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Snapshot of South Africa Trip

Capemt

Magnificent Cape winelands scenery

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Protea, the beautiful national flower of South Africa

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Lunch with a view near East London

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A penguin colony at Betty’s Bay, not far from Somerset West

My husband, Rod, and I have recently returned from a 5-week trip to South Africa. Mostly it was to see family, but we did get to do some fun, touristy things too. Plus he had a conference at the conference center at Skukuza Camp in the Kruger National Park. Besides Skukuza, we visited Somerset West in the Cape winelands, East London, Kokstad, and Pretoria. Pretoria was our old stomping ground when we lived in South Africa, so it was fun to get together with old friends, re-visit some places and get out to Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute where Rod used to work.

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Rod and colleague Isaac C at statue of Sir Arnold Theiler, founder of Onderstepoort

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At Inkwenkwezie Park near East London we went on an Elephant Encounter

Over the next weeks and months I will cover the trip, but for now here are a few photos as an overview.

 

 

 

 

 

Skdeck

The restaurant at Skukuza has a deck that overlooks the River Sabie, a perfect place for game viewing

 

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Watching elephants across the River Sabie from the deck

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Our accommodation—a rondavel— in Skukuza

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Setting off on a game drive in Kruger National Park

 

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Hyenas on the road in Kruger National Park

 

Kokstad

Farm scene near Kokstad

 

Kokstadcatte

Indigenous cattle in Kokstad

 

 

 

 

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Little Free Libraries

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PennAve

racestGood news for book lovers—and I know there are a lot of us out there.

A fairly recent phenomenon, called Little Free Libraries. It’s a wonderful idea in these times, when almost everyone is fixated on a screen of some kind, and some young people don’t even read real paper books any more.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a number of these little libraries pop up in our town and sometimes stop to see what kind of books are in them. They come in all shapes and sizes, limited only by the imagination and resources of the owner I guess. A friend regularly takes books and adds books to one of these little libraries near her home, although I’ve never actually done so.

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The Little Free Library in Sister Bay, Wisconsin

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Inside the Little Free Library in Sister Bay

We were in Sister Bay, Door Country, Wisconsin, a few weekends ago and on the farm we were visiting there was a large (by small library standards) little library. It’s housed in a wooden hut that used to be an old farm hut. We peeked inside—very cozy with bookshelves and a chair. This got me interested in the concept of these libraries so I wanted to find out more.

As Wikipedia tells us, Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire a love of reading, to build community, and to spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world, in all 50 USA states and 70 countries, although most are in the USA. Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, greatly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds. The Little Free Library nonprofit is based in Hudson, Wisconsin, USA.

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Part of the Idea Garden at the University of Illinois

childrenscloseThe first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. He placed a wooden container that looked like a one-room schoolhouse on a post on his lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. Bol shared his idea with his partner, Rick Brooks, and the idea spread rapidly, soon becoming a “global sensation“. Little Free Library was officially incorporated on May 16, 2012, and the Internal Revenue Service recognized Little Free Library as a nonprofit in the same year.

Long may this continue as a global sensation!

 

 

Amazing Aronia Berries

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Aronia Berry bushes

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Unripe berries

berriescloseIn recent years I’ve heard a lot about aronia berries and how they are one of the new “superfoods”, mostly due to their high antioxidative activity and their high level of vitamins, minerals and folic acids. We even tried a few dried berries from Whole Foods, and I have to say I wasn’t that impressed with the taste.

So, it was really interesting a few weekends ago to actually see some aronia bushes and find out more about how they are grown.

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Our group at the farm

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A young aronia bush

We were in Wisconsin visiting a business colleague of my husband’s in Milwaukee, and after that we drove to their house in Door County, at Sister Bay at the end of the peninsula. They have a beautiful house on the water there, plus he owns a farm just behind the house. Part of the farm, called Hidden Acres, is devoted to a community garden and part to a commercial enterprise, where they grow all kinds of vegetables organically for local restaurants. Wonderful to wander around and pick fresh carrots or purple beans, for example.

Something new that he is trying is growing Aronia berries. The bushes are now about cheesecakethree years old and are producing quite nicely. The best production will come after about 5 years, apparently. The berries were not ripe yet: harvesting will be at about the beginning of September.

Our host’s wife made a cheesecake for dessert, and served it with a berry compote, made of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and aronia berries. In a mix like that, the aronia berries were quite pleasant. We tried eating a few fresh ones too, and found them very fibrous and chewy and not terribly tasty really. But, mixed in a smoothie they are very good.

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eating plain fresh aronia berries

We found out that Aronia is a woody perennial shrub in the rosaceae family that is native to the eastern United States. It grows in full sun and along woodland edges, so the setting of this farm is perfect.

Aronia has benefited from increased interest in phytonutrients, plant compounds that have beneficial effects on human health. Interest in “eating healthy” has led to worldwide growth in the popularity of aronia berries and products made from them. Aronia has been grown as a commercial berry crop in most Eastern European countries since the 1950s, starting in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. It is now becoming a more popular cash crop in the Mid-West of the USA too. Some sources say that Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity.

 

Places to Eat in Baltimore

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ale

They make their own beer at Oliver Brewing Co on sight

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Ale outside

Pratt Street Ale House

While in Baltimore we ended up coming here a couple of times for lunch and for dinner. Partly because its location was so convenient—opposite the Convention Center and close to our hotels—but also because after our first meal there we realized that the food is really good, fairly reasonably priced and has a wonderful convivial atmosphere and really friendly wait staff.

We sat outside the first two times at tables under trees that line the sidewalk. The next two times we opted to sit inside as the weather had changed to terribly hot and steamy. Both were fine in different ways: outside we could watch the world go by, and it did, in a steady stream of pedestrians and noisy traffic; inside we were cool and could listen to snippets of conversation at other tables as people discussed the merits of the local baseball team, the Orioles. On our final night in the city, there was a game on between the Orioles and the Chicago Cubs and many Cubs fans were in town. Many seemed to be in this pub as it’s on the way to the stadium, so we also heard lots of “go Cubbies” comments too. Remember that Baltimore is serious about its sports!

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Inside—tuna salad

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Outside—tuna salad

OsignBut, back to the Ale House.

They have quite a large menu with many options, lots like typical pub food. For lunches we tried a couple of their special salads: a crab cobb salad and a seared tuna salad with wasabi soba noodles and vegetables. So good, in fact, that we had the tuna again!

They are a brew pub and their speciality is Oliver’s Ales, so we had to try one of those at least once (because our grandson’s name is Oliver!), and their beer menu is impressive. One evening we chose “Staring at the Sun”, a Belgian-style wheat beer that was pretty good.

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An extensive menu

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Crab Cobb salad

Rsteak

Ribeye

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The salmon and shrimp dish was delicious…

For entrees, the rib-eye was good (Rod), but the really amazing dish was the salmon with shrimp, a mashed potato patty and wilted spinach. I would definitely go back just for that!

Address: 206 W. Pratt Street, opposite the Baltimore Convention Center and a few blocks from the Inner harbor.

tuna

…and so was the tuna salad!

 

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Detail of Chagall’s America Windows

Marc Zakharovich Chagall (born July 1887, Belarus; died March 1985, France), a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin, was an early modernist. We’ve come across his work before (in Paris and in Zurich), and love his bold use of colors in glass, and his “pictures within pictures.” For us, probably the most famous is his America Windows in Chicago at the Art Institute.

Marc Chagall’s America Windows is one of the most loved treasures in the Art Institute’s collection—they are one of our favorites too, although it’s hard to pick favorites in this museum so chock-a-block with masterpieces! They made their debut at the Art Institute in May 1977 and were made more famous less than ten years later when they appeared in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Bit of Background:

Chagall’s Windows were not on show for quite a while as they were undergoing

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Detail of America Windows

conservation treatment and archival research. But, they returned in 2010 to a new location as the stunning centerpiece of a new presentation on Chicago’s other modern public art at the east end of the museum’s Arthur Rubloff building (as you go down to the café). Here we can see models and maquettes of some of the important large pieces in the story of Chicago’s modern public art.

It’s interesting that the history of America Windows is interwoven with the history of Chicago and its rich tradition of public art, which continues strongly today.

The roots of this can be traced to 1967, the year Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled. It was Chicago’s first major installation of the new styles of 20th century modern art (see my post on this here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/chicago-creativity-on-the-streets/ ). It initially inspired controversy, but soon started a cultural resurgence fueled by public and private investment in the arts. One of these included Mark Chagall’s mosaic The Four Seasons installed outside Chase Tower in 1974, which in turn inspired America Windows.

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Another detail from America Windows

Because the city was so enthusiastic about his work and the Art Institute gave him great support, Chagall offered to create a set of stained-glass windows for the museum. During the next three years plans were clarified, and Chagall decided that the windows would commemorate America’s bicentennial.

The resulting six-panel work, with three main themes, celebrates the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, giving details of the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance. They paint a romantic picture of the American Dream, the idea that we can achieve anything we want in this country. Because Chagall admired Chicago and its strong commitment to public art during the 1960s and 1970s, he chose to dedicate the work to the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, a great supporter of public art projects (he died December 1976). The windows were presented with great fanfare at a formal unveiling, hosted by the Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute, on May 15, 1977.

The Windows Today:

The Windows are in a superb location now, as they glow softly from the natural light coming in behind them. The colors and the details are beautiful, a story of different religions, arts and parts of American life all intertwined.

The first panel shows the city’s rich history as a hub for rhythm and blues. Note people playing instruments, plus floating guitars and fiddles, all in glowing blue panes. The windows are done cathedral-style, a perfect way to show the spirituality of Blues music.

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First panel

The second panel depicts the unity and peace within the city’s many neighborhoods. Note the giant dove, a symbol of peace. This panel is also a prayer for the city. When Mayor Richard J. Daley died in December1976, many people were in mourning. The figure on the left of the pane lights a candle in remembrance of the late, great mayor.

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Second panel

Panel three shows the importance of religious freedom in the USA. Note the immigrants of different backgrounds, an angel-like figure, a menorah, and rose window. Chagall was Jewish but worked extensively with cathedral windows and was comfortable referring to Christianity and Judaism. It’s also important, as most American citizens have come from a family of immigrants. Something the current Administration needs to take heed of!!

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Panel 3

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Opera Garnier is a gorgeous setting for Chagall’s ceiling

Another Chagall masterpiece we’ve seen and photographed is in Paris at the neo-Baroque Opera Garnier; the magnificent ceiling in the main auditorium. It was unveiled in 1964. It looks beautiful there, even though his design is way more modern that the setting it is in. Somehow, we think the older (and very sumptuous and ornate) and the new meld very well and apparently the public love it today. Chagall divided the ceiling into color zones that he filled with landscapes and figures commemorating the composers, actors and dancers of opera and ballet.

 

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Angels on pillars, angels on the ceiling

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Chagall ceiling at Opera Garnier

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Chagall at Fraumunster Church Zurich–first 4 window-panels of 5

We also saw some of Chagall’s work in the heart of old Zurich at the Fraumunster Church, built on the remains of an abbey built in 853. The choir of the abbey has 5 large stained-glass windows designed by Chagall and installed in 1970. They all depict a Christian story. Stunning.

The first panel in red/orange depicts Elijah’s

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Last 4 window-panels

ascent to heaven. The second panel in blue shows Jacob’s combat and dreams of heaven. The middle (third) panel in green depicts various scenes from Christ’s life. The fourth panel in yellow shows Zion with an angel trumpeting the end of the world. The last (fifth) panel in blue depicts Law, with Moses looking down on the suffering of the people.

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Middle 3 window-panels

We look forward to tracking down more of Chagall’s work in the future. But, in the meantime, we are happy that Chicago and its history of public art can boast one of his major works.

Phillips Seafood, Baltimore

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The former Power Plant building

Phillips Seafood was recommended by a friend originally from Baltimore and by all the tourist books and brochures, so we decided we should go there our first evening in Baltimore, as we hadn’t scouted out any other good eating places.

This popular place is at the edge of Inner Harbor in part of the old Pratt Street Power Plant building (Barnes and Noble and Hard Rock Café are in there too). The former coal-fired power plant, built 1900-1909, was repurposed from the mid 1970s. Phillips Seafood moved here in June 2010.

Come very early, or a bit later (8pm) as it gets very crowded around 5:30-8pm and you’ll likely have a long wait, especially on weekends.

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Rod M inside

There is indoor and outdoor seating: we opted for indoors as the wait was slightly shorter. It was cooler inside too! The décor is attractive with pretty chandeliers and stained-glass insets in the ceiling. We had a beer while waiting and then got a bar area table pretty easily.

Here in Baltimore (and in Maryland generally) crab cakes are a speciality, so we had to try them. We shared a beet salad, with two different colored beets and feta cheese on arugula, which was delicious. Then Rod had the classic plate, which was a crab cake, a shrimp skewer, a piece of salmon, mashed potatoes and asparagus. I had crab-stuffed shrimp, which was 5 butterflied shrimp

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Crab-stuffed shrimp

stuffed with a crab mix, with mashed potatoes and asparagus. All very nice, with a very friendly server.

The atmosphere is pleasant, as it’s bustling with people and two guys on guitars were playing and singing, a bit like John Denver.

Phillips Seafood is a very prominent institution around here, and it would be hard to miss with its huge red sign. I’m glad we came and it was fun. The food was good, but pretty over-priced, I’d say. Definitely good for one visit, but I’m not sure we could afford to return.

601 E. Pratt Steet, Baltimore, www.Phillipsseafood.com

 

 

Inner harbor

Part of Baltimore’s famous Inner Harbor

We have just returned from a week’s trip to the city of Baltimore, a first for me. We really enjoyed it, in spite of the extreme heat and humidity, and agree that the city deserves its nickname of “Charm City”.

They have done a good job with public transport, which is very important for a city to be moving forward. They have a Light Rail system, many different bus lines (some are free), and a metro.

 

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Our Light Rail ticket to BWI Airport

For example, it’s very easy to get from Baltimore (BWI) airport to downtown. When you’ve collected your baggage walk to Gate 18 in the baggage collection area and buy Light Rail tickets at the machine there. Normal fare is $1.60, but seniors pay only $0.80 (there are some advantages of being a senior!). Then Gate 19 straight ahead leads directly onto the platform. During the day, trains come about every 20-25 minutes and it took us about 40-45 minutes to get to Camden Yards, one of the convenient stops for the Convention Center (the other is the next stop, Convention Center, but that day the train ended at Camden Yards).

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A Purple Line Charm City Circulator bus

Returning to the airport very early in the morning, trains only run every 30 minutes and do not stop at Convention Center, so we caught the train at Camden Yards again. Same price, from the ticket machine.

Another great feature of public transport, for both visitors and locals, are the Charm City Circulator buses. There are four lines that run different routes. Each route has a color—purple, orange, green, and dark blue (called Banner Line). We used them a number of times, as the routes run to most of the main tourist sights. Best of all they are FREE! People hop on and off at will. Pick up a Charm City Circulator bus schedule at the Visitors’ Center on the Inner Harbor.

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