Monthly Archives: July 2015

Weekly Photo Challenge – Close up

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This Week’s photo challenge theme is Close up. We were in the Czech republic this weekend, and I enjoyed taking photos of the bees and butterflies busy at work in one of my favourite flowers, Echinacea purpurea. Even with cellphones these days you can take close-ups, although obviously it’d be better to have a proper camera with a nice macro lens to get a sharper focus and finer details. This photo was taken with a Nexus 5 cellphone. The hard part was getting the insects to sit still! Here are some more photos of the bugs’ world. Continue reading

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Middle Europe Weekly Small Pleasures #8 – Summer thunderstorms

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It was quite a nice week. This summer is much more like my first summer here than last year, with lots of “Gewitter” (thunderstorms) in the evening, bringing heavy downpours of rain. I like summer rain, when it’s been hot and humid, and suddenly with a crash of thunder and a flash of  lightning, the clouds open and drench the earth with water. Since it’s not cold, it’s nice to open the windows and let the cool breeze waft through the apartment, inhale the smell of rain on earth, and listen to the rain pouring down.

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I also enjoyed an impromptu dinner J prepared. I was tired and had come home from German class, and he put together some feta, olives and cherry tomatoes on a plate, which we ate with sesame and rye crackers and a bottle of cider. It’s such a simple meal but somehow so delicious. We ate the same once for breakfast after visiting one of the Turkish supermarkets here and buying a big can of mixed olives and a large pack of good white cheese. When I visited Turkey they served white cheese, olives, tomatoes and cucumber for breakfast, so we did the same.

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On Thursday some friends came around for dinner, and J made one of my favourite Czech dishes, meat and knedlicky (bread dumplings) with a dill sauce. I’ll post the recipe for this some time (and a photo), as it’s a good one. This time he cooked the meat (beef) in the pressure cooker his mom gave him for Christmas, and it turned out lovely and tender. For dessert I made a lemon fridge tart, which required some experimentation with German jelly. In South Africa the jelly includes sugar but here it doesn’t, so I just premixed the packet contents with the amount of sugar suggested on the packet and then used the amount of one packet of the German one (plus sugar), hoping that it’d be a similar quantity to one packet of South African jelly powder. The dessert set nicely, so it worked out.

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In the weekend we went to Czech to visit J’s family on the farm. The weather was great and the plums, apricots and peaches were in season, so we were picking them and eating them directly off the trees. We went swimming at the lake, walked the dogs, spent time outside in the garden and just enjoyed a relaxing weekend, as it’s always nice to see everyone again. For breakfast on Sunday his mom made an amazing savoury “cake”, which consisted of layers of bread, cheese, peppers, ham and salami, sandwiched together and covered with cream cheese. You serve it by cutting a slice and eating it with a knife and fork. I’ll definitely have to try making one of these one day!

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To share the good moments in your week, join the Small Weekly pleasures blog event over at A New Life Wandering. Have a good week!

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Colourful World: Turquoise and Teal

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge focuses on Turquoise and Teal this time around.  The shades formed by  the colours blue and green combined are probably my favourite of the colour spectrum. Here are just a couple of photos from a brightly painted bridge near Eberswalder in Germany, a dragonfly at Liepnitzsee (in Brandenburg, north of Berlin), the beautiful green-blue waters of Liepnitzsee itself, and the crystal clear aquamarine waters of the Julian Alps in Slovenia (the colour is apparently caused by glacial powder). Till next time!

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The IKEA experience

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There is no IKEA in South Africa. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of IKEA before coming to Europe, which most people here find unbelievable, considering it’s the largest furniture store chain in the world.
So for us South Africans coming to Europe, a trip to IKEA is an outing in itself.

Basically the central concept of IKEA (a Swedish chain) is build-it-yourself furniture and a shop that is laid out like a sightseeing tour of rooms, followed by an area selling household items and then a warehouse selling the boxes of furniture. Here is the general IKEA experience: Continue reading

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Weekly photo challenge: Half and Half – in Ireland

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is Half and Half. The idea is to share a photo that has two halves, either literally or figuratively.

“This week, share an image that has two clear halves, literally or figuratively. You could focus on composition, like me, and take a photo with an explicit dividing line (either vertical, horizontal, or diagonal). Or take the theme in other directions: zoom in on a pair of objects that together form a whole. Show two people whose demeanor or personality complement each other. Or bring into balance two opposing visual elements — light and dark, color and its absence, sharp focus juxtaposed with blurriness.” – Ben Huberman

i wanted to (and might still) search through my photos for some other interesting takes on half and half, but the first thing that sprung to mind was some photos I took in Ireland. Ireland is, indeed, the emerald isle. How could it not be with all that rain? I found it a beautiful and dramatic landscape, with many rolling green hills and open expanses of sky filled with dramatic clouds, as well as cliffs overlooking the deep blue Atlantic ocean. The division between land and sky became a recurrent theme in the photos I took there, and turned out to be my favourite from the trip. So for my half and half I choose Earth and Sky.

By the way  – there is no photoshopping at all here – Ireland really is that green!

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Traditional Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields,

and till we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

 

 

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Middle Europe Weekly Small Pleasures #7 – Summer flowers

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Two weekends ago we took a trip to the Baltic coast, and last week we were in Spain for four days. Apart from these great weekend trips, it has been all work work work. But in the weekend, although I also had to go to work for a bit, we had the opportunity to go for a walk in the park near where I used to live, where we enjoyed the summer flowers. This afternoon we also got to relax and BBQ in the garden of a friend-of-a-friend in the outskirts of Berlin. When you live in an apartment in Berlin, like many, it’s always a luxury to relax outside in a garden. Here are some pictures of the summer flowers that are out at the moment in Berlin. To see what others have been up to this week, check out the Weekly Small Pleasures blog event.

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Tinto de verano – a Spanish summer drink!

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J and I recently went to southern Spain for four days, a glorious four days of hot sun, blue skies and beautiful buildings with Moorish architecture such as the Royal Alcázar in Sevilla and the Alhambra in Granada. We still need to sort out our photos, so more about that later. For now, I want to share a new drink I tried for the first time on this trip, very popular in Spain. It is called tinto de verano, red wine of summer, and is perfect for a hot day. Here is how you make it:

Add 1 part of red wine to 1 part of lemonade (e.g. Sprite or lemon Fanta), add a few slices of lemon and some ice blocks, and voila! Tinto de verano. So simple and yet so delicious and refreshing for summer. Drink it and picture that you are sitting at a cafe in a cobblestone street in Spain, enjoying the warm summer evening 🙂

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Nakládaný hermelín (Cheese marinated in chilli and garlic oil)

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Hermelín is the Czech version of Camembert cheese, and can be eaten as is or marinated in oil (nakládaný), fried in breadcrumbs (smažený) or grilled (grilovaný). When he came across a pile of cheap Camemberts in Rewe, J was inspired to make the marinated version. That was one and a half weeks ago:  today we dined on delicious, spicy, herby cheese served with bread to mop up the flavoursome oil, and a glass of our favourite new drink from Spain, tinto de verrano. Here is how he made it (of course, he never measures anything, but it’s not really necessary with this):

Ingredients for an average sized jar:

Hermelin or Camembert cheese (he used three – take as many as you can stuff into your jar)

canola oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped into small pieces

about 8 garlic cloves, cut into quarters or pieces

chillies, chopped into pieces (the amount and type depends on how much heat you like)

bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice (pimento)

Method:

Cut the cheese into chunks and put into a clean jar. (For tips on sterilizing jars, see here). Add the onions, garlic, chilli and spices, then top up the jar with oil. Close the jar and leave to marinate for about 2 weeks (not more than 6 weeks). We put ours in the fridge, but apparently this is not necessary. Serve with nice big slices of crusty bread to mop up the oil.

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Weekly photo challenge – Symbol

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This week’s photo challenge theme is Symbol. For me the ultimate symbol of freedom is a bird flying high in the skies. I always think of this most when I’m at the beach, there is a gusty, slightly salty breeze, the hot sun reflects off the sand, the waves crash down on the shore, and the seagulls are soaring up above. Then you can fill your lungs with fresh sea air and feel free from all the stresses of daily life!

In German class we were talking about freedom in a few lessons, for example as it related to East and West Berlin, and to the communist bloc. Our German teacher always takes the more controversial side of the argument so that we can practice our German in discussion, and said that after the wall fell, unemployment rose in former East Germany, so what was so great about the wall falling and the reunification? Weren’t people better off before? People answered that the important thing was freedom, that now people had the choice where to live, what to buy, what to learn, freedom of speech. Nobody likes to be dictated to, to have their own free will taken away. Somehow, it is universally important to people to have freedom.

 

 

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Travel memories and trinkets #1 Spanish souvenirs

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Whichever travel destination you go to, you are bound to come across souvenirs for sale. Why are souvenirs so popular? Well, after a great trip, it doesn’t take long until the realities of everyday life make the holiday seem like just a lovely dream. That’s when it’s nice to look at or hold your souvenir and remember: I was really there. The word souvenir itself comes from the French word for memory. Looking at the souvenirs triggers memories of the place where you found them. And of course, some people like it when you bring back some little presents!

Leanne, author of the blog Nihongojapongo about life in Japan and other travels, has come up with a blog challenge: the Travel Trinkets and Memories challenge. J and I just got back from a 4 day trip to Spain, so I thought I’d write a bit about my Spanish souvenir and some of the other Spanish souvenirs on offer.

I guess not many women could resist coming home from Spain without a fan. They are both beautiful and functional! We visited Seville (Sevilla) in Andalusia, the home of flamenco, where the fan is used artistically by flamenco dancers. Seville is also in the hottest area in Spain, where a fan seems almost a necessity (we were there in a cooler spell – 38 degrees every day rather than the 41 degrees they had on either side of our visit!). Fans were first pictured in ancient Greek art from around the 4th century BC, and in China there is still a fan in existence that was made in the 2nd century BC. The European fans used to be rigid fans, until the folding fan was introduced from Asia in the 17th century via the travels of explorers, and became very popular.

My friend living in Spain said that fans are usually cheaper there because they are a specialty of that area. It’s true that they were cheaper than in Granada. There’s many different kinds of fans, made of different materials and with different paintings and decorations. I came across mine within an hour of arriving in Seville, as my friend had mentioned that there was a market on Feria street near to her apartment, so we stopped there on our way through the narrow cobblestone streets from the train station. At the market were lots of interesting secondhand toys, books, ornaments, music, stamps and so on. A lady sold me this beautiful blue fan for only 1,50 euros.

Other souvenirs we saw for sale in Andalusia included summery colourful skirts and dresses in Granada, orange, bergamot and jasmine scented soaps and perfumes in Seville, little bull and flamenco dancer figurines, bottles of Spanish olive oil, and books about the different towns, as well as Andalusian and Spanish history. The library in Granada was especially good for picking up some Spanish history books, and because of the heritage of Islamic architecture in the area, they also had colouring books of Islamic geometric patterns, which are very tempting once you have seen the beautiful designs at Alhambra and feel like decorating your own house. In fact many souvenirs for sale (notebooks, pencils) were decorated with Islamic patterns, and they also sold tiles in some places, although these were more expensive. And in case you wanted to remember Spain by preparing some local dishes back at home, they also had many books of tapas recipes for sale!

What interesting souvenirs have you seen in Spain, and do you have any favourite Spanish trinket or memory?

 

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