Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 - 1 (Harwich to Richmond)

When the possibility arose that I would be able to go on holiday  after all this year (due to my caregiver responsibilities that was very un...

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Oh...go hang 'em! Hanging Baskets of the Wetland Garden.

Told you that we are enthusiastic gardeners, right? Since our borders are full to bursting, we have resorted to hanging baskets everywhere. A person must do what a person must do...



Our Willow doubles as a post, as do the other trees and chains between those trees. In this example we have combined Petunias with Phlox, Lobelia and Campanula.


Lobelia and Petunia have always been a favorite, but it is only recently that we have discovered the Campanula to be a really good basket plant. It flowers all through summer, and you can even cut it really short and it will grow bushy again and will flower again. Another wonderful characteristic of this plant is that it is resistant to the snails and slugs, who use our garden as their Summer Festival grounds.


This plant I will travel for! Streptocarpus is its name. We were given a sample a couple of years ago as an indoor plant, but it loves it outside and will flower and flower, until the first frost kills it. (This happend, even in our greenhouse...I'm ashamed to say). Ever since I try to get one for the garden every year, and as it is quite rare, I usually have to search the garden centers for it. I think that this year I will try to get it through winter indoors!


Okay, I know, technically this isn't a hanging basket, but the Dianthus combined with the Phlox and again Campanula is explosive, don't you think? It lights up this otherwise dark corner of the garden, especially when it is in the late afternoon sunlight.



The grouping of pots underneath the ghost Birch, combined with the Forest Bluebells, always gives me great joy. The red plant on the left is a Begonia with huge flowers, who is hanging its branches under its own success...they are so heavy with flowers that they almost break.

Joke! 
No, this isn't a smuggled lizard from Rome, it is a lizard from Rome who still is in Rome. Promise!
I would like it to be in my garden, though, because it would colour beautifully with my plants :-)









Friday, 15 May 2015

When in Rome...Part 4 - The Vatican, Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese

Dan Brown has something to owe up to; he has almost single-handedly changed my view of Catholicism.
The Spanish Inquisition didn't help either. Nor the occupation of my country by Spain during the 80 year war in the sixteenth century. Not to mention the sex scandals of late.
So...it was with some hesitation that I decided that I could not skip the Vatican while being in Rome. That would be silly. Right?



We had decided to visit Saint Peter's piazza early in the morning, hopefully escaping the ticket touts and the crowds. No such luck: at 9.30 the square was already full to bursting at the seams. Still, we walked up to the first gate (and no further) and had a look around.
To our amazement a fanfare struck up. What was happening?
We could see the crowd in the square getting frenzied, and watched curiously. And then...

On an open flat cart, followed closely by cameras, the Pope passed us by. He kissed babies, shook hands, even hugged people, and blessed...me.

Now I may not be a believer, in the religious traditional sense. But I do firmly believe in spirituality, and folks, there was a very definite spiritual frisson there.
So we stayed for the beginning of the speech, which was about the letter of St. Paul about 'husbands, honor your wives'. How appropriate. Il Papa's voice sounded frail.  Let's wish him some health.


We did not stay for the entire lesson; first of all it was in Italian, and second it became quite hot around 10.30. So we decided to leave and walked towards the nearest Tube station and took a crowded tube to the Spanish Steps at the Piazza Spagna. 
We were welcomed by a tenor singing - what else? - Verdi. Rina wanted to walk right to the top to take a photo, but I simply sat down on those famous steps and listened to this podgy anonymous Italian in shirtsleeves singing his heart out.


You can see from the photo Rina took when she had descended that I wasn't the only one. I could have sat there all afternoon listening to this guy, but we had a schedule to meet (well...not really, but we wanted to go up to the Villa Borghese).


My online guidebook had told me that this park is beloved by ordinary Italians for picknicks, and when we had huffed and puffed our way up that hill, I could understand why. It is green, shady and it boasts quite a few nice shaded watering holes. We crashed at the first one we met and I had a huge cold Italian beer...Gosh, that was good! (A word in your ear about beer in Italy. It is good, but pricy. Wine is much cheaper. Still...I'm Dutch, so beer is my natural brew)

We wandered around the grassy slopes, and got overheated again pretty quickly. So it was with huge joy that I reached the top, where a balmy but very strong wind blew the heatstroke away and I was rewarded with the-most-breathtaking-view-of-Rome. Unfortunately the sun stood straight into my iPhone camera lens by that time of day, so no panorama photo, sorry.
Again there was live music; two guys played the blues on guitar and trumpet, and very nicely done too. Again I could have stayed there for hours but didn't. We had a long, loooooong haul back to Trastevere for a nap and a shower, before having our last leisurely Italian meal of the holiday. We found a traditional Roman restaurant on the Via La Scala, where I had fresh home-made pasta with a chicken-and-olives sauce and Roman artichokes. The waiter assured me this meal originated absolutely in Rome itself, as opposed to the pizza that all the tourists eat which comes from Naples. I liked it, a lot, Rina didn't.



And then, all too soon, it was time to go home.
I could have stayed for another fortnight, no problem! And I swore that I will return. To Rome, but also to Italy, for these 4 days have definitely whetted my appetite for this country!

Travelled to Rome Ciampino by Ryan Air from Bruxelles Charleroi - shuttle bus to Termini - city transport to Via Trastevere.
Stayed at Hotel Villa Riari, Trastevere.









Wednesday, 13 May 2015

When in Rome...Part 3 - The Botanical Gardens.

As you know, as one of my regular followers, I am a garden enthusiast. Wherever I go, I always visit the Botanical Gardens. Rome was no exception.



So...palm trees, what's so special, you may think. But to me, Wetlander pur sang, palm trees are amazing and exotic. In my climate a palm tree only survives in a hothouse.

The Rome Botanical Gardens climb a hill in Trastevere, originally owned by the Corsini family and bordering the attractive Palazzo Corsini. They are not overly large; you can walk around them in an hour or so. But they are varied and above all peaceful.


We had them almost to ourselves. The lower parts, navigable by pram, are used by elegant young mothers. But when you go uphill, the paths turn more narrow, and twist and turn.
My favorite part was next to the Japanese Garden. Will you look at this, isn't it stunning?




This, my dears, is my second favorite flower (after the Rose): the Bearded Lily. We met a small army of gardeners at that point, and they were happy and proud with my enthusiasm.


The beautiful Acanthus, whose leaves adorn many Roman columns. I have tried growing this plant in my garden at home, but alas...the Wetlands are too wet for its liking.


From the highest point on the hill you have a view of the Vatican and Saint Peter. It's a pity you cannot smell the parasol pines, as I did, or see and hear the swallows soaring over the rooftops.


That day we ended again in a small traditional restaurant, where this was on the wall above our table. Sound advice!! I do like those Italians!




Tuesday, 12 May 2015

When in Rome...Part 2 - Forum and Colosseum

Ancient ruins have always fascinated me. Mankind may be far from perfect, but a life form which has the ability to build and embellish its creations with such vision, is something more than special.



So it was with more than just a little anticipation that we travelled to the Forum early in the morning. We had been warned that it would be crowded, but also had had the tip that it would be a good idea to buy tickets at the side entrance of the Forum itself (near #21 on the map, or "Siete qui"), as they would give us access to the Colosseum as well and that they would be valid for 2 days.
9 AM turned out to be a good time; only four other tourists in the line before us who had to open their bags for the security guard, who waved his electronic wand through them before declaring us fit for entrance.


Let me issue a warning here: do not attempt to walk this plot of land on other than very comfortable flat shoes. The paths are either cobbled or appear to be cobbled. Either way, they are ankle twisters and treacherous. But breathtaking if you are susceptible to old Roman building sites.
At 9 am it was already 20 degrees, and by the time we had reached the uppermost level of the Forum it was over 26. Hardly any shadow there, so again be warned.
Thank Frith for one of those Roman water taps which are everywhere in this lovely city! It is situated in the orange grove, right next to the rose gardens. 



You do need a fair bit of imagination to picture the homes and squares of this piece of Rome on the Palatine hill. There are some boards which explain, but not many. So bringing a good guide (book) is something to consider. And the open air ruins do not show many undamaged sculptures, you cannot compare it to a place like Pompeii.
Still, to me it was fascinating.
There are good vantage points to see the Colosseum as well. This site must have been breathtaking when it was newly built up; far above the rest of the city, with fresh winds and clear view lines to all  sides. Clever guys, those old Romans.



By the time we were ready to visit the Colosseum, the line there was massive. Awful, we estimated it would take those poor people at least 3 hours to get in. Now we did have our tickets already, but we were certain it would be so full of people that we wouldn't be able to see anything anyway, so we decided to go back early the next morning, and so we did.



Again, you need to read up beforehand and use your imagination. And look through all those other enthusiasts who are crowding the pathways and are taking endless selfies.
Also: pee before you go in. There was a horrific line in front of the few toilets.
I wonder how those ancient Romans solved that problem, with 50,000 or more spectators in the house?











Monday, 11 May 2015

When in Rome... Part 1 - Bernini.

Hi there! Did you miss me?
When you are one of the regular followers of Rays of Light, you probably did wonder where I was.
I was in the most wonderful, romantic, inspiring, friendly, gorgeous city of Europe: ROME.



Ever since I saw "I, Claudius" (at age 14) I have wanted to visit this city, but somehow it never happend. Until last week. 
My friend Rina and I booked cheap Ryan Air tickets, hauled ourselves out of bed at 4.30 in the morning and stepped out of the plane around 9.30 in warm sunlight, balmy air and fragrant smells of warm grass and flowers.

Only to dive into the not-so-fragrant hectic public transport. The city bus from Termini into Trastevere was so chock-a-block full of people that we could not reach the machine to check in (saving us the tickets to be used the next day. Always count your blessings).
We had booked a charming hotel on the Via del Dei Riari, right on the edge of the Botanical Gardens. And what a good choice this was! A large, clean room with two single beds, looking out over the hotel garden (which doubled in the morning as breakfast room). The 8 communal bathrooms were at the end of the corridor; when I found out the last one was overlooking the botanical gardens I was overjoyed. What better way to start your day at 7 am having a shower whilst you watch the swallows soaring over palm trees and the sun just kissing the top of the hill?

Rina pointed out to me that me showering watching the birds did mean the neighbors could be watching me...Ha! Well, if someone did feel called to watch my almost 57 year old saggy bottom, he was welcome to it.




That first Sunday we opted for a ready-made walk: the Bernini Walk. Since we were situated not so very far from the finish (the Bridge of Angels), we did the walk backwards.
And I must say I was awed! It is said Bernini was so miffed that the Pope took the first two angels for the bridge and put them in his private chambers, that he left the sculpting of the other angels to his apprentices. They did a great job.



This is my favorite angel. If you look closely, you can spot dice in the fold of the cloth he/she is holding (I do not believe angels are entirely male, do you?).
We were very early, so I had the chance to take my iPhone photos in peace. 

Our Bernini Walk took us along most famous piazzas with his fountains and sculptures, right along to the end with the famous and controversial one of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. And yes, I do understand what all the fuss was/is about.

But we did take a side street to visit the Pantheon.



I loved it! What an amazing building.

Our walk took us 7 hours, and 21,4 km. along winding cobbled streets and piazzas, up hill - down hill. It caused my unsuspecting Dutch feet to blister something awfully. But it was worth every step. Even when we found out the Trevi Fountain was emptied and scaffolded, and the sweet Bernini elephant was so swamped with tourists that I could not manage to take a single photo which didn't show at least twenty overheated heads.



These are two of the four corners of the 4 fountains.
The photo doesn't show that they are simply four corners of a busy thoroughfare, with taxis, buses, mopeds and cars screaming past.
Still, they were wonderful.

Did you know that the water in Rome is clean, sweet and drinkable? I filled my water bottle at every opportunity from these ancient fountains and taps, when I noticed the Romans doing this as well. Saved me quite a bit of money, as the prices for bottled water are quite steep.

Bernini is a fascinating artist. I must admit I had never heard of him before I read Dan Brown's book of clues about his sculpting, but I have read quite a bit about him in Rome, sitting in the lovely hotel garden just before going out to dinner in one of Trastevere's restaurants. I suggest you start with Wikipedia, if you are interested.


My view from the bathroom window. To die for, right?