Rod inside Hutch’s

signdoorWe were recently visiting southwest Pennsylvania, mainly to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water and his other houses in the area. We decided to stay in Connellsville, as it seemed to be fairly central to the places we wanted to visit, and that was the case. Connellsville is southeast of Pittsburgh (where we flew to), so it wasn’t too difficult to navigate the rental car to the town. We stayed at the Cobblestone Inn and Suites, right on the Youghiogheny River (an unpronoucable name!), and our room overlooked the river, which was great.

A number of places to eat are listed in the local brochure from the Visitors’ Center, but this one was recommended by a local woman who served us in the Liquor Store. She raved about it, and the French onion soup and steaks in particular, and the other server agreed, so we decided to try.


French onion soup



Part of the collection

Hutch’s Tap Room and Supper Club looks fairly unassuming from the outside, but is totally different inside. There is a large bar area to the left as you go in, and table seating to the right. Lighting is not very bright, but what immediately catches your eye is the eclectic collection of “things” all around the sides of the large room and on the walls. It’s a really motley collection, with old family photos, posters of Superman, busts and lamps of Elvis, Halloween stuff, lighted beer ads, …you name it! It was fun to roam around looking, wondering who collected it all and whether they had some kind of theme in mind.




Veronita enjoys the French onion soup

But, besides the interesting collection, the ambience was very pleasant: pretty crowded, but friendly people, all chatting. Our waitress was sweet and helpful, explaining the menu and some of the old photographs when she realized that we were new to town.

The food was also pretty good, the French onion soup indeed outstanding—one of the best we’ve ever had! We’d happily return.


Tall-grass Prairie in Town



IMG_8614Our town, Urbana, has a number of places where we can see swathes of re-created tall-grass prairie. One is at Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about before (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2004/07/30/meadowbrook-park/ ), another is along part of the railway line, and another is along Florida Ave next to the house of the President of the University of Illinois. They are gorgeous, especially in summer and fall, when the plants are tall and beautiful with swathes of bright mostly purple and yellow flowers.

IMG_8615Why is this important? One of the nicknames for Illinois is the Prairie State (of course, another is Land of Lincoln). Prairie grassland was once the dominant ecosystem in Illinois, but prairie is largely forgotten and almost non-existent in our agricultural and urbanized landscape. About 60% of Illinois (approximately 22 million acres) was once prairie. Now, only about 2,500 acres remain. The rest became corn and soybean fields, pastures and hayfields, mostly in the period between 1820-1840, as more and more settlement of prairie areas in Illinois took place.

Various conservation groups want to continue to pay homage to the prairie and we are IMG_8609very happy that our town is part of that, so that people can still imagine what the state might have once looked like. There are other benefits to re-planting the prairie vegetation, such as increasing habitats for insects and wildlife.

Here are a few photos from the plot close to the president’s house.



Matthias Church, Budapest


The Mosque, Paris


St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), Vienna

Houses of Worship

As I wrote about before in my Eastern Europe blog, I am not a particularly religious person, but wherever we travel we make an effort to visit places of worship. We’re drawn to holy/religious/sacred buildings, regardless of which religion, not because of faith but because of the faith of those who built them—people who were so willing to give their time, efforts, and money to build these beautiful places, places that should be the most beautiful possible. What also draws us to them is their history and sense of sacredness, as well as their photographic charm. From a small white-steepled church in New Hampshire, to the grandeur of a Gothic cathedral in Europe, to a mosque in Bosnia, to a Buddhist temple in Korea these spiritual gathering places are wonderful sights to visit.


Church in Dublin, New Hampshire


Shinto Shrine, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan


Cathedral, Merida, Mexico


Buddhist Temple, Seoul,  Korea

Interiors often overflow with detail and color, and are rife with ornamentation, although some are dark and plain. Photography is usually permitted, but often with no flash, but it’s easy enough to steady the camera on the back of a pew or against a column.

Over the years, and in many cities around the world we’ve visited many of these spiritual places. In months to come I will spotlight some of them. For now, here is a small selection of some of the many beautiful or interesting that we’ve visited in various places.




Notre Dame, Paris (before the fire)


Inside Stephansdom, Vienna


One of the many mosques in Mostar, Bosnia




Lovely small plate at Le Petit Cochon


Venison carpaccio with soft cheese and hazel nuts at Ox and Finch

I’ve just posted this on my Celtic Connections blog.  So, please check out the link below. On our very recent trip to Glasgow we were so pleasantly surprised to discover a new food scene, very different to many of the meals we had in past visits to Scotland.


Beyond Expectations



sign2South Africa: Buitenverwachting Winery, 37 Klein Constantia Road, Cape Town

In Afrikaans “buitenverwachting” means “beyond expectations”, and this winery is trying to live up to its name, or even to exceed expectations. It’s part of the Constantia Wine Route (10 wineries are listed: http://constantiawineroute.com/about/).

Our family from the Cape have been to this winery a number of times, so on our last trip to South Africa we all decided we should too, as we were in the vicinity and we were trying to visit as many new (to us) wineries as we could.

We were only at Buitenverwachting for part of an afternoon, but long enough to see a bit of the estate and to do a wine tasting. Long enough to whet our appetite and know that we want to return. It’s another lovely winery, with great wines, a complex of gorgeous Cape Dutch buildings, and spectacular scenery.


The Tasting Room is in that lovely building


gableBit of history and back story:

Constantia is a large area just outside today’s main Cape Town metropolitan area, with farms, vineyards, restaurants and other attractions, including the 10 wineries on the Constantia Wine Route (mentioned above). Simon van der Stel founded Constantia in 1685, also known as Groot Constantia. He was the first governor of the new Dutch colony at the tip of Africa. He chose this particular valley, not only for its beauty but also for the decomposed granite soils on its slopes, gently cooled by ocean breezes. Here he built a house and used the land to produce wine (Constantia’s first wine farm, Groot Constantia), as well as other fruits and vegetables, and for cattle farming. After van der Stel’s death in 1712, the estate was broken up and sold in three parts: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia and Bergvliet. Groot and Klein Constantia still exist today as lovely wineries.

In 1773 a 200-morgen sub-division (probably about 171 hectares or 422 acres) was sold to a Cornelis Brink and this became, in 1796, what we know as Buitenverwachting today. (A morgen was a unit of land measurement used by Netherlands, Germany and the Dutch colonies in those days).

It’s a beautiful farm on the east-facing slopes of the Constantia Berg (mountain), only vinesabout 12 km from False Bay. Sadly it changed hands rather frequently but still generally did well as a wine farm, partly because of the 90,000 vines planted in 1825 by Ryk Arnoldus Cloete, brother of Hendrik Cloete. Hendrik Cloete, the first winemaker of Groot Constantia, planted new vines to replace the old ones, thus improving the quality of wines from the estate.

The new estate, Buitenverwachting, had many ups and downs over the years until recently.


The Tasting Room looks out on a big lawn with a huge old Norfolk Pine tree

Richard and Christine Mueller bought this historic property in the 1980s, with a view to restoring its fortunes. Their team seem to have done a good job, as Buitenverwachting has helped to re-establish this area’s reputation for fine wine. The team is Lars Maack, Christine’s son and part-owner; Hermann Kirschbaum the cellar master; and winemaker Brad Paton. They restored the farm to its former glory and started planting selected cultivars. Their first grape harvest of 100 tonnes was the first in 30 years for the farm and they haven’t looked back.

Back to the present;

After you turn off the main road you drive for a little while through the vineyards and past fields, all with a wonderful view of the hills not far away. The first impression of the winery is of greenery and beautiful Cape Dutch buildings, the white gables standing out against the green.


Glen M and Nath M waiting to taste wine


Tasting Room and terrace

Today, it has a restaurant, winetasting, and a coffee shop.

First, the wine tasting. The Tasting Room(s)are in the historic wine cellar, with its traditional thatched roof, white-washed walls, and yellowwood ceilings. The inside is casual, with a tasting bar, couches and small lounges. Or you can sit outside on the terrace, which we did as our party had two little people. Outside was perfect for them to play around on the huge lawn that has a magnificent 250-year-old Norfolk Pine tree.


The 2 little girls in or party had a lot of fun outside, especially around the big tree


even the stools are fun


The rosé was probably our favorite wine

The non-drivers of our party did the tasting at R60 for 5 wines (about $4), half of which was waived because we bought some wine too. All the wines were great, and we noticed that they are regularly rated very high by John Platter. The terrace is a great place to linger and chat, perhaps order a bottle of wine and a charcuterie plate.

The restaurant, in one of the original thatch buildings, has recently been renovated after a terrible storm in 2017. I’m told it is very good and serves a great menu based on locally-sourced ingredients. We didn’t sample it this time, but it’s on our to-do list next time we are in South Africa.

The coffee shop is called Coffee BloC, named for the coffee roastery, built in the traditional Cape style of architecture in the shape of a small square block. Besides excellent, fresh coffee they have a small breakfast menu and a selection of homemade pastries and cakes.


The coffee shop is in this lovely building



There’s also a gift shop called the Studio, with mostly rather high-end (but lovely) goodies as far as we could see.

Next year Rod is attending a conference in Cape Town and will run a small workshop. He’d like to bring the attendees here, so we’ll see. It’s that good, and very accessible from the city.




Our Own Urbana Matsuri




This field is normally not for parking

Our Own Urbana Matsuri

I wrote about our local Matsuri last year (see here https://ourvisitstojapan.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/matsuri-in-our-home-town/). It was such a success that it was repeated this year, on September 8, 2019. I have a lot of photos, so please scroll through and enjoy!


People were fascinated by this entertainer


Get a tattoo, some calligraphy, or your face painted

As I said before, our Japan House is within easy walking distance of our house, which is great as so many cars need to park in the large field usually used for impromptu soccer and frisbee games. Plus, part of the main avenue in front of Japan House is actually blocked to traffic. Most people are quite happy with this, but one of the volunteers directing traffic told me that a few people get mad as they have to backtrack and take a small detour! It had rained in the night and early that morning, but luckily the weather cleared enough—still a bit cloudy but no rain.

A Matsuri is a fall festival, celebrated in slightly different ways in Japan, depending on the town. Our Matsuri seems perfectly adapted to our local community, with many food stalls set up by local eating places, some Asian but many not, but much of the food had a Japanese-sounding name.


I wonder what that tasted like?


I was happy to see that my favorite natural foods store, Common Ground, was there plus a local brewery called Triptych.



Different community or university groups have stalls too, from Yukata (summer cotton kimonos) stalls, to ikebana, to master gardeners, to a tattoo stall.



You approach the Japan House from the parking area and walk along a path lined with cherry trees, now strung with colorful lanterns and huge red origami paper cranes.



Japan House overlooks a small lake, roughly in a figure-of-8, around which a path winds. A bridge also crosses the lake at the narrow central point. Most of the stalls, seating area with tables and chairs, and stage, are set up on the far side of the lake, under the plentiful trees.



Kampai means Cheers! in Japanese

As I walked across the field, with throngs of other people, the throbbing sound of drums got louder as I approached the stage. It was a group called Ho Etsu Taiko,a Chicago-based Japanese drum ensemble, who were doing a great job and the crowd loved them.



A little later another group took the stage, a local Martial Arts Group called Kobudokan Dojo. They were demonstrating Kobudoand Iaido, different moves with swords—fascinating.




Going into Japan House. Many women wore a yukata that day

From the Opening Remarks at 12 noon, until close at 9pm the stage hosted all kinds of different groups, all free. For the food and drink stalls, and for the other outside activities (face-painting, bubbles, try ikebana etc) you need to buy tickets (cash only) from one of the many volunteers walking around.

Items for sale (clothes, wall hangings, bonsai plants etc) were handled by each stall.

Inside the Japan House itself people could attend a tea ceremony (a fee), or just wander around the rooms, browsing for some pretty knick-knack, or wall hanging, or real kimono, or lovely ceramics.


It’s all a lot of fun, noisy, cheerful, and very well-attended. I commend all the volunteers and the organizers: so many details, like the decorating and setting up all the tents, tables and chairs, extra lights etc; manning the stalls; directing traffic; driving golf carts around for those who need a bit of help; not forgetting all the hundreds of posters advertising the Matsuri that were put up a couple of weeks beforehand (which they will now need to go round a take samuraidown!).

We are really lucky to have a great resource like the Japan House, and all the cultural interactions and activities that it brings to our community. It makes us all richer.

Fun Signs from Different Places

Besides having fun checking out the different languages when we travel overseas, it’s also interesting to find unusual signs—even locally. Sometimes humorous, sometimes provocative, sometimes thought-provoking or just quirky.

Here are a few from different places.

Found in Champaign-Urbana, our home town. At first I thought this was a made-up word, but no. Zymurgy is a new word to me, meaning a branch of applied chemistry dealing with fermentation, as in winemaking, brewing, preparation of yeast etc.


Pigs in California, in Napa area.


Glasgow, Scotland: Door of St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art ( a very interesting museum actually). Great to see how inclusive this is.



A Glasgow café: clever play on the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.


In Hohhot, northern China. We wonder what a humane liquor is. Humane for whom?


In the Orkney Islands, Scotland. Many of the roads are narrow and winding and not always well marked— this takes the cake!



Found in Oviedo, FL—we didn’t actually see a tortoise.


At a café in Prague, Czech Republic. Probably true, I’d say.


Near Reims, in France’s champagne region. How apt that a town is called Bouzy (like boozy).


In South Africa: Worsis boerewors (a special farmer sausage, that is hugely popular). A clever play on “may the force be with you”.


Street sign in Seattle. Is it supposed to be Wy or did they forget the ‘a’ to make Way?



art. popular since 10,000 BC


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