The Spring Delights

It’s odd how we all wait rather impatiently for springtime year in, year out although, when it finally arrives, it’s not as pleasant a time as it seems when we’re knee deep in bleakness and greyness and darkness of autumn and winter that seem to last forever.

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First, you’re hit by summer time. Over night, you’re left bereft of one whole hour of sleep.

Then, there’s the spring fever that translates into unexpected loss of energy. Everything around you bursts to life again, revived and all, whereas you couldn’t feel more oxymoronic about it.

And, if you’re lucky, there’s more: a seasonal allergy. (I refuse to refer to it as hay fever: it’s months to the stage of hay.) It’s been a real pain in the arse – for the lack of a more illustrative word, and it’s been my first one, too, so I can’t really imagine how other people cope with it for a lifetime. There’s no other way, I know, but to endure.

In spite of all that, I force myself to go running. Thankfully, I’m grown up enough to appreciate the fact that once I’m out there it’s all good, it’s just the initial push that makes it so hard.

I drag my legs behind me as if they were made of stone. I’m as slow as a snail but I do carry on with it. Kilometre after kilometre. As much as I’m looking forward to finish it off, truth be told, it’s not only torturous. I tend to look out for nice things along the way too. I’m in utter awe, for example, at Mrs Nature’s and her daughter Miss Flora’s capabilities to provide wonders day by day.

I stop to smell this beauty. Pure essence of spring. Makes me feel a tad bit more energetic.

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When I return home I make myself a nice nourishing bowl of yoghurt to replenish. It is not only good for me, my body, it’s a delight for the eye as well.

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This little meal is all I need after a run and it’s easy to prepare. Basically, I add a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt to a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta and top it up with a spoonful of homemade preserved cranberries. I always have a jar of preserved wild cranberries at hand. I simply love them. I guess it’s a combination of sweet and sour and a hint of tart that makes the preserve special. Apart from the fact that I make it myself. I buy them fresh in late summer when they’re available at our local market. Some are cooked to a preserve immediately, some are frozen and used up throughout the winter and spring when needed.

Depending on the mood (and the amount of hunger) I might add some rolled oats and/or linseed. Since I’m crazy about lemons right now  I add a couple of strings of lemon zest. More colour and more aroma. Yum.

After this I just might feel more in favour of spring.

Vienna Calling

There are many good reasons why visit Vienna. These two were a big draw for us this spring:

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The grand imperial city, poetically located in a draught position between the East and the West, saluted us with grey skies and clear, cool air washed by spring rain that we, as it seemed, have just luckily avoided. Not that we cared, really, we came to have a good time. And were served accordingly.

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I dare you to open the door.

It was on one of our walks that I detected my first peonies this year, not really altogether there yet but showing great potential.

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Our every trip gets latticed by food and Vienna has some lovely offerings, I can tell you that:

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I start craving the Tafelspitz as soon as we set the date for a Vienna trip. There’s something homely about it but very Austrian indeed: freshly made from local produce, very filling but definitely unskippable. I’d like my horseradish sauce more piquant but I don’t complain at all. I down four servings of delicious broth before you can say Jack Robinson. Then, the rest of the meal.

You’d have to be downright crazy to miss the wonderful Esterhazy cake or Milchrahmstrudel at Demel’s afterwards.

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The quintessential coffee served the old-fashioned way (and the only proper way for that matter) at Meinl’s am Graben will spruce you up again.

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Back to business, both exhibitions are just wonderful. Each of them gave me a light headache, in a good sense. The Russians’ works of art are clearly beautiful and powerful, the German’s clearly huge and impressive. The stories the art tells are universal: the past lurks from behind the present however much we try to pretend to ignore it, influences it heavily, always using the language of art as a vehicle to prod in our faces, and our intellect, to stimulate our brain and cast the light on the path we’re treading now. We’ve been here before, the humankind, we should know better.

 

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Since Vienna has always been artistically and culturally savvy there are many choices. It’s down to your tastes and wallet condition (highly acclaimed classical musicians and artist, that are the essence of Vienna, come at a price) and how far in advance you start to plan (Staatsoper and Musikverein events sell our quite fast). Anyway, there are always very good exhibitions, national (Klimt anyone? Schiele? Kokoschka?) or international, taking place in the many fabulous museums and galleries. The MuseumsQuartier is an example of how well art can be incorporated into city’s everyday. So, there are always many options to explore.

There’s obviously more to Vienna than this but, mind you, it’s only been a sleepover. We’ll be back soon enough.

 

More info (selected):

www.albertina.at

http://www.mqw.at/en/

https://www.plachutta.at/en/home/

www.demel.at

http://www.meinlamgraben.at/Home

www.wiener-staatsoper.at

https://www.musikverein.at

http://www.kameel.at/

PS

When planning a weekend in Vienna please consider that everything, and I mean everything, is closed on Sundays. The Austrians still have it the old way: they work up to 6 PM on Saturdays, after that it’s weekend for all. So, Saturday is for shopping and eating, Sunday for art and outdoors.

 

 

The Land Where Lemons Grow

I read some very good books in the past few months but the first prize, so far, goes to The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. The way by which I was pulled into its contents is to put it mildly empowering.

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Using the TV analogy, it’s the grandest documentary on such a prosaic subject as citrus growing. Well, as prosaic as a book on growing anything might be, actually, to a person not deeply connected with soil and its produce but only (or at least) caring about the simple facts of life: one has to drink, one has to eat, one has to sleep.

It’s much more than this; it is a monument to citrus and to Italy and what it represents. It is about the long and hard travels of the fruit, its holistic meaning through the eras of wealth and despair on every leg of the journey and how valuable it’s been to people.

There are thousands of different varieties of citrus but they all evolved out of three respectable ancestors. A few of the varieties have had a very special place within culturally and economically diverse parts of Italy and they still do. Citrus is an essential part of Italy, now I’m certain of it. Some of the most magical places in Italy are home to a child of a citrus family: Amalfi coast, Liguria, Sicily, Calabria, Garda, Tuscany. To every true lover of Italy this book is a must-read.

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In practically every bar in Italy you can have a spremuta d’arancia, a freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s no doubt Italians have a very special relationship with them. Citrus rulz.

The writing is very gentle and well-balanced. The reader immerses in jaw-droppingly interesting stories about the Arabs, the Normans, the Jews, the Mafia, the Austrians and the Medici among others, and about the actual people of now, living their hard working lives surrounded by fabulous smell of zagara and delicious food. The book is also very informative: there are many historical and scientific facts along with the tender details about the food (rare ice-cream find in Turin or pasta with Amalfi lemons) and the landscape – it is certainly not your typical food book.

I will never again take poor old lemons or blood oranges & co. for granted. Before, I never really truly thought about them, consider them, you know. They’re simply always there at your disposal, omnipresent. But now I find myself even looking at them at the greengrocers’ with an attitude. I wonder about their provenance, the smell of their pre-fruit blossom, the vivid colours of their bumpy skins.

I’m a faithful reader of books: I never go on a trip without one and there is always more than one on my bedside cabinet. I cannot imagine going to sleep without reading at least half a page (I’m being joked about my waning reading stamina before turning in), I suppose reading is a sleeping pill to me, in a good sense, it makes my dreams more colourful. This book was a very pleasant companion and it takes a special place on the shelf.

 

When Is the Best Time to Visit Venice?

Anytime. Really. Well, a proper downpour might not be the desired weather to accompany you but any other choice of weather is just fine. Just go.

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I’ve been a faithful returning visitor for the best part of my life and I’ve never grown tired of it. Been there countless of times, on day trips, for a couple of days or just a night, summer, winter or spring, slept in desirable luxurious old school hotels by Grand Canal or in shabby pensioni at the end of a scary dark and damp calle, by train, bus or car, and it still overwhelms me every time. It must be the most magical place in the world. I’ve been quite lucky to have so many opportunities to see and feel La Serenissima, I know, and I am grateful for it. Every time another visit is planned I’m just as impatient to get there as a child promised a toy. Once there, it’s pure joy, content and tranquilita.

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I can clearly remember my first time in Venice. There was an aunt in our extended family that was very dear to us all. She never married and had no family of her own, thus she was very fond of my brother and me, her favourite nephew’s offspring. She considered us two treasures: we were allowed more when we were in her care than at our grandparents’ (not to mention the parents), she was never restrictive, never resentful and always in a good mood despite innumerable broken glasses, vases and decorative lamps. She always had a great story up her sleeve to calm us down after rioting in her wonderful apartment. She would take me to cinema and buy me exquisite pieces of clothing. She took me to holidays on the beach every summer until I finished primary school where she let me harvest the mussels off the rocks on the beach and have them for dinner. Although appalled at the sight of slimy orangey flesh within the black shell, she did try one just to please me. Aunt Olga was a woman who was invited to dine in the most elegant Parisian restaurants, travelled the world, probably had a fair number of suitors yet kept her life simple, modest and devoted to us. When I was 9 or 10 she decided it was time I saw Venice. So we went.

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It was summer and the sky was as blue as it gets, it was most likely packed with tourists, noisy and what not, but we had a marvellous time. Although I went to Venice a myriad of times after that it was with her that I had my one and only gondola ride. We had lunch in a restaurant overlooking a canal, the dining room lined with heavy velvet curtains in burgundy, the tables set with thick tablecloth so that no noise was produced when a glass was put on the table, very romantic and elegant. We saw all the basic sights, St Mark’s, Rialto, Campanile, Orologio, the pigeons. It was a beautiful trip.

So, don’t hesitate if contemplating a trip, don’t waste too much time on planning what to see and how to squeeze it all in, just go and feel it. Spend time on the walkways, look up to spot the wonderful altanas, enjoy glimpses of hidden courtyards behind rotten walls, breathe in the smelly, salty air and watch the way locals shop at greengrocers’ around the corner or have a glass of aperitivo before dinner. Just go.

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