Falling into obscurity – and some art

These days, we tend not to assume that Switzerland is the “land of the Switzers”, partly because that sounds a bit silly, somehow. However, nobody should be laughed at if they did think this – it turns out that one of the legends about the origin of the name is one of those “fighting brothers” stories, and the immigrant Alemann who won the fight got to name the land they were occupying – Suit, or Swit, they say his name was. See! Not far to Suittersland and Switzerland, then…

Swit must have lived a long time ago, before even the Romans came over the Alps, and his little piece of paradise was a small, fairly flat valley deep among some very high mountains (literally the things myths are made of – the Mythen) but with easy access to two lakes as well, the smaller Lauernzer and the much larger Lake Lucerne, which has fingers clamped along several valleys, so making transport and commerce fairly easy.

Now, of course, we know that this tiny canton was one of the first, founding cantons (along with Uri and Unterwalden) and that its flag is the basis of our country’s flag – SchwyzHowever, I was surprised to find that it was quite difficult to actually find out much about the village of Schwyz itself apart from some standard information, but as ever in this country, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of interest in the history of it, how it grew, why there are some very elegant 19th century properties or even why the hugely dominating St. Martin’s church is so incredibly enormous. Only that it all burned down in the 17th century and had to be rebuilt. After most of the villagers had died of the plague a few years earlier. The fact that it is a village – 14000 inhabitants these days – rather than a town is already a little puzzling, since it’s the capital of the canton (though there are other cantons where this is the case, e.g. Appenzell) and it has an elaborate painted town hall that holds extremely important documents, like those which show how Switzerland was founded in 1291! Schwyz_Hauptplatz

Which leads me to one of the oldest, if not the oldest, building I could find, the Archive Tower. Built in the 13th century, or even as early as 1200, it doesn’t seem to have been used for defence for very long and was soon given over as a prison and treasury, plastered over, made to look more modern, a separate staircase built on and finally in the 1930s, taken back to bare stone – and then pretty much left to it. It’s now tucked in behind other buildings… Foto_ArchivturmSchwyz_-_Haus_Bethlehem

Apparently, the Bet(h)lehem house is also famed for its age, celebrated as the oldest wooden house in Europe and dating to around 1287. It looks very much like any other old house in the area, partly plastered foundations and weathered old wood exterior. It doesn’t look as if anyone is very interested in it, either. (Though it is part of the Ital Reding museum in a large 17th century house and I will try to visit when it’s open in the summer months.) The original village of Schwyz is squashed and huddled, despite open areas, while all through and around it there have grown late 20th and early 21st century concrete boxes, both for commercial and residential use. If the church wasn’t so domineering, you might not notice you’d actually driven through the middle of Schwyz, which grows seamlessly into several other villages these days, but try as I might, I could not find any old photographs or lithographs of how Schwyz looked up to the mid-20th century (since it probably looked much the same for several hundred years!). This little picture doesn’t do it  justice, and the massiveness of the church doesn’t come over, either, though otherwise it looks much the same as in 1890… Schwyz 1890Somehow, I feel a bit sorry for Schwyz. So important and yet so obscure. The canton is a rich one with land in extremely lucrative places where taxes are low and the proportion of millionaires very high, but right in the very heart of it, where Switzerland began, is a quiet, sleepy little place without much sense of its history or value (except to a lucky few, I suppose, who will have a tiny historical society somewhere!), and which can’t really compete – even that monster of a church is dwarfed by the world-famous monasterial one at Einsiedeln (also canton Schwyz)…

In all the years I have lived here, I stopped in Schwyz for the first time today. It was nearly the last day of a lovely little exhibition of modern paper cuts – and really, a very fitting location for a craft that seems as quintessentially Swiss as could possibly be… Wild und Wald

Ueli Hauswirth – Wild und Wald

The exhibition is now moving on to the Château de Prangins for the rest of the spring and summer; this craft has a very popular tradition in the Pays d’Enhaut area of the Suisse Romande. 

Those interested in the craft may already know that paper-cutting is quite the trend – check out http://www.designsponge.com/2013/02/25-amazing-papercut-artists.html or google Rob Ryan paper cuts…Mind-boggling!

 

3rd Advent – Regensburg

Sorry I dropped off my blogging schedule there – let’s just say there were a couple of days you could describe as “Poorly in Advent” and leave it at that! All better, now, anyway.

And then the pleasure of a weekend in Regensburg, an extremely pretty mediaeval town we’d never visited before. It’s the capital of the Oberpfalz, a region in Bavaria, north of Munich and only a couple of hours away from Prague, too. As it lies on the Danube river, it’s been an important settlement since the iron age. The Romans were there, too, of course, and since the middle ages it’s been the seat of the Bishop of Regensburg and has been a significant trading post with Venice, Paris and Kiev – international connections since the year dot…! IMG_2323IMG_2325IMG_2343

Famous for it’s well-preserved mediaeval town centre alongside the Danube, it’s also known for its Christmas markets and this was the main reason we travelled during Advent for our first visit. We’re lucky enough to have friends who live in Regensburg and who were willing to be generous with their time to show us round the best places! IMG_2346

A very traditional Swabian meal of Maultaschen (comparable to large ravioli), served in bouillon, and potato salad met us on our arrival, accompanied by copious amounts of red wine –  we weren’t tired and hungry for long and spent a late evening over our meal at our friends’ beautiful home, with plenty of good music (always!!). Such hospitable hosts! IMG_2290IMG_2284

Energies replenished, we set off on Saturday, well booted, hatted and mittened, to investigate a special Christmas market held in the grounds of the Princes of Thurn and Taxis’ castle. We’ve been to a lot of lovely Advent markets but this one is probably the nicest we’ve seen so far, with the castle’s park making it feel as if it were set in woodland, yet the elegance of the baroque building, lots of fire torches set up, fire baskets to warm your hands (and feet!) over and some more original stands than perhaps is usual. The decor was very natural and many of the goods on offer were original and handmade, as well as some less common food specialities – we came away with Christmas spiced honey, for example, and there was marvellous jewellery made out of cutlery! Now we know what to do with the family silver if it’s ever in the way LOL. IMG_2277IMG_2279IMG_2280

After some pretty potent Glühwein, we continued on through the old town, admiring the pretty buildings and lots of lovely decorative architectural details. Many of the old streets have Christmas lights and you can’t get lost because each has a different design! Despite the fortunes of war, there are very few gaps in the long runs of old buildings and the 13th century cathedral towers above the whole town with it’s lacy Gothic spires. A stone bridge crosses the Danube and has done so since the 12th century – it’s a forerunner of and predates the Charles bridge in Prague – on huge stone pediments, below enormous buildings that show how rich the town was, partly due to the salt trade. IMG_2344

Throughout the town there are several picturesque Advent markets, lots of intriguing shops and places to eat and drink all kinds of specialities. I can certainly understand why Regensburg has such a good reputation and is such a popular place to visit at this time of year, though I’m sure it’s gorgeous all the year round. The markets aren’t as big or overwhelming as Munich or Nürnberg, it’s a more cosy and personal feeling here. IMG_2347

Our meanderings were punctuated by stops for snacks and coffee and crowned by a delicious traditional Bavarian meal at a real old-fashioned inn, the Bischofshof, again beautifully decorated and with excellent food and service – just the thing to lull you into contentment after a chilly, rosy, seasonal day outdoors on the markets. Quite delicious. If you can then follow that up with an evening spent lounging and chatting, with more great music, with people who are on the same wavelength: what more could we want?! Our hosts’ children earned our compliments for being so patient and uncomplaining while taking us around their home town all day long – wow :)IMG_2294IMG_2359IMG_2360

A short tour of the Danube ports by car on a cold and drizzly Sunday morning followed by raising our glasses to another meal made by our lovely hosts and it was time to head off to the station for our return journey by train. The pleasure of the weekend and the company stayed with us all the way home and won’t be forgotten for a long time. On the contrary, I think it’s very likely to be “au revoir, Regensburg“!

IMG_2366With architecture like this and the patrician towers throughout town, no wonder Regensburg is known as the Tuscany of the North!

 

 

Acqua Alta a la Svizzera

Well now, that was entertaining!

While I certainly take the severity of the flooding in Germany and the Czech Republic seriously and sympathise with the destruction that it has caused, it was quite an education to see how the Swiss dealt with this last weekend’s heavy flooding of pretty much all waterways.IMG_1549

After weeks of rain, the bout we had last week must, despite the icy temperatures and even snowfall above 1200 metres, have brought a lot of spring waters down with it, and from Thursday night onwards, flood warnings were everywhere in central Europe as streams and rivers rose and rose, threatening to overflow and swamp cellars and streets in any of the towns and villages on their shore.

By Saturday morning, the more mountainous areas of Switzerland had released so much water into the valleys that the Thur and Murg rivers no longer converged, but simply flowed into each other, both having burst their banks… IMG_1583IMG_1551On the other side of the bridge we were standing on, the Thur was almost triple its usual width, having taken in the water meadows on either side. IMG_1561That is actually the water meadow – the river is on the right…!IMG_1563At this particular point, a fireman on either side of the road made sure that nobody attempted to take the riverside paths. All our firemen are volunteers who had been up all night in shifts to pump out cellars and stand watch at strategic points along the rivers, on call in case of any emergency – the chap we spoke to said someone had driven a chopper motorbike across a semi-submerged wooden bridge. Some people! Although there were quite a few people there to see the flooding, there was no panic, no over-excitement and no exaggerated control – several cars had parked along the roadside and as long as they didn’t obstruct traffic, the police who stopped by while we were there made nothing of it nor did they try to distribute any kind of ticket. The atmosphere was relaxed, businesslike and friendly. Nobody worried about all the logs being carried along on the flood waters to the Rhine – they will all be fished out at Schaffhausen by the latest, as there is filtering equipment fitted there (necessary because the Rhinefalls are at Neuhausen!).

We decided to drive on to Stein-am-Rhein, a very pretty little mediaeval town on the Rhine, almost at the German border. The sky had been lightening as we stood on the Thur bridge and by the time we reached Stein, there was even some sun. To my surprise, where the Thur and Murg had been a murky brown brew, the Rhine was crystal clear as it rippled along happily, unlike the rush of the flood waters from the smaller rivers. IMG_1565Here, the water was about 3 feet higher than usual – and just to the right of this photo is the main bridge into town, which delineates the change from the Untersee (Lake Constance) to the River Rhine, which flows through the lake and emerges here. As we watched, one of the pleasure boats went under the bridge – it just fit, and the reason it did was another fact that made us chuckle about the efficient Swiss: the top of the cockpit (where the captain stands) folds down so that when the water is high, it can still get through to Schaffhausen! It takes a good 2-3 metres off the total height of the boat. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it.

Stein-am-Rhein is no stranger to flooding, as these plaques show – IMG_1576IMG_1581 – but this time, there is no need to be concerned, all is contained!

A popular tourist destination, the little town is famous for its painted houses and intact centre, so even if it had still been raining, I suspect there would have been just as many people there! If you do ever go, there are lots of little boutiques and shops as well as plenty of nice places to stop for coffee, cake, crêpes or a meal, either on the riverside or up in the market place! IMG_1601IMG_1569IMG_1575IMG_1594IMG_1591IMG_1596IMG_1583The astounding thing is, I drove over the Thur this morning again (Tuesday). Only 2 days after the above pictures, this is what it looks like: IMG_1621IMG_1625That’s the same tree as in the picture above (see the pink house in the background!).

Again: IMG_1564IMG_1620 In TWO days!!

Happy Valentine’s Week…

Whether you actually approve or not (and I know I’m a day late!), it’s nice to do a little heart-themed thing now and again, just as a small reminder of the love… IMG_1194February is a good excuse to get all the hearts out!

I didn’t post yesterday because I was off gallivanting in Lucerne. Again. :)

This time, I finally made it to the Rosengart Museum. I actually seem to learn more about myself and my tastes when I go to art galleries and exhibitions, and this was no exception. I still don’t like Picasso and even less his later works, of which there are plenty here. Angela Rosengart knew Picasso personally and shows a lot of his sketches in this (permanent) foundation collection. The other main contributing artist here is Paul Klee, who I suppose I ought to like, since he was actually more of a graphic artist, but I’m afraid I didn’t much like these exhibits, either.

Is it my lack of art education or an eye for art? I just don’t seem to understand the majority of modern art. I can appreciate the struggle the artists may have had to try and free themselves from the constraints of everything that had gone before and the probably quite restrictive societies they had grown up in, both regarding culture and religion, but I simply do not get the final results – and least of all, why they should appeal to the extent of being considered valuable and collectible and exhibited with reverence in a museum…

One of the ironies in this collection was that I found I vastly preferred the few impressionist paintings – not usually something I’m easily enthused by, unlike many people (I’m a Dutch masters girl and a realist!). Even the Picassos and Klees are minor works, but there are a couple of rather bland Monets, small Renoirs, two Pissarro landscapes and a rather nice Vuillard with a hint of the Japanese about it – I think that last one is my favourite of the day. However, as the works are so minor, I can’t find many pictures to include… I might go back and get a postcard and edit this post! If anyone is keen, there are also works by Braque, Matisse, Chagall, Mîro and so on. 5597What is appealing about this? Art doesn’t always have to be “pretty” but… I don’t get it.

What I really liked about the Rosengart Museum was actually the building itself. Built for the Swiss National Bank in 1924, I felt it very much had a sense of the Egypt-craze that was going on from around 1922 in architecture and design, before Art Deco took over. It’s really quite reduced and minimalist, with very pleasing proportions and beautiful materials that I found very appealing. There is lovely, delicate plasterwork on and around the ceilings  and a very nice atmosphere throughout. Completely renovated and refurbished in 2002 for its new purpose as an art gallery, it is certainly a wonderful backdrop for art generally and this collection, spanning a period of ca. 1880-1970, but with some emphasis on the early 20th century (as well as late Picasso), is perhaps a fitting one. Rosengart200508161552160.luzern_rosengart_04As is usual in Switzerland, museums have an entry fee – though this one is on the Raiffeisen programme and allows free entry if you have one of their cards. I don’t know what other good deals there may be for Swiss museums if you are visiting! 

Not even trying

I have come to the conclusion that blogging is best done with more regularity than I have been displaying, because after a month, where would I actually begin to catch up?! I promise to try and do better in future.

Suffice to say, a good chunk of that month was spent here

IMG_1082 with Snowface IMG_1076who gallumphed happily through the glittering snow, ears flying, and subsequently displayed a prodigious appetite! Scuol 3

It wasn’t all Narnia-like – but even on greyer days, it’s fun to think the Snow Queen might have been staying at this hotel IMG_1073 or may even have moved into this multi-million $ chalet with rather extraordinary garden decorations (well, for a ski resort!) IMG_1069 We had lots of nice walks and – very carefully, that bridge is HIGH – took some pictures of the Clemgia gorge (this is the River En, which becomes the Inn when it gets down the valley to Austria and goes on to flow through Innsbruck) IMG_1097 We had hot chocolate at sunset – I love the crisp outline of the mountains just after the sun has gone down, like cut-outs IMG_1086 and found a 3km ribbon of ice for skating through the snowy woodland and next to the EnIMG_1091I thought this covered bridge was an attraction, giving access from the old mountain road to the village IMG_1101and then, taking the trouble to read the history of the village, discovered that the little grey and cream stone building on the left there was the “tower” for the original bridge – and yet in those days, the river was twice as full (before the hydroelectric plant down the valley was built in the 70s), so no wonder that by destroying the bridge (multiple times), the villagers had to save themselves through the centuries: fighting off the Catholics and Protestants (the church was reconsecrated several times), the Habsburgs, the French (Napoleon’s troops) and then the Austrians again… and yet tragically, slaughter was still done and the Plague still got in, too. IMG_1099 I hadn’t seen this oven before – I would have thought keeping heat in was more of a priority than not burning the house down (sort of)… I obviously have my priorities wrong!IMG_1112 Remember this pretty square from last year? IMG_1114 Well, I found some more, different house decoration in the upper part of the village, Vi – IMG_1132IMG_1134 and learned that fish and mermaids were used for decoration because of the importance of water to be able to survive in these mountain villages: IMG_1133 Amazingly, there is little more than an hour between this IMG_1115 and this IMG_1117 Tarasp Castle is pretty imposing – although the village remained a Catholic enclave throughout all the religious toing and froing, the family died out pretty early on and it was rebuilt at the turn of the 20th century by a millionaire whose fortune had been made with mouthwash (he was the “Odol-König”!)… IMG_1123

Of course, this was ostensibly a sports holiday, and we swam in the beautiful thermal baths and walked the paths, but we did also do some sledging Scuol 6 Yes, with the dog on my lap – she can’t keep up and the icicles get between her toes, so she sits with me, ears to the wind… quite a vision, I assure you!

Incomprehensibly, the ski pistes were practically empty – we were on our own on the widest, most popular pistes, in the most gorgeous sunshine, for most of the time! IMG_1140 I’m afraid this encourages the following behaviour in snowboarders, shocking, really –  IMG_1143 though resuscitating skiers is probably worse – IMG_1147 but with a pretty good view! IMG_1146The best experience was when the weather did this IMG_1155There was a slight sprinkling of snow being blown around and it was so cold that sunlight caught each and every snowflake and made it twinkle – just as if it was snowing stars! Magic.

See, I distracted you with lots of eye-candy…clever, eh?! Back soon!

Bridging the gap… and Advent 1

They say no news is good news and everything has been fine – just really busy and intense!

IMG_0796 So a long post is probably due…!

Following my last post, my friend and I did indeed visit the Birmingham Art Gallery. The fantastic Edwardian Tea Room impressed us before we even got to the Pre-Raphaelites!

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The Art Gallery was purpose-built (though this hall probably wasn’t originally intended to be a Tea Room!) and was definitely intended to impress and show off the collections in Birmingham, of which the Pre-Raphaelites are only one, and which we simply couldn’t take in all at once. It’s obviously a matter of taste, but I did enjoy looking at the varying styles within that category and finding little details that are simply pleasing…IMG_0731IMG_0732 Isn’t this cat gorgeous?!

Although we are close to Birmingham, I have never really known the city very well and even less so since it’s all been renewed, refurbished and in many cases, utterly changed (i.e. the “new” Bullring Centre!), so I was pleased and surprised to see how grubby old canal areas have been made trendy and lively with a huge amount going on from shops and restaurants to galleries and businesses. As there was a family connection, we also visited a small gallery called the Ikon, thinking we ought to be open to some more modern forms of art… I’m afraid that is all that can be said, as we thought the exhibits more than a little strange and an understanding of “art” that clearly supercedes anything we would consider in that category! But it was interesting to see something different, nevertheless, and we were extremely impressed at how beautifully the old school building had been restored and could appreciate the juxtaposition of the 19th century brick and stonework with the modern additions of glass and steel.  IMG_0734 IMG_0736IMG_0737IMG_0740

Not long after this nice little jaunt, it was time for me to head back to Switzerland, where my family had had to manage without me for a month – unheard of! Finding everything in good order and a warm welcome, I set about preparing for my next absence :o  IMG_0811

As I knew I would be away during Advent, a time of year we all enjoy so much, it seemed to me a logical conclusion to spend the rest of November in a state of pre-Advent, including all those restorative elements such as baking, candles, decorations, downtime with tea, reading, knitting… you name it! It’s the little things like mandarines (clementines/tangerines) being available and an abundance of greenery and plants like poinsettia that make the difference, I suppose. In any case, we managed to spend a lovely three weeks of home comforts and seasonal activities to rival any other perfect Advent: wandering the pretty boutiques and Christmas markets of mediaeval towns (Stein-am-Rhein and Colmar), a little bit of non-stressful Christmas shopping, plenty of tea, cappuccino and hot chocolate, the aforementioned fruits and biscuits and then also a big dinner event with a Christmas show and another evening comedy event with a Christmas theme, plus a couple of visits to the cinema (that would be the new Bond – ace! – and Kristin Scott-Thomas’ latest offering in French – “Dans la maison” – which she does so well). I had time to see my friends for birthdays and days or evenings out or just a cup of tea and a chat, and to spend time with each of my daughters and grandchildren. My youngest daughter and I found time for a baking session (cinnamon stars!) and a couple of shopping trips in preparation for Christmas but also to feed her newfound enthusiasm (via her vocational training) for sewing… All in all a very successful and intense period of time that I thoroughly enjoyed!!

IMG_0767 This young lady is now walking… and still can’t keep still for a photo!

IMG_0784 Gallivanting with Helen in Baden – The Brown house with its collection of Impressionist paintings, interesting family history and beautiful interior IMG_0780 I thought the gardens and topiary very pretty, along with the garden furniture :)

IMG_0788 Still in Baden, one for my husband! The cold, dark day merited plenty of woollies…

IMG_0819 PERFECT weather in Colmar (Alsace, France) – I could bore you stupid with beautiful photos of the mediaeval buildings in Colmar, but thought you may not know that Auguste Bartholdi designed the New York Statue of Liberty, a miniature of which is standing on the little plinth next to him in this monument! IMG_0826IMG_0821IMG_0831IMG_0848IMG_0843IMG_0869IMG_0838…with a pike that probably doesn’t quite rival my grandad’s stuffed one…! IMG_0851Wonderful food in Colmar, too – this was an Apple Strudel that was delicious as well as beautiful!

While on the subject of food, I hasten to recommend the restaurant “Au Rendez-Vous de Chasse” of the Grand Hotel Bristol, just across from the main railway station in Colmar… Both buildings are art nouveau and retain all their turn-of-the-century style. The hotel is very nice, not overdone, and our rooms were lovely, plus the brasserie and breakfasts were excellent. The restaurant, however, is a proper posh French restaurant and my birthday menu was out of this world… http://www.grand-hotel-bristol.com/restaurant-gastronomique-colmar takes you to the website with some beautiful images of the delicious food and how it’s presented!

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Local interest

Although I am staying in the industrial Black Country area of the Midlands (UK), you may be surprised to know that the countryside is never very far away. Within 15 minutes or so, through grubby and often neglected suburbs – even more dismal in the chilly autumn rain – the greenery suddenly increases, the houses become either bigger or more attractive (or both!) and the sides of the road leafier, until you suddenly realise you’re actually in the countryside and travelling through some attractive and picturesque English villages.

I took advantage of the fact that my ladies are now able to manage to make themselves a cup of tea and a sandwich to take a day off, and headed out to the National Trust property of Wightwick Manor, just to the west of Wolverhampton and apparently, exactly 10 miles (16 km) away from my base. Having heard good things about the estate, I was keen to see the William Morris textiles and “Brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelite artists” collection that are such defining elements of this particular house, and I was certainly not disappointed.

Although the house appears to be a Tudor manor, it was in fact built behind the original 16th century house from 1887 onwards, initially a comfortable family home which was soon after extended by as much again to the large manor we see today, presiding over large, well-proportioned lawns and woodland, with beautiful grounds, particularly a generous rose garden and a large kitchen garden – and visitors are permitted to ramble around to their hearts’ content. Perhaps more attractive in warmer, or at least dryer weather!

The Mander family was an important one in Wolverhampton and the present day town centre mall is named after it. It had made its name in varnishes, paints and printing inks from the late 18th century and by the time Theodore Mander came to build Wightwick Manor, he had a large fortune to draw on. The family had originally bought the old house but found it too small for their needs, necessitating the new-build, and then its extension from 1893. Being keen on the late Victorian Arts and Crafts movement and the Aesthetic Movement initiated by the author John Ruskin, the owners built in a “naturalistic”, yet popular “Old English”-style, so that apart from the William Morris wall coverings and textiles, De Morgan tiles feature prominently in the large fireplaces, Kempe glass is everywhere and much of the art is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and others of the era – a marvellous and valuable collection (though a good deal was added post-1937!).

Of course, many of the textiles are a little faded and worn after 130 years or have been introduced or replaced at a later date, and yet it is astonishing how well much of the colours are preserved in the wallpapers. Even if the colour contrasts are no longer quite as vivid in the textiles, they don’t appear frayed or tired, just comfortable and inviting. In fact, the whole house is like that – it makes you want to sit and bide your time. Despite the dark oak panelling in Jacobean style that is a dominant feature of the lower floor, the atmosphere is cosy rather than daunting and many windows of varying sizes and shapes, often bow windows, feature window-seats for sitting and enjoying the lovely views over the lower part of the estate, its lawns and gardens and many many great trees. It’s easy to visualise the ladies in their loose, jewel-toned gowns, having the leisure to sit and sew or knit quietly, or to lose themselves in the extensive collection of books that fills the house – not only in the library, but also overflowing in the Great Parlour and smaller bookcases in the upstairs corridors. There is a calm, comfortable feeling in all the rooms, rather than the pomp and splendour of greater stately homes. Surely the owners enjoyed the books and art themselves and weren’t just collecting these things to show off…

The Great Parlour was the main part of the extension added soon after the house was built, doubling its size. An enormous mediaeval hall with towering vaulted wooden ceiling, fantastic painted panels, Morris wall coverings and upholstery, a huge deep fireplace with sofas either side and fine collections of blue and white china (mainly drainer plates), as well as objects brought back from foreign travels. Along the whole south wall there are large windows, all shapes and sizes, it seems, so that the hall is well lit. It features a minstrel’s gallery above, though that is on the wrong end of the hall to be authentic (we were told), and actually gives access to the visitors’ bedrooms that had become necessary additions to the house as the family’s importance increased; Theodore Mander eventually became Mayor of Wolverhampton. Sadly both he and his wife died young, aged only 47 respectively. His eldest son took over the estate and younger siblings and later went into politics, eventually becoming Sir Geoffrey Mander. Over a period of 50 years, all kinds of important people were entertained at Wightwick, from the Duke and Duchess of York to Captain Scott (of the Antarctic) and Prime Ministers such as Stanley Baldwin! The large, formal dining room and billiard room (for the gentlemen) show how exquisitely they were received.

  Sir Geoffrey Mander

 

Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1870 (completed by Ford Madox Brown)

Interestingly, the day and night nurseries are featured when you tour the house. Our guide pointed out that they were much closer to the family apartments than was common among that class at that time – she suggested it may be due to the fact that Theodore’s wife, Flora, was Canadian and perhaps encouraged a closer relationship to their children than was usual. It is those private bedrooms which are kept separate and inaccessible – members of the Mander family still visit and spend time at the house, descendants from all over the globe, apparently. (After reading the guide, I noticed how bitter the last Mander owner was – perhaps her father was too busy with politics and her mother too busy with cats, Pre-Raphaelites and biographies to be loving parents?! It seems a shame and the house does not reflect her obvious dislike in any way.)

To finish, it is fascinating to see some “behind the scenes” rooms – a large, tiled Cook’s kitchen, pleasant servant’s hall, roomy scullery and laundry but also the in-between rooms such as the boot room or the butler’s pantry and the back stairs…

Unusually for a house with timed tickets and a guided tour, the visitors are free to browse the upstairs and secondary rooms of the house on their own, with only a few stewards available to keep an eye out and to answer questions (they are very knowledgeable). You can try and envisage yourself as an esteemed guest in one of those visitors’ rooms, which aren’t ostentatious but again, comfortable. A large, albeit shared, bathroom is another plus – warm, too, as the house was built with central heating, as well as electricity! One of those rooms has its own writing and dressing room overlooking the east orchard and used to house a large, elaborate bed said to have been slept in by King Charles II on his travels; however, he slept in it at Mosely Old Hall, so that has been removed back to where it came from.

I certainly had a lovely day out, enjoying the tea-room/restaurant with meals including vegetables grown in the Kitchen garden, the browsable National Trust/William Morris shop and the second hand book shop. Upstairs in the old house some Halloween crafts were being offered for children and I noticed there are a number of events planned for the winter season – how lovely to see so much life in a listed property!

And as I came back out, the sun had appeared to emphasise the wonderful colours of the autumn leaves on the mature trees!

Next stop, the Pre-Raphaelites at Birmingham Art Gallery!

(Outdoor photos my own, the rest collected…!)

A Grand Day Out

Autumn has definitely arrived, even the calendar says so. Now we really are into the last quarter of the year, and the weekend was quick to confirm it, with cold, grey rainy days that had us hunkering down with pumpkin and other soups and seasonal fare.

However, Friday dawned beautifully bright and sunny with a clear blue sky that stayed with us for the whole day and as one of my best friends was visiting, it was a great opportunity for a Grand Day Out!

We started off with a pretty quick drive to Lucerne for lunch, probably one of the last we’ll enjoy outdoors this year (and even now we were glad of the warm red blankets supplied by the restaurant!).  And that is just the coffee and dessert!!

We did find it necessary to have a stroll for the sake of our digestion and for some, a bit of a swim among the ducks and as far as we could get away from the swans…

Wool was bought, too – we’re going to make these: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEdf12/PATTbff.php       :) :) :)

My husband had an appointment up a mountain, and while we waited for him, we were amused to witness the tail end of the local cattle market! This was very much a village affair  with not a tourist in sight, and is proof of a couple of things you might have heard about Swiss country life: the cows were wearing big bells and were herded off up the road, clanking their way out up the village high street, and we also saw a dog-cart pulled by Bernese Mountain dogs (wagging all the way and with happy laughing faces!) and led by a couple dressed in the local Sunday traditional costume. (I have video proof but can’t seem to embed those here, unfortunately!) There were also a couple of young women and girls in the workday costumes and most of the men and a lot of children were wearing the typical Edelweiss workshirts…




(The one we saw had two dogs pulling the decorative milk-cart filled with flowery churns!)

Another short drive took us to another lake, further east, to the southern end of Lake Zurich at Rapperswil. Others had taken advantage of the gloriously sunny afternoon for a trip on a big old boat    With weather like this, we had to climb up to the top of the little hill the old town is nestled into, up to the castle 

 

From up here, there is a wonderful panoramic view both up the lake to Zurich and down over the town to the mountains behind – Although Rapperswil is a town of roses, it was figs we found growing up the castle walls! After admiring the old town from above we finished the afternoon off in style with this Sour cherry, redcurrant and blueberry tarts… yum!

Four seasons

I don’t suppose anybody actually noticed that I have been doing this blog for a year, now… well, why would you, especially when time has flown by so fast and August 2012 completely escaped my grasp?! I expect the lost month is simply proof of how time can slip through your fingers. Certainly, I can’t quite see where summer went, weatherwise, since we had only a few days of a heatwave before autumn literally dropped in, ready for September – dropped temperatures, dropped rain and dropping leaves as we speak.

August was a month that saw some birthdays (a great summer kid’s party described over on my daughter’s blog at chaperontachete.wordpress.com), some outdoor movie fun (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a true must-see – at the Open Air Weinfelden), some new starts (my youngest in a new apprenticeship for 3 years and my grandson at Kindergarten), seeing friends for lunch, attempting to find the ideal combination of sun and wind for sailing, the end of an era for another daughter, an emigration and some health upsets in the family. No wonder the month whisked by.

Having seen the dressmaking apprenticeship off to a good start, with a mountain of books and specialist tools to be acquired, I proceeded to accompany my middle daughter to England, where it seems that there will be less of this

 (made by my youngest’s boyfriend, who is training to be a baker!)

and (hopefully!) more of this

Yes, what a dilemma, exchanging Swiss brunches for English cream teas… as long as there is some family along, I think we will agree to enjoy both!

The Oxford area is new territory for me, having only ever been there once before. In a couple of days we managed to explore a good chunk of Oxfordshire, though, from Abingdon  through some delightful small towns (notably Wallingford, Faringdon and Wantage) and adorable villages such as Uffington or Harwell – real thatched-cottage-and-roses-round-the-door stuff, and we even saw part of the Uffington White Horse:

 (this is not one of my photos – apparently you can only see it properly from certain far-off locations or the air, so I was actually a bit disappointed with the one hind leg I could see and am calling it the Uffington Squiggle…still impressive with the surrounding countryside, though)

One of the highlights of the visit was going to be Kelmscott, possibly the most beautiful hamlet (apparently a population of 101…) that is perhaps best known for Kelmscott Manor, rented by William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the late 19th century and later bought by Jane Morris for the family – the name was famously also used for the family’s London house and Press. We did make it to Kelmscott, which is very remote and off the beaten track, and found it to be breathtakingly lovely – and the Manor closed to the public for a private party. Ah well, another day. (wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelmscott) 

Fortunately, Oxford is never closed. Or perhaps unfortunately – I don’t know when the town  might ever have a quiet period, but its fame and popularity mean that it’s either overrun with tourists or with students or both. However, we did at least manage a few snaps and that cream tea above meant we also dodged the raindrops! This leads to the area where the colleges are, which I was interested in, having recently read Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Gaudy Night”, set in Oxford in 1935… perhaps Lord Peter Wimsey might just sweep round the corner! Down that passage there on the left is Brasenose College. (that’s the Bodleian Library on the right…)

There is certainly a lot to see and do in and around Oxford, so I’m looking forward to a few more opportunities, there! Museums and concerts appeal, though I’m not sure I’d go as far as doing the “Morse walk”, the “Alice tour” or any of those tourist offerings. In fact, I did see an episode of “Lewis” while I was in England and kept jumping up excitedly to point out landmarks I’d seen on my visit, and was thrilled to see they’d filmed in the covered market where I’d admired the beautifully arranged fruit and veg behind Laurence Fox and his suspect…

This was the lull before the storm, as apart from a lovely family afternoon with cousins, the rest of my visit to England was taken up with getting to know the National Health System and its defects and juggling the logistics of hospitals with those of looking after my granny and feeling relief that my daughter was close by to provide back-up! All’s well that ends well, though, and the patient is convalescing so that I am back home again, with the other three generations looking after each other, now, instead :) 

Darling buds of May…

Well, as long as we are just about still in May, I really need to catch up with blogworld! It’s been a month that has simply blasted past, and has been beautiful and memorable in many ways, as well as transitioning from cold and wet to sometimes extremely warm and summery, offering opportunities for work and play galore!

The first week of the month, once we’d got Mayday out of the way (a public holiday in many parts of Switzerland, including our own), we were busy packing up and heading off across the border to Alsace-Lorraine, in north-eastern France. Although it’s actually quite close, with Basle sitting comfortably in that little corner between Switzerland-France-Germany and then bordered on the north by the German Palatinate region, where I was born, it’s not really an area we’ve explored much before. Our journey was a very specific one, as it was our first outing on a canal boat and travelling two of the many, many canals that criss-cross not only France but also many other parts of Britain, Germany and the lowlands of Holland and Belgium. The other novelty was that it was our first holiday that properly involved three generations – we were partly there to help out my daughter and son-in-law with the two young grandchildren, a boisterous nearly-4-year old and a nearly-crawling 6 mth old! Fortunately, on this occasion, no dogs were involved…

 So, this was our home for the week – a most generously sized rented canal boat, well protected by fenders all round. With three roomy cabins, everybody had plenty of space and my husband, who is 6’4″, was even able to stand up straight without bashing his head on anything! It was certainly the ideal vesself for exploring canals and it’s a good time of year, too, since although we had a couple of squally days, the weather was mostly fresh and mild and to finish up, even quite hot, with plenty of wind blowing through the trees as we quietly moved up and down the waterways.

Our journey began at a tiny village, Lagarde, in the Lorraine and we made our way through countless “uphill” and “downhill” locks, mooring as we pleased in various places including the pretty village of Lutzelbourg and going as far as Saverne, a small town with a huge bishop’s palace and attractive old town. There was very little traffic – no school holidays – and even when we did go looking for provisions, we usually had cycle a couple of kilometres to find the tiniest épicerie with a range of about 30 articles, mostly processed foods! Fortunately, we did eventually find some shops that sold us beautiful fresh veg and fruit, cheeses and meats, so all was not lost…

The stretch we had chosen had several attractions, one of which was the highest lock in France at Gondrexange, 16 metres high/deep – very impressive! We were all glad we already some lock experience by the time we reached this one, though my daughter and son-in-law took to the boat like ducks to water and were soon relaxed and laid back about locks in either direction (“uphill” or “downhill”!). 

 Another great attraction was the hoisting lock at Arzviller, which carries boats between two levels of canal – amazing and impressive! 

 It’s wonderfully peaceful along the canals, lots of birdsong to be heard and the scenery is beautiful, with some surprising sights, such as the canal between two pools…

 And we did quite fancy doing up a lock-keeper’s cottage or two… It was certainly a no-stress holiday – my son-in-law found time to fish

 We spent time cycling (and arrived home to find a new milk campaign going on…)

Copycats :)

 

 

 

   Wake up in the morning to this… Or this! And as the evenings lengthened and became milder, views like thisNothing can beat sitting looking out at water in a sunset, armed with a suitable drink – and in my son-in-law’s case, a fishing rod!

Little Mireille is already getting quite independent and must be the most consistently sunny baby I have ever known! Adorable! Keeping her brother out of danger proved to be quite a challenge, though we pretty much expected that! (See, the sun did shine, too!) We ate well when we ate out, though service wasn’t always what we’re used to. At this place in Saverne, Restaurant Katz, the most typical Alsacian-style place we went to, the waitress was forgiven for her initial abruptness by her falling in love with the baby and giving her a huge cuddle while announcing what a lovely “crotte” she is – meaning “bundle” but a word also used to describe less savoury objects :o… Ah well. Overall, we were also fascinated by the language – most of the time, we were able to speak our usual Swiss dialect to the locals speaking their own Alsacian dialects, with perfect comprehension between the two, rather than either (or both) of us switching to high German or struggling with French! Fascinating. Of course, the area has been passed around a lot in the course of history, sometimes belonging to Germany and sometimes to France.  Lutzelbourg, taking shelter in a downpour

It’s easy to live on a canal boat like this, life is easygoing and I can see why people spend months and years doing this, taking advantage of the large network of canals across Europe. It requires very little skill or knowledge and it’s hard to think of a more pleasant way to pass the time than spending it “messing about” on a boat, with plenty of leisure for reading (and knitting :)) and really also very well suited as a family holiday, too!

 Well, you can see I’ve had a holiday, can’t you?!