Memorable meals

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Coffee and cake in Vienna is always likely to be on the tourist “things to do list” when visiting the city. So it was with me. We went to Cafe Landtmann, all dark wood, silver cutlery, crisp white tablecloths and waiters in white gloves.

The cafe was frequented in the last century by Freud, and has probably had several other famous visitors across the threshold since it was opened in 1873. It had a genteel  hushed atmosphere, and it was comfortable and rather posh in a traditional way.

I have to be honest and say that the cakes weren’t as good or delicious or exceptional as I’d expected or anticipated. Although they looked mouthwatering they were actually a bit disappointing. I guess the coffee must have been ok but again, not memorable; it was beautifully served.  All in all it is the experience, surroundings, decor and location that I remember more than anything else.

Which leads me to ponder on which of our senses we engage with if we say a meal or dining experience is memorable? For me in Cafe Landtmann it wasn’t the food or drink (taste) but the old-fashioned tasteful decor (sight).

A truly memorable meal which involved all five senses for me  was the first bowl of onion soup I ever had in the Paris flea market over 50 years ago, in a rough and ready, warm and steamy cafe full of Parisiens. There were long tables with benches where people sat alongside each other. It was noisy (hearing) and it was unavoidable not to rub shoulders with other diners (touch).

Of course, not all memorable meals are good ones. My other half shudders at the thought of the weekly family meal of liver – the look, taste, smell and texture have stayed with him since childhood. I don’t like marmalade and was once forced into a battle of wills with my mum over some marmalade sandwiches I was given. I never liked the stuff before this incident and now find the taste and smell of marmalade disgusting.

Apologies to marmalade lovers; I do like the colour.

Yellow fields

I don’t have an image which truly expresses the parched yellowness of the French countryside I travelled through recently.

France, in September when I was there, was dry, dusty and gasping for rain. I travelled through part of eastern France to Burgundy, the Dordogne and then northwards, on the western side on my way back to the UK.

In the eastern, near-empty areas, the fields were yellow, some admittedly because crops had been harvested, their stubble like a blonde buzz cut. This mainly agricultural area is one of lakes and big open fields, the yellowness unbroken apart from a few small woods and very few hedgerows.

France doImage result for north by northwestesn’t do hedgerows nowadays;  parts of it look like large prairies. The roads running through areas like this remind me of the scene from the classic thriller North by North West, where Cary Grant, standing at a bus stop in the US prairies  is attacked by a crop-spraying plane.

It’s a depressing fact that in France, shooters will take pops at birds and wildlife…but then what chance do birds and wildlife have to breed and prosper in an environment almost devoid of naural features like hedgerows?

The journey was made in warm sunshine. A clear blue sky with a few perfect cotton-wool clouds provided a stunning contrast to the yellow countryside. It wasn’t just harvested fields which were yellow; grass had turned to straw in meadows, and where the soil had been ploughed or tilled, the earth was varying shades of burnt umber, sienna and ochre.

France had had a summer of intense heat, which is why these yellow fields were in evidence pretty much everywhere I travelled. It was still very hot in the Dordogne, with July/August temperatures, making it the hottest I’ve experienced in this area in September. Not quite like usual. Not normal.

This is the new “normal” we have to get used to as climate breakdown sets in and time begins to run out to restrain or halt it. We’ll be having extremes of heat and wet, bringing flooding, disruption and danger to life (just as intense heat does).

This is just one of the concerns of Extinction Rebellion, who are bringing the breakdown of the web of life to public attention with peaceful demos and non-violent activities. Like it or not, environmental concerns are real and breakdown is happening now. Just keep an eye on the global weather and you’ll get the picture.

Image courtesy of no6cinema.co.uk

The annual photo challenge

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We’re just back from France, having toured in our motorhome for the past 4 weeks through Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and France. We ended up for some R&R at our favourite lush and floral campsite in the Dordogne region, near the River Vezere.

In September there are banks of colourful flowers like these, attracting, bees, butterflies and hummingbird hawk moths. The annual challenge is to get a half decent photograph of  one of these furry moths in action. They move fast, their wings are ususally a blur, and worst of all, they flit rapidly from one flower to another, so the chances of getting a shot often becomes less likely as they seem to know when the lens is on them.

This one isn’t too bad; it’s the best of the bunch. But whenever we visit this campsite I go back for more of what I call photographic torture!

More of our travels to follow – life back in Blighty has be caught up on – but here are links to a few earlier posts with photos from the same location taken at the same time of year.

Hummingbird hawk moth on orange flower – not too bad, this one.

Carpenter bee smothered in pollen.

Clouded yellow butterfly on wild scabious.

A selection of insects, all photpgraphed in the same location.

Valley of the Saints

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On a grey, chilly, windy day in August I visited the Valley of the Saints in northern Brittany. Like a modern-day line up of Easter Island-like giant statues, some of the many religious saints associated with bringing Christianity to Brittany are depicted in stone, sculpted by modern-day artists who are taking part in this developing project.

About 50 saints are already in place, standing proud on a windy hillside with views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. Each one is different and has it’s own story – there is a guidebook outlining the story of each saint, and there are guides too, to tell their stories.

The teenager in our Anglo-French family group took it upon himself to entertain the younger members of the group, making up stories for them about the statues and acting as an alternative guide – his stories were very funny and creative and while the children half-beleived what he was saying, the adults were chuckling a lot. If there was a saint with a sense of humour somewhere on that hillside, he or she would have been proud of our alternative guide and his amusing tales.

The saint with an axe in her head, pictured above, is touching a lion’s head – you can just see it’s teeth. Our alternative guide’s take on this one was that she reminds us to be kind to animals and the environment, otherwise we will come to a nasty end.

I fully concur with that.

Grandchild on board

“Oooh, Audrey’s got a TV too!” said granddaughter, as I removed the cover from the flat screen TV so she could watch her Mr. Benn DVD. Audrey is the name of our Murvi Morello campervan; Mr Benn is classic children’s TV from the late 1970s when her dad used to watch this same programme.

On site Freidrichshafen

When we put in the order for our Morello we asked for an extra bunk to fit in the cab area so we could initiate granddaughter into the delights of going on holiday in our palace on wheels. We were shown how to set up the bunk on handover day, and I tried it for size and accessibility, but we had yet to use it for real. That was granddaughter’s job.

At 3 years old, and rapidly approaching her 4th birthday, we took her away for her first trip – two nights at the Caravan & Motorhome Club site at Chatsworth in the last chilly days of May. Excitement was running high when we set off over what she called the “mountains” (Peak District), but she had yet to see where she would be sleeping. The van was set up for transporting passengers, which meant a bit of push and shove as the long sofa was transformed into a back seat with seat belts. The child seat was strapped into one of them, and I was strapped into the other; she wanted Nanny to sit next to her while Granddad got on with the driving. We were on familiar ground here as she’d already taken a preliminary trip in Audrey the Van with her dad sitting next to her.

On arrival, the seat was magicked back into a sofa while she and I took an exploratory walk around the campsite. She liked looking at the vans and asked why some of them had tents (awnings) on them. She also liked the walk we had in the grounds of Chatsworth, and the ice cream she had at the end of it. But would she like the bed?

She ate hungrily, watched Mr. Benn and had some stories. She liked having two tables in the van where she could do her colouring in, and was fascinated by the loo flush mechanism and the way the lights in the van could be changed to ambient blue. She happily got ready for bed. We made it up so that her head was on the driver’s side, loaded it with the soft toys she’d brought and pulled the dividing curtain across, leaving a gap at the foot end for a bit of reassuring light to get through. Once in bed she made token gestures towards sleep but our expectations were realistically low. Rightly so too. She insisted on turning the whole lot around so her head was on the passenger side where she could peep around the curtain.

M in van bed

She proceeded not just to peep but to play, giggle, bounce, sing and generally be as naughty as she dared while we ate our meal and tried not to let on we were laughing too. At 10.25, her mum sent a text saying. “So is she asleep yet?!” and I firmly (but lovingly) read the riot act. She slept.

The next day we tired her out with a full day of walking through the parkland to Chatsworth House and a visit to the farm and adventure playground. That night she slept like a log. And she wants to go away in Audrey the Van again, claiming the bed is much better than the one she sleeps in at our house.

This was written when granddaughter was 3 and went on her first motorhome holiday. She’s now just turned 10, has several van trips under her belt and loves the whole camping experience.

Chatsworth Caravan & Motorhome Club site

Set in a walled area/ large walled garden. Broken up into smaller areas and cul de sacs. Many trees and shrubs, green areas, small children’s play area, reasonably well-stocked shop in reception. Baby/toddler bathroom (£5 key deposit). Direct access to the Park from campsite. Approx 20 mins walk to Chatsworth House and Gardens. Farm offers guinea pig handling, goat and cow milking demonstrations, tractor rides plus horses, sheep, pigs, chickens etc. Adventure playground excellently appointed with top notch activity equipment for young and older age groups, water play, treetop walkways, trampoline. There’s a first aid post on site with magazines for parents/guardians to borrow and browse while the children play.

This edited and updated article first appeared in the Murvi Club in-house e-magazine.