The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Another Year Over

We're into the last hours of 2009 and the new year stretches out before us like a blank canvas or an unscribbled page. Not only will we soon start a new year but also a new decade. I can still remember the excitement on December 31, 1999 when, at the last stroke of midnight we ushered in a new millennium. So much has happened in these 10 years, so many earth-shattering events that have changed our way of life. But perhaps it is the little things that happen in our daily lives which have the most impact on us.

All in all, 2009 was a good year for me. It was the year I started my blog, the year I went on my first trip to Paris, the year my son started nursery school, the year I re-visited Tuscany (albeit different cities) and fell in love with it all over again. It has been a year of re-uniting with old school friends and experiencing again a special bond which only seems to get stronger as the years go by.

I have been missing from the blog world for most of December as I chose to spend more time with my family and concentrate on the inner peace that Christmas brings with it. The holidays are almost over and next week it is back to work. The Christmas decorations will come down and life will be back to normal. I always feel a bit sad when it is all over, although I know that the spirit of Christmas will live on in our hearts.

Resolutions for 2010? I do not make them anymore. But I do aim to be more positive and to find more time to write. Meanwhile, I wish you and your loved ones all the very best for the coming year from the bottom of my heart. I look forward to sharing my posts with you and visiting your lovely blogs.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

‘Tis The Season

This post has been long in coming. I don’t think that I was ever absent from my blog for quite so long. But I think that most of you will understand why I have found so little time to sit down and post.
Christmas is almost here and this year I still have not got my act together. There are still a few people I need to buy gifts for, some more baking to do and then some last minute cleaning. It has been hectic, to say the least. Each year I promise myself not to stress out but somehow I always get caught up in the rush. It has been busy at work too, tying up lose ends and finalising projects. I have been so tired by the time I got back home that I have not had the energy to post for several weeks. Having a 3 year old around the house helps increase the Christmas spirit but also the clutter. But I am not complaining. My only impossible wish is to have a white Christmas. But as you all know, snow and the Mediterranean do not go well together. So each day I sit in front of my screen and ooh and aah over the photos posted by some of my blogging friends from colder climes. Our forecast is for a warm, humid Christmas day. Oh well, I will have to live with it. In the meantime, I am belatedly sharing some photos of my Christmas decorations.
I wish you all a joyful and peaceful Christmas and invite you to read an article I wrote for Triond last year. Entitled The True Meaning of Christmas it is a profound look at what makes this season so special for me.
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I would like to thank all of you who stop by and read my posts for your constant support and friendship and I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to all those of you who have recently passed on awards. I am sorry but I have not had the time to pass them on. I hope to do so in the coming weeks. Please rest assured that they are always appreciated.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Christmas Markets

Advent, or Christmas markets, originated in the German-speaking parts of Europe during the Middle Ages. The earliest record of a Christmas market dates back to 1296 when the first one was held in Vienna . The tradition spread to other areas of Europe and these markets were common in Germany , Switzerland and some parts of France . These days, the tradition of Christmas markets has spread around the world.
Two years ago we were lucky enough to be in Vienna at the start of Advent. There are 21 Advent markets in Vienna in the run-up to Christmas and we got to visit the ones that are held in Rathausplatz; at the Schonnbrunn Palace; at the Belvedere Palace; in Karlsplatz and the one in Maria-Theresien-Platz. At the time of our visit I had not yet started my blog, so I have very few photos of the wooden booths and their gorgeous wares.
A common feature of all the Christmas markets we went to is the scent of gingerbread and mulled wine (a non-alcoholic version is also available); bratwurst and roasting chestnuts. The booths are fascinating, selling hand-made treasures such as toys, soaps, Christmas ornaments and candles, amongst other things.
Vienna - Nov 2007 (35)
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Vienna - Nov 2007 (28)
The backdrop to these markets is as appealing as the booths themselves. In Rathausplatz, the imposing Gothic façade of the Town Hall (Rathaus) towers over the people milling in the square at the traditional Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt) and acts as a giant Advent calendar.
Vienna - Nov 2007 (27)
The Culture and Christmas market in the courtyard of the Schonbrunn Palace is a throw-back to the days of Imperial Vienna. I almost expected an emperor to ride down the courtyard on a stallion or one of the court ladies in sweeping skirts to peep at us from behind one of the many windows.
Vienna - Nov 2007 (54)
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The Christmas market in Karlsplatz is famous for the number of crafts which are on sale. The most notable being:  paintings, jewellery, stained glass and wooden items. Situated in this square is the church of St Charles Borromeo with its huge, imposing columns.
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Vienna - Nov 2007 (134)
Artisans from different ethnic backgrounds were selling their goods in the stalls outside the Belvedere Palace . Various articles of African art and jewellery helped to provide a different ambience to this market.
The Christmas village in Maria-Theresien-Platz is one of the latest additions to the list of Advent markets in Vienna .
There is a certain romance about wandering around in the frosty winter air, with snow flakes gently wafting down from cotton-candy clouds, while drinking a mug of warm mulled wine and shopping for loved ones. It is easy to close your eyes and imagine the booths of long ago, lit up by candles, selling wares which were made as lovingly then as they are now.
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There is something for everybody at the Christmas markets and, as you can see from the photos above, we gave in to our temptations quite a few times but, when we look at the things we brought back with us, we remember the happy time we spent there, mingling traditional Christmas shopping with the beauty and splendour of Imperial Vienna.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Ruby Tuesday: Red is for Fun

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Ever since I started participating in the Ruby Tuesday meme I can’t walk past anything red without stopping to take a photograph. While window shopping in the Italian town of Lucca, these cute red spectacles by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada just called out to me and I had to snap a shot. They are meant for kids but I wouldn’t mind owning a pair myself – they are so vibrant and look like so much fun.

For more shades of red from around the world go to Work of the Poet hosted by Mary the Teach.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Medieval Manhattan

A short drive away from Siena is the small walled town of San Gimignano (pronounced San Giminiano) .
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Known by some as the medieval Manhattan, San Gimignano boasts 15 spectacular towers which were built by rival noble families during the 12th and 13th centuries. In its heyday there was a total of 72 towers. Being on the major pilgrim route to Rome , San Gimignano prospered during the middle ages. However, the Black Death and diversion of the pilgrim route resulted in a period of decline from which the town never fully recovered. San Gimignano has remained mostly unchanged, its towers attracting visitors from far and wide.
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Via San Giovanni, the main street of the town, is lined with interesting shops selling, amongst others,  pottery, paintings, linens and objects made out of olive wood.
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It is not a very long street but the wares on sale are too tempting to ignore and each shop lures you in with the promise of a new little treasure you just have to buy. The street winds itself towards Piazza della Cisterna, the heart of the old town. The well in the square is still a meeting place for the townspeople.
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This square in turn leads to Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the modest 12th century Romanesque church known as La Collegiata.
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While most visitors tend to stick to the main street and square, I found that wandering through the quiet back streets was a more rewarding experience since they were mostly deserted and I could stop and admire the old buildings and, of course, the towers.
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However, I was also intrigued by a number of very interesting door knockers and house bells made out of wrought iron.
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The streets at edge of the town provide a wonderful spot from where to stop and admire the Tuscan countryside.
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Small wine bars and restaurants abound in this little town and it is also home to Gelateria di Piazza. It’s owner, Stefano Dondoli, lovingly creates delectable ice-creams which have impressed visitors from around the world. His chocolate ice-cream once won the title of the world's “best ice-cream of the year”. Having tasted his Fior di Nutella and Frutti di Bosco (forest fruit) flavours, I can attest that these ice-creams are amongst the best that I have ever had the pleasure to eat.
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In some strange way, San Gimignano seems like a benevolent grandfather; an old town with a gentle soul. Perhaps it’s because everything happens under the watchful eyes of the towers, their strength and longevity emitting an aura of security. Gazing up at their towering height I couldn’t help but marvel at those builders of long ago, at their sheer tenacity and marvelous feats of engineering.
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We left San Gimignano as the sun started to set over the Tuscan countryside. In the fading light, all detail was lost and all we could see were silhouettes. It was almost surreal, like a land out of a fairytale. In the stillness of the night I felt like we were intruders in a magical land that had cast a spell over our hearts - a spell that will not easily be broken; a spell which, I believe, will last a life time.
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