Monday, April 14, 2014

Tulip Time in Holland!

Guests are finally here!  We welcome brother-in-law Gary and his lovely wife Bonnie from Pennsylvania. They've had a rough winter, so it was time for a quick trip to the tulip fields of Holland.

I rave about this trip to anyone who will listen.  We've gone multiple times and never failed to be stunned by the beauty of this little country.

The place to go for breathtaking beauty is Keukenhof Gardens.  Northwest of Leiden, it lies in the middle of one of the major bulb-producing regions in the Netherlands.  Bulb growers plant their new varieties in the fall for a stunning display every spring.  

It's far more crowded here now than it used to be ten years ago when we would visit, but it's still an amazing place.  We arrived at 10:00.  Parking was right outside the park and was well-organized (think Disneyland, but instead of cartoon characters to remember our row, Keukenhof has flags from different nations.  We parked at South Korea.)

The park has lakes, fountains, meandering paths, birds, and of course, food concessions and souvenir shops.

And flowers.  Holy cow, the flowers.
Purple and orange, anyone?  Yes, please!

Purple and red?  I'll take some of that, too!

The sun was dodging in and out of clouds all morning.  I caught its bright rays shining through these beauties.

 The visitors were generally well-behaved.  Not too many flowers were being trampled, and the gardens wisely provide little walkways so you can go and crouch next to a bed for photos.
Bundled up in the 50-degree morning.  These tulips were ENORMOUS.

Keukenhof also has the obligatory Dutch windmill, although it's for show only.  (We saw real windmills, in action, at a different stop.  Blog post to follow!)

Amongst the gardens are pavilions displaying flowers in other ways.  Check out the size of this hydrangea!

And here's a low-cost idea for floral displays.  The sticks were wedged into a shelf unit.  Flowers inserted into bags of water got ribbon necklaces and were wired to the sticks.  Could this bag-o'-flowers idea be adapted for inexpensive table decorations?  Say, at a wedding?

After leaving the gardens, we took a drive in the area.  Fields of bulb flowers around every corner.  Those with more time can rent bicyles or take walks along the paths next to the fields.  Those of us on a tighter time schedule enjoy the drive-by flower fields.

This field was ALL HYACINTHS.  Pink, purple, white, and the smell was AMAZING.

I hope your spring is full of beauty, too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring Flowers in Germany

So, winter?  We didn't really have one.  Every day, we would check the weather in the States and think, "Holy Cow!  We picked the right year to move!"  Usually, winter in Germany is gray, cold, drizzly, and miserable.  This winter, we had mild temps, sunny days, only a little rain, and thus far have had a GORGEOUS spring.

The forsythia is almost done, its yellow flowers being slowly replaced by green leaves.  It's been blooming for weeks, in gardens and out in the wild, and I've been amazed by how long the blossoms have lasted.  

Forsythia, with aging blossoms and new leaves coming on.

At the same time as the forsythia came the almond blossoms and cherry blossoms.  We enjoyed an afternoon in Gimmeldingen on the Rhein Weinstrasse on about the 15th of March, walking through the vineyards, the charming village, and the Mandelbluten which give the fest its name.

We also visited the gardens at the Schloss in Schwetzingen to see the cherry trees.

I love seeing all the colors in the German gardens.

Does anyone know what this orange bush is?  Its flowers also come on early, and are then replaced by leaves.  

Unknown orange bush.  Not knowing its name in no way detracts from my enjoyment of its beauty.

These bushes started flowering just as the forsythias started wilting.  It's a nice segue.  They are absolutely exuberant with their yellow puffball flowers!

Not pictured, but common in local gardens?  Azaleas and rhododendrons, also wildly colorful and full of blossoms.  

We call these "tulip trees" in Nebraska.  They are, I believe, related to magnolia but have a slightly larger zone tolerance.  Gorgeous purple flowers.

Tulip Tree?  Anyone know a better name?
But of course, all this glory is leading up to one very important event:

The lilacs are almost ready to bloom!  It's a terrible picture, but wait a few days and it'll be gorgeous.

Lilac is my very favorite fragrance in a flower, and they are so plentiful most places we've lived, but lilac bushes are almost non-existent in Oklahoma.  Oh, how I've missed them!  And look out, here they come!  I see bushes everywhere, just a few days away from full bloom.  I'm carrying plant scissors with me, because many times the bushes are in places where it's okay to cut from them.  

I can't wait for my house to be full of the smell of those gorgeous purple blooms!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Random Sculpture in the German Woods

Germany's forests are laced with small roads and paths.  Many of the paths are well-marked with symbols which indicate the trail system to which the path belongs; in fact, the European Distance Trail (which runs from northern Norway to south of Rome) goes right through the center of our village.  It's marked with the white X.  We've walked parts of it (but have no intention of walking the whole thing!)

The white X trail marker on our street in Gaiberg.  Follow it to Norway or Italy!

Trail markings on a pole in nearby Neckargemund.

We do enjoy walking and running the paths and have purchased several maps (scales of 1:50,000 and 1:20,000 are great for following trails) and also use Google Earth to check out where we want to go (and where we've been.)

A path near our house has become one of Andy's regular running routes.  One day I followed along behind him, walking half the distance while he ran ahead and turned around, and here's what I noticed:

Looks like a random, broken-off tree, right?

Let's walk closer.

A chain-saw artist has been at work!

Whooooo left this surprise for me?
(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

When I got home, I asked Andy if he had ever noticed the owl while running.  He hadn't, and it took him several more times out on the trail to see it, even though he had looked at these pictures.  It's just far enough off the trail that a runner would zoom by and not notice it.  

Sometimes it's nice to be slow.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Slow Running

When I say I run, it is perhaps a slight exaggeration.  My plodding slowness, designed to gradually build up my endurance and my tolerance for the aches and pains of running, is only just barely "running."  The good thing about slow running is the opportunity to notice the world around me.  Here's a road I "ran" down in March (and walked back up on the return leg.)

At the time, I thought I was lost.  Consulting the photo I took of the trail map of our area, I realized I had made a wrong turn and was approaching a different village than I expected.  Okay, fine, I'll plod down to the next fence post, then turn around for my trip back up the hill towards home.

Hello, what's this?

 A field full of fuzziness!  Can you say, "adorable"?

But wait, there's more!

Squeeeeeeeee!  A baby, too!!!!  With a little coat on!!!!  Hi, baby!  You are the cutest!

Look how fuzzy.

We have a saying at our house, thanks to Tory.  "I want a llama!"  (The inflection while saying this line has to be just a teensy bit on the whiny side, but not enough to truly be a whine.)  The line is usually applied to rodents:  "I want a prairie dog!"  "I want a chinchilla!"  "I want a degu!"  We do, however, also love llamas, alpacas, and their relatives, so I was thrilled to see these darlings.

Plus, it gave me an excuse to slow my running even further. Always a good day when that happens.