Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dahlias in Halifax Public Gardens, Nova Scotia ... and more

This week's post was going to be on a day trip to San Francisco using the Alameda-San Francisco ferry.  Alas, my desktop computer, a 4-year old Gateway 'all-in-one' - the computer with all my recent pictures - kept crashing and then stopped altogether.  I took it for repair and was just told that I need to purchase a new computer (they said it was too old to be worth a repair...)  I checked the pictures I have on my old laptop computer and could not decide which photos to use.  My New York friend Frances, from the blog City Views Country Dreams had a post last week showing beautiful dahlias; so I decided to use the dahlia pictures from a trip we made to each of the Canadian Maritime Provinces some years ago.

When we visited Halifax, Nova Scotia, we spent several hours in the Victorian Public Gardens.  Below are some vintage postcards of the gardens - they have not changed much.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

We visited the gardens in mid-September when the dahlias were in full bloom.

My love of dahlias goes back many years, almost a life time.  Let me explain.  My parents were married in 1936 and lived in an apartment in Paris, near Montmartre.  They had bought a small week-end country house in a little village about 2 hours north of Paris.  I looked in the box of photos my late mother gave me and found photos of this house.  On the back of one of the photos, my mother had written that the house had been bought in 1936, in Silly-Tillard, in the Department of Oise (I just found this out when I saw the photo today.)  Below are old photos of my parents and the house, circa late 1930s.

The small village of Silly-Tillard is about 66 kms (41 miles) from Paris - the closest large town is Beauvais, 17 kms away (10 miles.)  In 1936 there were 295 people living in the village and in 2012 the number went up to 487 - so it is still quite small.  The village is located on the old road to Paris.  It is a picturesque place with houses from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, some of them half-timbered.  There is also an old "lavoir" - outdoor public wash-house.  Trout fishing is famous there.  Here are some pictures of Silly-Tillard, courtesy Villages de France.

After World War II my parents drove during the week-ends to Silly-Tillard in their Renault Celtaquatre automobile.  They usually went with friends and I stayed in Paris with my grand-parents.  I still went to Silly-Tillard with my parents a dozen times.  With no friends to play with, I would walk to the neighbors' garden.  There, hundreds of dahlias were awaiting - it was a gem of a garden.  I remember this garden as one remembers a dream - flowers everywhere, of different shapes, and glorious colors.  I spent happy hours there.  Many dahlia plants were higher than me - at the time I must have been 5 years old or so.  I don't have pictures of the garden but I found on the Daily Mail, UK, pictures of Amy Chesterman, 6 years old, in her father's dahlia garden in Bournemouth, England.  I did not look like her but the dahlias would have been similar around me.

Below is a picture of our country house and my parents Renault Celtaquatre (these cars were manufactured between 1934 and 1938.)

During the war my parents' little house had been requisitioned and occupied by a German officer.  When my mother found out (my father was in hospital because of war injuries) she walked ten miles to the kommandantur (German military headquarters) in Beauvais, near the village, and requested that rent be paid for the house.  Everyone told my mom that she would place herself in danger, but she persisted and they did pay her rent in the end.  But they also made some alterations to the house and my parents sold the house in 1947 or 1948 or so.  I don't remember the house well, but I still remember the serene garden next door with all the dahlias ... most of all the variegated with white and the purples the best.

I am not sure how many dahlias were in our neighbors' garden, but to me it seemed like a field of flowers just as in the vintage postcards below.

When I heard that the Public Gardens in Halifax had a dahlia garden I knew that I had to go there.  The original gardens were created in 1836, then established as a civic garden in 1867, and finally the City of Halifax took responsibility for the gardens in 1874.  Nowadays the Public Gardens still look as they were originally planned in 1875 by the Gardens' Superintendent - as formal High Victorian Pleasure Gardens.  At the entrance, we are greeted by a set of elegant wrought-iron ornamental gates,  installed in 1890 and bearing the original Halifax coat of arms.  The gardens include a bandstand, statues, fountains, ornate bridges, floral displays, 80 species of trees and 200 of shrubes - some exotic and semi-tropical.  One of the trees was planted by King George VI in the 1930s.  In 1984 the Halifax Public Gardens were recognized as a National Historic Site.

 We entered the gardens through the elegant gates, built in Glasgow, Scotland and standing in the gardens since 1890.  We walked on the alley bordered by large trees and then followed a body of water to Griffin's Pond.

We stopped to look at the ducks.

A replica of the RMS Titanic floats on the pond.  It is a reminder that 121 victims of the Titanic were interred at Halifax Fairview Cemetery after the ship sank on 14 April 1912.

We kept walking on the winding paths, stopping to admire the flower displays.

Several historic statues were near traditional Victorian carpet beds: Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring and Diana, the goddess of woodland and wild animals.

As in all fine Victorian Gardens, the Halifax Public Gardens have fountains in addition to the historic statues.  In 1897 the classical sculpted Victoria Jubilee Fountain was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. This fountain sits in the center of the gardens.  In 2012 the fountain was restored in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.  The Boer War Memorial Fountain was built in 1903 to honor the memory of the soldiers from Canada who took part in the war in South Africa.

Next we came by the colorful gingerbread style bandstand.  It was built in 1887 to also commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.  It is an ornate wooden bandstand with a copper roof.  It has been used for concerts and social events for 128 years and was restored in 2011.  Walking around the bandstand I could see the dahlia beds, at last.

The dahlias are tuberous flowers originally from Mexico, Central America and Columbia.  The director of the Madrid Botanical Gardens, Antonio Jose Cavanilles, named this plant in honor of Anders Dahl, a Swedish botanist, who died in 1789 - the same year Spain was to receive the dahlia plants from Mexico.  There are more than 57,000 registered cultivars of dahlias.  They come in a great variety of colors, sizes and shapes - anemones, collarette, balls, etc.  Dahlias bloom from late summer until first frost.  It is difficult to choose a favorite.  Below are two anemore forms with yellow centers, and two ball forms - a fuchsia pink and a dark red.

The two cultivars below were new to me - but they have a certain charm.

There were so many exquisite blooms and amazing colors - I kept moving from one to the next in awe.

Aren't these lovely?

How about these, from pale yellow to golden apricot colors?

This big fluffly dahlia below is called a "Big Head" in France and a "Dinner Plate" here.

The collarette dahlia type was first introduced at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris.  The American Dahlia Society listed the collarette as a form in 1905.  The red collarette dahlia below looks almost artificial.  It is a stunning flower, indeed.

The American Dahlia Society was founded in 1915.  This coming week-end (Sept. 19-20, 2015) they will celebrate their 100th anniversary with a show at the Hofstra University, in the village of Hempstead, Long Island, New York.  If I had known about this earlier I, perhaps, could have gone there for a quick trip.  Dahlia photos below courtesy ADS library.

These are gorgeous flowers -  la crème de la crème.

Here are some more

Walking in these mid-19th century idyllic gardens, just half a mile from downtown the modern city of Halifax, was like entering a time capsule - being back in Victorian times.  It was the fashion then to walk in gardens, wearing a lovely outfit, while listening to the military bands in the bandstand gazebos.  I think that these unspoiled gardens, with their rainbow of floral delights, would have enchanted the French ladies Monet painted below - on top "Woman in a Garden" then "Woman with a parasol in a Garden" by Claude Monet, French 1840-1926.

Don't you love these amazing, dramatic flowers?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An afternoon in San Francisco, by the Bay

As I mentioned in my previous post "Books, food and airplanes in Alameda" my eldest daughter who was in the area for business meetings visited my two grandsons - her nephews - and me during the week-end we were on Alameda Island.  On Friday evening we went to a Lithuanian restaurant in Alameda.  On Saturday my daughter and her fiance decided to take my two grandsons to the Exploratorium Museum near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.  The museum site indicates that "The Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception ... We create tools and experiences that help you to become an active explorer: hundreds of explore-for-yourself exhibits; a website with over 50,000 pages of content ... etc."  Their stated mission is to change the way the world learns.  The Exploratorium is the brainchild of Frank Oppenheimer (1912-1985,) an experimental physicist and university professor.  It is a huge museum.  Wikipedia has detailed information on this museum - click here to access it.   (Two photos of Exploratorium below courtesy Bruce Damonte.)

The Exploratorium is located at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero, along the San Francisco Bay (see map above.)  The distance from our lodging in Alameda to Pier 15 in San Francisco is only 14.4 miles (23 km.)  We did not think it would be a long trip.  Wrong!  We left around 11:20 am and arrived at the Embarcadero at 1:30 pm!  It took over two hours ... The reason being that vehicles have to pay a toll to cross over the Oakland-Bay Bridge to go into San Francisco.  During the week-ends the lines to get to the toll booths are very crowded.  Once on the bridge, it was bumper to bumper traffic all the way.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

I did not remember the Oakland-Bay Bridge being that crowded when we drove on it back when I lived in San Francisco in the 1960s.  My husband's sister and her family lived in Oakland for a while.  Before we were married we would drive across the bridge to visit them.  My husband, a boy-friend then, had a 1955 MG TF-1500 green convertible and it was fun crossing the bridge with the top down - it was quite windy.  We wore WWI aviator leather helmets and I also tied a long white silk scarf around my neck - I wish I had taken pictures then.  Below is an MG TF-1500.

The construction of the Bay Bridge started in 1933.  The bridge opened in November 1936 (6 months before the Golden Gate Bridge.)  It was the longest bridge at the time.  The final cost came to approximately $77 million.  San Francisco celebrated for five days when the bridge opened with more than one million people taking part in parades, Navy air show, air parades, football games, etc.  Automobile traffic used the upper deck and the lower deck carried trucks and trains until this deck was converted in 1958.  The bridge was closed for a month in 1989 after an earthquake caused a section of the upper deck to crash into the lower deck.  Below are period photos of the Oakland-Bay Bridge, courtesy San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.  In 2002 the eastern section of the bridge was rebuilt as a self-anchored suspension bridge.  It opened in September 2013.  The cost for this reconstruction was about $6.5 billion.

Below are some vintage postcards of the Oakland-Bay Bridge.

I opted out of visiting the museum and asked to be dropped off on the Embarcadero near Fisherman's Wharf.  I knew it is a very touristy sight but the view of the Bay is beautiful from there.  I also longed to eat some good San Francisco sourdough bread and knew the Boudin Bakery and Restaurant was near Pier 41.  San Francisco sourdough bread is very popular.  For many years Parisian Bakery in the Bay area, established in 1856, sold their fresh sourdough bread at the airport as well.  Many travelers bought bread to take home.  Unfortunately Parisian Bakery was sold to Interstate Brands Corporation of Kansas City.  They changed the recipe and accelerated the way the bread was made for added profit.  But the bread did not taste the same.  The corporation went bankrupt and shut down Parisian Bakery in 2005.

Fortunately the Boudin Bakery is still making their wonderful crusty bread with the chewy and sour taste inside.  In 1849, Isidore Boudin, son of French master bakers, had emigrated from Burgundy in France to San Francisco and established a bakery to serve the Gold Rush population.  The bread was delivered by horse-drawn wagons.  Isidore established his bakery in North Beach and baked bread the way he had done in France - a fermented technique.  He captured natural yeast found in the air for his "mother dough" (the leavening base.)  But, in San Francisco, the air was different because of the fog and the sea.  Isidore's wild yeast made his bread into a "sourdough" bread.  The Boudin Bakery declares that they continue to use the original 19th century sourdough starter till now.  There are several sourdough bakeries in the Bay area and all together they bake more than 3.5 million loaves of sourdough bread every week - bought by customers and delivered to local restaurants.  Photos below courtesy Boudin Bakery.

The Boudin Bakery near Fisherman's Wharf is a two-story building with a 30-foot observation window where one can see the baking process, from the original dough to finished loaves of bread.  On the ground floor is Baker's Hall - a market with an assortment of breads and baked goods as well as regional gourmet food and gifts.  There is also an espresso bar.  Upstairs is a full-service restaurant and a Bistro bar.

As I went to a small table in the Bistro, I passed by a wall full of vintage postcards of San Francisco - I took a quick photo of the wall but did not have time to stop longer.  There is also a bakery museum upstairs, but I did not take the tour.

I ordered the "Ceviche Trio,"  an appetizer, which is a sample of Alaskan Halibut, Gulf Shrimp and Calamari Ceviche with thin-cut fries and sourdough bread and butter - plus a cold local India Pale Ale beer.  The Ceviche was well presented and interesting.  The bread was delicious.

Then I walked back towards Fisherman's Wharf by Pier 39.  It was a lovely sunny day, warm and windy.  Many people were about.  Some were watching men playing and singing.

I remember Fisherman's Wharf from decades ago.  It was mostly popular for the seafood restaurants there.  I liked to go close by to the Buena Vista Cafe to drink one of their famous Irish coffees.  They claim to have invented it.  They also declare serving up to 2000 Irish coffees per day.

Nowadays there are more tourists, more fast food places and souvenir shops.  But now, also, the sidewalks are larger, benches are plentiful and the area is decorated with many lovely flowers as well - some professionally planted and some, like this small yellow flower below, just trying to find a spot to grow.

I spent most of my time people watching, or strolling along the railing near the water to take a look at the Bay, or the boats, or the seals.

I liked to stop and read the information panels,

then go back and watch the activity on the Bay.

I came by a gate standing above weathered wood and rails.  It looked like the gate shown on the top of the information panel above.  The area was empty of people.  As I walked around it, I could see some shiny items under the railing.  As I approached I realized they were the infamous "love locks" that vandalize public property now everywhere.  I am pleased to report that the City of Paris, in early June this year, removed all the love locks from the Pont des Arts - 45 tons of locks (although the 700,000 or more love lock keys are still rusting at the bottom of the Seine River.)  Now they will start removing the love locks from other Paris bridges.  See my post on Paris Love Locks here.

As I was watching a small boat full of people going on a bay trip, a large cruise ship slowly passed in front of me.  It was the Golden Princess on its voyage to Alaska.

Now it was time to take a last look at the Bay and Alcatraz Island in the distance before meeting my daughter, her fiance and the grandsons.

After another look at Coit Tower I entered the car.  We drove by all the new tall buildings in the area and re-entered the Oakland-Bay Bridge - no toll in that direction.  Traffic going the other direction though, towards San Francisco, was still bumper to bumper.  The trip back to Alameda Island was much faster.

The grandsons loved their afternoon at the Exploratorium museum - they said they could have stayed there much longer as there were so many fun interactive computer displays to play with - but it closed at 5:00 pm.  I, also, enjoyed my lunch and had a very pleasant afternoon by the San Francisco Bay.  I played with three of my photos - and could not decide which one to show.  Which one do you prefer?  (Click to enlarge.)

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