Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bad Tatzmannsdorf - Austria

Bad Tatzmannsdorf is a small spa town of approximately 1500 people in the Oberwart district of Austria, and is one of Austria's leading health and wellness resorts.

The area was ruled by a Hungarian noble family as early as 1378, and has been settled by Germans, Turks and Croats through the centuries. It became a favourite health resort for "cures" for the Austrian aristocracy from the 1700s onwards.

We stopped for an afternoon for the Men of Note concert that was scheduled at the Kurzentrum Concert Hall in Bad Tatzmannsdorf.

One of the Men of Note members was born in Germany and is fluent in German, so was able to introduce the choir and the musical numbers to the mainly German speaking audience. Good idea, as the current repertoire is sung in English or Latin.

The Kurzentrum at Bad Tatzmannsdorf hosts a variety of cultural and recreational events including lectures, readings, recitals and concerts, as well as providing running and walking trails and spa and wellness activities for guests.

The gardens were filled with fragrant lavender, and we noticed some very large hovering insects who were enjoying the flowers' nectar. They looked like what I imagine a baby humming bird would be, but they were hoverflies or hoverbees. 
Edited: I have been told that this is a hummingbird hawk moth. A fascinating creature.

After the concert we stopped at the nearby Weinstadl restaurant for an Austrian buffet dinner. Lots of meat and potatoes!

And of course when in Austria, one has to sample the local brew. Puntigamer is a traditional beer from Styrias provincial capital Graz, and famous in Austria for its football sponsorship. Puntigamer supports Austria's First League football club "Sturm Graz". 
More pictures to come.
If you have visited Bad Tatzmannsdorf, leave me a comment and tell me about it.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Panda-monium! (updated)

A break from travels in Europe to visit the Giant Pandas at Toronto Zoo.

Er Shun and Da Mao arrived on loan (an 8000 mile journey via FedEx MD-11F cargo plane) from China in 2013, and will be here in Toronto until 2018, when they are scheduled spend the next 5 years in the Calgary Zoo. But if a sweet little baby panda should arrive, those arrangements may change. Toronto Zookeepers are keeping their fingers crossed.

Er Shun - female Giant Panda. Born at the Chongquin Zoo on August 10 2007 and was raised by her mother. Her name means Double Smoothness.

Da Mao - male Giant Panda. Born on September 1 2008 at the Chengdu Research Base of Panda Breeding. His name means First of Mao.
Giant pandas diet is 99% bamboo, eating around 100lbs of bamboo a day, and at the zoo they are also offered biscuits, dog chow, apples and sometimes sugar cane or icicles as a treat. And something you've always wanted to know.... they poop about 40 times a day.

The fresh bamboo is shipped to Toronto by FedEx two or three times a week from the Memphis Zoo bamboo plantation.

Er Shun and Da Mao live in separate enclosures most of the time but they have met and investigated each other. Apparently Er Shun was more interested in making friends than Da Mao, who just wanted to go to sleep. Typical man! Giant Pandas only have one short reproductive cycle per year between March and May, and gestation is about 45 days. Newborn pandas are pink, no hair, and blind, and very tiny, weighing less than 200 grams. If twin babies are born, the mother only cares for one, so the keepers have to swap the babies between the nursery and the mother every couple of days.

It would be lovely to have a baby Giant Panda born here. I hope you have a naughty twinkle in your eye, Da Mao!

Update October 13 2015: Er Shun gave birth to TWO baby pandas this morning! Too early to congratulate Da Mao as Er Shun was artificially impregnated too..... 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Dining out in Ljubljana

Roaming the cobbled streets of Ljubljana made us hungry, and we wanted to sample an authentic stick-to-the-ribs Slovenian dinner. A friendly English speaking lady in a jewellery shop recommended a visit to Špajza at Gornji trg 28 for traditional Slovenian food

A little red house on a small street in the old town. Menu in English and Slovene.

I have unashamedly stolen a photo of the interior of the restaurant from the Špajza Facebook page. Charmingly rustic. Friendly waiters. Creaky floorboards. Not cheap, but really tasty food.

The appetizer for two, no idea what it was called . A cube of omelette topped with some garlicky cream, and accompanied by fresh warm home made bread. Nice presentation.

I chose Veal medallions with asparagus. It was melt in the mouth good. I'm sure everyday Slovenians don't eat this well every day! Also on the menu was "small horse" prepared a variety of different ways. I didn't try it but I've since heard that it is sweet and tender.... maybe next time, if there is a next time!

My friend V chose baked fish, but I can't remember what kind it was. The green "leaves" are pea puree. She pronounced the meal delicious!
We skipped dessert at the restaurant as we wanted to sample the fancy cakes available at the outdoor cafes along the old streets. We stopped at Cafe Zvezda near Congress Square. It was so hard to decide... chocolate, or nectarine, or strawberry, or......  Yes, it was worth the wait, so yummy.
More pictures to come.
If you have visited Ljubljana, please leave me a comment and tell me about it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is the largest city in Slovenia, with a population of just over 270,000. We only spent a few hours there, but I'd love to go back. It's a charming old town on the Ljubljanica River, overlooked by Ljubljana Castle (Ljubljanski grad).

The original medieval fortress Ljubljana Castle dates from the 11th century, but was rebuilt in the 15th century with additions in the 16th and 17th centuries. It's been an arsenal, a prison, a residential complex, and now a major tourist attraction and cultural centre. The outdoor stage in Congress Square is for the annual Ljubljana Summer Festival. 

The view from the top of the Outlook Tower over the medieval city. Up until just a few years ago, the treed space on the right was an ugly parking lot. The current mayor has moved the parking underground and created a pleasant central park area.
To get to the top of the Outlook Tower, there are two circular staircases, one up, and one down. Make sure you are going in the right direction, there is no room to pass on the stairs.
Love Locks on the Butcher's Bridge.... pledge your undying love with a padlock and then throw the key into the river. If the relationship fizzles out, do you have to dive into the river to find the key?

Part of the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje), and the statue of Slovenian national poet France Prešeren in the Square of the Republic. That's his muse perched on the column behind him. Poets always have a muse!

We wandered through the old medieval streets and along the river, enjoying the atmosphere and the ambiance. I'd love to visit again, with a bit more time to explore.

More pictures to come.
If you have visited Ljubljana, please leave me a comment and tell me about it.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Bled, Slovenia

The Republic of Slovenia. Do you know where it is? Just north of Italy, south of Austria, a little to the west of Croatia, and occupying tiny stretch of Adriatic coastline. Slovenia split from the former Yugoslavia and became an independent country in 1991. A member of NATO since 2004 and joined the Eurozone in 2007.

Bled is a charming spa town of just over 6000 people in Northwest Slovenia. Bled Castle has stood at the top of this rocky cliff 100 meters above Lake Bled since the 11th century. The crane is a much later addition.

The choir gave a concert in St. Martin's Church (Župnijska cerkev svetega Martina). The Neo-Gothic church was completed in 1905, and contains a number of frescoes painted in 1930, one portraying Lenin as Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. They weren't too keen on Lenin.

We did some shopping at the local grocery store. Better get that bad apple out of there!

This friendly gentleman was demonstrating his lookalike bookmarks that he was selling in his souvenir shop. He was the proud dad of two daughters, one was a ballet dancer, and the other was the Slovenian mountain biking champion.

A wall of canisters of tea.... every flavour you could imagine. I bought some fragrant herbal tea to take home as gifts.

Above: A topographic map of the area around Bled displayed on the main street.... these mountains are the Julian Alps, a popular winter sports destination. A showery day, but the rain didn't spoil our enjoyment of a lovely town.

More pictures to come.
If you have visited Bled in Slovenia, please leave a comment and tell me about it.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

4 + 4 = 8

Yep, another year (or should that be two?) has gone by in the life of the twinnies.

Mummy planned a chocolate layer cake, but before she had a chance to put it together, the twins came into the kitchen asking "which one is mine?" so they had a cake each. 
Happy, happy, happy.

Back to Europe trip pics in next post!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Venice 3

St. Mark's Square, Piazza San Marco, is the social, political and religious centre of Venice, and also home to shops in the Merceria displaying all sorts of touristy items, mostly overpriced. And of course, the inevitable teeshirt and hat booths enticing you to spend some euros on souvenirs to take home.

Piazza San Marco looking towards St Mark's Basilica and it's bell tower. The west facade of the church is comprised of great arches, and marble decorations, and Romanesque carvings around the central doors. The square is ideal for the fat pigeons who congregate there hoping for hand outs from the tourists.

St. Mark's Campanile is the free standing bell tower of the Basilica. The original 9th to 12th century bell tower was built on Roman foundations. Through the centuries the tower was damaged by lightning strikes and fire and was often under repair. In 1902 the tower collapsed (the caretaker's cat was the only victim, how sad) and was rebuilt on the same Roman foundations in 1912, 1000 years after the original construction.

The front of Saint Mark's Basilica is covered with decorative carvings. The first St. Mark's church was completed in AD 832, burned in 976, and rebuilt in 978. The current church was consecrated around AD 1093, but has seen many changes since then. Gradually the outer brickwork became covered with marble and carvings.

 Details of the doors of the basilica. Each door shows a different animal face. Dogs? Cats? Devils?

The Men of Note's first performance on the concert tour was at evening Mass in St. Mark's Basilica. What an honour to raise their voices in such a beautiful church. Some of their repertoire sung in Latin: Veni Creator Spiritus, Morte Christi, and Ave Maris Stella.
Unfortunately it wasn't possible to video the performance, even though we had prior permission.
No foto! Nessun video! Non possibile!

Most of Venice is built at sea level so after a very stormy and rainy day, the rainwater has nowhere to go, and water was bubbling up out of the drains to flood St Mark's Square. St Mark's Campanile reflects in the puddles. 

more pictures to come
If you have visited Venice, leave me a comment and tell me about it.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Venice 2

Our second day in Venice was a bit rainy and pleasantly cool. I'll take damp cool weather any day over HOT and steamy!

We took the No. 1  vaporetto from San Marco all the way along the Grand Canal to Piazzale Roma. The water bus stops at 20 stations on it's way along the Canal..... the main local bus route through Venice.

The stone Rialto Bridge, Ponti de Rialto, has spanned the Grand Canal since 1591. But the bridge you see here is an image of the bridge on a construction cover, the actual bridge is undergoing some repair and renovation. 

The gondolas are traditional flat bottom rowing boats. Venice law says that all gondolas are painted black, and there are over 400 of them in active service carrying tourists. Gondoliers have to go through a long apprenticeship before earning one of the 425 gondolier licenses. 
Venice approved it's first woman gondolier in 2010.
Is Venice sinking? Lots of people think it is. The city has it's origins on swampy islands in the middle of a lagoon. Recent studies show that sea levels are rising, and the city is subsiding ever so gradually. One study says the city is sinking 3 to 4 cm per century, another study says 10 cm.
Better visit Venice while it's still there!

No Mafia! Venice is sacred!

More pictures to come.
If you have visited Venice, please leave me a comment and tell me about it.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Venice 1

I'm back from a couple of weeks on a European Concert Tour with the "Men of Note", our town's male voice choir. The first stop was Venice, only for two days, but we saw so much of the beautiful city. What a wonderful place! There's nothing like it anywhere. Everyone should see Venice at some time in their lives.... it should be mandatory.
Our first day was HOT, 29C, which was brutal especially after a long and tiring overnight flight from Canada. Our second day was rainy, stormy, and a lot cooler, thank goodness.

There are 433 bridges over the Venice canals, connecting around 126 islands, all with steps up and steps down.... we didn't cross all of them but by the end of the day my aching legs felt like we did!

View from the vaporetto taking us from the Tronchetto coach park into Venice. We shared the vaporetto with a student group from Poland, and exchanged songs, our men's chorus singing in English, and then the students answering with songs in Polish. Lots of cheering and applause.  Music is an international language. 
A magical memory.
Our knowledgeable guide on the walking tour. A walking encyclopedia as far as Venezia history is concerned.

Crowded outside the Doge's Palace? No not really.... just wait until July and August.

The Bridge of Sighs connects the Doge's Palace with the Prisons. 
Tradition says convicts had a final look at the beautiful city before being led to their cells, or to a date with the executioner. Sigh.....

More pictures to come. 
If you have visited Venice, please leave me a comment and tell me about it.