December 3, 2013
It seems like a short while since I wrote about Fall. Now Winter has arrived bringing snow, freezing temperatures and pleasures many look forward to. I have not been very present on my blog lately and I regret it. Troubled times and sad events kept me away. Sometimes you cannot help but just going along with the flow of life and all it gives you, good or less so. I missed reading your own blogs and sharing more of my thoughts and images. Recently though I had the opportunity of taking a few pictures and I thought I would share these moments with you.
It was the first day snow fell. I sat on one of those bright yellow postal buses driving up to a chalet in the mountains. It is a drive I always enjoy for the breathtaking landscape and the comforting feeling of not having to drive myself on the slippery roads of this Season.
Few people were in the bus: not even ten of us including the driver. There were mostly young people studying down in the valley and going up back home in the late afternoon.
Suddenly, exactly at this spot on the road, one of the four snow chains that equipped the large wheels of the bus broke. The driver stopped the engine and went out to see the damage. He did not look really happy as he started to replace the chain; his vehicle had just been thoroughly checked before Winter and he was surprised this should happen. We, the passengers, sat patiently, waiting, reading, listening to music or looking at the landscape. That was me.
I liked the blending of shades, golden trees surrounded by white fields. Snow had started falling again. A snowplough overtook us in the curve, the truck driver stopped and offered his help. “Thanks, it’s all right” our driver replied, “I’ll manage” ! And the truck went off, a long evening of work ahead of him.
The snow fell on and on, softly but steadily. By then we were on our way again, very cautiously. Calmness was all around, a beautiful landscape and hardly any car on the road. I felt safe and warm in the bus and did not mind the delay.
I was looking at a few chalets on the way and imagined how cosy it must feel inside, around a fireplace maybe, as snow was covering paths and mountain pastures.
The road was barely visible. Few vehicles had driven there since snow fell in the morning. It was slippery and the driver was extremely careful and slow in handling the bends and downhill slopes.
Yet it felt good being driven in such a beautiful and quiet environment. I trusted the driver and enjoyed the nature all around us. No more music nor chatter in the bus, the only noise was the sound of the big chained wheels on the crisp snow. A dreamy and silent drive, one that brings peace to your mind and makes you feel good in your heart.
I would have loved to take a picture of the yellow bus in the snow but by the time we reached the village we were heading to, it was real dark. Our HD – Hero Driver – was not in the mood for a picture, too tired from so much concentration on the driving. Nice as he is, he promised I could take a picture next time I am on his bus.
Please, excuse the poor quality or the images (too many reflections from the bus windows).
November 10, 2013
…Fall was there ! You wake up one morning, pull the curtains and there it is. The birch tree is turning yellow and the morning feels slightly cooler.A soft haze envelops the landscape just enough to highlight the changing shades of the Season.The last yellow roses in the garden undulate slightly in the breeze. The day was chilly ; did they get pink petals from the fresh air ?More autumnal shades are reflected in a pond. A quiet and peaceful mood to welcome a new cycle of Season.
More autumnal shades are reflected on a pond. A quiet, peaceful mood to welcome a new cycle of Season.Back home from my morning walk, I found big colourful apples in a pot in front of my door. Someone really nice had left them there for me. I immediately bit into one…Simply delicious ! As for the others, they were much appreciated on a pie, juicy and melting in your mouth. Just a few small pleasures of the coming Season. I hope you have just as much, and more, to enjoy.
October 13, 2013
Rather than showing you the grayness of my foggy morning – it seems as if the mountains have disappeared – I much prefer to remember Summer, its alpine meadows, its colours, scents, tastes, all precious gifts that I hope you have enjoyed yourself too.
During a wonderful birthday party, a lot of delicious food was served , amongst which those small tomatoes of all shapes and shades just picked in the garden. My favorites were the dark red ones, almost purple. So sweet and juicy.
Lavender and parsley added an exquisite touch to the pieces of chicken and potatoes.
Beside various wines produced locally, we were offered a kind of “herbal water” served in a big glass jar. The cool water was flavored with branches of lemongrass, mint, rosemary, sage and even a few cherries. So refreshing !
As an extra gift, and not the least, Pierre’s birthday celebration was held on a superb “terrace with a view”. One you do not forget : the well-known vineyards of Lavaux over the Lake Léman, surrounded by the Alps.
Somehow it was also everyone’s birthday because of the reunion of dear friends as well as for the treats that had been prepared with love. The magnificent view was a fantastic gift. A Summer day to remember when Fall is at the door and some summits are already snow-capped. Oh well, Autumn will give us more colors, scents and tastes, won’t it ? More gatherings to look forward to.
Happy Sunday to all !
September 12, 2013
To say “goodbye” to Portugal and close this series of posts about my journey to Porto and surroundings, I would like to share with you some special moments, places, tastes, memories of here and there during a short and eventful week last May.
Vende se. For sale. An empty house full of memories of people. A house whose inhabitants may have left for various reasons. Lack of buyers for selling it to ? No means to repair it ? Moving to another city in search of a job ? Emigrating further away in Europe, the Americas, Africa ? One sees many such abandoned houses or closed down shops during these critical times for the Portuguese economy.
Art Nouveau style. A striking contrast. A lot of buildings of the early 20th century in Art Nouveau style, are still visible in Porto. This ancient coffee house has been closed but its prestigious façade and decoration remain. A memory of times gone.
Brazilian hot chocolate, probably the best I ever drank (and this is a Swiss telling you this Believe me, this creamy, tasty, full-flavored beverage is worth the detour.
Pastelleria (bakery), cakes, pastries and sweets are renowned in Portugal. You find bakeries everywhere offering an abundant choice of delicious sweets. Here in a street of Coimbra at the end of a folk festival.
Stamps. I like writing and choosing nice stamps for my postcards or letters. In a little village along the Douro river, a very nice young lady at the local Post Office went out of her way to choose all kinds of different stamps for me. In doing so she also loved practising her French, which I really appreciated. People’s kindness and friendliness were constant during my stay in Portugal.
Flowers. When and where you least expect them, they come at you through a gate, over an old wall, along a street. Bundles of colourful “flores“, highlighting any old stones.
Churches are numerous in Portugal, of all styles and epochs, simple or heavily decorated, often with azulejos. I chose to show this Porto skyline with you. No overpowering churches but present and beautiful, barely outlined in the setting sun. Thank you for having followed me during the Summer across my journey to Portuguese cities, gardens, river and other places I felt like sharing with you. I really appreciated your visits and comments.
August 28, 2013
Coimbra, the ancient city situated on a hill by the river Mondego, South West of Porto. An urban center best known for its university (1537), one of the oldest in Europe but also for its monuments, churches, museums, parks and intense cultural life centered around the university. A town of contrasts between the ancient upper city on the hill and the low city, more modern and commercial by the river. Coimbra’s small cloisters, hidden gems, shadowed and secluded gardens where it feels so good to sit and enjoy a peaceful moment.
Coimbra’s well-known cabaret “Fado ao Centro” where we sat waiting for musicians (all students) to perform their songs (fado) of hope, love, longing, sadness about emigrating. Songs of protest and rebellion in troubled times too.
Coimbra, Santa Clara quartier, away from the busy city, the prestigious monuments and buildings. A little house on the hill, shutters closed to keep away the midday sun, a deserted terrace illuminated by a flamboyant bush of hibiscus.
August 14, 2013
Another day in Portugal. After the city of Porto, its harbour and the Douro river, how about spending some time in a luxuriant park of Porto and in Coimbra’s Botanical Garden ? It was founded in 1772 and is part of its very ancient University. More about the beautiful city of Coimbra later on.Won’t you come into the garden, I would like my roses to see you.” Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) said to his future wife Elizabeth inferring that she was more beautiful.
A hue of far away. Perhaps for this
The dove brought olive back, a tree which grows
Unearthly pale, which ever dims and dries,
And whose great thirst, exceeding all excess,
Teaches the South it is not paradise.
My garden is my favorite teacher. ~Betsy Cañas Garmon,www.wildthymecreative.com
August 8, 2013
Third day in Portugal. En route for a one day cruise on the Douro river, 980 km long, springing in Spain and marking the boundary between the two countries for about 100 km. Needless to say we did not go to the Spanish border in one day but the short trip up-river was a fascinating and most pleasant one.The light morning fog had lifted and the day was brilliant and hot.
We are sailing at a slow pace between low hills covered with thick forests or well-kept vineyards. Here and there we pass in front of isolated houses, some look abandonned, others may be holiday houses.
A few bridges cross the landscape : here an old stone railway bridge and above it a more modern one for the busy traffic along the Douro Valley. Most villages and towns are built in the hinterland. We passed through them as we travelled back to Porto by train in the late afternoon : white villages surrounded by orchards, large vegetables gardens, some vineyards and all kind of flowers, of course.
A flash of golden brightness in the woods. Would those luminous plants be brooms ?
I was curious about the small white house on the left. A waiter on board told me it was a railway station. Little did I know I would stop there on the way back to Porto later on. A neat and quiet place between forests and rows of terraced vineyards.
Another village at the edge of the water slowly waking in the morning sun. There were hardly any sounds we could hear from the boat : just a dog barking, a few kids running and laughing, a peaceful setting. I imagine the hills getting fully alive during wine harvest. It reminded me of my own area in Switzerland, apart from the mountains.
The Douro river was once as a succession of rapids and the river had to be moved up countercurrent. Five dams were built to make it safe and navigable. The Douro was the river route for the Rabelos barges which transported barrels of wine from the valley to the wine logdes of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
More terraced vineyards nested in the forest. A lovely red-roofed house, maybe a “Quintas” ? one of those farms and residences of the wine producers where the best wines can be tasted.
We stopped in Peso da Régua, this is where our small cruise ended. Before our train took us back to Porto, tiime was sufficient to visit the small town which lives for and from wine. In the XVIII century it already was the point of departure for the Rabelos (barges). Beautiful painted azulejos (tiles) depicted different scenes of the life and work in the vineyards.Here is a detail of one of the azulejos : the loading of the barrels onto the Rabelos as they went on their journey to Porto. I liked this tribute to the many men and women who are working hard on the terraced vineyards along the Douro. Their way of working has changed of course, but the passion for their culture and wine making remains the same.
Back in Porto station early evening, the eyes full of colours : the blue sky and river, the yellow bushes, the green vineyards and forests, the red tiled roofs of the white houses. Truly a magnificent day. I hope you enjoyed it too.
July 28, 2013
On the second day of our visit to Porto, we walked down from the top of the hill through a maze of steep paved streets leading to the Ribeiro district.
7.30 am in Ribeiro, one of the oldest and liveliest parts of Porto. The Douro river flows slowly in the misty morning. The city looks still sleepy and the air is pleasantly cool. It will get very hot later on as we will visit this lovely area that is sometimes called the true soul of Porto.
Tall, narrow houses line the side of the river. The day had brightened up and the wave of heat around midday was almost palpable. A hazy kind of light. Not really the best time for taking pictures but we were hungry and the smell of fried food, roasted sardines, lead us to a restaurant along the quay.
A long and wide promenade runs along the river. There were few tourists at this time of the year but I can imagine how crowded this would look right now. I took this picture from a bridge we are going to cross later on. Houses, shops, market stalls and restaurants blend in colorfully. A luminous sight indeed.
A closer view of the terraces along the Douro river. I had promised myself to take a “food” picture of the dish I ordered : “sardinas asadas”, the absolute must when you visit Portugal. Roasted sardines. When the waiter brought a large plate where four delicious looking sardines lay side by side on a bed of salads, I forgot all about my promise The inviting scent, the cool white fruity and fragrant wine, the first bite into the sardines’ delicate flesh… and when I thought about the picture, my plate was empty ! But I can assure you it tasted very good.
A few boats were anchored as we walked towards the bridge crossing the river. This old boat is one of those Rabelos – ancient barges with a flat bottom – the type that used to transport barrels of the famous Port from the Douro Valley to Porto.
Dom Luis I Bridge, constructed in 1886 on the lines of Gustave Eiffel’s Dona Maria Pia railroad bridge. Each level has two-way traffic and two sidewalks. It was fascinating and challenging to walk across the bridge with cars and buses racing by all around. On the other bank of the Douro river lies Vila Nova de Gaia, the well-known place of wine and wine lodges. Some of them are open for visitors and wine tasting.
The large cool cellars in the wine lodge we visited were a real reward after the walk in the blazing sun. My husband and I sat happily on one of those long black benches where a large group of Japanese tourists joined us later on. Behind dark glass doors, a lot of wooden barrels were neatly piled up. The golden lights in the ceiling gave the room and the barrels an air of an Ali Baba’s cave. We tasted a glass of two different vintage Port. Exquisite ! Do you believe me if I tell you that after the long walk since early morning, the hot sun and the wine my legs felt kind of tired ?
Never mind. The following day was going to be a relaxing one : a one day cruise on the Douro river, along vineyards, forests, small villages. We joined about 60 other people on a boat such as the one of the right, the smaller one.Are you ready to follow me for an enjoyable journey ? Then don’t forget your sunglasses, a hat and your favourite sun cream: the day is hot on the deck !
July 14, 2013
where I stayed during the last week of May ? During the two hours flight from Geneva to this ancient and picturesque town, I had a look at this map and thought I would share it with you. The many flight lines all seem to converge to one particular spot in the South of Europe. A small country on the Atlantic coast from where several navigators left for maritime discoveries : Africa, America, Brazil, India, Macao (China). Great explorers like Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Zarco amongst many others.Our destination was Porto – or Oporto – in the Northern part of Portugal, an old city we had been planning to visit for a long time. Spring was much more advanced than in Switzerland, the touristic Season had not fully started yet, temperatures were pleasant. Our timing was good, it truly was the most enjoyable vacation.
Porto and surroundings offer so much to a new visitor that it would be impossible to tell you about all its various aspects. Let me just show you in a few posts the pictures of some of the places that touched me for a reason or another. This is the first post of a few others showing you different glimpses of Porto, the Douro river and Coimbra, a town in the South of Porto.
After landing in Porto and leaving our luggage in a small hotel in the center of the city, my husband and I walked to the upper town. The view was stunning. A labyrinth of houses of all sizes and colours, huddled together and decorated with the famous Portuguese “azulejos” (painted blue tiles). The red tiled roofs added a touch of colour in those dark and narrow alleys as they glistened in the sunset.Seagulls were everywhere, “A winged squadron flying over us, happy pigeons travelling all over the world, messengers of memory, going over the washing lines in the alleys, huts, grocery shops, sleeping dogs in the sun, red flowers growing in the rust…” (Alberto Nessi)Porto is a harbour city. Sometimes here and there an ancient building in Art Nouveau style looked to me like a towering ship from other times coming out of the haze of history.Contrasting styles of architecture add to this city’s charm. Richly decorated mansions, shops or cafés have grown side by side with other houses, more simple, that line narrow paved alleys. There were not too many visitors at this time of the year but these lanes can be quite crowded when all shops and restaurants are open, especially in the evening or early morning. This is where Porto’s life is felt at best.This most unusual and beautiful hall is part of the central railway station of Porto, Sao Bento. Impressive “azulejos” and sculptures cover the walls and ceilings. This beautiful building dating from 1916 is well worth visiting even if one does not travel by train. Which we actually did when going for a visit to another city, Coimbra. More about that later !For now as the sun goes down over the city, let’s just stop for a while on the top of a hill overlooking the Barreido district and others, less luxurious, which lead to the river. Will we meet there later ?…
June 22, 2013
It is such a joy to be back on my blog and back in this community I am grateful to belong to, dear readers. I have a lot to tell you and pictures to share after returning home from…(It will be a surprise in my next post) But for now I would like to share something very meaningful to me. Before I tell you more, let’s take a pause, sit comfortably in the sun or in the shade, and enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of your favourite fruit juice. I am so happy to tell you about a book I read recently, that I loved for many reasons. It is called How to Make an African Quilt: The Story of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali. The book is written by Bonnie Lee Black.
This is a memoir, not a crafts book. It contains so much more than the making of an African quilt. Why am I telling you of this book in particular ? Because it touches me personally. The true stories Bonnie tells about her experience in Mali are about solidarity, friendship, determination, cultural sharing and hope. Bonnie created a women’s project that one cannot but love and feel proud of. This book is precious to me because it was written by a friend of mine, whom I did not know as a writer when I first “met” her.
About 14 years ago, I responded to an item in a French quilters’ magazine that mentioned Bonnie’s Patchwork Project in Segou. Bonnie was asking for used French quilting magazines with patterns she could use for her project in Mali. I found quite a few on my bookshelves that I sent her and her Malian friends. At that point we started writing to each other now and then, and we’ve kept in touch over the years.
Guess what ? Today I have the immense pleasure and honor to welcome Bonnie Lee Black as my guest writer on this blog. I am also very thankful that she has offered to share her life-changing experience in Africa as well as some patches of her life. Thank you, dear Bonnie, for telling us more about your book, your quilting project in Mali and what your hopes are.
“Thank you, Isabelle, for this honor to share with your readers my wonderful experience in Mali, now encapsulated in my new book, How to Make an African Quilt. The title, as you suggest, is really a metaphor for “connection” – cultural connection – and I’m hoping that theme comes through in its pages.
This book is actually the sequel to my Peace Corps memoir, How to Cook a Crocodile (Peace Corps Writers, 2010), about my two-year service as a health and nutrition volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa. When I completed my service in Gabon, I decided to go to Mali (rather than return to the United States) and do independent economic development work there. I was in my early fifties and felt I still had more to give.
Soon after settling in Segou, Mali (which is the textile “capital” of the country), I met a group of talented Malian seamstresses who asked me to teach them patchwork quilting. Well, that was a challenge for me because I’d never done patchwork quilting. But I soon taught myself from a quilting primer and happily created the Patchwork Project, which the women loved. In the book I share their stories and show their joy, especially as they sat together at the quilting frame (a makeshift contraption I made from lenghts of bamboo) laughing and singing as they stitched.
I took the project as far as I could in the thirty months I lived in Segou. But it could go much further to help the women there earn extra income. I wrote this book in the hope that someone, somewhere, some day might read the book and be inspired to take the project further. That someone would have the business-and-computer knowhow that I lacked – and still lack. When the talented graduates of the Patchwork Project of Segou, Mali begin to make patchwork quilts to be sold internationally over the Internet, then I’ll feel that my dream for these women has come true and my book has done its job.”
Bonnie Lee Black
Amkoullel, l’Enfant peul, 1991
by Amadou Hampate Ba,Malian writer and ethnologist, 1900-1991
Here is a link to the Wandering Educators website which shows a video about Bonnie’s book.