Lights of Joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: Beyond Sun, Surf, and Seafood

What sights come to mind when envisioning the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Sun, surf, and seafood are the obvious choices.  At this time of year, you can add Winter Lights at The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. For twenty-two days during late November, December, and early January, the gardens glow with sparkly holiday joy.

fullsizeoutput_1f03

WALKING AMONG THE WINTER LIGHTS

Queen Elizabeth I herself welcomes guests at the beginning of a leisurely walk through her namesake gardens.  Her roses are not in bloom at this time of year, but seasonal sights and sounds beckon you to take a walk of discovery.

fullsizeoutput_1efb

REMEMBERING THE LOST COLONY

You won’t be the first discovers here. Other displays of Elizabethan characters, including one with the Queen and Sir Walter Raleigh awashed in rose-colored light, remind visitors that these gardens are built on the historic site of the first English settlement in the New World. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh, as directed by Queen Elizabeth I, recruited 117 men, women, and children to establish this inaugural colony. By three years after their immigration, the colonists had inexplicably disappeared, thus earning the sobriquet, The Lost Colony. These gardens, which memorialize the brave colonists, were designed to be a “garden Elizabethan in spirit and style but adapted to the present.” Luckily, the Winter Lights celebration is a magical adaptation that transforms the gardens into a night-time wonderland.

FINDING SPARKLY CRITTERS

Wonders galore await along the paths that meander throughout the gardens.  Strollers can get up and personal with four-legged critters that don’t become skittish and run away.

fullsizeoutput_1ef1

Their home, the dark forest, twinkles with red, white, and green fireflies birthed by lasers and brought to life on the trees’ bare branches.

fullsizeoutput_1edf

DISCOVERING THE TWELVE GIFTS

Suddenly, a famous bird appears on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” path, which plays homage to this popular holiday song. The partridge in the pear tree points the way to discover the next eleven days of exotic gifts. By the way, if this colorful display inspires you to give two turtle doves, three French hens, etc., you better have deep pockets. Cost? $34,130.99!

fullsizeoutput_1ee1.jpeg

SPYING GLOWING CREATURES

Other paths lead to fantastic creatures like lavender butterflies, whimsical crickets, and albino peacocks.

fullsizeoutput_1eff

TREKKING TO THE GINGERBREAD HOUSES

The trek down the Gingerbread House path offers a visual taste of the sweet side of the season with not a wicked witch in sight.

fullsizeoutput_1ee7

 

DISCOVERING THE BOTANY IN THE BOTANICAL GARDEN

For a reminder that this venue is a botanical garden, there is a glistening topiary highlighting the flowering cabbage patch and an illuminated container of seasonal greens and flowers lighting the way to an event tent.

fullsizeoutput_1f09

img_0025

PLAYING LIKE A KID

While the above two images will appeal mainly to adults, children and the child in all of us will discover kid-friendly activities on the Great Lawn area. Sit on bales of hay and watch the movie about a much-loved snowman and then roast marshmallows over the toasty fire pit, (marshmallows and graham crackers provided) while listening to local choirs singing songs of comfort and joy.

fullsizeoutput_1ec2

fullsizeoutput_1ece

Before the evening is over, stop by to visit Santa and whisper your secret Christmas wishes in his ear.

fullsizeoutput_1f05

On exiting through the gift shop, you don’t have to leave the sparkle behind. You also can purchase glittery presents to take home.

img_0016

DON’T DRIVE STRAIGHT HOME

Before departing Manteo, take a short drive to the waterfront and see the illuminated boats, including the ship, the Elizabeth II, a reproduction of one of the seven English merchant vessels that brought the ill-fated colonists to Roanoke Island.

img_0001

Photo by Bruce J. Holmes

If there are any doubts about finding Christmas joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Fishing Santa reminds you otherwise.  Listen closely to hear him exclaim:  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good Winter Nights!”

fullsizeoutput_1ebe

Women, Wine, Weenies, and Wow!: At the Great Market Hall, Budapest

fullsizeoutput_1e79

Great Market Hall.  Photo by theusj at http://budapestmarkethall.com/great-market-hall-budapest

FOLK ART IN LACE

Women from Eastern Europe are getting a lot of press these days, thanks to our president-elect’s gorgeous wife, Melania Trump. My observation is that Eastern Europe is indeed the home of  a bevy of beautiful women.  In fact, one greeted us at the front door of the famous Great Market Hall near the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge. While Melania wears the latest fashions, this beauty wears the oldest fashions, lace and embroidery made by the women of Hungary for centuries. Her colorful, art-full greeting was our first “wow,” and we hadn’t even gotten in the building yet.

img_7130

Inside, there was a plethora of stalls selling table linens crafted with this folk art needlework.  Are they really made in Hungary?  A discerning consumer needs to inspect the pieces closely because some of them are made in China, so look for the local ones which are clearly marked.  Don’t just look for them at the Great Market Hall. Women all over the city–in shops, on the sidewalks, along the Danube’s promenade–are selling these works of tradition.

img_7139

WORSHIPPING AT THE ALTAR OF CONSUMERISM

At the Great Market Hall, you will find three floors of shopping and restaurants to explore.  The view from the top floor produces the second “wow” of the day as it showcases the beautiful art nouveau design  of this building in the iron work on the second floor. The glowing gothic-arched windows on the opposite wall seem to whisper: “Welcome, Pilgrims, prepare to worship at the Altar of Consumerism. Leave a monetary sacrifice, and you will be blessed with riches beyond your imagination.”

fullsizeoutput_1e76

THE “TRINITY”:  PÁLINKA, PEPPER, AND PATÉ

Luckily for my budget, I am more of a “looker” than a shopper, so I did not supplicate myself to the shopping god.  Temptation , however, was down every corridor and around every corner.  The attractive displays look as if they were composed by the Dutch masters of still life paintings. The canvas before me presented sweet Tokaj wine, glistening gold and amber in glass bottles; the heady fruit brandy, Pálinka, with realistic renderings of berries, apricots, and plums printed on the labels; as well as the hearty red wine, Egri Bikaner, hiding its blood-red beauty in dark bottles. Tucked amid the alcohol were the red, white, and blue tins of Hungarian paprika and the black cans of decadent goose or duck paté and fois gras.

fullsizeoutput_1e77

THE “WOW” OF THE WEENIES

While the spirits, paprika, and paté selections were impressive in their orderliness, they didn’t have the “wow” factor the next canvas did.  Salami, weenies, hot dogs, sausages, whatever you want to call them, hung in neat rows, rested in symmetrical slices, and hovered together on the shelves.  Not just tourists, but the locals also, find culinary salvation through the purchase of the perfect sausages.fullsizeoutput_1e7b

In fact, as you walk the streets of Budapest, you see the how high the populace holds the lowly weenie in esteem. It is elevated gourmet street fare.

fullsizeoutput_1e78

SLOVENIAN STILL LIFES

The canvases showcasing Natures’s bounty could have hung on the walls of any great art museum:  golden butternut squash, purple eggplants, creamy parsnips, and variegated green vegetables.  A big “wow” here is definitely well deserved.

CHOCOLATE ART

Others could convincingly argue that artisanal chocolates earn the loudest “wow”!  Chocoholics claim that these works of art painted with a jeweled palette of fruit and nuts are a sweet, sublime treat akin to a religious experience.

fullsizeoutput_1e67

I say “amen” to that!  You will also exclaim “amen” when you find your gods to worship during your own pilgrimage to the Great Market Hall in Budapest.

 

Hungary’s Warning to the World, 2016

fullsizeoutput_1e4d

Liberty Monument on Gellért Hill at the site of the Citadella in Budapest.  Three statues there commemorate the Soviets freeing the Hungarians from Nazi control at the end of World War II. Later, the Hungarians learned that their Soviet savior had become their oppressor. Because of the Revolutions of 1989, the Soviets started leaving Hungary in 1990 and withdrew their last troops in 1991. This statue glorifies the Slaying of Evil across the decades.

The dragon invaded your lair.

Smoky grey portends demise.

Brave blue beckons courage.

Rise up!  Rise up!

Your savior can become your oppressor.

Fight the flames of racism, religious intolerance, and misogyny.

Raise your fist to injustice.

Knee intolerance to the ground.

God fights the good fight with the righteous.

Victory is yours.

fullsizeoutput_1e51

Liberty Monument:  The main statue celebrates Liberty extending the palm leaf of victory over Budapest.

Make Liberty your goddess.

Place her on a pedestal.

Crown her with a palm frond.

fullsizeoutput_1e53

Liberty Monument:  This statue showcases the promise of Progress in a free Hungary.

Like the Phoenix rising from the blazes of bigotry

To soar through the conquering blue,

A new world will be born.

A world of Progress.

A world that lifts the torch of freedom for all.

Remember the past.

Don’t repeat it.

Walking 10,000 Steps Along the Danube in Budapest

`

img_0316

Budapest in her evening dress, looking north towards the Chain Bridge

Romantic Budapest. Beautiful Budapest.  Seductive Budapest. It is impossible not to fall in love with Budapest. This city is not only for the lovers who love it; it is also for the lovers who walk it.

PEST SIDE OR BUDA SIDE?

After our arrival and check-in to the Marriott on the Pest side of the Danube, we scurried to the deck off the hotel’s executive lounge for a glorious night view of the city. As travelers who enjoy sampling local delicacies and  wines, we know we have to walk our 10,000 steps every day, so we don’t come home looking like dumplings. Looking north up the Danube, we could see the walking paths on both sides of the river and the Chain Bridge and the Margaret Bridge, which would allow us to walk from the Pest side to the Buda side and back again. Looking south down the Danube, we saw going that way was an option too, with the Elisabeth Bridge giving us access to the Buda side. Which way to go?  Hmmm.  We decided to sleep on it and make our decision in the morning.

img_7042

Budapest in her evening dress, looking south towards the Elisabeth Bridge

Sun up, walking shoes on, and itinerary chosen based on wanting to see the very impressive House of Parliament. Off we went, heading north.

fullsizeoutput_1e2e

Budapest in her day dress, looking north toward the Chain Bridge

THE CHAIN BRIDGE

A short distance from the hotel, we began our trek across the Chain Bridge after being assessed  by a pair of imposing lions. This suspension bridge, built from 1839-1849, was the first permanent stone bridge connecting Buda and Pest.  It is also the symbolic heart of the city, drawing legions of admirers to traverse .23 of a mile from one river bank to the other river bank.

fullsizeoutput_1e30

THE SPAR BUDAPEST MARATHON

This particular day, there were literally legions of people, not just walking on the bridge, but also running on the streets. Budapest proclaims itself to be the “new running capital of Europe,” a well-deserved boast as evidenced by the over 27,000 runners representing 80 countries in the SPAR Budapest Marathon .  There’s a limit of 7000 for the marathon itself, but the other 20,000 people had a choice of entering shorter races: half-marathon relay for three; half-marathon relay for four; and  a 3,4 km fun run.  While the Danube is one of the most iconic rivers in the world, it paled in comparison this day to the river of runners in neon yellow, pink, and blue T-shirts. Happy colors.  People were joyful, especially at the start of the race, many wearing smiles that were as large as their strides.

fullsizeoutput_1e2a

Marathon runners on the Buda side with a view of the Margaret Bridge leading to the House of Parliament on the Pest side.

5000 STEPS TO THE MARGARET BRIDGE

We walked parallel to the river, putting a little extra bounce in our steps, motivated by the runners and the jaunty tunes the musicians along the route were playing. We took a right turn at the Parisian Neo-Baroque style Margaret Bridge, which opened in 1876. Walking  almost .4 of a mile across the bridge, we had completed more  than half of our 10,000 steps since we arose in the morning.

THE HUNGARIAN HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT

It’s surprising how many steps one can get in a large hotel before leaving for the day.  All steps count, but walking outside offers much more chance for serendipity than walking hotel hallways. Case in point:  The Hungarian House of Parliament. To the un-informed, this Gothic Revival building can be mistaken as a massive cathedral with its spires pointing to the heavens. While it is not a church, this “house of the motherland” is considered a holy building in a patriotic sense. The Hungarians had lost their independence in a hard two-year battle with the Austrians, which resulted in the forced dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Their national pride had not died in that battle, so in 1898 to celebrate Hungarian’s 1000th birthday, Budapest began the construction of several artistic buildings, including the Hungarian House of Parliament. It is a symbol of the new nation and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  Unfortunately, Parliament was not open for tours the two days we were in town. We could only look longingly at the beautiful facade and continue walking on by.

IMG_0323.JPG

THE SHOES ON THE DANUBE EMBANKMENT

As we continued our trek, we ran across another unexpected find, but this was not serendipitous.  This find was sadly poignant, not happy. The Shoes on the Danube Embankment consists of 60 pairs of metal shoes set in concrete.  It commemorates the execution of Jews during World War II by a hateful anti-Semitic, pro-Germany group of Hungarian socialists.  A sign on site reads:  “To the memory of victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45.”  This moving memorial brings back to life those tortured innocents who were forced to the riverside, lined up with shoes removed, and then executed.  They die again and again as seen through visitors’ eyes. Gone but not forgotten.

fullsizeoutput_1c37

Our steps to 10,000 now seemed insignificant compared to the steps to eternity we just witnessed, but we had no choice but to keep on walking.  We soon spotted the Chain Bridge which brightened our spirits with this view from the Pest side.

fullsizeoutput_1e28

A FOUND FRIEND

We were now close to the hotel, but had trouble safely crossing the street without getting run over by the marathoners We stood on the curbside with the locals, cheering on the intrepid runners. Finally there was a break in the crowd, so we zigged, then zagged, and finally crossed to the other side.  We were close to the hotel, had met our walking goal by this time, and un-expectantly met a familiar friend, a displaced celebrity from England.

img_7072

William Shakespeare himself was bowing to us and saying, “How dost thou, sweet lady and noble lord?”

Our answer was, “We dost fine. In fact, we dost more than just fine, walking 10,000 steps in beautiful Budapest.”

fullsizeoutput_1e32

The Shakespeare Monument in Budapest

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

A Requiem for Really, Life?’s Name

VIRB Picture

Photography by Keith Britton

Dearly Beloved, we are here today to bury the original name of my blog.

Really, Life?, dust you never were, but dust you must now be. You were a good ole name, steadfast, but unfortunately not true to my musings. I needed a name which captures more clearly what the blog is about–comments about my travels with an occasional “detour” to other topics.

Please understand, Really, Life?, that you did nothing wrong. I chose you; you didn’t choose me. Now I am your executioner, and I take full responsibility for your death. As a former composition teacher, I understand the importance of brainstorming, of writing and re-writing until you get “it” right.  In this case, “it” wasn’t just the words I needed to get right; “it” was also the concept. I found myself writing far more about the serendipity found in my travels rather than about the serendipity and foibles of Life. Once I understood this truth, your demise was inevitable.

Do not despair, Really, Life?, for there is hope as seen in Henry Wadswoth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life“:  “Life is real! (That’s you!)  / Life is earnest! /  And the grave is not its goal; /  Dust thou art, to dust returnest, /  Was not spoken of the soul.” While it is true that your name is buried forever, the writing itself, your soul, is resurrected and represented by the new name, Flying  to Adventure–with Detours.

Rest in peace, Really, Life?, for I embrace your reincarnation. Take solace knowing your soul and I now begin our journey together forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Ljubljana: Difficult to Pronounce, Pleasurable to Explore

fullsizeoutput_1da0

View of the Triple Bridge,  the Ljubljana River, and Pogačarjev Square

Ljubljana:  I bet you can’t say that fast three times.  Heck, I can’t even say it once slowly.  (It helps, though, to know that the in Slovenian is pronounced like a y.)  However you say her name, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a gorgeous, friendly lady, and I was thrilled to make her acquaintance.

SLOVENIAN HOUSE VIDA

We had left Sežana and now were staying at the comfortable Slovenian House Vida on the outskirts of Ljubljana, a short convenient bus ride from the city center. This guest house has large rooms, some with kitchenettes, and a funky subterranean breakfast room decorated with antique radios and toasters.

Our first meal, however, was dinner not breakfast.  On the innkeeper’s recommendation, we booked at table at Gostilna Sokol, the best restaurant in town for traditional Slovenian food.  While we found the food in Sežana to have a Mediterranean influence because of its proximity to Italy, the food at Sokol didn’t have that same lightness.  This restaurant celebrates the land of game, sausage, dumplings, and gravy.

LJUBLJANA CASTLE

We rode the bus to town and got off to walk around the Old Town area.  Our way to dinner was artistically lit with the highlight being the green hue of Ljubljana Castle. This is an appropriate color as Ljubljana is The Green Capital of Europe 2016, an award it won for its “high environmental standards.”

img_0304

PLATO IN LJUBLJANA

We strolled by closed shops, wishing that this attractive book store had been open. On second thought, I am not sure I could have found a book in English here. For example, the book in the foreground is Platon, which in Slovenian is Plato. It still would have been fun to poke around.

fullsizeoutput_1da5

GOSTILNA SOKOL

Arriving at Gostilna Sokol, I shook hands with the cute chef who greeted us at the door. Inside, we found a warm, inviting room with white-washed walls, wooden tables and chairs, and knickknacks placed about, kind of like being at your Slavic grandma’s house. We found authentic Slovenian delicacy on the menu that was too “authentic” for our taste: foal. Other restaurants offered this local fare, too, but they called it horse outright.

fullsizeoutput_1da1

I was not too hungry and rather vegetable deprived, so I ordered the vegetable casserole, which actually was a very pretty, tasty vegetable terrine. Bruce’s dish won the “wow factor,” however. He ordered the game plate, which came with “deer medallions in . . . cherry sauce, stag stake (sic) with porcini mushroom sauce, wild boar with green pepper, cheese rolls, polenta, and dumplings.”  

fullsizeoutput_1da4

THE FOUNTAIN OF THREE CARNIOLAN RIVERS

Obviously, there was no room for dessert, so we began our walk back to catch a taxi, but we had to make one stop.  We took this “tourist photo” (We are tourists, after all!) in front of the 1751 Robba Fountain named after its famous creator. This major landmark is also known as The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers. It is a replica; the original sets inside the National Museum, safely  out of the harm of hot sun and freezing temperatures and snow. I like knowing this fact since Francesco Robbo bankrupted himself to finish the piece, so its preservation validates his sacrifice. I think Robbo would be pleased.

fullsizeoutput_1d9c

CITY OF THE DRAGON

After a good night’s sleep, our husbands went to work, and Marcia and I went to explore Ljubljana by daylight. This is the City of the Dragon. According to legend, a ferocious dragon guarded the area, preventing any settlement here.  Then, Jason and his Argonauts of Greece fame encountered this fire-breathing beast and slayed him.  Local people were ecstatic and began to settle along the river. Look closely today and you will see the omnipresent dragon:  on the city’s coat of arms, on top of the castle tower; on the Dragon Bridge, on the flag, on souvenirs, etc. (Photo of a dragon sculpture on the Dragon Bridge from Ljubljana Tourism E-News Letter.)

THE TOWN SQUARES

Ljubljana has several attractive town squares, or trgs; historic buildings with architectural charm; and memorial sculptures, such as the one below of Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren. Marcia and I strolled by admiring the local color, but we didn’t stop because we were on a mission: shopping for souvenirs.

SHOPPING AT THE CENTRAL MARKET

We headed toward The Central Market,  which is composed of both a covered market and an open-air market, in a space between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. Starting at the open-air market, we inspected a flurry of flowers, colorful  glassware,  beautiful leather goods,  art prints, and other tempting offerings.

fullsizeoutput_1da9

Flower vendors with merchandise vendors in the background

18TH-19TH CENTURY BEEHIVE PRINTS 

Marcia chose a lovely red wallet bought directly from the artisan who made it, and I became enthralled with the story of the beehive prints and bought two of those. Folk artists began painting the front of beehives’ wooden panels in the mid-18th century.  The artists produced more than 600 religious and secular motifs.  The belief was that if each hive had is own individual art work, then this would help the bees’ orientation.  They would always be able to identify their home.The prints show slices of 18th and 19th-century Slovenian life that are still relevant today.  While the religious motifs are serious motifs, there are light-hearted, humorous one like the one I bought.  We have beehives in our yard, but we aren’t the beekeepers.  Our friends, Steve and Fran, are. I bought them a print of a couple dancing next to the beehives.  I  then saw this print and immediately thought, “Oh, there’s Bruce and Connie bearishly eating the honey, and Beekeeper Steve is behind the tree.”  Gotta have it!

fullsizeoutput_1dba

TEMPTATIONS AT GALLERY RUSTIKA

I also was on the lookout for something to take home to share with my herb group friends. I found dried lavender products, but those are ubiquitous all over the world; I wanted something different. We sought out Rustika, a gallery which features the country’s largest selection of high-quality Slovenian handicrafts. Delicate lace linens, hand painted wooden products, kitchen witches, and corncob dolls tempted me, but the artisan chocolate grabbed my attention.  There were several options with unique combinations of chocolate, herbs, and fruit.  I settled on an exotic one I had never seen before, Chocolate with Apples & Tarragon, which I will happily serve at a future luncheon for my friends.

fullsizeoutput_1dbc

DINING AT THE CENTRAL MARKET

We were lucky to be there on a Friday when Pogačarjev Square  hosts scores of food vendors serving all sorts of international delicacies. I had seen pork dishes, like stir-fried pork and pulled pork, served on the street, but I had never seen a whole pig staring at me.

La Caja China

La Caja China

We strolled past Chinese food, Thai food, and African food, deciding to choose traditional Slovenian food instead–kinda.

fullsizeoutput_1d9b

We didn’t have the courage to try the tripe stew.

fullsizeoutput_1d91

Veal with peas, truffles, and vegetables (yes, truffles from a street vendor) tapped Marcia on the shoulder, and stuffed pepper with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce wrapped me in its comfortable arms.

fullsizeoutput_1d8dThus captured, we ordered glasses of excellent Slovenian wine for only three euros each.Time slipped seamlessly by while we ate our lunch, people watched, and enjoyed our hostess Ljubljana, a gracious, modern lady.

fullsizeoutput_1db6

One of the many wine vendors

RETURN TRIP?

It was then time to return to our lodging. Marcia bought some red and amber votive holders as we left the open-air market. Unfortunately, we never had time to visit the covered market.  Return trip?  I hope so.

fullsizeoutput_1d8b

Prešeren Square