Monday, September 16, 2013

IGS 2013: Stop and Smell the Roses

The International Garden Show (IGS) is in nearby Hamburg this year and we didn't want to leave Germany without a visit.  So we picked the German weatherman's best fair weather day last week and headed out early in the fog the hour to the city, hoping to beat the traffic and praying that the rain will hold off long enough to enjoy some horticulture.
The exhibition space covers 5,000 square meters (140 football fields) and is installed at Wilhelmsburg Island Park between the northern and southern branches of the Elbe River just south of the major northern German port city.

The theme of the show is "Around the World in 80 Gardens" and we were looking forward to enjoying new horticultural ideas and inspired landscape design with an urban twist.....and we were not disappointed.

The inspirational gardens have been created by 80 different famous landscape architects from around the world highlighting different cultures, climates and vegetation zones of Earth.  They are designed to stimulate the senses, and some make you feel like you are out of this world altogether!

 The first pavilion was dedicated to the Gerbera or African daisy, named in honor of the German naturalist and botanist Traugott Gerber (early 1700s).  Very popular and widely used as a garden and cut flower, there are thousands of cultivars.

The pavilion was a white tent with beautiful soft light illuminating the flowers - perfect for photography!  Of course, there is nothing a couple of gardener/photographers like more than taking close-ups of flowers and that we did, trying not to get carried away.  We had the whole show ahead of us!

One of the most prominent features of the show was the vast amount of space that was devoted to the "World of Activity." All of the activity features are available for use during the show (and perhaps afterwards) and for children's excursions, birthday parties, school groups, etc., a great thought for the middle of a city.
Climbing Wall
Skate Park

Water Soccer (about 1 ft. deep)

And a 7000 square meter area with a High Wire Garden with challenges from 3 to 11 meters.  Children and adults are tethered and encouraged along by guides, building strength, endurance, flexibility, but also self-confidence.

One of the many "futuristic" features of this IGS is the monorail overhead, which has 8 trains and can take up to 2,000 guests an hour along the 3.4 kilometer long circular route with a panorama view of the garden show site.  Designed by Intamin, international builder of amusement rides and people movers, the design corresponds with the Jules Verne theme.  

Gardens of the Future were very interesting including this Garden on Mars:

And this cynical "Last Straws" which will save us from the water shortages brought on by climate change:

Also environmentally conscious was this garden with containers signifying the amount of water it takes to build an automobile - over 39,000 gallons.  The containers form a maze with culminates in (what else?) a car complete with a Rolling Stones bumper sticker!

Recycled blue glass and aluminum cans form a dune:

Garden of Knowledge consisted of stacks of books:

Garden of Cooperation was stacks of plastic cartons, complete with seating areas:

The American Garden was called "Dream-opoly" with the theme of the American dream:  Equality, Free Speech, Self Reliance with a huge bottle of ketchup?!  Bor-ing.....

The African Garden featured amaranth, hens and chicks

And this cool, mirrored pool which reflected the sky (nice idea!)

Call me silly, but my FAVORITE feature of the show was this 
"interactive fountain" using ordinary fixtures:

Another one of my favorite features of garden shows in general and this one in particular was the Dahlias, and there was a ton in bloom in all different varieties....enjoy!

Did I mention that we LOVE taking pictures of the Dahlias? 

Just imagine the view from up here:

And last (but not least) the Roses - the Rose Boulevard is 2000 sq. meters with more than 8000 floribunda and English roses as well as 200 varieties of groundcover roses including 30 new breeds, two of them IGS roses. Enjoy!

Sure was nice to be able to stop and smell the roses - and they were lovely.  

This represents only about 1/10th of the show and if you want to see more, you can still catch the IGS in Hamburg, but you better hurry.  It runs through October 13, 2013.  Day tickets are 21 Euros each for adults with discounts for kids, groups, season tickets and after work hours.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Beautiful Miracle: My 10th Thanksgiving

090303 is a day that is forever locked in my heart.  It is the day that I was given a second chance at life. September 3rd, 2003 is the day that I became the recipient of a double lung transplant. Today is the 10th anniversary of that day.

Ten years ago, the sudden death of a wonderful, intelligent woman became my opportunity to live. She had made the choice to be an organ donor, and her family knew her wishes.  Because of that choice, her family's loss was my salvation, and since then we are forever linked.

I had been diagnosed with a fatal illness, a rare lung disease with a long name, lymphangioleiomyomatosis or LAM.  Almost a death sentence,  "almost"  because I was given one chance, and that was if I could survive a double lung transplant.  If I could keep my body healthy enough, if my insurance would pay, if I had the help and support of family and friends, if my mental health was strong enough, if a donor match could be found in time, if I could survive the long surgery, the anesthesia, the blood loss, the possibility of infection, rejection, all these things....if all the stars would line up right, maybe, just maybe I could live.

I was first listed for transplant in March of 2000, which means that I was sick enough and my lung function was diminished enough that transplant was considered a "last resort." I was placed at the bottom of a long list of sick people who were all just like me or worse: all of us sick enough to die but healthy enough to survive a transplant.  There we waited for someone to meet a tragic end,  someone who was an organ donor, whose tissue was a match,  who was deceased but their organ was not damaged, who had similar antibodies, who was close enough to a medical center to preserve the organ.

In other words, we were all waiting for a miracle.  I waited 41 months.

Then came Labor Day weekend in 2003.  I had been very, very ill for many, many months. I was using continuous oxygen at 7 liters/minute at rest.  Every breath was hard work.  I knew I was near the end and that I would be lucky to see another Christmas.  I recall looking out of my window at nature and thinking about how hard it is to say goodbye to life, and sad about those I would leave behind.

Early that morning the phone rang with the call that saved my life, while at the same time a family was grieving over their loss.  I remember the feelings of hope and fear as Jurgen drove us the 3 hours to the medical center.  Was it the end or the beginning?  Looking back, it was both.

I like to think that part of the spirit of that kind and thoughtful woman who lost her life on that day somehow lives on in me:  That the two of us were standing at death's door.  She passed through first and turned back to hand me a gift that allowed me to stay behind as she went on.

I cherish that gift not only today, but each and every day, with deep gratitude in my heart.  Words can barely express the feelings I have as well for my family and friends, the doctors, nurses and surgeons, and all who helped and prayed that day and afterwards so that I might live.  Thanks just doesn't seem like enough, but it's what I can give.

090303 is the day my stars lined up.  It was and still is a beautiful miracle.  Giving thanks.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Amsterdam, the Dutch Masters and Cheese

Driving in the Netherlands is pretty straightforward - km after km of flat, straight roads with a wide bicycle path on one side and a canal on the other, interrupted every now and then by a "rotary" where you have the opportunity to change direction - easy and predictable.

Approaching the city of Amsterdam, the tempo accelerates - more cars, more bikes and more canals. After about 5 minutes of driving into the center of the city with its narrow cobblestone streets, dodging cyclists right and left, endlessly circling to find our hotel since GPSally is not hip to one-ways, we discovered the First Truth of big city exploration in Europe : Never Drive.

Here's why:

After what seemed like an hour of driving in circles, feeling intensely inadequate for not having eyes in the backs of our heads, we land on the sidewalk in front of the Albus Center City.

The Albus is very purple plexi-modern, with stylish "urban micro" rooms  - ours had a 2-person rainfall shower!  The price was reasonable, we thought, for center city.  That is, until we discovered that there is no "free" parking associated with this hotel (Be advised!), and that parking anywhere on the streets in this neighborhood is 5 Euros per hour, at all hours of day or night, if you can find a spot!  We finally located an overnight parking garage a few blocks away and were able to negotiate in a mixture of English, German and Dutch, a price of 40 Euros per night and we were happy. Lesson:  Remember Truth 1.

With that taken care of, we headed out to explore and find an evening bite.  There are hundreds of restaurants of all kinds within walking distance of center city:  Italian, Turkish, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish, Subway?  We tried the Dutch specialty stew "mashpot" at a cozy little gem of a restaurant nearby called Tomaz.  Mashpot is nothing to write home about, but hearty enough to get you through a cool evening.

Took the long way back to the hotel afterwards and managed to stay out of the famous "Red Light" district, but some of the revelry always overflows.  Saw a few "very well dressed girls" in 5-inch heels (a bitch! on cobblestones) and had a passing whif of burning cannabis but all in all felt very safe on the streets.

In the morning, we headed out early for coffee and fresh pastry at Lanskroon a corner bakery we located the night before - ain't nothing like steaming cafe au lait and  a warm cinnamon croissant - Breakfast candy!! Got these images of the morning commute.

Daddy Duty:  How's that for a baby seat?

Imagine taking the kids to school like this!

On to the Rijksmuseum!

The Rijksmuseum (Gothic and Renaissance Architecture) is the national (state) museum of Amsterdam and the Netherlands which houses major works by the Dutch Masters:  Rembrandt, Franz Hals, Johannes Vermeer among others.  Originally opened in 1885, the museum was closed from 2003 to 2013 for renovation.  Our timing was just right for an opportunity to see the updated version and of course, get a look at it's most famous painting, Rembrandt's "Night Watch." 

As we got closer, we were greeting by Henry Moore, whose sculpture currently occupies the garden spaces as part of the Rijksmuseum annual International sculpture display:

There is probably always a line to enter to the Rijksmuseum, so it is probably advisable to get your tickets online in advance, though a violin duet entertained us with Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" while we waited and it took about 30 minutes to get inside.

Once inside, the building is a work of art in itself with its vaulting and glass, but the collection is absolutely breathtaking.   Most works are from the time known as the Dutch Golden Age, the period during and after the Eight Years War.  After gaining independence from Spain in 1648, the new Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe and led European trade, science and art.

The sheer volume of paintings produced (over 1.3 million) during the period from 1640 to 1660 kept prices low and even common folk could afford original art.  The technical quality of Dutch artists was very high. The detailed realism and subject matter tells a very accurate story of Dutch culture from the time including portraiture, scenes from everyday life, landscapes, still life and  to a lesser extent Biblical works like this, Ter Brugghen's powerful "Doubting Thomas," since Dutch Calvinism specifically forbade religious painting in churches (but it was okay for private collections).

The most important painting in the Rijksmuseum collection is Rembrandt's "The Night Watch," shown here to give you an idea of it's actual size.  One of the most famous paintings in the world, "The Night Watch"is renowned for it's large size (about 12 ft x 14 ft), the perception of motion, and the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro).

The painting that I most wanted to see, on the other hand, was Johannes Vermeer's (barely 16 X 20 in) "Milkmaid."  Painted around 1660 when the artist was in his 20s, the balance of realism, light, color and composition make it a classic favorite.  The many symbolic elements contained in the painting (milkmaid, wide-mouthed jug, footwarmer, Delft tiles with cupid) create a fascinating narrative of the sexual and romantic themes of the day.

The Rijksmuseum also has a substantial collection of Delftware, the traditional tin-glazed pottery from the region, depicting classic Dutch themes.

With more than 8,000 objects of art and history on display, the collection of the Rijksmuseum is definitely a "must-see" in Amsterdam.  Cross another one off my bucket list - it was time to relax and have dinner.

What is Indonesia today was a Dutch colony for more than 300 years.  One of the results of that is a tasty one:  plenty of delicious Indonesian restaurants throughout Amsterdam and the Netherlands.  Our choice for dinner that evening was Kantjil & de Tijger (Rabbit & Tiger) within walking distance of The Albus.  It's a popular favorite for tourists and locals alike so reservations are recommended.  The Rijsttafel (rice table) for 2 was a delicious way to sample about a dozen Indonesian dishes at 25 Euros per person.

The next morning, after visiting our now favorite bakery for coffee and fresh croissants, we headed over to the Amsterdam Bulb market, which is a series of greenhouses along the canal with GIGANTIC specimens of Holland bulbs for sale in every variety imaginable.  Very good quality bulbs and they claim "We Ship Everywhere."

Not only bulbs, but other horticultural "goodies" for the hobbyist.  And yes, it's legal here:

...and more than anyone's fair share of Dutch shoes refrigerator magnets:

We finished the morning by taking in an exhibition, Edward Steichen:  In High Fashion, the Conde Nast Years 1923 - 1937, at a cool modern photo gallery near center city called Foam.  

With more than 200 unique vintage photos, this exhibition represents a high point in Steichen's photographic career when he created images that have been considered some of the most impressive photographs of the twentieth century. 

Our appetite for art sufficiently sated, it was time to get back on the road for Rotterdam.  En route, we passed through the 13th century town of Gouda and, of course, decided to have lunch.  

We easily found the city market square with its beautiful 15th century Gothic City Hall (and watched a steady stream of newlyweds emerge on a Friday afternoon) while having a light lunch at De Zalm.

Saw this frieze above on the Waag (weigh house), which depicts a typical scene from the centuries old Cheese Market, which still takes place every Thursday in the summer.

This is a typical cheese shop in Gouda, which offers plenty of free samples as well as vacuum packaging for the long trip home.

Cheese in hand, we journeyed on to our next stop, the North Sea Jazz Festival, enjoying the Dutch landscape all the way.  Until next time - Thanks for reading!