Sunday, November 1, 2015


Monday, October 26 - Wednesday, October 28

Needing a brief break from our usual routines, we booked an Airbnb studio in Seattle for a couple of nights and headed down the freeway to Ballard, a suburb we knew nothing about just north of the city centre. It turned out to be a good choice as we found Ballard to be an attractive neighbourhood with a compact commercial area full of interesting small shops, pubs and cafes.
The backyard studio was quite small, but self-contained, comfortable and quiet, set in a pretty garden.

During our stay we particularly enjoyed the happy hour at Percy & Co.'s pub...

...and the delicious French pastries at Cafe Besalu.

On Tuesday morning, we visited the Chihuly Museum of Glass. We had seen Dale Chihuly's exuberant works in his home town of Tacoma quite a few years ago and I was keen to see this latest exhibition of his work.
The interior spaces were quite dark, lit only by the glowing colours of the glass forms, which ranged from seashell ceilings... writhing glass snakes... forms based on Indian baskets against a backdrop of Chihuly's own collection of Navaho blankets.. chandeliers...

... to beautiful wave-like bowls...

... to glittering dreamscapes.

However, it was the exterior pieces that appealed to me the most, where glass and plants were arranged in a series of startling combinations.


This red and autumn-gold creation was my favourite:

Above the garden, the sky was dominated by the famous space needle, still looking so very modern after 50 years.

As we left the complex, we paused for a mirror shot outside the Museum of Rock and Roll.

One of the exhibits in the glass museum was a wall of enlarged old postcards of glasshouses around the world, yet another of Chihuly's private collections. It mentioned among others the glasshouse in Seattle's Volunteer Park, so we set off to find it. The park proved to be a peaceful place to sit on a bench in weak fall sunlight and eat the sandwiches we'd bought on our way, looking out over the still water of a reservoir towards the city skyline.

The glasshouse was pretty impressive too.

Our next stop was the Japanese garden in the University of Washington arboretum. It was the perfect time to be there with so many of the maples in their autumn finery.

There were some other interesting features to admire as well, like this ancient wisteria ...

 ... and a scattering of Amanita muscaria across the mossy ground,...

...not to mention a 200-year-old stone lantern, where visitors had wedged coins under the capstone.

Finally, we made our way back to Ballard and walked down to the Hiram Chittenden locks that provide ship access between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. They also maintain the water level of the lake at 20 to 22 feet above sea level and prevent salt water from entering the freshwater lake system.

As we navigated the pylons and gates surrounding the locks, I had to admire a couple of rosebushes encased in concrete, but still struggling to bloom where few other plants would survive.

The following day we left for home. Apart from visits to the places above, we had enjoyed walking around the Ballard neighbourhood, noting among other things:

- a wonderful wall made from recycled slabs of broken concrete beginning to green over with specks of moss

- a dry garden on a steep slope

- and finally, a nicely-phrased reminder to dog owners.

Friday, July 24, 2015


June, 2015

A new grandson lured us to Australia in winter - the worst time to visit because Australian houses are designed for the other three seasons of the year, i.e. drafty, with no insulation and no central heating. So it might be a reasonable 12ÂșC outside, but it's not any warmer inside. At night the temperature in Sydney can be close to freezing point, both outside the house and in.

The plane took a wide sweep south of the city, coming in over Botany Bay and Greenhills beach.

The weather was cool and rainy during the first week, cool and sunny for the remainder of the month. We spent most of our time getting acquainted with the adorable baby and visiting other family, but we did make a couple of forays into the city and also out into the countryside to visit friends further away.

As always, we went to see what was on display at the excellent, and free, NSW Art Gallery. Returning across the vast park called the Domain gave us a rather gloomy view of the city skyline and some of its dramatic architecture.

In the Domain itself, the architecture of the Moreton Bay fig trees was equally impressive.

Our travels outside Sydney took us to the city of Orange on the western plains, where our friends took us to the local botanical garden.

There was little in flower, but several shrubs were producing vivid fruits. I was impressed with the size of a Mexican thorn (Crataegus stipulacea).

From Orange we headed north and east towards the coast again through picturesque small towns like Gulgong...

... and beautiful rolling countryside dotted with sheep and eucalyptus trees.

We were heading for Seal Rocks, a lovely beach that we'd visited a number of years ago. At this time of year it was almost deserted, except for a surf fisherman and his dog ...

... and some inquisitive pelicans.

At the southern end of the beach are the rocks.

On our way south along the coast back to Sydney, we made a quick visit to Catherine Hill Bay, the site of an old coal mining operation established in 1873. The wharf from which coal was shipped still stands.

Once again the beach was deserted save for a lone fisherman. In the distance freighters wait offshore to dock at nearby Newcastle, still a centre for coal exports.

I was intrigued by the rockpools in this area, which looked like the inspiration for some of the local aboriginal art. The patterns in the sand are made by small shells as their occupants move about the terrain of their watery world.

During our last week in Sydney, we visited our artist friend Roland and George the cat, who passed from us to Roland when we left the country.

Outside Roland's window were a dramatic pair of the ever-present eucalyptus trees of Australia.

A last visit to another beach in the Sydney suburb of Collaroy offered a sunset view of another Australian native tree, a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). It is not a true pine but a close relative of the monkey puzzle tree of South America. Found only on a small island off the Australian coast, it has been distributed all over the world, growing outside in subtropical zones and as a houseplant in cooler ones.

In the landscaped approach to the beach were other Australian plants - a Banksia

...and a Grevillea.