What we ate

Spanish food was good, with a few highlights, but not spectacular (who can ever match Italy?).  But we were able to choke down quite a bit of delicious food over two weeks.

Tortilla Española

This was lunch on our first day, at the hotel in Madrid once we had dumped our bags.  Soft, creamy, warm and comforting, eggs and potatoes and occasionally onions.  But there are many versions of this, including a cold or room-temp tortilla that’s heavier and good for eating out of hand.

Churros

We had these along with our breakfast the first day and felt we had crossed it off our list.  Something like a caky doughnut, sweet and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.  If we’d had the strength, we would have stopped here for the classic churro and chocolate, which looked delicious but would have put us into a diabetic coma.  And here’s a big coil of churro outside the cafe we visited on our food tour in Seville.  Yes, it looks a bit odd, but after all it had been sitting outside for a couple of hours!

Drinks

I’m not usually a beer drinker, but the Alhambra beer we had in the Sierra Nevada mountains was delicious (maybe it was the setting).The beer is quite local, meaning we did not see this brand outside of Granada.  In Seville, it was Cruzcampo all the way.  And una caña (a small glass of beer) with a lunch of tapas hit the spot around the corner from our apartment.

Tapas were everywhere, and we enjoyed a couple places along the way.  In Madrid, we liked La Abuela, where we sat in the open window and had fried shrimp, good bread and un chato de vino, or small glass of house white wine, while we watched people in the plaza outside.

Just around the corner from La Abuela was Toni’s, where the menu is posted on the wall.  

I ordered Boquerones thinking they were mussels, but ended up with these delicious anchovies in vinegar instead.

In Seville, our wonderful cathedral guide recommended this place, where we bellied up to the crowded bar and ordered a caña and a little pork sandwich (pincha or pintxo or tapa) which we ate standing up and watching the people, a good mix of locals and tourists.  And the place was hopping at three in the afternoon!

busy bar

Our silliest tapa experience was in Granada, where we tried this place right around the corner from our hotel.  We ordered hummus but instead were served a small dish of something else.  When we pointed this out in a polite way, we were informed, politely, that this was the tapa, a free snack that comes with drinks!  Our hummus came along in due course.  I think this was the only place where the traditional tapa with drinks was free.

Of course, Iberian ham was everywhere.  Here is a ham leg placed in its handcuffs so the paper-thin slices can easily be cut off.  We saw these in many places, not always so delicately draped as this one was.  Notice the little hoof…

 

Why Spain?

Well, we hadn’t been there before; it has a fascinating mix of cultures and religions; southern Spain is very reminiscent of Morocco; and I had a romantic view of what it might be like.  Like every country, Spain has a lot to offer once you start looking, so we decided to limit our trip to Madrid and southern Spain (Andalusia).  Next time, Catalonia!

After a hot, noisy flight on Brussels Air (and angst about whether we would actually have seats, but arriving four hours early worked), we caught our second flight, from Brussels to Madrid, and landed, fairly sleep-deprived, in Madrid.  The Hotel Europa is just barely off the busy Puerto del Sol, where we saw peaceful protests almost every evening.Our room is in the back and very quiet, with a great bathroom complete with walk-in shower (best bathroom of the trip!).

We had a late lunch at the Europa restaurant on the sidewalk seen here just below the sign, on a bright blue, sunny afternoon. This is a pedestrian street so we could enjoy watching the tourists and locals walking by as we ate.  The tortilla Espanola was just the thing to restore us enough to go back in and take a nap.

We walked through the Puerto to find dinner at a couple of tapas places.  Alison’s friend Catherine recommended La Abuela, so we stopped in at the bar side for some delicious ham and a chato (small glass) of white wine.  Another customer was eating sizzling shrimps, so we will have to go back and try them.  They were cooked in this tiny area in the corner.  Notice the beautiful painted tiles.
We wandered up and down the streets – it was early for dinner, so some places weren’t yet open – and ended up at a tapas place where we had a surprisingly large plate of fried anchovies and shrimp in garlic.  The television in the corner was tuned to the news, live coverage of a church service for 13 people killed the other day in flash floods in Mallorca. 

Walking back through the Puerta we came upon a mariachi band. Mostly for tourists, I’m sure, but the crowd seemed to include all kinds of people.  And so to bed.

First round of bulb planting, part deux

The orders from M&Z and B&B are being delivered after Halloween, but I wanted to plant my containers now.  Off to Roxbury Mills, came back and emptied out the sweet potato vines and geraniums, and on to bulbs and pansies.

 

Kolpakowskiana tulips, apricot passion hyacinths and crocus Snowbunting in the front door pot, plus one other standard tulip that I have already forgotten!

 

Pink Impression, Ivory Floradale and Queen of Night tulips in the two blue pots

 

Texas gold tulips in the green pot

Tulipa Texas Gold

Costa Rica wildlife

If I were maintaining this blog for fame or fortune, I’d be in the gutter by now!  But since it’s just for me (and a few of mine), I will randomly post a list of the birds we saw in Costa Rica back in 2016.

Beth, Bill and I took several lovely walks near their house, which was nestled in the side of a hill and looked out over a thickly wooded ridge (they’ve since moved).  Sitting on the deck, we had a great view of all kinds of birds.  We also walked up to the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, and took another walk near their previous house, through a small village and through the woods.  However, it was very windy the couple days that I was there, so we didn’t see quite as many birds as we might have.

Here’s a list, along with pictures that are mostly not from me.

Scarlet-thighed dacnisdacnis

and my far less good picture

toucanet (emerald)  – this is such a classic tropical bird that it was very exciting to see it!

emerald-toucanet

lance-billed hummingbird (thanks to the birdcraft website for this one because we were peering and following it but never got this close a look)

sulfur-winged parakeets (thanks, Sherms Photos)

turkey vultures (we all know what they look like)

Baltimore oriole (ditto)

Squirrel cuckoo

And…we’re off!

Fall planting has begun.  After a rainy September, October is promising to be mostly dry, so watering the seedlings will loom large.  So far, I’ve scattered seeds of Nigella ‘Damacena Oxford Blue’  nigellaand ‘Black Ball’ cornflower, centaureaboth a few years old so we’ll see if they do anything.  In the raised bed, some ‘Red Planet’ radishes and ‘Crispy Winter Greens’ from Renee’s Garden.  The rest of the space reserved for tulips.

Crownsville Nursery lured me in with a hosta sale, and I bought five.  Of course, by the time they arrived I’d forgotten where I planned to put them, so I had to make it up.  Three ‘Gold Standard’ went in front of the yews by the front steps.  gold standard(Note that the hosta images are from the Missouri Botanical Garden, so they are realistic rather than perfect.)  This little garden is so neglected, and it’s right up front so I need to step it up.  I’m also planting some ‘tête-à-tête’ daffodils here, to continue the theme under the maple tree and in the other front garden.  Then perhaps some tiarellas to have some interesting foliage. And maybe some Japanese anemones??

The ‘Big Daddy’ hosta went at the edge of the oak tree garden, where it will be visible.  big daddy

It’s said to get up to 71″ wide, so it should have room to stretch out.  Finally, the ‘Krossa Regal,’ which has a more upright habit, replaces one of the ordinary hostas in the narrow bed in front of the shed.  krossa regal

I have only one, so it won’t make this display, but you see how upright it is.

The first bulb order arrives tomorrow, so I will be hard at work getting everything in before leaving for SPAIN.

 

Lessons learned

As summer comes to a close – complete with drenching rains, high humidity, more rain, and none of the September weather we loved in the olden days – here are a few lessons learned in the garden.

  • Don’t use angel wing begonias in the window box on the railing, they are totally out of proportion there and far too upright despite the way the flowers droop.begonia-dragon-wing-red
  • Choose a constant bloomer for the hanging basket by the bird feeder, maybe the dull but reliable impatiens.  This year’s begonia was glorious for a few weeks, then stopped blooming entirely.
  • Give the milkweed LOTS of room to spread out, and be prepared for the aphids to cover it and the caterpillars to decimate it.  milkweed caterpillarsPlus:  you might see Monarchs eventually!
  • Plant the Shirley poppies in late winter and choose colors carefully.  They will bloom for months and months, so be sure their color blends with other bloomers (pinky white viburnum, various dahlias and zinnias).  Here’s the pale yellow in August, still in bloom. poppies
  • No more tomatoes unless they are cherries.  The patio tomato sulked, produced half a dozen tomatoes, and proceeded to rot.  Plant the tomato in the raised bed and stand back!
  • Hanging plant in front – never again a geranium, it dries out too quickly and fades away.  Calibrachoa or another reliable bloomer instead.growing-Calibrachoa_mini
  • Feed the hungry:  get a weekly fertilizer plan and do it.  Ditto the twice-monthly fish emulsion for the roses.
  • The Joe Pye weed was magnificent this year, I only hope it doesn’t get much bigger.  The Souvenir de Ste. Anne rose twirled around it, as did the white cosmos, in a very delightful way. joe pye weed
  • Speaking of roses, both the Zepherine Drouhin and the other re-bloomed a couple times over the summer, well worth having them around, even though the St. Anne got Japanese beetles and the Zeph lost leaves and got leggy.

    Next year will be even better!!!

London, Day Three, and home

Chasing Vermeer brought us to Kenwood House, to which we traveled by tube, bus and shank’s mare.  This was on the list because the collection includes a Vermeer for Alison the Vermeer completist.

The house, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, was designed in the 18th century by architect Robert Adam and filled with art collected by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, who bequeathed it to the nation in 1927.

Okay, enough of the Wikipedia facts – what is it like?  Well, it’s an imposing building

gray before gray became a thing.  Inside, the architectural highlight is this library.  Airy, light, delicate and a joy to behold.  I admired the design of the rug in the center

and the library ladder in one corner.

In contrast to this colorful room, the rest of the house has plain wooden floors and a somewhat utilitarian look.  But the paintings!  Here is the Vermeer,

not a favorite but still fascinating.

And here is the sleeper of the collection (at least to me).  Rembrandt did many self-portraits over the years, but this is the most arresting of the ones I’ve seen.  I could have stayed and looked at it for hours.

Apart from one very chatty room guide who barely let us escape from his informative talk, we enjoyed Kenwood and wished (at least one of us did) that we could come back in the spring to stroll through the gardens and on to the heath.

We had carefully planned our lunch (as when have we not?) at the Spaniards Inn, a short walk away.  (By Philip Halling, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32400249)

Known to Dickens, Byron, Bram Stoker and Keats, it was built in the 16th century and is still going strong with an open fire, lots of little low-ceilinged rooms and a full house for the traditional Sunday roast.  We were pleased that not only tourists were there, it seemed most patrons were actual English people.

Here’s the roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding and two veg.  Plus a glass of red wine, since we are on holiday.

We followed this extravaganza with, of course, sticky toffee pudding.  Scrumptious!

We walked, bussed and tubed back home and made our way to Stanfords, a travel bookshop that Ann and I had visited years ago on our Cornwall trip.  

(Thanks to this blogger for the pic)

We bought several maps and books of walks for our England trip next year, and I noted a couple books that might be fun to track down once we’re home.  This one might be the story of our fall trip to Spain:

This is just out of interest since I grew up with “My Family and Other Animals.”

Dinner tonight was at a pub on Charing Cross Road, because we were, unbelievably, just a little hungry again.  Back to the tidy little hotel room for our last night

The next morning we got an early cab to Heathrow, and home.  A great trip!

 

London, Day Two

The second day of our weekend was refreshingly dry with bright intervals, so after a hotel breakfast we set off on a short walk to the British Museum and the Scythians.  In 2000 I was enchanted by a Scythian exhibit that I saw in San Antonio, prompted by Paul Richard’s stellar review that began, “The Scythians on horseback, especially in sunlight, must have been a sight.”  That exhibit led me on a long journey that included the exploits of Alexander the Great and generally led to a fascination with the ancient world.  I couldn’t wait to see this new exhibit that included many newly discovered objects and information.

Before we met the Scythians, we visited the Enlightenment Rooms.  Here are galleries set up as in the old days, with lots of cases filled with lots of things.  Here is Alison taking a gander.  

And here is a closeup of one of the wonderful collections.

It was a lovely wander as we waited for our timed ticket entry.  Because they did not allow photos in the exhibit, and because I am a dutiful citizen, I have no pictures of my own.  But here are a few gleaned from the web.

The Scythians are known primarily from their elaborate burial mounds, as well as from the sometimes misleading information about them from Herodotus.  Nomadic horseman with a taste for gold, they buried gorgeous items like this, half of a symmetrical belt buckle.

The Hermitage lent this lovely deer figurine in a typical Scythian style.

Amazingly, some wooden objects have survived, including this elaborate headgear with a drawing that helps you to see how it would have been worn.  

They were fierce warriors, terrific horseman, and fond of drinking and inhaling hemp smoke.  Here’s a lovely picture of what a Scythian horseman might have looked like.  

 

Notice the lack of stirrups, which didn’t hold them back.

Since burial mounds are continuing to be discovered and investigated, our knowledge of the Scythians continues to grow.  But for now, this exhibit, drawing on collections from around the world, offers the best and most recent information.

After this scintillating start, we had a stroll through the bookshop, where I picked up this tantalizing but ultimately dull book.  I’ll give it one more try…

For lunch, we met Judy and her dear friend Beth at The Lamb, a pub that promised to be old and authentic.  The entrance was certainly promising.  

Inside, it’s famous for its etched glass that separates the upper from lower classes.  

How did I not get a picture of these two??  It was so much fun to talk with Beth, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and to hear about their adventures and plans.  We had a good lunch with a half pint of something local, and then wandered on to Persephone Books, where we browsed through the shelves of twentieth century women writers but didn’t buy anything.

We bade farewell to J and B and Alison and I walked back to the hotel, stopping at a used bookshop along the way with this perfectly English sign:

Better to spend the time making a sign rather than actually fixing the banister!  We stopped at both Quintos and Henry Pordes Books, at the latter of which Alison snapped up a signed paperback by John Steinbeck for Michael.

Tonight was our splurge at an Indian restaurant, Quilon, where we enjoyed a Qojito, oysters, lamb shank, duck breast, lemon rice, Malabar paratha and this lovely dessert.

We decided to walk back to the hotel and on the way paid a visit to the Queen – unfortunately, she was not at home, but Alison made her best attempt.

And so to bed.

Phenology

According to Mr. Google, phenology is “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.”  This is how you know when it’s time to plant peas (when forsythia and daffodils begin to bloom), or what bulbs will bloom with what.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes, given climate change, it doesn’t.

So, one success this year is planting grape hyacinths to coincide with tulip sylvestris, an elegant swan-necked yellow tulip that I read about somewhere and planted for the first time last fall.  sylvestris

These grape hyacinths are bigger and bolder than my older ones, and the bees love them.

Another success, at last, is ‘Sun Disc’ daffodils with Virginia bluebells.  Here they are by the oak tree trunk, finally blooming at the right time.sun disc

Other phenological observations are that the cherry trees are beginning to fade, just as the redbuds spring forth.  Here’s a cherry tree in my neighborhood several days ago:  cherry treeAlison’s two gorgeous crab apples are in full bloom right now.  In my garden, there are tulips (the pink ones blooming with the Judd’s viburnum, just as ordered), daffodils, squills, ipheion, snowdrops, and more.  It is an exuberant time in the garden.

 

“What is a week-end??”

Or, three days in London.  We wanted to see an exhibit (me) and a Vermeer (Alison), so we searched for hotel and flight packages on a whim.  It turned out that we found a great deal – around $930 – for three nights at the Thistle Hotel Trafalgar Square and a round trip flight on Virgin Atlantic from Dulles to Heathrow.  I guess, for some reason, no one much wants to visit London in January?  They are foolish!  So off we went for a long week-end.

The flight was uneventful, fortunately.  We both had carry-on bags that fit the teensy dimensions required by international flights (though VA seems a bit loose about this), so we were able to get off the plane and go right to a cab.  The trip was fine until it slowed way down due to traffic restrictions related to the changing of the Guard (per the cabbie), so it cost a bundle.  Oh, well, dropped our bags, picked up a quick sandwich lunch at Pret a Manger on the Square, and returned to the hotel for the necessary two-hour nap.

Above is the Square as it looks these days, with the (newish) London Eye in the background and a new sculpture in the foreground.  No worries, the pigeons, the fountains and the people making chalk drawings are still the same.

The hotel was perfectly situated for our itinerary, being literally around the corner from the (new) entrance to the National Gallery.  Alison, being a careful planner, had a list of art we wanted to see.  I didn’t take many pictures, but here are a few:

The Pentecost by Giotto is one in a series whose parts are scattered across the continent.  This one portrays the tongues of flame the apostles have as they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  I was particularly taken by the two observers who are admiring the words.

This is a detail from the Wilton Diptych, one of the great treasures of the National Gallery.  It was commissioned by Richard II for his private devotions, and he is the man kneeling.   There are many details whose religious or historical meanings are well described in The National Gallery Companion Guide, or here.  It is not very big but absolutely beautiful.

I loved the Late Gothic style of Uccello’s St. George and the Dragon.  It inspired poet UA Fanthorpe to write “Not My Best Side,” from the viewpoint of the dragon, the maiden and the saint. Notice her pointy shoes.

And here is a detail from Carlo Crivelli’s Annunciation.  The whole thing is quite bustling, commemorating the day when the city was granted limited self-government, so the city itself is featured in the model held by the local bishop.  The Angel Gabriel looks quite business-like, landing as he has in the middle of the street to bring the good news.  The pickle has puzzled many viewers and appears in many of Crivelli’s works.  Here’s a summary of some of the interpretations.

Although this  is not THE Vermeer Alison came to see, it’s always good to revisit old friends.  This is A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal.

An adequate dinner in the hotel restaurant, and an early bed.  Anticipating tomorrow’s visit to the BM and the Scythians!