon we had the feeling that we’d had a very good taste – metaphorically as well as literally – of what this city has to offer.

We had four fixtures on the itinerary; two restaurant bookings and two sights we definitely wanted to see.
The first sight-seeing happened almost by accident as we were making our way into the city and found ourselves at the Stephansdom, the wonderfully vast Gothic cathedral with patterned tile roofs and a soaring spire (which we ended up partly ascending on the Sunday, much to the horror of myself and my innate fear of heights…).

Butterflies

One of The Flâneur Husband’s colleagues had recommended we visit the Schmetterlinghaus, the butterfly house, so it was the first sight we sought out deliberately, though in proper flâneur style we didn’t have a map. I knew it was in the Hofburg area, in the grounds of the old Emperial palace, and who needs directions anyway when strolling around a lovely city, right?

The butterfly house was magical! Nothing less… Huge – HUGE! – butterflies fluttering about all over, with stunning colours and wing spans of up to 8 inches. They’re impossible to photograph with a phone camera, of course, so you have to make do with the photo above. It does, I feel, convey the ephemeral and magical quality of the place, though, and it is perhaps the most romantic site we saw in all of Vienna.

Dinner on Saturday almost deserves an entry of its own… We went to Tian, a vegetarian restaurant in the city centre with its own cocktail bar downstairs, and the food was AMAZING! I absolutely loved it, and it just goes to show how you can easily have a vegetarian meal without ever missing a piece of meat. (And I do love meat…) And the cocktail bar in the basement was also very nice, though sadly The Flâneur Husband created a rapport with the head bartender, so we ended up perhaps having one cocktail too many, but then that’s what happens.

The next morning saw us slightly worse for wear. I’m an early riser, so I went for a walk in the baroque Belvedere Gardens next to our hotel. The gardens open at 6AM, so when I walked around there I was literally alone in a baroque garden, and this is a very strange experience.

Belvedere Gardens

Sadly my phone was back at the hotel, so I couldn’t take pictures of the hauntingly beautiful ambience when you walk around in the early morning mist between the terraces, topiary cones, parterres d’eau (though sans eau at this time of year) and hedge rooms in complete solitude. Our hotel room overlooked the garden of the old Salesian nunnery and behind that you can see the Belvedere Gardens.

My husband knows me, so when we were walking around the city he kept saying “There’s a church; let’s go inside”, so we saw some amazing churches, from the High Gothic of the Stephansdom over the restrained Hallenkirche of the Augustinian church to the roccoco interior of the Russian church to the full-on baroque of the Dominican church.

Baroque

I loved Vienna. We had a wonderful weekend there; less than 36 hours in one of the great cities of Europe, which is perhaps unfair, but it was enough to make us want to come back some day.

And if you ever stop bye Vienna:

These two places are really reason enough to visit Vienna, and then stop by every church you pass.

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Tomorrow morning The Flâneur Husband and I will be heading off to Vienna for an overnight get-away for absolutely no particular reason at all, other than that my Mother-in-law wanted to give us a treat to celebrate our second anniversary on September 4th. She’s footing the bill, and we just have to enjoy ourselves – and send her a post card… Gotta love that!

Vienna 1902

We have booked tables for lunch and dinner, as well as a hotel room for Saturday night, but other than that there are absolutely no plans. Neither of us has been to Vienna before, so I guess the best plan is just to say that we stroll around the city and take in the place slowly and leisurely.

Obviously we HAVE to stop by the Cathedral, Stephansdom, and I’d rather like at least a short stroll around the boulevards since I once wrote a university paper on Viennese town planning in the late 19th century, but it’s all subject to change.

The weather forecast looks nice, the hotel looks nice, the restaurants look nice and I need to get a haircut today so I, too, will look nice.

Vienna weather forecast 3-4 November 2012

Good times ahead…

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`Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’

(Ratty in “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Graham)

On Saturday, once we were done tidying up after the juice making, sixteen of us went on a boating trip to Romsø, a small island off the coast of Funen. The island is just over a square kilometre, and partly a protected nature preserve with the south tip of the island being off limits during the mating season of the sea birds from April through July. It’s privately owned as part of the Hverringe estate, but it’s open to the public as long as you observe certain precautions (no feeding the animals, no fires; that sort of thing).

Boating

We went in two boats, and as you can see the skippers gave them full throttle on the way over to the island. It was a bit of a choppy ride, going at 45 kilometres/hour, but great fun. I have always loved being out on the sea, wide horizons all around and so much space.

Seascape

It was one of those wonderfully warm autumn days, with temperatures up to 19 degrees Celsius and the occasional glimpse of sunshine; it almost felt like “the end of summer”, though there’s no denying that we’re in full-on autumn by now.

The island has a population of 180 fallow deer and we were fortunate enough to see quite a few of them as we went around the island. Unfortunately there was a hunt going on in the forest, so we had to stay on the coastal path, but we saw a couple of herds grazing on the edge of the forest, and we also saw the two albino deer but obviously there was no point in trying to take a photo as they were well beyond the range of my phone camera. You can see a picture of one here if you want to see what they look like.

Romsø beach

On the Southern side the island has wide marshes and a pebble beach, but on the North side, especially to the North-East, the sea has eroded the hills and created some beautiful clay cliffs, topped with a stretch of meadows with hawthorns in a very distinct shape that clearly shows how high the fallow deer can reach, since they bite off all new shoots below one metre.

Romsø cliffs

Once we had made it all the way around the island (it is only about 4 kilometres in circumference) we settled down for coffee and biscuits – and perhaps a beer or two had snuck into the hampers alongside the thermos flasks…

Romsø coffee break

This island is really a small gem, especially because the Hverringe estate maintains it in such a gentle manner. The deer population is only hunted to the extent necessary to keep it at a viable level, and new stock is introduced every so often to avoid inbreeding, and the forest is more or less left to its own devices so the only trees cut down are the ones that pose a danger to visitors. It’s a prime example of responsible stewardship of an area of natural beauty. It may not be large and dramatic like the Grand Canyon, but Denmark is a small country, so our natural beauties are perhaps more subtle and gentle than in larger countries. (Remember that the highest natural point in Denmark is only 170.86 metres above sea level… Yes, we measure our highest points with two decimals, because they really are so low that every centimetre counts…)

Leaving Romsø

We left Romsø in the glorious afternoon sunshine, and on our way back we had the pleasure of spotting a few porpoises playing around in the waves. (Even our whales are small in Denmark…)

I haven’t been to Romsø since I was a child, so it was a real treat to go back and be able to recognise some of the places. At one point I saw an old farm building and realised that I remembered that there used to be a great swing hanging from the branches of an old oak tree, but sadly the on-going hunt meant it would be neither safe nor sensible to go see if it was still there. Risking your life to check up on an old swing is, surely, too stupid a thing to do, even for me.

And this ends my trilogy of posts about my autumn holiday; I was away from Wednesday to Sunday, taking time to spend an extra day on either end of the juice making to visit my grandmother with just my Mum and my Mother-in-law so I could spend some time with the old woman without having lots of people and children and work all around to distract us. She turns 90 next spring, so it’s worth investing a bit of time with her while we are fortunate enough to have her with us.

I came away with a pre-emptive inheritance of two small Krenit bowls and 7 Kirsten Piil beer glasses, the latter coming from my Great-grandmother and matching the glasses The Flâneur Husband inherited after his grandmother. Basically my grandmother is getting rid of lots of stuff she doesn’t need, and she’d rather see people be happy about their inheritance while she lives than leave it for when she can no longer take pleasure in giving it. – And she doesn’t give away anything she wants to keep herself; it’s simply that her drawers and cupboards are full of heirlooms that she doesn’t need, doesn’t like or just doesn’t care about herself. The best silver is reserved for wedding presents to her grandchildren (The Flâneur Husband and I got two silver spoons that were given to my great-grandmother on her baptism and confirmation respectively, engraved with her name and the dates), and I’m sure her will is full of little sweet thoughts like that so she knows who will get what. (She has told me that I will get whatever books her children don’t want… And it’s a rather varied collection; I’ve already been given some, including her copy of American Psycho which she read when it appeared in Danish. She hated the book, but how cool is it that my grandmother has actually READ it?)

Anyway… I’m veering off topic now, so I guess that means this post is at an end. I hope you enjoyed coming with me on a family holiday with me and 37 members of my family. (On my mother’s side… My father’s side is the LARGE family!)

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