The weather has been unseasonably warm in Wellington these past weeks. I say unseasonably, because it’s never this warm in Wellington, consistently, in a way that you wish you were outside at lunch time every single day, and not cooped up in front of your computer screen at work! So, perhaps this explains our lacklustre efforts to post of late, given that as much as possible, we have been outside, making the most of every bit of this wonderful golden weather before it ends (let’s hope it continues past the official end of the season tomorrow!). This photo of a scrumptious ice-cold smoothie which we enjoyed recently at one of our favourite spots just screams Summer, don’t you think? Yum.
Photo by CIA at Maranui Cafe, Lyall Bay, Wellington, New Zealand, February 2013.
New Zealand (and perhaps especially Auckland) is famous for four seasons in one day. Theoretically, this would make the challenge simple. Perversely, though, the trouble with rapid shifts in the weather is that it can be hard to pin down an iconic moment that marks the shift from one season to another. In Christchurch, the arrival of the migratory godwits marks the beginning of spring. But summer? Summer is elusive.
Meanwhile, we walked down to French Bay*. Today was a magnificent day. The sun glowed in a nearly cloudless sky, the trees swayed in a gentle breeze. A sign, perhaps, of the summer to come? Kauri trees struck elegant silhouettes, surrounded by smaller cabbage trees. At the beach in French Bay, there were paddle-boarders, and a handful of others sitting on the sand. After all, the season is only changing, and the water is not very warm (yet). The pohutukawa were not flowering here, but they had begun to bud – the distinctive red blossoms often flare up, bright red, for Christmas. As we walked elsewhere in Titirangi, we saw that the pohutukawa had started flowering – some trees covered in the bright blooms, others with just a few. The best moment of the afternoon came with the discovery of a swing, above a path to the beach. And next to it? A pohutukawa tree, flourishing and with the brightest flowers you can imagine.
And we realised this was it. Pohutukawa flowers represent that iconic moment: summer is here.
Photos by PJD & CIA, with invaluable assistance from Nature. All photos were taken today, as we walked around Titirangi, Auckland.
* I first heard of French Bay when I saw an amazing painting (one of several with that title) by Titirangi artist Colin McCahon. McCahon is one of New Zealand’s best known, and most influential artists. This particular French Bay painting is often (always? we haven’t been for a while) displayed in the Toi Te Papa (Te Papa’s art collection) on Level Four of that wonderful museum. So, it was with some excitement that I walked down to the bay for the first time today.
One of my favourite scenes from being in Paris in the early days of summer this year is walking in the Jardin des Tuileries. This photo sums up why: This is a garden with deep history; grandiose stretches of green space in the heart of the bustling city; vibrant wildflowers, dancing brightly as far as the eye could see, their light scent wafting into your nostrils; a public space for all sorts of people doing all sorts of things; fountains and ponds for fun to be had by youngsters with boats; sculptures to attract the eye and the art lover. All this, set against the timelessly gracious Parisian skyline, mansard rooftops stretching out low in the distance. Wandering in the Tuileries in those early Summer days really was Paris at its most picture-perfect best.
Photo by CIA, Jardin des Tuileries looking towards Les Arts Décoratifs and Rue du Rivoli, Paris, June 2012. Who needs Instagram when you can have Pudding Camera?!
On a beautiful summer’s day, when the sun is beating down hot and there’s not a breath of wind in the air; when the city is heaving with crowds and even a drink that is ice cold is not enough to cool you down; when you glimpse the perfect sanctuary – soft green grass, the shade of a leafy tree, the sound of birdsong and the soft shimmer of a glassy pond – it’s just wrong when you are on the other side of the fence, and it is all just out of reach.
Photo by CIA in Amsterdam, August 2012.
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We are (finally!) enjoying some splendid summer days here in the lowlands, and I’m struck more and more by the way that when the sun comes out in any meaningful way, the Dutch people flock to the beaches on the Zuid Holland coast of the Netherlands in their thousands. What this means (apart from a sudden disproportionate amount of sunburnt people) is that the cities and towns that they flow out of for these beach day trips are noticeably quieter and less crowded. Remembering that the Netherlands is a relatively small country, with fantastic public transport links, I’m reflecting on the fact that today my various commitments took me to three Dutch cities in one day, which seems quite amazing – but this really is par for the course here in the Netherlands for a lot of people. However, after a day connecting between Leiden, Utrecht and Den Haag, my favourite time of the day was a beautiful walk around the medieval city centre of Utrecht. I was there in the mid-morning, and given the rush away by many of those on holidays from the city to the coast to take advantage of the beautiful day, there was hardly anyone around. I particularly liked my walk down the long, narrow alleyway-like pedestrian street named Zakkendragerssteeg (steeg essentially means a small lane). I’d walked down this quaint, old-world street when I have been in Utrecht before, but that was late at night in the middle of a freezing winter after a night out – not the best time to appreciate the charm of the street.
The light I saw it in today (it’s so narrow, you can easily miss it – I just happened to remember to walk down it after glancing it by chance out the corner of my eye!) certainly made me realise that the Zakkendragersteeg is a special little slice of Utrecht – with cobbles under your feet, old buildings all around you (no doubt full of history), flowers, flags and the glow of warm sunshine on my face, walking in this ancient, gezellig place felt like a quintessential piece of Dutch zomertijd.
Photo by CIA today in Utrecht; quality is low due to only having a phone camera to hand, but hopefully the photo captures the feeling in the Zakkendragersteeg well, nonetheless.
Breakfast, petit dejeuner, ontbijt. Whatever you want to call it, the first meal of the day is important. But sometimes you really want breakfast to be special, but without too much effort. Mornings are not usually my best time, so a breakfast that requires little effort is pretty important. And to that end, to impress people on special occasions, or just for the sake of extreme decadence, I offer to you crepes avec ganache et fraises (or, really thin pancakes with awesome chocolate sauce and strawberries). It’s pretty fast, pretty easy, and everyone always loves it. So, here’s the method…