Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Caught in the Middle Ages in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

This was the scene that greeted us as we approached Rothenburg ob der Tauber

To begin with, I'd like to share with you a sample of music from Medieval times composed by  Saint Hildergard of Bingen - please click on link to listen. 11,000 Virgins - Chants for the Feast of Saint Ursula. I hope it transports you to the middle ages as you read this post.

Hands down our favorite stop on our road trip through Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, is  a must see on Germany's Romantic Road. It fulfilled my fantasy of  experiencing being in a beautiful German town during the Medieval Ages. Walking around this old town, my imagination ran wild as I envisioned the village life  here at the time when it was the imperial citadel of  the Hohenstaufen Emperors.  Life centered  around the planting season as villagers primarily worked the land to grow food to survive until the next season.

The Marktplatz and Rathaus
During  fairs and festivals, I imagined the Marktplatz filled  with street  performers such as troubadours and acrobats, merchants selling all manners of goods and livestock at the main plaza by the Rathaus. There would be tournaments featuring knights from near and far  and merchants and crusaders returning from Asia, the Middle East and Africa telling stories about their adventures and experiences. There would also be pilgrims coming to worship at the churches and rest for the journey ahead.  Sometimes the travelers are greeted by the heads of bad men (maybe women, too) displayed on a stake as you entered one of the gates, a deterrent for those with malicious intentions.

Today's Rothenburg is scrubbed clean catering to the tourist trade and the atmosphere is really not too different back then. The  cobbled streets smoothed by footsteps of the many visitors over time and lined with half timbered houses are still there fronted by restaurants, museums, guesthouses  and  shops selling Christmas items and other souvenirs. Although, you get the feeling that this town was created by Disney, we found the people in Rothenburg, from innkeepers to shopkeepers, waiters and local guides, are genuine.

A painting we bought showing Hotel Markursturm (yellow building on the right)

Romantik Hotel Markursturm nestled by the Markus Tower and Roeder Arch
We opted  to stay for a couple of days inside the walls so we can enjoy Rothenburg when the throngs of day trippers have left and the ghostly spirits of dark ages can be felt even more. Our hotel, the Romantik Hotel Markursturm, was a former toll house nestled next to the Markus Tower and Roeder Arch (built 1200AD) and just steps away from the main Market Square. It has been a guesthouse for 500 years and owned by the Berger family for 4 generations. Lilo and Stefan Berger, and the entire staff treated us as if we were a guest at their own home,  Stefan, a talented chef who specialized in German dishes of the region,  was in charge of the kitchen but he could also be found at the reception desk, waiting on tables, giving tips on sights and even acting as a valet. We were surprised when we checked in and were given a list of room numbers to check out and pick our favorites to stay in. All the rooms that we saw had large bathrooms and a comfortable sitting area. The rooms, uniquely decorated by Lilo Berger were charming and it was a hard choice. In the end we chose the ones that were further away from the front with the thought that they would be quieter than those by the main street.

Half Timbered building typical in Rothenburg
Rothenburg is unique among the old German medieval towns in that it was only very slightly damaged  by  the many wars in its history. It has retained its surrounding walls , fairy tale towers and turrets, each one unique.  It's architecture is distinctly German, with the half timbered gabled buildings and red tiled roofs.

A Sample of Architecture in Rothenburg o.b.T.
More half timbered buildings with red tiled roofs

One of the activities we did  was to walk the walls and ramparts around the city. It was probably the one activity, other than joining the Night Watchman tour or going to the Crime and Punishment Museum, that  you can do where you feel most connected with the Dark Ages.

Walking along the town walls

Walking the Ramparts

We started off walking towards the main gates by the Burgtower which lead to the peaceful Burggarten. On our way, we stopped at the Franzisknerkirche. At the Burgarten, because Rothenburg is situated high on a plateau  above the Tauber valley, we enjoyed the panoramic view of the country side and the Tauber River. The garden is an ideal place to relax and enjoy a book or do some sketching. From here, we started walking on decked wooden walkway along the ramparts. It was so great being there just at the beginning of the tourist season since we had the ramparts all to ourselves. I just wish we could have done it in the dark also.

Main gate and Burg Towers


We followed the walls to the Spitaltor and then decided to rest back at the hotel. But first we had lunch by the Plonlein fork, one of the most photographed and painted spots in Rothenburg. It is a very picturesque medieval spot, where if you stand on the right spot you can see the Siebersturm (circa 1385) and the Kobozellertor  (circa 1360) towers simultaneously.

Plonlein Fork

Rothenburg is a great place to shop for German souvenirs , Christmas items and apparel also. The Kathe Wolhfart's Christmas shop located in the main square is very popular but I prefer the Anneliese Friese shop located by St. Jacob's Church. They carry authentic Made in Germany items plus the prices are more reasonable, and we got the bonus of owner Anneliese's or as she asked us to call her, Mama, regaling us with stories about her adventures in her 80 plus years.

Beer Steins

Wooden toys


Map of Rothenburg courtesy of 'Mama" Anneliese Friese
Like the pilgrims of the middle ages, a visit to Rothenburg would not be complete without a visit to the Gothic St. Jakobskirche where we found the altar of the Heilige Blut (Holy Blood) , said to contain a drop of Christ's blood. This altar piece is a masterpiece carved by the Michelangelo of wood sculptors, Tilman Riemenschneider. During this German trip, I became a quick fan of Tilman Riemensneider so much so  that I planned a stop wherever his work can be found.

St. Jacob's Church
The Altar of the Holy Blood by Tilman Riemenschneider

Detail of altar carving

Roasted Pork Knuckles

As far as the food,  at Roter Hahn restaurant, we had the best roasted pork knuckle ever. It was very crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Accompanied by potato dumplings and a vinegary sauce, it was just perfect.

We also had to try the signature sweet from Rothenburg, the Schneeballen. This confection is shaped like a snowball from layers of  deep fried pastry and comes in different flavors. The one I tasted had almond paste or marzipan as flavoring. It was very sweet and you can really tell it is deep fried. Is it healthy? Definitely Not! But how many times will I be in Rothenburg.

Here is an excerpt from the work of German Ulrich von Huetten regarding medieval life:
"The day is full of thought for the morrow, constant disturbance, continual storms. The fields must be ploughed and spaded, the vines tended, trees planted, meadows irrigated. There is harrowing, sowing, fertilizing, reaping, threshing: harvest and vintage. If the harvest fails in any year, then follow dire poverty, unrest, and turbulence.”  

I do not think that I would have liked to live during the medieval times. But much is to be said about the great art and architecture  that were produced during that time just because the people believed in God and salvation. I would have liked to be an active participant or even  just an onlooker when they built the great cathedrals. painted and sculpted the altarpieces and made the beautiful stained glass windows.

Auf wiedersen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Maybe one day, time travel will be a reality and I can be transported to when your beautiful city was growing up.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Castles in the Air - Burghotel auf Schönburg

Burghotel Auf Schönburg, Oberwesel, Germany

At the airport, as we were lined up to check in for our flight to Ireland , conversations buzzed around the travelers in queue and their anticipation of their castle tours . We were also embarking on a castle tour, but in Germany instead of Ireland or England.  It seems that to stay in European castles is  all the rage nowadays.  I must have somehow absorbed the vibe when I was planning another European road trip for a couple of my high school classmates and my husband and I.  We were originally planning on staying at castles for the entire trip but we decided to stay in just two, opting for a more convenient smack-right-in-the-middle-of-the-sights accommodations in Cologne and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. 

The castle I was most excited about was the Burghotel auf Schönburg located above the town of Oberwesel in the midst of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. As we were driving along the banks of the Rhine River, we had no difficulty spotting it towering atop a rocky bluff.  We parked in the parking lot before a wood bridge. We could have crossed the bridge to  park closer to the castle but we were afraid that the bridge would not hold up the weight of the car and passengers (it actually does). The castle was an imposing sight from up close, a typical fortified medieval stronghold  with thick walls, battlements and stone towers.

Climbing up to the summit with my walking stick

So goes our trek from the car, crossing the narrow wooden bridge, up a steep winding hill paved with smooth cobblestones, through the gates and to the top where the entrance to the hotel was located. Good thing I purchased a walking stick at Boppard to help me with the climb. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got to the main door of the burghotel and we were not even carrying our luggage which we wisely left in the car.

Map of the castle and gardens at the back of the scroll

When we checked in, we were given a scroll as a certificate of our stay and keys attached to chains with a heavy pewter knight ornament - it was not a set of keys that you could easily lose. We gave our car keys to the reception who phoned to have our luggage brought up to our rooms.  On our way to our rooms, we were given a little tour of the castle. There was a very cozy library that invited you to sit and read, a keeping room with a huge fireplace and a number of lovely dining areas including  terraces with a panoramic view of the Rhine. The scroll included a map of the castle and the grounds which we could explore at leisure.

One of the many nooks and crannies

Some of the public rooms

View from the terrace

We were told that each room is different in size and configuration  since they conformed to the unusual shape of the castle. The rooms were accessible through a maze of narrow corridors and winding staircases.  Mercifully, this castle has an elevator - something out of place in a medieval castle but very welcome for those of us who dreaded climbing up the narrow winding staircase of the castle.

View from the lead paned windows in our room

Our room
Our room décor combine historic period furnishing with modern comfortable conveniences seamlessly and had a very romantic feel. No two rooms are alike. We were treated to imposing views of the Rhine below from the tiny diamond lead paned windows in our rooms. One of the rooms had a wooden balcony and the other one had a secret door that led to the restored ruins of the curtain wall of the castle. Here you could walk along the wall  and it would not be hard to  imagine how it would have been to defend and protect the castle from that vantage point during the middle ages. We also found an extra bed tucked in under the window hidden by curtains. It looked like one of the sleeping berths on a train. We toasted to the "Good Life" with the complimentary bottle of Sherry and fresh fruits.

Complimentary Sherry and fresh fruits
The Curtain Wall
The Gobelin Hall
At the lovely castle dining room, we had a delicious gourmet five-course candlelit dinner.
My favorite dish was the cocktail of shrimps and avocado with green herb sauce. We accompanied our meal with the local Riesling and beer. A sumptuous breakfast was served in the cozy breakfast room (Gobelin Room named for the Gobelin tapestry theme). Our seating by the window seemed fit for royalty as it was set higher than the rest of the tables.

Our seats at breakfast

As a souvenir, I bought a book about Schönburg Castle  and learned more about the history of the place . It was first mentioned in history as early as 911AD. Emperor Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire granted the castle to a member of the Schönburg family who ruled it from the 12th century until their line eventually died out with the death of the last heir. The castle was burned down in 1689 by the French army during the Palatinate Wars. It remained in ruins until it was purchased and restored by German -American banker Rhinelander in the 19th century. In 1957, the Huettl family was granted a long term lease on the property and today they operate the castle hotel and restaurant. There were many famous guests at the castle including many heads of states, members of royal families from Europe and Asia, as well as captains of industries such as Aristotle Onassis and his family and celebrities such as Ella Fitzgerald and First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Old etching of Schonburg Castle, the town of Oberwesel and the Rhine

 I wrote this little poem as an homage of our perfect castle stay experience:

Castles in the Air
by jojo sabalvaro tan

No longer Castles in the Air
Our dreams of staying in a castle fair
Where do the knights and maidens keep
The secret loves of their hearts so deep
The castle walls whisper still
Just listen as the church bells peal.
Screams of torture, squeals of delight
You'll hear before the morning light. 
The ghosts of the past fear not, my dear
For I'll hold your hand and always be near

For more information on Medieval Castles please visit: http://medieval-castles.net/

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 7, 2013

Needle Arts - is it in my gene pool?

Detail from a crocheted bedspread by Auntie Ety

Detail from a table topping by Auntie Ety

Detail from Knitted bedspread from Auntie Nita
My dad's sisters loved their needlework. All of them embroidered, tatted lace, crocheted and knitted. As a young child, I marveled at the lacy and intricate bedspreads and tablecloths they produced using white perle cotton threads. They would embellish towels, pillowcases and sheets with embroidery and crocheted or tatted lace edgings. My Auntie Columbia never met a towel she did not monogram and my Auntie Ety must have provided crocheted bedspreads and tablecloths for every member of our family and more. Similarly, Auntie Nita knitted beautifully intricate bedspreads and tablecloths. I would sit by my aunts' sides, fascinated,  and ask to be shown how it is done and then the urge to play with my other cousins would win over so I really never became proficient at needle-working. The most I've done then was embroider my initials and some flowers  on a handkerchief and pillowcase and a little crocheted doily (more like a coaster). I was hopeless with knitting. Nevertheless, I was proud of my own work and kept them in my special box of stuff I collected and treasured. The box is long gone and so are its contents but what remains are the wonderful memories of spending time with my aunts who patiently tried to share their talents and love for the needle arts with me.

Detail from a crocheted bedspread with raised floral motif by Auntie Nita
One of my dad's cousins, who lives in California now, relates a story of how my Auntie Columbia, who was the eldest of the female cousins of their generation, would entertain the younger ones in the midst of the Japanese occupation and assault of the Philippines by teaching them the needle arts. I'm sure it kept them distracted from the horrors of the war. As a young girl and then, teenager, my aunts continued to keep me and my cousins interested in needlework. I think, in an old-fashioned way, they felt it was a sign of a proper young lady of good upbringing. I remember many times when my cousins and I would sit around at the terrace attaching sequins, glass beads, bugle beads and embroidery to a gown that would be used for a prom or worn as a muse by one of the cousins. It was always a fun time, as we chattered away talking about our hopes and dreams.

Detail from a crocheted round table topper by Auntie Ety

I am so extremely lucky to have been given a number of my aunts handiwork and I cherish them. My aunts are all gone now but I am glad to have these mementos of their handiwork handed down from them. I am keeping these family treasures safe for the generations to come. I just  hope they appreciate them as much as I do. 

I got married, moved to Chicago and not surprisingly, the needle, thread, embroidery floss, yarn and hook demanded my attention. Must be in the genes. At work, during breaks, the ladies would work on their crocheted afghan projects, Not wanting to be left out, I asked one of the ladies to show me how and together with the other ladies at work, we had a crochet party at her house. They were using yarn instead of the perle cotton my aunts used. Yarn seems easier to work with than thin perle cotton thread and  they also came in a myriad of colors as opposed to the white and ecru my aunts used. This time, I learned to crochet much faster (my first project, a yellow and while  granny square afghan) and was soon producing afghan after afghan for the family.
One of the crocheted yarn afghans I made
A cross stitched picture based on a Renoir painting by my cousin Boots 
I started doing crewel and floss embroidery, as well as needlepoint.  When cross-stitching became popular, I picked up on it with wild abandon. I cross-stitched every chance I had. It was a craft that I can take with me anywhere so I had my projects with me at all time, at the ready to add a stitch or two at any free moment. I produced many works, most I gave to friends and family. I was also an advocate for these crafts, encouraging others to learn it since the projects are easy to tote around, inexpensive, easy and easy to learn, With very little effort, the finished project is also something you can be proud of ,  Now, my female cousins, who before could not understand why I always had a needlework project in tow everywhere I go, are now similarly addicted. I am very pleased that at least one of my nieces has taken to the needle arts as well and she has produced impressive works and it looks like my grandniece is building up an interest also.

One of my cross stitch projects

One of my petit point projects . It is really small at only 2 1/2" by 3 1/4"
done on 28 count linen

Sadly, my eyes are no longer as sharp and it is becoming more and more of a strain to work with the embroidery charts so I could not churn out as much embroidery, needlepoint and cross stitch as I used too. Admittedly, I am embarrassed by the amount of UFOs (unfinished objects) I have as well as the number of charts and designs I have squirreled away that I would like to tackle someday. I know there are not enough years in my lifetime left to finish all that I want to get done, including those of my other hobbies - painting, quilting, jewelry making, knitting, crocheting  etc. But I'll never give up trying.
a detail from one of the quilts I made... Kimonos with Shoburi quilting

Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tiptoe Through the Tulips at Keukenhof

Swans and Tulips
Original watercolor
From the watercolor travel journal of
jojo sabalvaro tan 2012

This year we had the opportunity to be in the Netherlands during tulip season and when the much touted Keukenhof Garden in the town of Lisse was open. It is the largest flower garden in the world with approximately 7 million flowering bulbs planted annually. Due to the short blooming period of the bulbs, the gardens are only open from mid-March to mid-May. When asked by the immigration and passport control at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport about the purpose of our visit, we said we wanted to see the flowers but were now concerned that because of the unseasonably cold weather that the flowers won't be in their full glory. He responded that as a consolation, we would be attending one of the biggest parties thrown in the Netherlands in a recent times for the birthday of Queen Beatrix and investiture of Prince Willem Alexander as King and his wife, Maxima, as Queen. What a party it was. Although the official festivities were held in Amsterdam, big TV screens were set-up, food and beverage carts were scattered in various vantage points in every city, town and hamlet in the country so that all the citizens would feel part of the celebration.

Poster for the double celebration, April 30, 2013

Entrance yo Keulenhof plus our tickets

 Back to the tulips at Keukenhof..... Since it has been cold and rainy, we had to time our visit to the gardens on a day when the weather was pleasant. To get there from Den Haag, which was our base, we took the train to Leiden. Upon arrival in Leiden, we went to the Tourist Information center and purchased tickets for the Keukenhof express. For the price of the ticket, you get round trip transport on an Arriva bus #854 (waiting outside the train station) to the front gates of Keukenhof plus the entrance ticket to the gardens. Even though, we went on a Monday, the bus was filled to capacity.

Some of the many flower beds along the way

On the way over to Lisse, we saw many fields of flowers in various colors. What are typical scenery of squares of rice paddies in Asia, vineyards in many parts of Europe and cornfields and wheat fields in the US are large flower beds here.

Keukenhof was established in 1949 to promote the flower industry, particularly,tulips and other bulbs, of Holland. In the 15th century, it was a hunting ground and also where the nobles from Slot Teylingen estate got their herbs, thus the name Keukenhof. As you enter through the gates, you are greeted by the sounds coming from a huge nickelodeon and a panorama of the gardens and woods.

The Nickelodeon

Entrance into Keukenhof

We decided on a leisurely stroll through the gardens stopping to take tons of pictures and visiting the various indoor pavilions. My favorite is the Willem Alexander pavilion with its display of many different tulips and other flowers. But even as beautiful as the flowers were inside the pavillions, I still prefer looking at the them in the outdoor gardens.

Flowers outside one of the pavilions

Inside a pavilion

Needless to say, the gardens were a riot of color with the tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other flowering bulbs. I've never seen so many varieties and colors of tulips. I love the pinks and the dark purples (almost black) ones. And I am also partial to the ones with many petals and fringes. some looked more like peonies than tulips.

My favorite tulip

There are quiet areas also, with sweeping green grass to rest your eyes from the explosion of color and ancient tall trees just starting to grow their leafy canopies. And then there are the water features, little streams running through the gardens, fountains and a large pond ruled by several graceful swans. Some of the other interesting features are the sculptures scattered about the gardens and of course, the Windmill.

Swans in the pond

The Windmill - the icon of Keukenhof

One of the sculptures

I have to admit that I am very bad at painting flowers. Well, I am not very good at growing them either. Somehow, I can not do justice to the beauty of flowers, but I do keep trying for the one day I may get it right. So please bear with me as I subject you guys to my feeble attempts here to paint the flowers from Keukenhof.

Tulip study I
from watercolor travel journal
of jojo sabalvaro tan 2013

Tulip study II
from watercolor travel journal
of jojo sabalvaro tan 2013

Tulip study III
from watercolor travel journal
of jojo sabalvaro tan 2013

Keukenhof  Trees
from watercolor travel journal
of jojo sabalvaro tan 2013

Keukenhof Windmill
from watercolor travel journal
of jojo sabalvaro tan 2013

"Oh, tiptoe from the garden
By the garden of the willow tree
And tiptoe through the tulips with me"