Homegrown Murals


In Bicycle Alley


In Bicycle Alley


Bicycle Alley

Urbana Murals: Transforming Urban Spaces

Walking around Urbana recently, I stopped to take pictures of some interesting murals that we’ve seen but never photographed before. They brighten up walls and bring a smile to one’s face.

A little research turned up some snippets of information on many of them. I find this fascinating, as it’s part of the history and culture of our town.


Part of Bicycle Alley murals

The first series is in Bicycle Alley, a graffiti hallway between the Courier Café and Pizza M and Siam Terrace. It’s a series of large-scale murals by local artists, spearheaded by Langston Allston. Allston is a local artist and an alumnus of the University of Illinois. This was part of the 2013 Downtown Mural Project and much of the funding came from pledges on Kickstarter. It started as a homage to local history and bike culture, but it looks to me as though others have painted and glued various graffiti on top of the originals. The alley is now an outdoor bar/meeting place during the warmer weather. We’ve never tried it, but it looks like a fun place.



Bicycle Alley


Courier Cafe mural

Nearby is a large mural on the outside wall of the Courier Café (one of our favorite casual eating places in town). The Courier used to be the space of a former local newspaper and the owner of the Café, Allen Strong, has kept many of the old features. The artist is Glen C. Davies, who is illustrating a bit of history of this very location. The Courier is close to the site of the first settlement cabin in Urbana. It was William Tompkin’s cabin, built in 1822 along the Boneyard Creek, right behind the Courier building.

Davies has been in town since 1974 and at one time he delivered newspapers for the old courier2Courier newspaper, which went out of business on March 31, 1979.

The left hand side of the mural starts with the Big Grove (settlement area), moving across to the influence of agriculture and the railroads. We see Lincoln and his influence, and the portraits of four journalists whose careers started here — George Will, Gene Shalit, Bob Novak and Roger Ebert. Then it moves into current times with downtown Main Street, the university, and a bicyclist through town. It ends with an antique car, which symbolizes Allen Strong.

Glen C. Davies is also the artist of a smaller, but striking, mural near the Urbana Free Library.


urbana Free Library mural

I couldn’t find any information on the dog mural, on a house on the corner of Race and Illinois Streets in Urbana—it’s eye-catching and cute, though.



Summer view to mountains


Winter view


Entrance to the farm stall


Many creatures on the approach road


This is always a good place to have lunch in the Stellenbosch winelands area as it’s easy to get to, the prices are very reasonable and it’s a lot of fun.

Mooiberge means “pretty mountains” in Afrikaans and the view out here certainly is that, as it’s right below the Helderberg Mountains.




A Springbok (SA rugby team) and a Wallaby (Australian team)


A Stormer (Cape rugby team)

On the R44 road between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, this landmark farm stall is hard to miss, as much of the property is “fenced” with a line of colorful art creatures/’sculptures’ (can we call them sculptures?) that the farm calls scarecrows and transportation creations. They are colorful, whimsical, and sometimes naughty scarecrows! Many of them are animals representing various sports teams, both South African and other countries. For many people, Mooiberge is “that farm with the crazy oversupply of scarecrows.” We wondered how it all began and in fact, the menu explains some of the history.

It started off in the 1950s as a farm stall selling strawberries, run by the Zetler family (Samuel and Josie Zetler and 5 sons), who later added sweet peppers too. As the roadside cart grew too small, they built a bricks and mortar stall that blossomed/mushroomed out into what we see today—a colorful, sprawling complex.


Some of the crafts in the modern farm stall


Cape gooseberries for sale


What about some Mama Africa’s hot sauce?


Thirsty Scarecrow play area

Some might say it’s a kitschy produce market-cum-wine shop-cum-market for bottled goods (jams, sauces, olive oils for example), cakes, nuts, biltong, local crafts, wine barrels, fruits and vegetables. But, it’s undoubtedly a lot of fun. We once bought a bottle of wine for R25—one of their advertised specials. They seem to have many of the specials for various airlines.

It’s a great place to take kids in the strawberry season (November-January or February), as the strawberry picking is very popular. There’s a wonderful play area called the Thirsty Scarecrow, which the kids in our group loved on the last visit.





Caroline M, Rod M, and Anthea K enjoy lunch

Over the years we’ve been here many times to eat lunch and it’s always been great. In the winter, there’s obviously no strawberry picking and the rows of plants are all covered in plastic. But, it’s still a great lunch place, as it has a fun atmosphere because of the setting and very good food—a tasty meal, with very generous servings, of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

The outside deck where you can sit looks out over the kids play area and across the pepper/strawberry fields to the mountains, the whole view enlivened by the bright, quirky, animals (mostly) sculptures—which in general you’d say don’t fit into this (wine) environment, and yet they’ve become a local fixture and a tourist feature and attraction.


Miss E at entrance to Farmers Kitchen


One of their delicious salads


Rod M has the lamb burger

The restaurant is called the Farmer’s Kitchen, which re-opened in September 2011 after new owner Kelly Zetler revamped it, to “French colonial meets rustic countryside comfort”. Its hours are 8:30am-5pm, and they specialize in breakfast, snack meals and lunch, with many dishes featuring strawberries in season.

At different times over the years, members of our party have tried many items on the menu. Some of the favorites are a huge lamb burger with Greek-style cucumber-yoghurt sauce; an avocado and chicken wrap; a bacon, brie and walnut pizza, served with salad; a parma ham and fresh fig salad; and a fresh salad with pomegranate and goat cheese. They also have very good meat and cheese platters. The house wine is Du Toitskloof sauvignon blanc and there is also beer, hard cider and all kinds of cold and hot drinks.


Another great salad


We look down at rugby player scarecrows from the restaurant


More creatures

Also in the Mooiberge complex is the Thirsty Scarecrow Bistro-Pub, open Mon-Sun 11am-11:30pm.

Mooiberge the Farm Stall is open Mon-Sun 8:30am-6pm.

This should definitely be on the list for anyone visiting the Cape Town and Stellenbosch winelands.


Mooiberge’s first tractor

Nature Soothes A Saddened Soul


A magnificent African elephant about to start a sand bath int he river bed


Collection of pretty gourds in Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis

So many people are shocked, angry, stunned, grieving at the outcome of the November  USA election. “Whatever will be, will be” after this and events will run their course. But, living with anger and grief is not a good thing for anyone, so I thought this might help for a while.

Mother Nature is a wonderful thing, and usually getting out into Nature (in any form) can be very soothing. (Let’s just hope the new administration doesn’t reverse some/any of the good that’s been done to help our environment—might be a rather forlorn hope, I’m afraid).

I found this poem by Wendell Berry, and it does offer some solace.


A misty fall day in a park in northern Hokkaido, Japan

I’m also going to try and find a photo of ours of something beautiful and wonderful in Nature for the next few days, to try and help soothe some souls.

Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, a farmer, poet, essayist from Kentucky

“When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry



Almost too pretty to eat



Kuwana Restaurant in Sapporo, Japan

Miniature edible works of art

Another Amazing Meal in Hokkaido—-Have we ever had a mediocre meal?!

This is a very special restaurant in Sapporo, in the busy downtown Susukino area (think chain stores, neon lights, night life). We went here one evening with Dr K, Satoshi, Max and 2 students from the lab. It’s in a busy nightlife area, down a small side street with many obvious adult entertainment places, so we’d never find it on our own. I doubt many tourists come here, unless they speak and read Japanese, as nothing is in English really.


Baby tempura


A pork dish


Our plates arrive with a clothes peg

So, once again, we are so lucky to have very involved hosts who want us to experience the best their city has to offer. We came by subway, on the Green line from Sapporo JR Station. This is the second stop; the first is Odori.

Kuwana is a small place on two levels: downstairs is a bar-counter, and upstairs is zashiki seating, where we sit with our feet dangling in a cut-out area below the low table. It might be small, with only 28 seats, but it’s a very nice place, quite formal with all the dishes exquisitely presented.


How to hold the hot clam shell with the clothes peg


Plate of clams

It is known for baked clams in particular. They use the Hamaguri, or common orient clam, a saltwater clam found in Japan. When we sat down we wondered why each person had a clothes-peg on their side plate, but soon found out. We used the peg to hold the shell of the baked clams, as the shells are extremely hot, and then picked out the clam with chopsticks. The clams were delicious, but so many other small amazing dishes appeared after the clams that I’d be really hard-pressed to pick a favorite.


Sea grape seaweed pops in the mouth


Tuna tomato salad


A tuna bone is a delicacy

All were tasty, all beautifully presented—the whole meal like a work of art. One was umibudo (sea grape), a special kind of seaweed that looks like tiny green grapes, which pop in your mouth when you bite them.

Again, we are really fortunate to be taken out to places like this, and to be treated so well. This is a wonderful way of learning about a very special part of Japanese culture: its cuisine. The Japanese are very proud of their cuisine, and we are very willing learners and experimenters.


Max, Risa and Yuki


They even had a cheese plate



Fall on our street

fallThe glorious fall colors around our house in Urbana always get us “oohing and aahing”, especially on a sunny day when the light makes the leaves seem luminous. Cameras come out as we try for that elusive perfect photo on our tree-lined avenue that becomes an autumn-hued tunnel.

As we took these photos I realized that we’ve done the same for the other seasons, and I thought it would be fun to put up a kind of collage, with a comparison of our avenue at different times of year. And the back of our house through the four seasons too. What a difference a few months make!

This also makes us realize that we’ve actually come to love the four seasons and their changing, even though we are originally from southern Africa where the change of seasons isn’t at all well marked.

Please scroll through and enjoy!


The cycle begins


Beautiful greening begins after the bare winter


Late spring


A green tunnel in summer



Doesn’t look the same in winter!


A blizzard hits our street


Our neighbor’s magnolia is gorgeous in spring


In summer everything gets very lush


Our back yard in fall


Back of our house in winter


Icicles above our front step


Japan: A Hokkaido Special Dish


The venue


The menu

beersignSapporo Beer Garden and Genghis Khan Lamb Grill—For Old Times Sake

Sapporo Beer Garden, its slogan “The Beer that Made Sapporo Famous”

Genghis Khan Grilled Lamb, or Jinghis Khan Barbecued Lamb is the speciality of Hokkaido. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious.

On our first evening of our recent visit to Sapporo we went with our hosts, Satoshi and Max, to the Sapporo Beer Garden, one of the most well-known eating places in the city, and recommended by all the guidebooks and the CVB brochures. It’s also called Sapporo Bier Garten, as it is modeled on the German concept of a beer hall and the beer is based on German-style brewing techniques. We’d been there a number of times on our last visits, so this was a great place to eat and reminisce about the wonderful former dinners. We’d had fondue before (hot oil or broth), and Chinese Hot Pot (hot broth in a pot, either individual or shared), and food cooked on a hot stone. But never quite like this until we came to Hokkaido six years ago—meat on a grill surface but not touching an open flame or any liquid.



50yearsWe went by taxi, as many people do, but there is also a direct bus from the Sapporo Station. Sapporo Beer Garden is a huge, very popular, place, in a traditional red brick building next to the Beer Museum. It was built in 1890 as a sugar factory, and then was used as a malting plant until 1963. From 1966 it became the Sapporo Beer Garden. So, this year is a special year, as they are celebrating 50 years in business.

The beer hall-restaurant in Kessel Hall is on a number of levels around an open atrium, with many tables. The speciality is Genghis Khan lamb, and each table is especially equipped with a couple of black gas grills, in a special domed shape/design. There are also other eating halls and an outdoor beer garden in the warm season.


Kessel Hall

4beersModeled on a German beer-drinking hall, the main floor of Kessel Hall has tables and a large copper kettle dating from 1912 in the corner. There are also tables upstairs, overlooking the main hall.

Beer of 3 types (light, dark, and medium) comes in small (500ml), medium (830ml) and large (1L) glass steins—pretty good, very cold. It’s fresh draft beer, straight out of the factory. The hall has a very convivial atmosphere and it seems that most people choose the speciality, the Genghis Khan lamb. Depending on size, each table is equipped with a number of the specially designed gas grills (our table for 6 had 2 grills). The grill is ridged domed, with an outer lip along the bottom, and the handles and outer edges have a shape that Satoshi tells me look like the shape of Hokkaido.


Satoshi rubs the surface with fat


cooking2Here’s how you do it:

When we arrived we put on our bibs, a large plastic white one with the blue symbols of the Beer Garden: 2 lions round a star. The servers also brought large plastic bags for handbags, scarves etc, so they don’t take up the lamb cooking smell. There are two types of lamb, both thinly sliced: fresh strips, or the frozen ones, which are all circular as the meat was frozen in a cylinder shape. Many people think that the round slices look much more attractive. The slices of the two meats came on separate platters, plus a platter of raw vegetables—pumpkin slices, very coarsely shredded cabbage, onion strips, mushrooms, and huge bean sprouts.


groupOne of the servers turned on the grills and our hosts rubbed the top point of the dome with a piece of lamb fat till it dripped down and the grill was coated. Using wooden chopsticks or metal tongs they put vegetables round the bottom edge, then slices of meat, turning and manipulating frequently. Each person got a small serving plate and a dipping bowl, which the waitress filled with dipping sauce from a metal jug on the table.

It gets very hot and steamy round the grill, with wonderful lamb aromas. Very tasty and perfect for a group. It’s quite noisy, but that’s part of the atmosphere.4sign

The menu has pictures and English sub-titles, but the wait staff don’t speak much English, so we were very happy to have guidance.

Address: Kita (N) 7, Higashi (E) 9.

Open 11:30am-10pm (last order 9:30pm), 7 days a week.

Note: they really do close at 10pm, as they warn the patrons promptly at 9:55pm, and begin playing a version of “Aulde Lang Syne”!

www.sapporo-bier-garten.jp (click on English on the top menu bar, towards the right)


You can even buy beer chocolates


Friend Isaac Cann, Dr Kobayashi, and Rod at a seafood restaurant


side dishes


Food looking like art

A very important part of Japanese culture is its food and cuisine. Japanese people are very proud of their cuisine and are really happy to share it and try to explain it: We are willing learners! Japanese cuisine is delicate and delicious, and always visually appealing and beautifully presented—often a work of art on a plate.

In Hokkaido we’ve had many opportunities to savor some of the best and most loved or famous dishes. For many Japanese people—particularly when they have visitors—the day is structured around the meals, especially lunch and dinner, and there will be serious discussions as to what kind of food and restaurant, and where. Often (mostly) they make a reservation, to make sure of getting a table because many of the good eating places are quite small.


Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb


Preparing okonomyaki


One of our favorites is Hokke fish

On our recent visit we were in Hokkaido for a week, 5 nights in Sapporo the capital, and two nights on a road trip. We were treated twice to a Hokkaido speciality, called Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb, for dinner and to wonderful seafood places twice for dinner by hosts Dr. Kobayashi, Satoshi and Max. There’s always lots of discussion about the menu, and what dishes to choose, all with the aim of having us try new and/or special things. If the host knows that we like something in particular, they will always try to order that too.

Traditional style zashiki seating on the floor can be done two ways: sit at a low table with legs crossed on the floor; or sit at a low table with a sunken floor for your legs. As westerners used to sitting up at a table, we tend to find the second way a little easier, so our hosts would try to find that for us. For any zashiki seating, all guests remove their shoes first.


Tempura at a seafood restaurant

bbqbrolleyOne evening all lab members arranged a BBQ party at the lab, which was also an amazing feast of fish, vegetables and slices of meat. It was doubly memorable, as the evening started out with light rain and the students were valiantly cooking on the open grill with umbrellas! Luckily, the rain did stop.

Our other 2 nights in Hokkaido were on a road trip with Satoshi and Max, and each evening they cooked up a storm in our chalet in the hilly countryside, with the same careful attention to detail and the same careful choice of ingredients and dishes. We are truly honored and very lucky. More about the road trip later.


Okonomyaki for lunch


Soba noodles for lunch another day


Students cooking at the BBQ party

Lunch is often soba, or ramen, or okonomyaki (Japanese-style pancake), also done with the same discussions and careful choice. Rod and I have declared to Max and Satoshi that our Hokkaido tradition must now always include soba noodles, and hokke (a fish, smoked Atka mackerel) and that’s made them very happy.

I will write about Ghengis Khan Grilled Lamb, soba, and okonomyaki separately, as well as the road trip, but here are some pictures from the one evening at a great seafood restaurant in the maze of underground “streets” in the JR complex, and some from the lab BBQ, which was a lot of fun.




Our group at the seafood restaurant

Itadakimasu, or Bon Appetit!

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