Tag Archives: Halloween

The Many Faces of Milan.

Italy’s financial center and fashion capital, Milan, was the hub of my recent trip to Italy.  It is a fascinating and stylish mix of old world charm and modern design. Although my stay there was mostly work related (no I don’t work in finance or fashion, but they also host one of the top ranked European business schools), I will share a few experiences and observations I made while crisscrossing the city.

Milano Centrale statues MilanA pleasant surprise, a treat actually, came on my second day in Milan. A memorable dinner at Castello Visconteo. This castle, built in the 14th century, is just over an hour’s drive from Milan. Incredibly charming and a bit mysterious when you arrive at night.

castello Visconteo at night Milan

coutyard of Castello Visconteo MilanI couldn’t get enough of the beautiful decorations, still partly preserved on the walls and ceilings.

a room at Castello Visconteo Milan

the ceiling of the hall in Castello Visconteo MilanAnd the 5-course candlelit dinner was delicious, traditional dishes from Lombardy accompanied by Tuscan wines.

my dinner table at Castello Visconteo MilanI couldn’t take too many pictures at the table, but had to sneak a shot of this perfect Italian version of Crème Brule.

creme brule at Castrello Visconteo MilanOnce my work was done and I had some time to look around, I  realized Milan was quite a green city. And I don’t mean the parks. I noticed that people had surrounded themselves with greenery right where they lived. Rooftop gardens, terraces and balconies with green plants were everywhere. I started snapping pictures of a them as I passed different buildings in the city center. Here’s a small sample.

Roof garden Milan_edited-2

another building with trees Milan_edited-1

another roof garden Milan_edited-2

balconies in Milan_edited-1

 

green balcony Milan

Another roof garden in MilanThe most amazing green buildings I encountered, however, were the two towers of Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) opened in 2014. Together, these two residential high-rise buildings host over 100 apartments and 20,000 plants, among them about 900 trees. I could only get a picture of one of them, but you’ll get the idea.

Bosco Verticale Vertical Forest in Milan_edited-1These trees, shrubs and other plants fight air pollution. They can transform approximately 44,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into oxygen each year. Quite amazing, isn’t it? Needless to say, I was impressed by these green marvels, designed by the Italian architect Stefano Boeri and a large team of specialists.

Milan’s financial power and famous design were evident in the many modern glass towers reaching up towards the sky in the city center.

glass building Milan

modern skyscraper Milan

skyscraper MilanFrom looking up, I went to looking down. The traffic scene on any street always included scooters. In fact, one could see long lines of them for rental at some street corners.

scooter lady MilanAnd I noticed the many innovative parking practices. Here just one example.

smart parking ItalyFrom looking down, I went to looking through…the shop windows at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the worlds oldest shopping mall.

vittorio emanuele II MilanIts construction started in 1865, but there was nothing old-fashioned about it. This mall housed shops of the famous designers of our time.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II MilanI went window shopping and saw whimsical fashion creations…some more suitable for the cat walk than my walk-in closet. Or my wallet.

prada fashions Milan

fashion 3 Milan_edited-1And I saw winter gear in muted colors. More my style, with Florida length cropped pants and all, but my wallet still didn’t agree.

fashion 2 Milan_edited-1

winter fashion MIlan edited-1

fashion 1 in Milan_edited-1Some shops offered boots too…

boots Milan_edited-1…and I passed many windows exhibiting exuberant, colorful bags. The price tags were discretely tucked under the bags, and I guess for the typical customer the price didn’t really matter. I have never been a bag lady, but they were nice to look at.

Prada bag Milan

bags 3 Milan_edited-1

Armani bags Milan_edited-1

bags Milan

head gear in the window Milan_edited-2After seeing this pom-pom-fitted head-gear, I gave up. I would not leave with any of those fancy shopping bags with a world-famous designer’s name on it. So I walked out. And was faced with a wall of faces.

Faces of MIlan_edited-1A modern touch on old walls right next to Piazza del Duomo, which is the main city square in Milan. I walked closer and saw the Duomo, Milan cathedral, in all its beauty.

Duomo Milan_edited-1

detail of Duomo MIlan

main entrance of the Duomo MilanLots of people and pigeons outside, but the inside was very peaceful. I spent some time there in silent contemplation. And lit candles for each of the two men I lost recently.

detail 2 of Duomo MIlanWhen I came out I was greeted by a street musician and the many pigeons calling this square home.

Street musician MIlan

lion and pigeons at piazza del duomo MilanI noticed the lion was yawning…and took it as a sign it was time to catch a bus back to my hotel.

sightseeing bus MilanThank you for joining me on this mini-tour.  The always scary-looking beast, Mr. D., and I wish you all a wonderful Halloween week.

halloween Dylan 2017_edited-2

 

Halloween at the Salt Marsh. Everything Transmogrified.

A few minutes after midnight I stepped out into the cool night. As I approached the end of our driveway, the pale crescent moon suddenly disappeared in red haze. It was pitch black. Then, slowly, a sparkling full moon appeared. I thought that was strange. But knew it would aid me on my visit to the salt marsh.

halloween-moon-3-ud88The gate into the park was closed, of course. But unlike any other night, a mean looking bird was guarding it.  His long bill was sharp and his left foot was raised as in a warning.

nature-reserve-forest-and-snowy-egret-halloween-2-ud88No admission. But stubborn as I am, I decided to climb over the low stone wall a little further down.

salt-marsh-stone-wall-3-ud88Right away I could see some hunching shapes on one of the small islands in the distance. A gathering of the ghosts perhaps? Halloween party? It was impossible to tell.

wood-storks-and-great-egrets-halloween-2-ud88Bang! The ground shook and lightning struck from the clear sky. It illuminated the osprey nest. From afar, it looked deserted and seemed to glow faintly in the moonlight.

osprey-nest-halloween-4-ud88I was frightened, but there was no turning back. So I walked closer. Suddenly I heard heavy wing beats right above my head. A large bat? I saw a huge creature land on the nest. He looked right at me and I thought his eyes were somewhat familiar. He didn’t say anything, just stared at me flexing his enormous wings.

papa-osprey-halloween-3-ud88Just under the nest, I could discern a glowing figure on the ground. Someone else was observing me too. It was spooky. And eerily quiet.

yellowcrowned-night-heron-playing-halloween-3-ud88The silence was broken by a bone-chilling scream. An apparition with a huge bill drifted right next to me. I started running.

papa-wood-stork-halloween-2-ud88Further out, I saw more dark shapes starting to gather at the far end of the marsh. Curiosity won over fear and I decided to investigate. Walking along the water line, I spotted large glowing fish in the deep pond. Monsters over three feet long.

fish-tarpon-in-the-salt-marsh-halloween-ud88I sensed many pairs of eyes were following my every step from the deep shadows. It was unnerving. But I kept going.

muscovy-duck-halloween-3-ud88

great-egret-halloween-3-ud88

squirrel-halloween-ud88As I came to the far end, I noticed action on the water. Someone was running for his life!

mottled-duck-run-on-water-halloween-ud88The poor fellow was chased by a much bigger creature, who was flapping his wings as he ran on the water. I could feel chills go down my spine.

reddish-egret-hunting-halloween-ud88Suddenly I came to a halt. A creepy feathered being was blocking the trail. He was huge! And he was scrutinizing me from top to toe from the corner of his eye.

great-blue-heron-halloween-2-ud88I started shaking, but finally he let me pass. I took cover under some short palm trees next to the water. That’s when I saw her. Her pink skirt was flowing in the cool breeze as she performed her dance at the edge of the pond.

roseate-spoonbill-halloween-2-ud88All action stopped. No running, no chasing, no fooling around. Complete silence as if all the creatures were holding their breath. Then wings started flapping. Loud applause reverberated in the night. I tried to clap too, but couldn’t. Something heavy was weighing down my left arm. It didn’t move.

dylan-halloween-ud88I woke up. And Dylan turned to look at me. I must have been screaming because the hair on his head stood up. I had dozed off and been dreaming about my friends at the salt marsh. All transmogrified just in time for Halloween. I turned off the TV and the light, petted Dylan and went back to sleep. Who knows what the night might bring. Happy Halloween folks!

Halloween Dates. Tricks and Treats at the Salt Marsh.

I heard them before I saw them. Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley were having an early lunch date on Halloween. They had a lot to discuss. I wonder if they made plans for the soon upcoming nesting season. Can you imagine it’s November already? Sandy may have reminded Stanley to start choreographing his Proposal Dance and planning for the gift to be delivered to her in early January. In any case, this couple gets together more often now. They clearly know their vacation will soon be over.

male and female osprey

male and female osprey flying togetherAfter witnessing their lunch date, I took a swing through the salt marsh, looking for any signs of Halloween tricks or treats. And I was not disappointed.

The first one I spotted was the Muscovy Duck. He looked disheveled and had lost a bunch of feathers. Maybe he’d tried on a Halloween costume that was too tight?

muscovy duckI didn’t see any signs of a fight, so maybe it was just a trick?  Soon this young man looked himself again. Minus a few feathers.

Looking for spooky creatures, I found a huge spider. It had its Halloween web skillfully built between two trees over the water. I saw it in time not to be caught in his web, but the poor dragonfly was not as lucky.

spider caught a dragonfly Then I spotted the Reddish Egret, the clown of the marsh. He’s always up to some tricks. You’ll see some of them “live” in my next salt marsh documentary later on.

reddish egret An Anhinga was visiting too and that was a treat I don’t get every day.

anhinga Just when I was leaving to walk home through the beach, Sandy flew into the nest. She appeared irritated. She scraped the nest with her talons so hard that small bits and pieces flew in the air. I wonder what all that was about. Some disagreement with Stanley or a fish that just had tricked her?

female osprey at her nestShe soon calmed down, and as I walked home, I was treated with more tricks by the Willets on the beach. For this trick only one leg was allowed.

four willets on one leg But that’s not all. The Halloween evening was gorgeous. I had to go out again. My intention was to go straight to the beach to see the sunset, but found my feet taking me to the bay side first. I wanted more treats.

clearwater bay at sunsetfish crowsThe bay was basking in the last rays for this Halloween, and so were the black Fish Crows. And Stanley. He was perching at his penthouse resort lit by the golden rays.

male ospreyHe looked like the king of the forest. But then I saw him fly away, and settle on the roof of the Marriott Resort. Maybe he had another date with Sandy and wanted to be there ahead of time. osprey at Marriott's roof

Sandy was still at the nest, at the fast darkening salt marsh. She was not watching the sunset like she usually does. She had turned her back to the sun, and was looking towards the spot where Stanley was perching. Stanley was also looking in the direction of the nest (I snapped this photo from the salt marsh!). It certainly looked like they had another date planned. But Sandy made him wait just a little bit. These love birds made me smile.

female osprey at sunsetMiss Rosa was home as well. She presented me with a trick or two. First she was playing hide and seek, and then balanced some long grasses on one leg.

 roseate spoonbill roseate spoonbill The Yellow-crowned Night Heron was awake too, ready for his nightly adventures.

yellow-crowned night heronAnd Mr. Moorhen represented with elegance all the black birds pertinent to Halloween.

moorhenThe sun was already hiding behind the trees. I decided it was time to leave. I wanted to catch the Halloween sunset.

salt marsh t sunset It was gorgeous! It had romance in the form of kisses on the water, and it had some intrigue. A pirate ship was chasing some innocent boaters. But it wasn’t the least spooky.

halloween sunset sand keyboat at sunset on Halloween sand keyboats at sunset halloween sand keyHad I stayed longer, maybe I would’ve witnessed Mama Sandy and Papa Stanley on a romantic flight over the moonlit ocean. Halloween has its treats after all.

This post is also my response to the weekly photo challenge “Treat”. You can find other responses here.

Scary True Stories. Told Ahead of Halloween. Just In Case.

I’m definitely an implant as far as Halloween is concerned. Growing up in northern Europe, I never knew spooky and scary things were supposed to happen on a certain day, or even in a certain month. Instead, I grew up knowing that 1st of November was All Saints’ Day. Cemeteries would look peaceful with candles burning on the graves of departed loved ones on the Eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31st. There was nothing spooky about that.

So on my first Halloween in the US, just three months after we’d arrived here, I was not prepared for what was to come. I got off the bus a couple of blocks from home, tired after a stressful work day, when a glowing skeleton ran towards me on the darkened suburban street. Spooky. And as it came closer, it spread its arms, ready to grab me.

Instead the skeleton hugged me. And then it spoke. My son’s voice, no doubt. He had already caught on to the local customs and was on his way to trick-or-treat with his new friends. I realized the whole neighborhood was spooky. Ghosts and skeletons hung from the trees. Carved pumpkins threw a ghostly light on the manicured lawns through their hollow eyes and irregular teeth. I had never seen anything like that. It felt rather silly to me as I was still mulling over the outcome of my last meeting. On a very ordinary Monday night. But then, I was no longer a kid.

Not that I was a stranger to skeletons. I actually had one as my front seat passenger when I drove through Addis Ababa to a health care conference a few years earlier. The skeleton had been our guest for a couple of days before the event, so I felt compelled to provide him transport to the venue. I had lovingly made him a hoodie out of a bedsheet for this chilly January day. And I did put his seat belt on. He sat there silently next to me as we navigated our way through this lively city. A few pedestrians spotted my pale passenger, and there was some finger pointing. But we arrived safely. He did his job and I did mine. We even posed for a photo together before our ways parted. So I was used to skeletons. Sort of.

Tiny with a skeletonBut the first Halloween was embarrassing. I didn’t have large stacks of candy for the many trick-or-treaters, who knocked on our door. But luckily I always kept a small stash of treats in my pantry. That lasted for an hour. I was not up to any tricks so I had to put the lights out when my candy was gone. A real outlier. But I was a quick study. The following year I had both pumpkins and candy. Whole pumpkins on the stairs. And wrapped candy in a basket.

However, my scariest spooky experience was not on a Halloween. You see, such things can actually happen any time. This was years earlier. In the dark underground city of the dead. In the catacombs under the city of Rome.

When I walked down there, in those long, narrow, winding tunnels surrounded by damp earth, stone or ancient brick, I was moved far back in human history. To the dark times of persecution. I could feel the suffering in those walls. All my senses we spooked. And the skeletons, skulls and other reminders of those who died or were buried there added to the scary and somewhat claustrophobic experience.

All roads lead to Rome, as they say.  If yours does too, the catacombs may be the place to visit. In the unlikely event that your Halloween is not scary enough.

So what am I going to do this Halloween? You guessed it, right? Visit the salt marsh, of course. In case you don’t see an update on my feathered friends over the weekend, I might’ve been caught in the web of this glowing giant spider. Just so you know.

Well ahead of this upcoming scary walk, I wish you all Happy Halloween and a Peaceful All Saints’ Day.

A Good Time to Run

 “Trick ‘r treat” at this house

 you’ll sure meet a mouse

in the spooky front yard

where the ghosts stand guard.

Once you slip indoors

 more ghosts doing chores

in the dimmest of light

fuming jars are in sight.

The chef ghost is cooking

and that’s really spooking

a green pig for roast

with your Halloween toast.

No treats to be found

then you hear the hound

these tricks are no fun

it’s a good time to run!

Stirred to Your Taste

This week’s weekend reading will be just a short greeting to wish all friends and visitors a wonderfully scary pre-Halloween weekend. These are the last days of October, which means November starts next Friday. And November means we all go NaNo, right?

Bumble has persuaded me, and he’s good at that as my readers know, to participate this year. Last year’s plans were ruined by sudden work travel, but this year I’ve tried my best to be able to stay put on the ground for November. Done work in advance, filled my pantry with soups and my freezer with meals to heat, and stocked several pounds of coffee (and just a handful of cookies). Keeping my fingers crossed.

This probably means less time to read the lovely blogs I follow and I apologize in advance. It will also mean less frequent posting on my own blog for one month. But I promise not to whine or cry about my trials and tribulations. We need to stay positive. Confident that we’ll make it to the finish line. 50,000 words. To add some motivation (read pressure) I have displayed the NaNoWriMo widget on the side bar. It will show progress, or lack of it, on a daily basis…

Anyway, that marathon starts only next Friday. Wonderfully scary. Be good now and have a suitably spooky weekend, stirred to your taste. Hugs, Tiny

Halloween-Spooky Travel Tales

When I was growing up, we did not go trick-or-treating on Halloween. In northern Europe at the time, we simply did not know about such a spooky day or the tradition of scary/funny costumes and candy in excess. We were happy to get some candy on big holidays and sometimes even on an ordinary Sunday – nothing spooky about that. Nowadays, of course, the idea of Halloween has spread to most countries, probably even to my home village in the far north.

Over the years, as I’ve traveled the globe, I’ve come across a few spooky moments, all very different, and this might be a good day to tell you about a couple of those.

The first thing that comes to mind is the visit my hubby and I made to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London on our honeymoon trip many, many moons ago. We were fascinated by all the famous figures exhibited there. In the course of walking around and admiring them, my hubby got an idea. He had noted that his long curly hair (yeah, we were neo-hippies at that time) was very similar to the hair of the many famous historical figures of the past. So he decided to stand still next to an exhibition. He stood there completely motionless and it was soon clear that some of the visitors thought he was part of the exhibition. To the point that they started touching his long coat. That’s when he moved his eyes! I could hear people screaming, scared to the bone by this wax figure coming to life! We had so much fun and after a while he stepped down, in order not to attract the attention of the museum guards to his little prank. Before we needed to flee the scene we had enough time to picture me too with my idol at the time,  the late President John F. Kennedy. But it was some spooky fun!

The next spooky travel experience came a couple of years later when we traveled in Italy. We stayed just south of Rome in the beach town of Taormina. We enjoyed the days at the beach, cycled on the mountainous roads, which was scary enough in that traffic, but we also spent some time to see the sights in Rome. Among the scariest places I’ve ever visited were the ancient catacombs or underground burial places beneath Rome. There are five catacombs open to public, some have four layers (or stories) of tunnels and a few of them are several kilometers long.

It was very easy to become spooked, scared and even claustrophobic walking in the ancient tunnels deep beneath the city. Some stretches were properly lit, some very dimly lit and others almost dark. The corridors were wide at some points, particularly where they intersected, but there we places where one could hardly pass, moist walls squeezing on both sides. The air was stale and moist too as you can imagine. There we some nice frescos and sculptures, but also sculls and mummified bodies, hundreds of burial chambers and other scary stuff. I could hear the wings of history and feel the sad emotions gathered in these tunnels. It was an unusual and spooky feeling.  The thought that I might be left alone there in the underground, walking the burial grounds forever, made it really scary. I definitely started to fear that I may never see the light of day again. But of course I eventually came out of there, totally spooked.

Another place that fascinated me was the Colosseum where the ancient gladiator games were held. The ruins of the dome itself were very impressive,  but I also wanted to see some of the inner chambers at the ground level, where the gladiators waited for their turn, and others where the lions were kept. Again I felt the anxiety, the excitement and the cruelty of this place in my bones. It was a hot summer day but suddenly it got freezing cold. I could almost hear the excited shouts of the public, the roar of the lions and the silence of the gladiators waiting. Spooky.

These were some of the travel tales down the memory lane that I thought would be just suitably Halloween-spooky. The scariest thing I now have at home is our little poodle who has turned into a ghostly hound dog for the day.

On a more somber note, I know that this year’s trick-or-treating will be muted or non-existent in many neighborhoods due to the painstaking clean-up and recovery after Sandy’s devastation. I feel for the kids whose homes may have been damaged and whose neighborhoods have been altered by the storm. I hope and pray they will be warm tonight, surrounded by family and friends somewhere safe. There are many ways for us to pitch in to support the recovery efforts.  It will be a long road. Happy Halloween.