Stone Soup

A stone. Is it magic? Or just a stone? How to get a meal out of nothing.

I’m going back a long way now, to a holiday we had when my children were young. We’d been up on the Sunshine Coast, enjoying a holiday in the early Spring. The only way to afford a holiday when you have four children is to find an inexpensive apartment. Definitely not a hotel!

This facility had a swimming pool, but it was far too cold to swim. The apartment had a kitchen which we’d put to good use, cooking our meals rather than eating out every night with four kids.

The day before our departure we were packing and getting some washing done. But the family still needed to be fed, preferably on whatever we had left. The fridge was fairly bare by this stage.

“Let’s make stone soup!” I announced to the girls. They already knew the story, thanks to Jim Henson’s “Storyteller” series. But we were going to do our own version of the traditional folk tale, which goes back hundreds of years through many cultures.

Beside the swimming pool was a rockery of grey river pebbles, some streaked with marble. Miss Ten grabbed one where the layer of marble looked like a ring. “Let’s use this one! It looks magical!”

Back in the kitchen I began the story.

A tramp was looking for shelter on a frosty night. He was tired, hungry and cold but the only house he could try belonged to an old miser. There were signs on the property saying, “Get out! No freeloaders here!”

The tramp read the notices, shrugged, and knocked on the door.

The miser opened the door. “Well?”

You have a fine house, sire,” said the tramp. “It is going to be a cold night. Could I please sleep indoors in your house? Just a quiet corner out of the wind and storm.”

The miser was furious. “Can’t you read?” he shouted. “No freeloaders!” and went to slam the door.

The tramp stuck his foot in the door.

Oh, I quite agree! You can’t be too careful! But I’m not a freeloader. In exchange for your hospitality, I will cook you a delicious soup.”

What with?” the miser asked. “All I see is you, skin, bone and rags.”

Ah, but sire, I have a magic stone. With that, I can make soup. All I need is a pot of water to put over the fire.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a river pebble, grey with a circle of marble on it.

“Just like mine?” asked Miss Ten.

“Just like yours,” I told her.

All we need is a stone. And some water in a pot… all else is seasoning.

The miser was curious. And there was the prospect of a free dinner. “Very well, then. But mind you sleep in the furthest corner. I don’t want wear and tear on the rug. My dog sleeps there.”

With the cottage door closed behind him, the tramp rubbed his cold hands together to try to bring back some feeling.

Well? Where’s this soup you promised me?” asked the miser.

I’ll need — a fire!” The tramp rushed over to the fireplace to warm his hands a little more. “And a pot to put the soup in. And some water. That’s all.”

The miser fetched a small cauldron and filled it with water from the trough outside. “Here!” he handed it over. “Do your magic! Let’s see this miracle soup! I’m betting the only miracle will be why I didn’t slam the door on your face!”

Have faith,” replied the tramp. He dropped the stone into the pot.

Well?” the miser asked. “You’ve got your stone, and your water.”

It takes time,” the tramp told him. “Do you have an old bone? Just something you would have thrown away anyway. We can stir it with that.” The tramp sipped at the contents of the cauldron. “Hmm, needs seasoning. Do you have any salt?”

Leftover barbecued chicken, picked mostly clean.

In the kitchen in the holiday apartment, Miss Ten handed me a spoon. “I think there’s some sachets of salt left over from a takeaway dinner. Here!”

“Let’s look in the fridge. Are there any old bones which we might throw away?” I already knew there were bones left over from a barbecued chicken.

Miss Ten produced the remnants of the chicken. I noted that the stuffing was still there. None of the kids would touch chicken stuffing. We’d picked the bones almost clean. It went into the pot, along with the contents of two salt sachets.

In the miser’s hut in the forest, the pot had been stirred with an old ham bone that still had some meat on it, and some salt had been added. It was coming up to heat and the tramp was enjoying the warmth of the fire. But he would have to feed the miser well if he was to stay warm this night.

The miser hovered. “Is it nearly ready?”

Just a little longer. Do you have any old, wrinkled root vegetables which you won’t eat? Just stuff for the rubbish heap. It will give the soup a bit of body. Some potatoes, perhaps. Or old, stale bread.”

The miser scurried around and found a wrinkled onion, some potatoes and some skinny root vegetables. The tramp put them into the pot. “It won’t be long now.”

Back in the apartment kitchen, Miss Ten looked in the fridge. “Here are some carrots!”

“We need those carrots,” I told her. “I’m going to peel them and we can have carrot sticks to nibble in the car while we drive to the park this afternoon. But here’s an onion. And let me peel those carrots while we wait for the soup.”

Onion ends and outer layer; shrivelled cloves of garlic. Carrot peel. Into the pot.

I decided I would use the onion for dinner, but I needed some onion in the soup too. So I peeled the onion, taking an extra layer. The onion peel went into the soup, along with the carrot peel. We tasted our soup, Miss Ten and I. She peered into the pot. “I can’t see the stone, Mummy. Is it gone?”

“No, the stone is just hiding behind the bones and the scraps. We’ll see it at the end.”

Little left but bones.

The tramp was now warm as toast and had been tasting the soup all through. It had started with a pot of water, and his magic stone. But he had added salt, some root vegetables, some old bones and other bits of rubbish that the miser would not have bothered to eat and now the soup was thick, rich and meaty from the old bones. What the miser would have thrown away would have fed a poor family for a week.

At last the tramp was satisfied. “It’s ready! And a finer soup you’ll never have had!”

The miser hurried over with a bowl and a spoon. He saw the sad look on the tramps face, and reluctantly produced another bowl and spoon for the tramp. Together they sat and enjoyed the soup. The miser exclaimed at how tasty it was, how it warmed him and what a marvel it all was. “Please, good sir,” the miser told the tramp, “I will give you a full bag of gold. Let me buy this marvellous stone from you. It is a wonder!”

The tramp smiled. All he had wanted was shelter from the storm. Now he was warm from the fire, had eaten well of the soup which had been concocted with unwanted food from the miser’s larder, and now he was offering money. But the tramp pretended to be reluctant. “Let me think on it overnight. I have been glad of this stone in my wanderings on the road. I will be sad to part with it.”

The miser was now very eager to please his guest. “You take my bed tonight. I will sleep on the mat with my old dog. Maybe after a good night’s sleep you will think more kindly on my offer.”

In our kitchen, Miss Ten tasted our soup. I was very happy with it, and glad I’d been able to produce it with the last discards of our holiday larder. The seasoning in the unwanted stuffing had added flavour and some thickening. Miss Ten exclaimed at the marvel of producing a tasty soup with just a stone, and old scraps from the fridge. But she pushed it aside and took a carrot stick instead.

A strained chicken stock, full of flavour, made from the leftover bits that would be thrown away by most people.
Rice cooked in the same stock, with bits of meat picked off the bones, and a thin-sliced sausage.
By adding more — egg, vegetables, whatever else we can scavenge in the fridge — we have a meal fit for a king.

So what happened next morning, Mummy?” asked Miss Ten, munching on a carrot stick.

I told her the rest of the story as I poured the soup into a jug and picked out the scraps of onion, carrot and chicken bone to put in the bin. Miss Ten reached for the stone and washed it under the tap. “I want to keep this,” she announced, and put it in her holiday treasures box.

Back in the cottage, the tramp spent a very comfortable night in a warm feather bed, in a hut with a burning fire. But when he woke, he knew he needed to get on his way. But the miser was reluctant to see him leave.

Please, good sir,” the miser begged. “Will you sell me your stone? Perhaps two bags of gold?”

With a great show of reluctance, the miser reached into his pocket for his stone. “Very well,” he sighed. Your gold will help me feed myself for a while, at least.” He handed over the stone as the miser eagerly pushed the gold into the tramp’s hands. And then the tramp found himself almost hurried out of the door as the miser took the little pot to the water trough to fill it up.

As he left, the tramp advised, “You will always be able to make soup with the stone, with just water. But it always improves the flavour if you add a few other things too.”

The miser was back in the cottage, door closed on the world and the tramp could see the smoke spiral higher from the chimney as the fire was stoked up to boil the pot.

The bag of gold, and the next stone…

As he walked away through the morning snow, the tramp smiled. At the bottom of the hill he paused for a moment. He bent over the river bank and picked up a stone. He put it in his pack where it nestled next to two bags of gold. He continued on his way, still smiling.

I put the jug of soup in the fridge. That night, with the rest of the onion and a small bag of rice, I made risotto. A meal conjured from nothing.

Years passed in our home, Miss Ten kept the magic stone and made many pots of soup with it. She became a skilled cook, able to improvise. When she grew up and left home to get married, she took her magic soup stone with her.

Door Porn 4 – Santorini

The ferry spilled its load of tourists on Santorini. June 2018, no need for social distancing.

We enjoyed immersing ourselves in Athens, we relaxed on Paros, we got lost on Naxos, but it was all a prelude to Santorini.

The ferry was packed tight (well before Covid!) and, because turnaround has to go quickly, everyone disembarking on Santorini were all waiting with luggage in the large floor of the ferry. Passengers first, then vehicles would start up and drive off.

Santorini is a startling place. Sheer cliffs rise up from the ocean floor, cliffs composed of layers of ash and pumice. The contrast of lapis blue ocean with black cliffs iced with a frosting of white buildings was breathtaking.

Santorini from the ferry, black rock rising from blue ocean. The white frosting is the accumulation of villages, spackled across every possible niche on top.
The view across the caldera from our room in the hotel. That’s the table where our breakfast was served.
Fira, Santorini.
The balcony door to our room. Beyond is the sea on the other side of the island. Fira, Santorini.

Once the ferry was docked and we had the all clear, the crowd surged forward almost as one. Greek ferries have turnaround timed very tightly, and disembarkation is done efficiently, calmly but also rapidly. We had barely enough time to cross the car park and watch the vehicles follow us off the boat, when we saw the doors closing and the ferry begin to pull away, to allow for the next.

Cruise ships have a different transfer dock. We were the plebs, the common folk but no less respected.

A transfer mini-bus dropped us off at a common meeting point, and our destination was pointed out to us. “Go straight up the hill until you can’t go any further. Turn right at the cathedral and continue on about a hundred metres.”

The cobbled road led up to the narrow street. Dragging bags up here was challenging. I loved this little shop, it’s where we bought our first bottles of water.
The street outside our hotel room. Many wonderful doors. Fira, Santorini, 2018.

We dragged our bags over cobbles and low steps, reached the top of the rise and paused to drink in the amazing view over the Santorini caldera. Sparkling blue ocean, black ash cliffs and again, those amazing blue-accented white buildings clinging to the top.

An accumulation of doors — buildings layered on buildings, occupying every possible flat space, and a few impossible ones. It makes for some fascinating door photos. more to come! Fira, Santorini, 2018.

We found our hotel (a door in the wall in a row of shops and, of course, there were more steps inside. No hotel here has wide foyers with circular driveways…

When we were finally shown our room (oh, blessed air conditioning in the heat!) we found we had a balcony with an uninterrupted view not only over the caldera, but looking back to the other side of the island. Santorini is like a sliver of fingernail in the middle of the Mediterranean, curved protectively around the fledgling volcanic island of Nea Kameni. Across the caldera from us was another island, a fragment of the ancient volcanic rim. Below us were several cruise ships which lit up at night like floating palaces.

Sunset from our balcony, looking back to the cathedral. Fira, Santorini, 2018.
Cruise ship in the caldera, just after sunset. Fira, Santorini, 2018.

As soon as we could, we slipped down the stairs and began to explore. Once again, doors were something I featured in a lot of photos.

Under the church in a small village. Santorini, 2018.
Beware of the dog, in any language. Santorini, 2018.

This is a place where I could write about so many things. Foremost in my mind was the Minoan civilisation. What was it like for them, living here in a place of luxury, a place where the wealthy came to live it up, and where so much wealth of the world at the time was concentrated? Back then, they farmed saffron on the exposed plateau.

Church doors. The paving was made by pitting in flat, flinty pebbles on edge. Long-lasting, hard-wearing. We found samples of this dating back centuries. Santorini, 2018.
Door, Unplugged. Santorini, 2018.
Impossible steps, twists and turns.
A door, barely there. Santorini, 2018.
The classic Greek Orthodox church on Santorini — blue and white.

On our first full day we took a tour around some villages, to a vineyard and to the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri. When Santorini had its catastrophic eruption in about 1640 BC, most of the island and its buildings was completely obliterated. But these fragments survived, buried under metres of ash. Anything organic has decayed, but left a space. They pour cement or other molding material into the cavities and are able to determine the exact shape of what was once there.

Buildings three and a half thousand years old at least.
Doorway and window in ancient Akrotiri. Santorini, 2018.
My writing projects on Minoan Greece had me in hog heaven!
A glimpse inside the homes from thousands of years ago. Skilled craftsmen lived here. Potters, jewellers, carpenters, artisans. Ancient Akrotiri, Santorini, 2018.
Walking the sstreets of ancient Akrotiri. How old is this doorway? Santorini, 2018.
You can see the pots, the seats, the tables in here.

After Akrotiri we stopped for lunch and a swim. It was a black shingle beach, the tiny stones burning hot underfoot.

Here is the door to my change-room with my much-travelled Boomerang Bag.

We finished at the popular village of Oia, where people gather every day to watch the sun set. It was very crowded, but an exciting visit.

Door in Oia, Santorini 2018.
Church bell tower, Oia, Santorini 2018.
Oia is a challenging place to photograph. So many people! Santorini 2018.
Even iin such a beautiful place, practical maintenanc
Shape and colour are highlighted in the sunset. Oia, Santorini 2018.
Always look back — there’s always another perspective to a story. The rooftops are packed with people, all in Oia to see the sunset. Jeff on the right is looking at his mad wife with her back to the view. Oia, Santorini 2018.
A withered wreath over the door. As discussed in previous post on Naxos doors, this is an ancient custom. Santorini 2018.
An interesting notice on a door — in Santorini, they are promoting live sports on TV. Not unusual, you say. look closer. it’s State of Origin, NSW vs Queensland! Santorini 2018.

It’s a beautiful place, almost impossible to take a bad photo.

A flirtatious accordion player — a touch of delight at the end of a glorious day. Oia, Santorini 2018.


Christmas on the move

NSW Christmas Bush in the local park, anonomously decorated.

We’d planned to be in Canberra from early Monday before Christmas to babysit the kids, with school finished for the year but parents still working. We were then going to stay until Christmas Day, leaving the next day (Boxing Day) to head home. I planned to use the quiet evenings to work on writing and editing. Then we heard that we would be allowed to attend our granddaughter’s dance concert. The choir concert (a few weeks earlier) was unfortunately not open for audiences.

We had already booked accommodation and planned to drive down on Sunday, but the dance concert was midday. With a three and a half hour drive, we’d have to ‘bug out’ early from home. We also planned to bring our son Rob with us. He had an event to attend on Saturday, so the schedule was tight. We were considering leaving on Saturday ourselves, and perhaps getting Rob to come down by train. We booked the extra night’s accommodation (in a different hotel, the one for the majority of our stay wasn’t available that night).

Christmas on the road.

We discussed it all on Friday night. Rob was determined to attend his event on Saturday so we went online to book a train. We could have booked Sunday, but would have missed the dance concert to collect him from the railway station in Canberra, so we reluctantly booked his train for Monday instead. All other trains were booked out.

Within five minutes of booking (and paying for) the train ticket, Rob’s phone went off. The Saturday event was cancelled. There was an increasing Covid hot spot in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area, about as far away from us as you could get and still be in Sydney. So could he come with us after all?

“I’m working tomorrow morning on the bread run,” he explained. “It’s too late to let them know now.”

Rob decided to come down by train on Monday. That way he could work Sunday morning as well.

With the Northern Beaches Covid cluster growing in momentum we felt some disquiet setting out. Strong restrictions were coming back in, but we knew we were still okay to travel. We double-checked, loaded the car and set off. We’d packed the car carefully to allow for Rob’s seat and luggage coming back with us.

On the road to Canberra

We wore our masks whenever we got out of the car — buying fuel, buying lunch, checking in to the hotel in Canberra. The hotel was full of cricketers! There were security guards and Covid marshals on every exit, which was disconcerting.

Next day was a more relaxed bugout with perishables carefully packed in a cooler back somewhere buried under the load of Christmas presents. We were carrying gifts from the extended family to the “Canberra mob”. Fortunately we were able to park under a handy tree and wait.

Our grandson almost exploded into our car with his energy to announce their arrival.

Queuing for the concert was interesting. We wore masks, but in disease-free Canberra this seemed to be an exception. We were all expected to leave 1.5 metres between us in the queue, but inside it was full seats. We kept our masks on…

That evening there was a press conference. The border was closing at midnight. I rang Rob. Could he get down to us before midnight, by car? Nope, not packed. With the likelihood of heavier traffic than usual, the chance of him getting to us by midnight was vanishingly small. There was also the chance that we, as recent arrivals, could be sent home or, worse, made to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks. Should we leave? We’d delivered our Christmas presents already.

The kids were upset at their Uncle Rob not coming for Christmas.

We took a chance. Next morning we watched the news anxiously. Yes, the border was closed but we had no problems. We’d booked time slots to take the kids to some of the public places around Canberra and decided to go ahead. If we were going to babysit, we’d have fun too, and see the sights.

Parliament House, Canberra, Australia. The actual Parliament House is under the hill with the flagpole.

First stop, Parliament House in Canberra. This is a fascinating place, I’ll write it up separately some other time. Under Covid conditions and with two young children, we weren’t going to have the usual leisurely tour. With parliament not sitting, there wasn’t a lot to see. The kids loved the Lego model of Parliament House, complete with Lego sheep on the lawn on the roof (Parliament House in Canberra is an earth-covered building). They really liked the artwork and some of the stories that various guides told us in passing.

Looking from the Australian War Memorial towards Parliament House (note the tiny flagpole in the distance). The white building just in front of the flagpole is Old Parliament House which is now a museum.

After Parliament House, we went to the Australian War Memorial. Again, our time here was pre-booked to ensure that not too many people were inside at any time. Our grandson wanted to look at the eternal flame first, he was fascinated with the burning gas bubbling up from the pool. From there we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I explained to the kids that nobody knows who is buried there, except we know he’s Australian from World War I. So for all the families who lost a brother, a son or a father in WWI, there is some peace in knowing that the man buried there could be him. He represents them all, all Australian servicemen and servicewomen who never came home.

Wall of Remembrance — each poppy represents a recent visit from someone paying respect.

We looked for names on the Wall of Remembrance then explored the displays inside. Again, with the children we knew their attention spans would be short, but we think some of what they saw was understood.

In the Australian War Memorial — a blanket crocheted by a prisoner in Stalag VIIIB, where Jeff’s father spent time in WWII. Did the same skilled prisoner also craft dad’s cap? The colours match.

The next day we took the kids to Telstra Tower on top of Black Mountain. It was on their list of places they’d wanted to see. We went up into the tower and enjoyed the view from the observation deck, amazed at the wind.

Blowin’ in the wind — it was my Marylin Monroe moment.

On the way back to the car we saw a young ringtail possum snoozing in a nearby tree. “It’s all an adventure,” we told them.

Snoozing ringtail possum in the fork of the tree.

We collected their mother and went for a drive in the bush, as requested by our grandson. We ended up in a place we’d never been to, or even heard of — Gibraltar Falls.

Gibraltar Falls.
Lady beetle on the granite boulder, Gibraltar Falls.
Mating beetles (it’s that time of the season). Gibraltar Falls, ACT.
Tiny flowers, Gibraltar Falls, ACT

We hiked down the slippery granite steps to the falls, and the kids exclaimed over a lady beetle. Little things and big things caught their attention. I got out my macro lens and we explored further, getting up close and personal to beetles, flowers and the lady beetle. It seemed a world away from coronavirus.

Christmas Eve was all about preparation. Last minute grocery shopping, and keeping the kids out of the kitchen while their father set about his one day of culinary glory in the year — cooking up a feast. Far too much food, but all of it tasty. It will all get eaten, but not necessarily today.

Gifts in various stages of being opened.
Greek-style lamb on the barbecue for Christmas dinner.
Christmas feasting done — leftovers for Boxing Day.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Stay safe, stay well.

Tomorrow we drive home, and back to higher restrictions.

Art Deco Delight – Hydro Majestic

In the early days after Federation, the Hydro Majestic was THE place to visit, an exclusive playground for the wealthy and influential.

In the dark corners of the ballroom, through a fug of cigar smoke, the figures could only be seen as silhouettes, if at all. The rich, the powerful, the movers and shakers of the country came here in the early days of Australia’s Federation to indulge in luxury and relaxation, many registering as “Mr and Mrs Smith”. The earliest days of the exclusive hotel had been as a health spa, but the novelty soon wore off and the place was reinvented as a discreet hideaway. It is said that at 4 am a bell would ring, warning guests that it was time to return to their own rooms before sunrise.

The well-known entrepreneur draper Mark Foy acquired and developed this spectacular property as an exclusive, world-class refuge. The best furnishings, staff and produce from around the world were accumulated here for a place of decadence and indulgence.

We first stayed here five years ago, for one night on our way to a one night stay at Jenolan Caves. Then it had just re-opened after refurbishment. Some areas were unavailable, others still had wet cement.

The drop-off into the valley (photo taken in 2015, currently inaccessible).

The views are spectacular here. The Hydro Majestic is a string of collected buildings perched on the edge of the cliffs above Megalong Valley. On our first visit I’d arrived alone, mid-afternoon, and started taking photos. Jeff was travelling by train up to the Blue Mountains from Sydney, leaving direct from work. I watched his train pull in to Medlow Bath railway station, just across the road from the hotel. Then together we sat in the lounge and watched the misty sunset fill the valley. We’d booked in to dinner and went in early, hoping to get out onto the balcony to take some photos unhindered by the internal window reflections.
“Sure,” the head waiter said in response to our request. “You’ve got half an hour before dinner, the door to the balcony is just over there.”

February 2015, in the foyer of the restaurant. The maitre d’ obliged by taking our photo.

We’d dressed for dinner (as you do at the Hydro Majestic, if you choose) and gratefully opened the door to the balcony. The golden mist poured down through the mountains and glowed in the valley in the coming sunset.

The view from the balcony — through the window of the foyer.

Click. The door closed behind us with the finality of a one-way escape. We were on the balcony with no way back. The door wouldn’t open.

We’d just stepped onto the balcony…

There was only one way to go — forward. There were steps leading down from the balcony. We followed the path.

If we turned left, we’d have to walk much further to get round to the front of the building. But turning right seemed closer.

The path led down, past some tree ferns to our left and a stone wall to our right. How to get back? I checked my watch — our dinner booking was still fifteen minutes away.

To our left, the sunset was changing the mist in the valley to a deeper gold, tinged with mauve. I paused to take more photos with the only camera I had — my mobile phone.

‘We’ve still got a few minutes…’

We came to a flight of steps which looked like something out of a fairy tale. It was now five minutes before our dinner date, but again we had to stop and take photos.

The path ahead was wet cement. A tennis court became our escape route, and we finally got back to the dining room just in time.

High tea with an Asian flavour.
Yes, this is dessert. The ‘pot’ is tinted white chocolate, it was filled with a swirled berry mousse topped with fake soil of crushed freeze-dried berries, we think. It was delicious!

On our visit in November 2020, we realised how much more had been opened up. However, the path we’d taken inadvertently in 2015, and in our dinner finery, was now closed to the public for safety reasons. I managed to slip through a gate and get a few photos, but there was, sadly, no access to the old staircase.

No way through in 2020. Hopefully soon to be made safe again.
My fairytale staircase, photo taken at full arm stretch through a fence.

We stayed for several days this time and took a history tour which was fascinating. Due to Covid many areas were closed but we were allowed to sit in these spaces and drink in the atmosphere, if not the cocktails. At night we explored Cats Alley and heard stories of ghosts, of creaking floors and imagined guests sneaking back to their rooms in the early pre-dawn to avoid public scandal of high political figures.

A relic from the past.
Cat’s Alley, with glorious views over the valley, and handy to the menfolk in their testosterone-filled salon nearby.

There is not just a grandeur about the Hydro Majestic, there is also a sense of luxury, of security and a hint of the sort of salacious gossip that was undoubtedly whispered by the women in Cats Alley, the ones who knew all the secrets.

The view from Cat’s Alley. A lovely place for a quiet tete a tete.
Also a lovely place to sit and write about murder and intrigue.

The hydrotherapy ‘cover’ was shed after just a few years, but the name, and the reputation, lingers on.

Adorable Doors part 3 — Naxos

I first must say, all the photos in “Writing on the Move” are my own, except perhaps for the few my husband may have taken. I love colour and character in my images as in my words.

I’d started my love affair with door photos in Athens. We tiptoed out of Athens in the pre-dawn to catch a ferry to Paros, where we stayed for a few days, getting delightfully lost in the twisting, narrow streets. Then we took the next boat to Naxos.

A very Greek door, with so much personality! Naxos, Greece.
Right next door to the door with the eyes. There’s a story here!
Narrow roads for no vehicle. That hint of blue to the right is the doors above. Naxos, Greece.

When planning our trip, the idea was to make our way to Crete by island-hopping. We wanted tiny tastes, our own degustation menu of island experience. We hadn’t realised that Naxos is the island next door to Paros! The trip took about half an hour. But Naxos was on my list, as according to mythology it was here that Theseus abandoned Ariadne after their flight from Crete. I seized the chance to experience Naxos to inform my writing.

A handy spot for breakfast, especially if you are an incorrigble punster.
Octopus drying in the sun, Naxos Harbour, Greece.
Walls built of bits and pieces over the centuries. Behind the window, the space is in use. A home? Naxos, Greece.
A gate to a garden, and another wall built of bits and pieces. Naxos, Greece.

As with Paros, we arrived at the wharf and waited for our transfer to the hotel. While we waited we watched the skill and speed with which the ferry drivers load and unload vehicles and passengers.

The hotel on Naxos was definitely a hotel. Everything about Naxos was bigger. It was in the flat-roofed white-painted style of Greek village housing, with the curious roof-top embellishments typical of Naxos.

Up in the mountains of Naxos. Note the embellishments on the roof.
Overlooking Naxos. Harbour to the right, our hotel somewhere on the left… so many do
Shutters to… where? With the sea (and my husband) beyond. Naxos, Greece.
The sign on the door said the tower museum was closed for a week. Yes, the week we were there… Naxos, Greece.
None shall pass! Naxos, Greece.
There’s that piecemeal construction again. Every stick and stone has its own story. Naxos, Greece.
Once there was a handrail — live dangerously! Naxos, Greece.
These shutters aren’t opening any time soon. Naxos, Greece.
Tell me — can’t you see yourself weaving a story here?

As always, as soon as we’d dropped our bags, we were off exploring. A short walk down a narrow path took us to the beach and then we found our way back to the harbour and the main part of the town. The first thing we found was the multi-level nature of the old town of Naxos.

Climbing upwards above Naxos. Husband Jeff had to duck his head in places. Doors and stairs intertwined.
Despite its age, this door appears well-used. What stories are behind it?
It’s steeper than it looks… Jeff kept getting ahead of me, because I insisted on stopping to take photographs of doors!
Near the top is a church, of course. St Anastasia’s.
There was an open square outside the church.
A passerby introduced us to the resident cat, a battle-scarred ginger and white tom (left in the photo).
His name is Ares. How appropriate! Named for the Greek god of war. “Do not pet Ares,” I was told.

At the summit of the goat paths was the old Venetian fort area. Naxos’s old town is more rambling and extensive than that of Harikia on Paros, but it also had the occasional large gate which would have given invaders pause.

Ancient battle-scarred barricade at the fort. Look at those hinges! Naxos, Greece.
Stairs and doors everywhere, criss-crossing and overlapping. I hope the doors open inwards!
Geek architecture makes use of what is there already, and adapts.
Same steps, different door.
Another closed-in door. Naxos, Greece.
…and another.

We travelled inland and across the island, visiting the high mountains and the opposite shore. The ancient temple to Demeter sits at the centre of Naxos like the island’s own omphalos, or navel. The centre of their world. Our tour guide was on his summer break from his usual job as a history teacher, and I enjoyed every detail of his talks.

The wreath over the door, now wilted in June, once matched the intense colour. Naxos, Greece.
So much little detail with this door. And another wreath. Naxos, Greece.

I asked our tour guide why some of the buildings, including ones which were otherwise immaculate, had a withered wreath hung over the door. He suddenly went very quiet and tried to distract me. It only intrigued me further. He clearly did not want to answer in front of the group and he had already learned how interested I was in the ancient practices of Greece. At last he took me aside and told me, in low tones, that the wreaths were placed over doors on May Day for St John. Okay, but why leave them there? It was clearly part of the custom, though.

Sunrise from our hotel balcony. Naxos, Greece.

However, I had enough information and went looking back at the hotel. I found the Feast of the Protomagia, where wreaths are woven from flowers of the field and included items such as an ear of wheat for the harvest, a symbol of the evil eye (usually to ward it off) and thorns (or a thorn somewhere) to protect the house from enemies. May Day is also a celebration of Persephone’s return from Hades, and rejoicing from her mother Demeter, the mother earth. It is a celebration of the triumph of life over death, for now. And for some they see it also as a celebration of Dionysus. On June 24 (technically the Feast of St John the Harvester) all the wreaths of the village are gathered together and burned. Yep. I can see that. A midsummer bonfire and celebration in the ancient traditions. Villagers leaping through the smoke for good luck. Although these days it is St John the Harvester in whose honour this is done, the ancient pagan traditions are still underlying it all.

Greece has a heritage that goes back through the millennia and they still remember and honour their ancient traditions, even under a more acceptable form.

Temple to Demeter, Naxos, Greece. Ancient doorways to the past.

No wonder our tour guide was a little reticent…

Adorable Doors part 2 — Paros

I promised you more door porn – here you are!

The windmill at Parikia Harbour is now the information point. Daily ferry just coming in. Paros, Greece.
Early in the morning the tavernas in the town square were empty. The square was ringed with doors. Paros, Greece.
It could be mistaken for a garden path, but this is a street. Paros, Greece.
What stories has this door known?

We arrived on the island of Paros at about midday, and were collected in a mini-bus for transfer, along with about five others. Our hotel was the Aegeon, around the corner and up the hill, with a small convenience store across the road. It’s a small two-storey building, in the traditional Cycladic style of flat-roofed white building with sea-blue doors. Through the door we found a cool, shaded space, a shelter from the intense summer heat. The hotel was high enough above the town of Parikia for a gentle breeze from the harbour to cool us a little.

The window in the sitting room of Aegeon hotel. Cool inside, after the heat outside. Paros, Greece.

As soon as we’d checked in, we began our explorations. We had no map and no way to navigate back to the harbour on foot, except by eye. That was when we discovered just how effective were the winding streets, blind ends, twists and turns and narrow passages to keeping the old towns safe from invasion from the sea. Paros has been a wealthy prize due to its trade in the whitest pure marble, prized by sculptors through the millennia.

Windows count too. This was near our pensione. Paros, Greece.
Paros, Greece.
Church doorways. Paros, Greece.
Very old buildings line an ancient street. Each archway, each set of steps is another door. Paros, Greece.
A narrow path to the doorway. There’s a washing line, too. Paros, Greece.
Narrow steps up, doorways below. Paros, Greece.
Another church, with oleanders in flower. This is the laurel of Greek mythology.
Water is very important in Greek culture. Water to drink, water for blessings. Paros, Greece.
The church overlooking Parikia Harbour, which we found by getting lost in the dark. Paros, Greece.
In 500 BC there was a temple to Athena in this location.

We regularly got lost and often found ourselves navigating by the sun. This was a problem at night. Our pensione was only a five minute walk from the harbour, but at night we often took forty minutes trying to find our way back.

Hibiscus and bougainvillea grow out of tiny crevices and twist around the buildings. Paros, Greece.

It’s a very enjoyable place in which to get lost. We found some glorious nooks and crannies, and in places the buildings went right over the road. Looking up from underneath we could see the rough construction which we had seen thirty years ago when we first visited the little village in the mountains of Crete (see “Blast From the Past”).

Look up to see the building materials for the floors above this street. Yes, street. Paros, Greece.
Old, decayed doors — more stories.
Side by side with well-maintained doors. Still very Greek! Paros, Greece.
Doors open directly onto the streets.
So many stories here. Paros, Greece.
The streets here are named after people of note. Paros, Greece.
Table and chair outside to sit in the sun and watch the people pass by. Paros, Greece.

Along the shoreline we found some more interesting doors. The town opened up a little more. The town square was ringed with tavernas and clothing shops.

Even though it’s a main street, it is narrow.
Near the town square the street is wider. Shops near Pariklia Harbour, Paros, Greece.

As we walked back in the moonlight (getting delightfully lost again) we noticed the heavy doors opening right onto the street, which would have been an added hazard for unwelcome invaders.

As tourists, we felt welcomed despite our closeness in the street to residents’ living spaces. What would it have been like to be on guard behind a door, hearing the sound of invaders trying to creep through the town?

And today, behind those doors, the women cook for their families, tend their small gardens, chat to their neighbours and live their family lives. The only privacy would be behind those doors.

Taralga Time-Out

A good crop of table grapes at Taralga pub should be good eating by late summer.

We’ve got “bugout” down to a fine art, posting online right up to the wire. Half an hour before checkout, we started to pack. Fifteen minutes before checkout deadline, we were on the road from Canberra. Our ultimate destination was the Blue Mountains village of Medlow Bath, but we wanted to drive a different way. Adventure is about challenge and change, and that is where the best stories come from.

Leaving Canberra. The telecommunications tower on Black Mountain (right) is a well-known landmark.

Jeff still needed the stops every hour to get and walk for a bit. First stop, Goulburn for fuel. From there, our route went inland over new roads.

Typical Federation houses in Goulburn — the places you see when you miss a turn!

We were amazed and delighted at the green fields and full dams on the properties we drove past. A field of canola glowed sunshine yellow, while just over the field was a paddock of the deadly purple paterson’s curse. Beautiful, but deadly to horses. However, the flower’s other name, salvation jane, indicates its value as a fodder crop for sheep and cattle in poor pasture areas.

A field of paterson’s curse against the backdrop of the Blue Mountains
Paterson’s curse close-up.

We decided to stop briefly in Taralga. A short stroll would do Jeff’s bad leg a power of good. As we were comin g in to the town we had to stop while an echidna crossed the road. The creature paused briefly while it seemed to be thinking about whether to change direction and follow the centre line for a bit, then it seemed to shrug and continue to cross, looking for all the world like a prickly wind-up toy. One should always resist the temptation to physically move them — if you startle them, they’ll just curl up into a spiny ball and you can’t move them without heavy gauntlets. Croquet sticks are definitely not a good idea. National Parks and Wildlife would look askance at the idea. Lewis Carroll was writing about hedgehogs, not the much larger echidna.

An echidna crossing the road just outside Taralga.

We stopped outside Taralga pub and immediately Jeff spotted a street library. As were were looking at it to see how it compared with ours, an older woman with a straw hat approached. Did we want a book to read?

Taralga Hotel. The “pub” as we call them. Wide-veranda’d, shady, cool inside.
And yes, they have rooms available, like any country pub of its day.
Taralga pub street library, close-up.

We said we were fine with books and showed her the photos of our own book library. “We’ve only stopped for a few minutes to walk around,” we explained. “It’s too early for lunch, or we’d go into the pub.”

Coastal daisies. A favourite cottage garden plant here.

We chatted, and she clearly knew the place well. “Are you the proprietor here?” Jeff asked.

I got her photo after all. Oops! But it’s suitably anonymous.

She nodded happily. “Would you like to see the place?” she asked. She’d watch me take photos of the street library, and some coastal daisies. “We’ve got a lot more you can take photos of round the back,” she assured. “Our vegetable beds are coming on too.”

So we took the tour. We chatted about her plants, her roses and her fruit trees. Figs, apricots, pears, cherries, apples. We’ve often remarked, there are few people friendlier than country Australians, and this lady was no exception. She delighted in her gardens and briefed us on her future plans for more garden beds.

“We’ve planted more hops,” she showed us as she talked about boutique beers. We never learned her name, and she never asked for ours, but we talked for nearly half an hour as if we were old friends. I took a few snapshots as we walked around. As we headed towards the back door of the pub, I asked if I could take her photo. I thought a portrait shot would be something she could value in exchange for her time.

“Oh, no,” she declined. “I hate having my photo taken!” But she was happy for me to keep taking photos of the garden, the signs and the pub itself.

The view from the front door. The accommodation is upstairs. A beautifully maintained historic building.

We’d already taken longer than we intended and felt a little guilty at not stopping for a meal.

She waved away our concerns. “Next time,” she said.

As she showed us the shortcut through the pub to the front entrance, she seemed to have all the time in the world. However, we also saw her interact with staff and the respect they showed her. A strong woman, a hard worker but someone who valued the importance of time.

For us, Taralga was a brief opportunity to stop and smell the flowers.

Daisy Chains – a Lost Art

Thin stems make daisy chains challenging, but they can still be done.

Seeing the field of daisies in Goulburn reminded me of making daisy chains as a kid. I taught myself out of a book, because everyone else in the family was working or too busy. The book was helpful, though, and taught me a few other plant games. I remarked how much I wished for something to relieve my boredom, in the days before iPads and the internet.

Perhaps that is why I became so involved with writing. I read books avidly, whatever was to hand. But also, playing outdoors, I learned about the world around me, at least in my immediate vicinity. I watched the ants, the birds, the plants and learned their changing ways through the year. And so I studied science. But writing is always stimulated by what we experience in the world around us.

While in Canberra visiting the family, the children were having an electronics-free day. We played a board game then went for a walk. The children rode their bikes. Canberra is ideally suited to this, with so many walking trails and bike paths keeping exercise away from the roads and in the green spaces. At least the spaces are green at the moment, after so much rain! But as we walked and talked, it became clear that children these days do not have the same skills in games with weeds as they do with electronic games.

A profusion of weeds made excellent material for some daisy chains. All the plants I will now describe are introduced weeds, but so common here that we’ll never get rid of them.

A blurry dandelion clock – hard to focus when I can’t see the screen for the sunshine!

Dandelion clocks are a game that children can play, although gardeners hate the distribution of seed that results. The game is, you can tell the time by how many puffs it takes to blow off all the seeds. I remember as a child being puzzled when a particularly stubborn seed clinging on for dear life resulted in a ‘time’ of 25 o’clock!

Plantain — fun to ‘shoot’

Plaintain flowers make fun pop guns to shoot at each other with. To make a plantain gun, you pick a long-stemmed flower, fold the stem over and around behind the flower head, and then rapidly pull the flower stem until it is pulled violently against the folded loop of stem. The flower head should break and fly off. This is a game that gardeners like.

Bend the stalk around in a circle to cross over itself behind the flower head.
Fold the end of the stem over the stem behind the flower head.
Hold the folded stem firmly, but make sure the stalk can still slip through freely. Then pull sharply!
Left hand, here, pulls. The plantain head should fly off. Biodegradable fun.

As a child I would deck myself and my friends in daisy chains. To make a daisy chain, you choose flowers that have stems thick enough and soft enough to take a thumbnail cutting a vertical slit in the stem. Choose a flower with a small head as your first flower (for reasons which shall become obvious later on). Thread through the stem of your next flower, and draw it gently through until the flower head has reached the slit in the previous stem. Now do this again until you either run out of daisies, or your chain is long enough. Then choose a flower with the strongest, thickest stalk you can find and thread it onto the chain. Make a vertical slit in the stem the same way, but this time make it longer. Go carefully! You don’t want the hole to tear away at the side!

The head of the chain. Thumbnail making a vertical slit in the stem.
Widening the hole.
Threading the next daisy through the hole. Then make a thumbnail slit in this next daisy stem. Repeat.
Poking the first daisy head through the last (larger) hole in the final stem — the flower head gets a bit squashed but you can fluff out the petals again,.

Now take the first flower in the chain (remember I said it should be small!) and thread the flower head through the larger hole of the last daisy.

Voila! Flower fashion!

The finished bracelet.

You can also use clover or any flower with a stem that will be strong enough yet soft enough. True dandelions don’t work well because their hollow, milky stems tear out too easily.

And remember, daisy chains are for now only. Once the sun goes down, the flowers close and day is done.

More daisy chains tomorrow!

Canberra by Covid

We’re in Canberra for a quick weekend. It’s not the best time, but we’ve been wanting to visit for several months but health issues got in the way. Now as we travel, Jeff is sitting very carefully due to bruises after a backyard tumble in the rain. He’s healing well but still sore. The laptop’s in the car and will get a workout with my own writing, and editing for others. As always, I do a lot of writing preparation while I travel.

As we turned onto the Federal Highway, we were delighted by how lush and green it all was. It was dust-dry a year ago.

Spring flowers in garden beds in Goulburn.
Lush pasture on “the long paddock” by the highway. The fields are green.

We planned more frequent stops so Jeff could get out and walk around. We called it “taking Robert the Bruise out for a gallop.” At each stop, we wear our home-made face masks and if we can’t wash our hands in the rest rooms, we use our bottle of sanitiser which we keep in the car. Some of the rest rooms barely qualify for the polite label. On the Federal Highway to Canberra, the rest stops are named after decorated soldiers. There is a plaque detailing what each soldier earned his Victoria Cross for.

The toilets are basic but functional. Pit toilets, most of them, with tasnk water when there has been rain. The instructions are to keep the lid down on the toilet when not in use — the ventilation is designed to draw out unpleasant odours. Sadly, not everyone understands this. The stenciled warning on the path to watch for snakes can be daunting to many overseas tourists.

Rest stop at one of the “V’C.”s. Pit toilets, no power, no running water. Tank water only, when the tanks are full.
The business end. Despite the primitive look, this is a very good facility for the conditions. Get used to it.
Outside in the fresh air at the rest stop. Boxers Creek, somewhere on the highway to Canberra. Deciduous trees provide much-valued shade in the summer heat but let the sun in over winter when it gets very cold.

We made our next stop in Goulburn. Time for another walk around, and lunch. We avoided the usual fast food franchises and a pie shop we’ve learned to be wary of, and found a pleasant little cafe. Covid-safe rules meant we had to register. That is about to become law through our state, so it was good practice on so many levels.

Wide country town roads. Out little cafe was right at the far end (extreme left), next to an Indian restaurant.
A meadow of these (non-indigenous) daisies brought back childhood memories. I spent many hours making daisy chains. If only I’d had the internet! I was bored out of my skull!

After lunch I wandered over to take the obligatory tourist snapshot of the Big Merino (dubbed “Rambo” by our family), yet another of the Big Things we feature in Australia to showcase the produce of the area. For those curious about matters of a biological matter, let’s just say that Rambo is a wether.

“Rambo” posing as only a merino can.

This is a major stopping point for the many trucks which are increasingly relied on to transport loads of freight up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia. On the freeway we meet many of these pulling their trailers carefully at the speed limit. This is a highly policed freeway with automated checks for the whole route.

Back on the road, we quickly came to Lake George which has more water in it than I’ve seen since I was a teenager. There were still sheep and cattle grazing, and the pasture looked lush. While there were shallow pools closer to the road, in the hazy distance we could see the new extent of the lake’s water. Even now, most of the lake bed remains as pasture.

A Southern Cross windmill on the lake bed draws up water for the stock. Lake George, Federal Highway, Canberra.

One last stop at a rest top on the edge of Lake George and it was time for the final run-in to Canberra. My husband limped over to take the wheel. He reckons he’s more comfortable driving.

Windmills in the furthest distance, then water (or a mirage?). Glorious pasture in Lake George.
Looking from the west side to the east.
Almost there! Look out, Canberra!

Only for a couple of days, Canberra, but we’re ba-a-ack!

Adorable Doors – part 1

I love doors. I adore a door with character, with history, with a story to tell.

Athens, near the Acropolis. Door handles removed, once-bright paint now faded and peeling.
Athens, Plaka. Secure, private.

When travelling, it is the hidden corners that have surprises to spring. Imagination fodder a-plenty.

Weathered timber, old and detailed. Someone is restoring it.

Behind every door there is a story. Many stories.

A door can be classic, pristine, or modern. Or it can be in such decay that it has fallen into disuse.

The door frame and door are still old, but more recent than the old stonework. What was here before?
Paros Island, Greece.

On our trip to Greece in 2018 I took many photos of cats and even considered a calendar devoted exclusively to Greek cats. My husband said I’d have no trouble finding twelve images for the twelve months. But when it came to doors, he said I would have a different door photo for every day of the year.

I don’t think these doors are in use. But once upon a time… Athens, near the Acropolis.

Sometimes the doors were open, sometimes the occupant was nearby, perhaps hanging out washing or watering the garden. On the Greek island of Paros, a sudden heavy downpour spilled women from doors with stiff brooms to scrub the street spotless and sweep the water into the centre channel.

After the rain I paddled barefoot. You can see the green broom head just in front of me, where a nearby woman is sweeping the water into the central drain. Paros Island, Greece.
The spotless street, some rainwater still in the centre channel. After the rain on Paros Island, Greece.
Your author walking along a street on Paros Island. Narrow stairs lead to apartments above.
Doors below open directly onto the street.

In some areas the homes opened directly onto a road that was often barely a path. Some of these roads were so narrow that you could touch the walls on each side at the same time. Other doors opened out onto town squares. But always the colour, condition and individuality lent appeal. For each door photo, there was always something that drew me to it. It was the story it told me, each door telling me its own tale.

A glimpse of a garden in a large courtyard. Paros Island, Greece.
Bougainvillea vines around the door and shuttered window. Paros Island, Greece. I love the knocker!

Since that trip to Greece I’ve heard many more stories in my head, told by many different doors in various parts of the world.

Some people call it door porn. I don’t care.

I just tell them that it’s a door-able.


More door porn to follow…