Villandry & Blois (France 2015)

villandry2Just barely getting under the wire before the new year – determined to finish stories of our trip to France. Next up,  Switzerland and Germany from September, 2016.

We spent our last day in two places. First, Villandry, famed for its garden. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of blooms. The tulips had been beheaded and they were planting other things. There were some wonderful water features, some with swans. villandry5And I loved the trees trimmed to look like bumpers in a pinball machine. We wandered in the maze for a bit, then hit the road for Blois.villandry4

Blois is a big city, probably the biggest we saw on this trip, outside of Paris. We parked and had a coffee at an outdoor patio. The waitress was rather chilly but then…a flyby bird pooped on my shirt. We had a good laugh and she brought me a rag and water.

blois2blois4blois-castleWe walked past the castle. It’s a medieval / Renaissance monster, but I’m all castled out. We’ll go in another time. We did peek in through the gates to see the statue of Louis XII, one of the early owners. A lot of famous French kings lived here. My eye was caught by this downspout.

I want to add a word about Daniella and Florent, our hosts in Chinon for a week. We loved our stay at their B&B, the Agnes Sorel. They were both kind and helpful. Daniella and I had several nice talks in French – I’ll never be fluent but what fun to try. Anyone heading to Chin-un (as the GPS called it), it’s a great base from which to explore the marvelous French castles and countryside of the Loire Valley. We really missed the comfort there when we spent our last night near the Paris airport in a bed that sloped towards the edges. Au Revoir. Je reviens…


Green Bank

Green Bank TelescopeGreen Bank is not an ATM, but a location in West Virginia with the largest moveable radio telescope in the world. It’s managed by the same consortium that runs Arecibo and the Arizona site (if you’re a fan of the movie Contact, you’ll know just what I mean). Also there’s a new site going up in Chile. All the instruments are listening to the universe.

I wasn’t keen on visiting, but wow! First, it’s huge, as to be expected. Second, it’s the heart of a National Quiet Zone. Never heard of that? Neither had we but then we began to wonder why we couldn’t get ANY transmissions at the cabin. No cell phone. No internet. Nada. Turns out we’re in the NQZ. But we’ve got it easy because the actual telescope is an hour away. Those who live within a 10 mile radius have it tougher. Congress passed some sort of act that, if strange blips appear on the telescope monitors, an official can knock on your door to see what you’re up to.

I asked if the locals objected to the restrictions and was told that the site supplied a lot of local jobs. Seeing as it’s in the middle of nowhere, I understand that might be a plus. In the summer, they hire local college students home on their break to paint. Must be much like cleaning windows on a skyscraper.

Note: We weren’t allowed to take pictures close up – too sensitive.
094The face of the telescope is made from panels the size of the king mattress. They are individually adjustable to focus the radio waves which are bounced up to the receiver on the top and sent to the lab where the scientists work. The dish can move vertically and sits on a circular track, mounted on big flatcar-like wheels that can rotate it. When it was under construction, the engineers realized that once mounted, it was there forever so the wheels are designed to last but the tracks are repairable. We got to see both motions as the scientists were evidently adjusting it for the best reception.

The tour began with a brief movie and a demo of freezing a balloon (I forget what it was for, but the kids in the group loved it when the balloon shattered.) They drove us out to the telescope in a van, passing many historical scopes scattered around the site. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth the visit.

There is a picture that I didn’t take and wish I had: a burly biker covered with little badges like a scout, each badge representing a Harley convention or get together. I always feel shy taking pictures of people (which see my endless scenery and ruins pictures from Italy on this blog…) The pictures below are of the wildflowers surrounding the site. I never could resist a flower…

Hidden Treasures of Late Summer

fungi 4 fungi 2I always feel like the terminator when I go out with the weed whacker at the cabin. My hubby wants the edges of the stream cleared, which makes sense because then we can see as well as hear it. But I hate to chop down anything that blooms. The little thistle with the bee; the single yellow flower, the goldenrod, the white fluffy one I don’t recognize. I love them all.

Last week, though, when I whacked away a large area of underbrush, I exposed some interesting fungi that I would not have otherwise seen. They were clustered beads about the size of the tip of my little finger and bright orange. When I viewed them from the side, I could see stems, but on the log, they looked like a pile of orange grapes. (I guess grapes have stems too…)
fungi 3I I accidentally hit some with the whacker and spattered my face which worried me a bit. Aren’t bright colors in nature like the poisonous frogs a warning? Not in this case evidently because I lived to tell the tale…

fungi 1This frill of fungi was on the backside of a fallen tree. Reminded me of tutus, but a lot of things remind me of tutus: the body of a white duck swaying over skinny legs comes to mind.

I also saw some puffballs with a dab of green.
I hate to see summer slip away, but isn’t the earth beautiful?
fungi 5

Flowers that Bloom in the Spring on the East Coast

When I was learning to read I remember stories that talked about bunches of spring flowers. I didn’t get it; we never seemed to have blooms by Mayday, when you were supposed to make baskets, fill them with flowers, and place them on neighbor’s doorsteps. My sister and I wanted do this for the folks in the sanitarium across the street, so we created construction paper baskets, but the flowers were Kleenex carnations. Such a disappointment.

You see, I grew up in Denver and spring as portrayed in books didn’t exist. Snow, sun, cold, snow, sun, then voila it was June and the iris were out. All those in between flowers, blooming cherry trees, redbuds, massive forsythia, tulips were cut short. Now I’ll admit to loving iris; June in Denver smells wonderful, but spring on the East coast can’t be beat. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. All of the flowers are blooming in my own yard as of this minute, with the exception of a neighbor’s white/yellow tulip too lovely to omit.


This picture is from a Florida backyard: a fascinating flower with bananas growing above. The flower is about 9 inches long, far bigger than the actual fruit. The big red petals fall to the ground; I don’t know if the little yellow flowers will turn into bananas or not. This is my first banana sighting! They certainly don’t look like this in the supermarket!

The leaves on the plant are tall and dried out; in other words, it’s not much to look at. Since the bananas are still green, I can’t attest to their flavor. I read on-line that one should wait until they turn slightly yellow to pick them. Stay tuned; I’ll comment on this post when I actually eat one.

I got to wondering about where these little gems came from. Archeological studies in Papua New Guinea suggests that banana cultivation there goes back to at least 5000 BCE. The Muslims evidently caught on to bananas in the 900’s but Americans didn’t start eating them until the 1880’s. And if you think all bananas are yellow, think again. An article in the New Yorker describes fuzzy bananas with bubblegum pink skin, others with pulp the color of orange sherbet. There is a plant that produces bunches of a thousand fingers, each only an inch long.

Unlike many people, I don’t like banana and peanut butter; however I am fond of hot banana:

  • Peel a banana. (I once had a dog who ate anything, including banana skins.)
  • Put into a bowl with 2 chocolate chips.
  • Microwave for 2 minutes.
  • Mash the chocolate into the banana.

Enjoy your pudding, feeling virtuous that you’re getting a serving of fruit, but the taste of full-on chocolate.

Florida Flora

Florida flora with a bird.

I have never considered myself a Florida person.

I love mountains; oceans don’t do it for me.

However, I have always loved plants.

When I was young, we lived in a new subdivision.
I pined for the other side of town where there were tree tunnels.

The glory of California, except for the sun, is lost on me. The plants are spikey and mean looking.

But I am beginning to like Florida.
I don’t know what all of these are, but aren’t they spectacular!

p.s. The bird is at the bottom…