NEULEININGEN, GERMANY – A HIDDEN GEM

Along the wine route of the romantic Palatinate region of Germany sits the sleepy historical town of Neuleiningen, where one has the feeling that time has stood still. It is a place of picturesque quaint houses, numerous flower boxes, centuries old fortified walls, cobbled streets with not a single multi-storied modern construction in sight.  Well preserved timber-frame houses (16th/17th century), some with oriel windows, characterise the village centre’s narrow lanes. Many of the buildings have histories reaching back to the Middle Ages

The Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus was built in the 13th century as a castle chapel at the same time as the castle itself. Neuleiningen belonged until 1969 to the now abolished district of Frankenthal, where my friends live.  Perched on the top of a hill (300m above sea level} is an impressive ruined castle built on the model of many French castles in the 1240s.  From the castle’s lookout tower one has an outstanding view of the Upper Rhine Plain in the east and the Palatinate Forest’s mountains in the west.   Adjacent to the castle is the Alte Pfarrey (“Old Rectory”) which was first recorded in 1524 and today houses a gourmet restaurant and hotel.

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After a wonderful afternoon wandering the cobbled streets of Neuleiningen with my German friends we sat to share afternoon tea in the Alte Pfarrey.  Although the tables were ready for a reception we were made very welcome. I would have loved to have known what was being said during a conversation in German but there were many smiles and I came away with a gift of apricot jam, preserved from locally grown fruit. It was a very good day.

GARDENS OF FRANCE (6) – JARDIN des TUILERIES

The Tuileries Palace (Palais des Tuileries) was a royal and imperial palace in Paris which stood on the right bank of the River Seine. It was the usual Parisian residence of most French monarchs, from Henry IV to Napoleon lll, until it was burned by the Paris Commune in 1871. The gardens became a public park and meeting place for Parisians after the French Revolution.

The Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries) is surrounded by the Louvre (to the east), the Seine (to the south), the Place de la Concorde (to the west) and the Rue de Rivoli (to the north).

The Tuileries Gardens get their name from the tile factories which previously stood on the site where Queen Catherine de Medici built the Palais des Tuileries in 1564. The gardens, which separate the Louvre from the Place de la Concorde, are a cultural walking place for Parisians and tourists where Maillol statues stand alongside those of Rodin or Giacometti.

The  Garden covers about 63 acres (25 hectares) and still closely follows a design laid out by the royal landscape architect André Le Nôtre in 1664. His spacious formal garden plan drew out the perspective from the reflecting pools one to the other in an unbroken vista along a central axis from the west façade, which has been extended as the Axe historique (historical axis or triumphal way); a nearly straight path leading from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe to La Défense west of Paris.

The hallmarks of a Le Nôtre   garden such as Tuileries, Versailles or Luxembourg gardens are  vistas created using mathematical training to deduce the contours of the land in relation to perspective and to follow the architectural lines of a building into its grounds. Le Nôtre also worked for British patrons on Saint James’s Park, Hampton Court, Greenwich Park and Windsor Castle.

ISOLA COMACINA

THE UNIQUE ISLAND of LAKE COMO, ITALY

 Isola Comacina is the only island on Lake Como. This small piece of land is almost uninhabited and welcomes many visitors in the period between March and October – a charming experience for all who visit whether in sunshine or misty rain.

Pietro Lingeri built three houses on the island in 1939. His idea was to turn the island into a colony for artists. The houses were built in a rationalist style, made from local materials and without much decoration. The island now consists of a restaurant, cafe, a collection of archaeological sites plus the three artist houses.  This place is rich in history with much to discover in its secluded corners.  The picturesque open views of the Lake and the shore in the distance bring another dimension as one wanders the little pathways.  The architectural remains defy the passing of time and complete the stirring experience of a visit to this island.

A quote from my Travel Blog – The Grand Tour – 25th October 2013

“At about 100 metres from the Western side of the Lake, near Ossuccio, is the only Island of Lake Como. It is roughly 600 metres long and only 200 metres wide and has a total area of 6 hectares. It is covered with lush Mediterranean vegetation – olives, linden, laurel, hack berry, horn beam and black mulberry. This corner of Lake Como has a mild climate and is favourable for the cultivation of olive trees and the production of local oil. Explanatory panels along the way describe the archaeological sites, the Church of San Giovanni Battista and the House of Artists. This is a picturesque and enchanting corner of the world where nature and history come together. It was our pleasure to spend a couple of hours walking the trails today in such a peaceful atmosphere (we only encountered four other tourists). The weather was perfect with the sun shining in an amazing blue sky and a top temperature of 19 degrees.”

 

MENAGGIO, LAKE COMO ITALY

A WALK OF ELEGANCE AND EDUCATION

Menaggio  is a town and commune in the province of Como, Lombardy, northern Italy, located on the western shore of Lake Como.  Upon our arrival we experienced the town by enjoying a stroll from Via Calvi with its small shops and craftsmen selling local products to the Church of Santa Marta, in the middle of the street,  and then to Piazza Garibaldi. The lakeside was a peaceful place with its finely tended gardens displaying the colours of autumn.  In the public garden beds I saw Ornamental Kale for the first time. It made an eye-catching statement especially as it was planted en masse. I was certainly prompted to follow through with some research when I returned home.

Ornamental Kale is a plant with serrated or fringed leaf margins and referred to as flowering kale. Ornamental cabbage and kale are very close relatives of edible cabbages and kale. They are in the same species, Brassica oleracea . They have been bred for looks, not flavour and the leaves give the plants their colour and interest. They range in bold shades from purple to rosy pink or creamy white with green – they actually look good enough to eat so are great as a garnish or as a base for egg dishes or hors d’oeuvres.

Cool-season gardens can be transformed with the stunning colours of flowering kale. This plant brings the bold shades of white and purple to the garden’s quiet seasons of autumn and early winter. In mild temperatures plants can look good all winter long.

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On Mother’s Day 2016 my granddaughters presented me with a delightful posy and to my delight,  Kale was the star!

Hirschhorn: A Medieval Jewel!

When visiting Europe I am always amazed at the depth of green in the landscape.  On one such occasion in Germany I was escorted by friends to the beautiful village of Hirschhorn,  where we enjoyed the roses, the hanging baskets and the brightly coloured flowers on windowsills as we climbed to the heights to view the castle.

Hirschhorn (Neckar) is a small town in the Bergstraße district of Hesse, Germany, and is known as “die Perle des Neckartals” or “The Pearl of the Neckar valley” with its old city walls and its castle. Its name means Deer (Hirsch) antler (Horn) which may come from the shape of the Neckar River at this point and the fact that deer were very abundant in its woods in medieval times. Actually, the nobles of the place, the Lords of Hirschhorn, have deer antler in their coat of arms.

Hirschhorn is situated  roughly 19 km east of Heidelberg. Hirschhorn (Hirtzhorn) was surrounded by a town wall after the brothers Hans V. Albrecht and Eberhard of Hirschhorn had received its town charter from King Wenceslaus in 1391. Extensive flooding aggravated by thawing ice occurred in 1565. Medieval Hirschhorn Castle occupies a mountain ridge above the town. In the castle, which is fortified by walls and towers, a keep, a great hall, stables and several gates and outbuildings can still be seen. The parish church of the Immaculate Conception was built as a Lutheran church from 1628 to 1630. The far older gate tower Mitteltor from 1392 serves as its belfry. The medieval town centre is still surrounded by its original town wall.

Steam navigation on the Neckar was introduced in 1841 and meant a moderate economic upturn. Horse-drawn barges finally disappeared from the river in 1878, when a seventy-mile-long chain was put on the river bed on which tugs could pull themselves upstream or downstream. A lot of bargemen became redundant and lost their jobs. The Neckar Valley Railway started to operate, connecting Hirschhorn with Heidelberg.

The River Neckar itself is a busy artery today. Weirs and locks make the Neckar a navigable waterway used by barges and pleasure boats. The weir and lock at Hirschhorn were built in 1933, together with a bridge across the Neckar, which led to a rapid expansion of the town on the south bank. The old village has not changed much since the 14th century: there are very narrow lanes between houses, and narrow cobble stoned laneways, and small staircases to go from one level of the town to the next, slowly climbing towards the castle on the hill. It is really as if you were back in time, walking in a true Medieval town.   Wunderbar!

The view from the top was magnificent and so was the afternoon tea shared with my German friends.

A famous visitor to Hirschhorn was Mark Twain. He travelled from Heilbronn to Hirschhorn by boat, stayed overnight at the hotel “Zum Naturaliste” on August 9, 1878, and continued his journey to Heidelberg by coach and train. In his book “A Tramp Abroad” (read by our Book Group in Adelaide), the boat becomes a raft, and the travellers end up in Hirschhorn after a terrible storm on the Neckar from which they just manage to escape.   Twain’s description of Hirschhorn is still as true as it was in 1878: “…Hirschhorn is best seen from a distance, down the river. Then the clustered brown towers perched on the green hilltop and the old battlemented stone wall stretching up and over the grassy ridge and disappearing in the leafy sea beyond, make a picture whose grace and beauty entirely satisfy the eye.”

GARDENS IN LONDON (5) – KENSINGTON GARDENS

The City of Westminster, a central London borough, has 116 parks and open spaces; these include small gardens as well as larger areas of land.  Westminster is home to Kensington Gardens.

 Once the private gardens of Kensington Palace, it is one of the Royal Parks of London and sits immediately to the west of Hyde Park. The park covers an area of 111 hectares (270 acres).   West Carriage Drive (The Ring) and the Serpentine Bridge form the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The Gardens are fenced and more formal than Hyde Park.

Kensington Gardens was originally the western section of Hyde Park, which had been created by Henry VIII in 1536 to use as a hunting ground. It was separated from the remainder of Hyde Park in 1728 in order to form a landscaped garden, with fashionable features including the Round Pond, formal avenues and a sunken Dutch garden.

The Serpentine was created between 1726 and 1731. The part of the Serpentine that lies within Kensington Gardens is known as “The Long Water”. At its north-western end is an area known as “The Italian Garden” where there are four fountains and a number of classical sculptures.

Many of the original features survive along with Kensington Palace, and now there are other public buildings such as the Albert Memorial (opposite the Royal Albert Hall) and the Serpentine Gallery.

The park is the setting of J.M. Barrie‘s book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a prelude to the character’s famous adventures in Neverland. The fairies of the gardens are first described in Thomas Tickell‘s 1722 poem Kensington Gardens. Both the book and the character are honoured with the Peter Pan statue by George Frampton, located in the park.

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SWITZERLAND -ZURICH BOTANIC GARDENS

The gardens are accessed on public transport with Tram #2 or #4 to Hoschgasse, followed by a 10 minute uphill walk  through an attractive residential area of Zurich.

This area was formerly a private garden and is now maintained as a university botanical garden. The design breaks with the traditions of central European gardens. There are, for example, no systematic beds. Most of the plants cultivated are wild species and no effort is made to show latest garden hybrids. There is a group of ‘bubble’ green houses. The new Botanic Garden was established in 1976. The expansive grounds offer several areas for one to just sit on a bench and take in the serene environment located here in the centre of the city. There are covered trails along the edge of the park and also a live bee colony.   The small old Botanic Garden is still maintained as a public park.

A casual two hour stroll is what we three friends enjoyed on the November day of our visit. There is a large pond and some smaller ones planted with lilies and other water plants which attract the frogs.

The ultimate highlight of the gardens is the three futuristic looking green houses. The foyer has relevant information to enlighten visitors before actually entering the planted area which is lush with orchids and tropical plants.  One of the pods has a high viewing platform.

REGENSDORF

Regensdorf has an area of 14.6 km2 (5.6 sq. mi). Of this area, 43.5% is used for agricultural purposes, while 23.6% is forested. Of the rest of the land, 30.6% is settled (buildings or roads) and the remainder (2.3%) is non-productive (rivers, glaciers or mountains).  Regensdorf can be reached from Zurich by train every half an hour. From the home of my friend we walked through the countryside enjoying the beautiful colours of autumn prior to my sad departure from Switzerland to continue my journey – next stop Munich.