Taking a detour

So. Not only am I taking a detour back into summer, here, well September, but also documenting a detour we took on our way home from Brittany this summer. Our usual route is pretty much engraved on our brains and usually takes 10-12 hours – we head east past Rennes to Le Mans, pass Chartres, skirt Paris and then head back down past Auxerre to Beaune and back up to Basle… those placenames mark the étappes we record back to our families for reassurance that the journey is going well. On the whole, we do the trip in one fell swoop, though we did once stop and spend a memorable July 4th in Paris (parking under the Hotel de Ville, lunch on the rive gauche,  then through the Louvre – dog bathing included in the fountains! – and all along the Seine to the Tour Eiffel and later the ride back on a bateau mouche… :)). Then there was the time when my tired husband missed the motorway junction west towards Brittany and we found ourselves down at Orléans and on a surprise route overland to Le Mans… but I digress!

For over 20 years, we’ve been saying we ought to take a detour through the Loire valley, famous for the many châteaux built all along it. When it came to it, we were travelling with a dog and a cat and when confronted with the real possibility of doing this, the question was, which one should we choose?!

Happily, we chose Villandry. At Le Mans, we turned right and headed down to Tours – travelling through France just blows my mind when I think of how much travelling was done  back in mediaeval times and how long it all must have taken, and yet the history books cheerfully tell us how King A/Queen B, Pope X went to C, then D then Z and more often than not, all his entourage and/or troops, too…and back again. What hardy people they must have been. It seemed rather convoluted after Tours, since the map said that Villandry is just a short way west of Tours on the route back to Brittany (Angers/Nantes)! However, once you are off the motorway, the countryside is delightfully green, lush and the villages so French that the drive is a very pleasant one, including the village of Villandry itself. Interestingly, the village is almost integrated into the castle grounds. Fortunately, it has kept its mediaeval form and skyline and the modern age seems far away, as it nestles in at the bottom of a small hill, with the castle walls pushed up against it, the castle hardly any higher (though at the other end of the grounds) but with a belvedere up above it affording a view over the whole and over the (surprisingly?) flat Loire valley – I hadn’t expected to be able to see so far into the distance.IMG_3584As you can see, the weather was perfect, the visitors few and just in case, you know, dogs are allowed in, on a lead, of course! The other surprising bit of info is that the gardens don’t close – entry is until 7 pm and you can stay as long as you like, though once through the exit turnpike, you cannot re-enter. Wow!

IMG_3597From the belvedere, this is the overall view of the gardens, which are breathtakingly beautiful – especially for a formal garden and geometry-loving person like me!! There are 6 hectares of gardens: in the foreground are the gardens of the heart (tender, passionate, flighty and tragic), as well as those representing the coats of arms of the families/regions, fleur-de-lys and music - we didn’t have time to visit the castle itself but I’m assuming the representative rooms look out onto these intricately shaped and traditionally hued gardens, which are elegant and pretty and suit the architecture’s pretensions (the building itself is mainly renaissance with a façade altered in the mid 18th century in the style of Louis XV, but covering many periods from the mediaeval keep to the classicist orangerie and terraces…). These “top” gardens appear to always have constituted the ornamental element. Beyond them on the lowest level are the kitchen gardens, a labyrinth of colour and shape and giddy array of luscious fruit and veg (at this time of year, anyway!); these were recreated in the 20th century, after earlier estate owners had, in the early 19th century, followed the English fashion for landscaped park gardens and taken out all the earlier beds.

All the land up to the village church had been added to the original estate, so that the gardens now extend up towards the safety of the hill, too, and in the centre of that photo above, I was enthralled with the effect of such simple and yet exquisite planting – waist-high geometric box quadrants planted with lavender and sea-lavender and punctuated by tall yew topiaries in disc-like shapes that allow a peek beyond. Three simple white stone fountains at the intersections of these gardens cool the air slightly, enough to be noticeable. The whole was originally irrigated from the pool on the top level of gardens, the Water Gardens, now a sunken pool in the shape of a Louis XV mirror, with simple fountains on either side and plain grass “beds”, all surrounded by lime-tree-topped banks with walkways below them. Towards the village are a few newer gardens – a play on sun and clouds, a children’s garden, a labyrinth without any deadends and a herb garden to complement the return to the kitchen gardens complete with more low fountains and bowers, vine-laden walkways (the grapes hang low enough for a tall man to only have to tip back his head to grab a grape!), knee-high espalier apples (enormous) and pear-trees straight out of a nursery rhyme. Apparently, if you are there when they harvest, the produce is given away for free!

So, time for some pictures to round off the Villandry experience… IMG_3602 IMG_3610 IMG_3613 IMG_3616 IMG_3621 IMG_3623 IMG_3633 IMG_3637 IMG_3643


Energised, and after letting the pets out for a stroll through the pumpkin patch, we headed back to Tours and this time, intentionally towards Orléans, skipping Paris on this occasion to use the brand new, empty, motorway that connects the A10 with the A6 and homeward bound…


PS They also seem to have known that Sophie was going to be waiting nearby (the car neatly parked under some shady bushes with the windows open a little, I hasten to add!!)… IMG_3606 IMG_3689 - Arbeitskopie 2

Autumn diligence

Spending the summer away and not returning until mid-September thrust us right into an autumn atmosphere and it’s taken us a few weeks to adjust. Now that the mornings and evenings are so much chillier and the days are sneeze-inducingly varied from bright blue and sharp to dull grey and drizzly so that you really feel the need for boots and candles, here we are, bang in the middle of it.

My grandmotherly duties now extend to pony club – how cute are 8 kiddies between 3-5 who are all pony-mad and fighting to get the mini-barrows out to pick up after 10 rotund little furballs?! IMG_3662 - Arbeitskopie 2IMG_3676IMG_3659 I must be a terrible photographer, as I still can’t seem to get pictures of our grandchildren keeping still – even when they’re sitting down, they seem to be in motion! Therefore no pictures worthy of publishing to document our day out at the crazy golf LOL.

There have been other days out, too, catching up with my friends. These are not always photo opportunities, though the exhibition “Kirschblüten & Edelweiss”, showcasing Japanese and Chinese with Swiss textiles and how they influenced each other, is definitely worth a mention – on until the end of this year in St. Gallen: IMG_3681and followed up by a stop at the “Chocolaterie” opposite the Stiftskirche, St. Gallen’s cathedral and famous monastery with its fantastic library (check out the fantastic collection of codices available online – facsimiles of books from the 7th century onwards at http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/de/list/csg/Shelfmark/20/0 !!) – for teas, coffees, specialist applesauces and naturally, chocolate! Plus a small shop of craft articles. IMG_3682The annual exhibition at Zurich, the Züspa, featured “Creativa” this year, which I’d never been to before. It’s the ultimate crafts showcase for our region, so was extremely interesting – from craft books and top-of-the-range embroidery machines to handspun and hand-dyed angora knitting, crochet and craft kits, to scrapbooking, papercutting, quilting, beading and probably a lot more I’ve already forgotten again. Impressed – there’s a lot to digest and to inspire. In order to do this, and with impending betterment of the weather that afternoon, we headed up the Goldenberg behind Winterthur for a glorious view over the town IMG_3683It has recently occurred to me that one of the reasons I love Swiss towns is that they are not endless – I remember standing on the steps of the Sacré Coeur in Paris feeling panicked and depressed at the fact that the city stretches out beyond view with no boundary in sight. I don’t enjoy that kind of view – I like to see where the town ends, to see the surrounding countryside, be reassured that if I’m in the centre of town I need walk no more than 15 minutes straight to the outskirts to find fields and woods and nature… Winterthur is a particularly nice town for this (believe it or not, it’s an industrial town!) and has a reputation for being popular with cyclists, possibly because they have managed to keep the city itself very green, with a lot of trees throughout. Nice. Anyway, up here on the Goldenberg, a woodland paradise, this sunny terrace features tiny lizards, looks down on some very pretty vineyards as well as the town (the large building in the foreground is the Rychenberg Kanti) and the restaurant provides excellent food, on this occasion apple fritters in vanilla sauce – and to jog my own memory and for posterity, is where punklets were confirmed, after their invention in St. Gallen (Hi Elaine!). :)

There has been baking IMG_3704IMG_3661from the top: Thurgauer Öpfelchueche with hazelnuts, Beeriwähe, fresh bread and almond apple tart… 

And of course, much knitting carried over from the summer… IMG_3673A dirndl cardigan to go with the June dirndl! Drops baby merino in blue (175m/50g) and the pattern is one I invented as I went along, but using a travelling stitch seen in a Debbie Bliss cardigan from Prima magazine, May 2008, taken from her book Coastline. No doubt this will look better on a human…! IMG_3713 IMG_3714 IMG_3715Deceptively plain and simple, I can’t praise this “Henni” pattern by Christine Körber-Reith (in English and German – the English is faultless) enough – it comes together like a dream, features three very interesting stitches, fits perfectly and really shows off a beautiful yarn – in this case, the true colour being closest to the vibrant sunny bottom picture – like this Malabrigo sock yarn in colourway “Fresco”. Yum.

IMG_3711The Creativa exhibition left me with an autumnal souvenir - Schoppelwolle’s Zauberball Stärke 6 in Schokoladenseite which is becoming a great and simple little pattern called TGV – tricot à grande vitesse after the hi-speed train of the same name! IMG_3718Another case of simply is as simply does, Kate Davies’ Catkin pattern (with a revised cable, sorry, Kate!) is coming along dashingly, considering the 3 mm needles but thanks to the wonderful softness of the very reasonably priced Drops Baby Alpaca Silk, which I have now used several times and count as one of my great favourites. I have high hopes of this one!

Slipped in among those, I couldn’t help doing this one for my granddaughter’s 3rd birthday – presently hanging waiting for her while she gads off to England with the family! IMG_3712Simply irresistible, non?! The pattern is Kittycat by Phildar from Simply Knitting magazine, August 2014, made up in Lana Grossa merino big on 4mm needles. Too cute!

And as the sun is shining today, perhaps there’s time for a little peek back at summer for the next post…


Abwarten und Tee trinken…

means “drinking tea and waiting…”, which is what we’ve been doing today as my mom over at Catterel (www.catterel.wordpress.com) is undergoing a Dyson operation :).

Tea-merchant's wifeThis is Boris Kustodiev’s ‘A Merchant’s Wife at Tea’ (1918) – with a lovely smoochy cat!

Anyway, the latest is that all is well :)

Time well spent

From damp and mouldy to pretty and weatherproof IMG_0313IMG_3692 - many, many hours of labour went into repairs on this, the tiniest “room” of the house, this summer! And a lot also converted a long, dark, varnished pine upstairs corridor and stairwell into this IMG_3216Quite an amazing transformation that we’re delighted with!

Alina the Cocker is used to spending her summer holidays at the seaside and loves nothing better than to chase seagulls and dig through to Australia, as well as diving for stones IMG_3534 while for Sophie, it was a terrifying journey with a happy end… IMG_3689She had a wonderful time exploring the many hedges, arriving home scratched and scabby with bits hanging off her whiskers and judging by the number of hours she spent outside rather than inside, considered her holiday some kind of paradise – I think she was probably disappointed to come home, where she’s gone back to 20hr a day naps!

The Patrouille de France flew for us IMG_3396IMG_0335zooming around the skies above the house, and at the other end of the transport scale, we saw this immaculate Alvis down at the harbour IMG_3467IMG_3491I was thrilled about this and immediately recognised the bunny on the bonnet – it’s almost the same as the 1922/23 bunny that has been Granny’s dining room doorstop for longer than I can remember :)!IMG_0339We visited a very old tide mill nearby IMG_3470

and telecommunications at the Radôme
radome and walked part of the way out on the Sillon de Talbert… sillon_de_talbertDespite lots of downtime at home and doing DIY, we trundled down to the south of Brittany and visited Concarneau (here the clock of the ville close – a different time on every side of the tower, very Harry Potter!) IMG_3552and ate at L’Amiral, the restaurant that Commissaire Georges Dupin (only in German!) frequents, before moving on to Pont Aven, the scene of the first (of three) story by Jean-Luc Bannalec (a pseudonym) about said inspector… IMG_3510 and famous for the impressionist painters (like Gauguin) that it attracted in the 1880s.

We took a trip out to the bird islands, famous for their northern gannets since 1939, which we hadn’t done since our children were very young - IMG_0334 and for normal people like us, the treat of seals - IMG_0333IMG_0332That was actually the only day in 8 weeks that it really rained!

Eventually, we had to leave our home-from-home for home-sweet-home…IMG_0337IMG_0338

The more artistic and beautiful of these photos were taken by my very talented daughter and son-in-law, who spent some of the summer with us – thank you!! IMG_0330

Down the rabbit hole

“Lost in June” could have been another title – not that my skills are lacking when it comes to finding my way, but two separate weeks away in one month do rather dominate proceedings and it’s taken me till mid-July to re-emerge, ready for the next trip!

We were so fortunate to have a couple of weeks of glorious summer weather in June, the really hot type, and luckier still that we were able to spend the worst of the heat on “Aquarius”, a 36′ Bavaria yacht, sailing on Lake Constance with varying crews – initially some dear friends who introduced us to other new friends (who also spent a day aboard) plus my brother-in-law (including his cigarbox guitar!), and subsequently another family who have become dear friends in the process! Although the Whit weekend was obviously popular with anyone wanting to escape the heat, it was understandable – you’re either sailing or chugging along  in the headwind or else taking a dip in what is still, essentially, an icy mountain lake. IMG_3097Most refreshing! Highlights: taking the boat out into the middle of the empty lake just to enjoy a glass of wine and the sunset and finding our way back in the dark because the harbour lights go off after 10 pm; taking the boat out into the middle of an almost empty morning lake to have breakast while bobbing around at anchor; “parking” in Constance harbour with direct access to the town centre and big exhibition on the 15th century Council of Constance; “parking” at the private jetty of a very nice inn; music on board! having enough wind to actually do some sailing, despite beautiful sunshine (the two often don’t go hand in hand); sailing by moonlight; being the only inhabited boat in Meersburg harbour after the big tourist boats have gone; even the stormy waters we had for an hour, at most, but which gave everyone a taste of what’s it’s like to sail the seas! Having said that, I don’t think there were any downsides on this trip – our friends, who had sailed with us twice last year, including the time it snowed (!) were just overjoyed to have great weather for a change. Our other friends’ daughters were naturally delighted to have a daily opportunity to swim and dive but also proud to be helmswomen and to learn how to tie knots – they very soon outdid us :)IMG_3110IMG_3120IMG_3122IMG_3156IMG_0260IMG_0266Following a short and rather hectic mixed interlude involving my brother-in-law’s birthday party, a stranded car and it’s subsequent retrieval, another summery lunch at the monastery of Ittingen, a business outing to Bad Ragaz sweetened by an outdoor lunch in the Bündner Herrschaft (the Jenins vineyards) as well as some quick laundry and repacking, I was back off to England on a very early morning flight to celebrate more birthdays, my mother’s but also my son-in-law’s – it’s all go in June in this family! Of course, it was only six weeks since our last brief visit for Granny’s birthday, but it seemed only fair that my mother should be feted, too. We did this with a trip out to Halfpenny Green Vineyards, which I must admit is the first time I have ever been to an English vineyard or drunk English wine – much acclaimed wine, too! It was hard to show proof of this because one vineyard does rather resemble another, but I tried… IMG_3175The food was very nice and well-presented, the shop had a fascinating array of gourmet goods, there is a simple café for those not wanting the whole restaurant experience and it was lovely to see lots of mums with small children let loose in the large garden with ice-creams and enjoying the opportunity for a gambol around the lawns between the vines. As there is a small crafts’ centre there, too, it’s practically a day out. Oh, and what about this?! IMG_3172I think the birthday girl would have fancied a ride on that :) IMG_3165 - Arbeitskopie 2But we had to get home to the birthday cake… IMG_3180The following day, it was time for a trip down memory lane. My Granny was born and brought up in Sheffield and it is nearly 20 years since she last visited her place of birth. I last went there as a young teenager, which is even longer ago, and of course it doesn’t hold memories for me as it does for her or my mother. Granny’s memory is excellent and we have heard many, many stories about her childhood and the close family bond with aunts and grandparents living very near and so on. Always a lover of plants and with very green fingers, she remembers planting three little tree seedlings in the back yard of her home as a young girl… IMG_3194so was delighted that there are still trees in the small space between the houses after 90 or more years! Of couse, she was also thrilled to pose victoriously in front of the house she was born in (the upper window!), still going strong as the eldest daughter of a large family, now sadly depleted. IMG_3191Of course, it was also very nice to see the last of the older generation still living in the area (and meet some of the younger!) and we were able to all have lunch together. Some of us still have not recovered from the size of the cakes on display! I kid you not, that carrot cake was 12″ high :O Everything here was enormous and we’d never seen anything quite like it! It seems there is a cake tradition in Sheffield – Granny has been a master cake-maker and decorator for over 80 years and now this…Sorry, a little distraction!IMG_3182I felt very lucky to be able to treat Granny to this day out, which she appears to have enjoyed very much and I’m glad to say it didn’t wear her out entirely! As my mother used to spend some of her holidays at her granny’s house, too, it was a nostalgic trip for her as well and what with the follow-up of watching the Tour de France around Yorkshire, I think it’s all thumbs-up for that region at the moment :).

My plane deposited me back in Switzerland just in time for my husband’s birthday (yes, another one, birthday, not husband!), more delicious meals out, a descent into some decidedly cool, wet weather and another family party – “grandchildren defeat auntie” might make a good headline (though having just attended a very very muddy Open Air Frauenfeld festival, camping for 3 days, our daughter might be glad this was all she had to contend with in preparation!).IMG_3211and to top it all off, that young man’s 6th birthday is this week, ending our spate of summer birthdays!! Phew.

There, that’s what happens when you fall down the rabbit hole… and the next instalment is likely to be from here: IMG_1781Same procedure as every year!! :)

Garden flowers

Really, I ought to say “glorious garden flowers” because of course this is the time of year when the gardens are all at their best and the paeonies and roses are, or have been, wonderful! IMG_3058IMG_3059The climber doesn’t have a scent, sadly, but the little bed of Austin roses more than makes up for it – there’s a Gertrude Jekyll, a couple of Fisherman’s Friends and the one I brought in, which I think (but I may be wrong!) is a Charles Austin and together with the last of the pink paeonies is wafting it’s delicious smell through my kitchen! IMG_3091 IMG_3092Such pretty crinkliness and so very feminine, while the scentless climber is robust and hardy and both solidly and passionately red – until the petals drop and the soft pink base is revealed :) IMG_3089To finish, some loose and blousy, starry white paeonies that are shop-bought but nevertheless, I’m happy to say, trail their sweet airy perfume around the living room…IMG_3090