Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 10, 2014

Alice in New York

One of my favourite things to do when I am in New York is to walk in Central Park. It is wonderful in any season. I always try to visit the delightful Alice in Wonderland sculpture near East 74th Street.


The bronze sculpture was constructed in 1959 by Jose de Creeft under the commission of philanthropist George Delacorte in honour of his wife Margarita, who liked to read the book to her daughter.

The design for the sculpture was patterned off the original illustrations of John Tenniel that were used in the first published edition of the book. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865.

The centerpiece of the work is Alice, who is said to have the face of Creeft’s daughter, Donna.



Alice is seated on a giant mushroom, reaching toward a pocket watch held by the White Rabbit. Peering over her shoulder is the Cheshire Cat. The other figures include the Dormouse, Alice’s cat Dinah, the Mad Hatter, a caricature of George Delacorte and a few extras. The words around the edge of the sculpture are from The Jabberwocky, Mrs Delacorte’s favourite poem.









Children are invited to climb on the sculpture and thousands of hands and feet have polished the surface smooth.


Don’t miss Alice and friends if you visit New York.



Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 6, 2014

Thar she blows

We went whale watching today. It was a perfect winter day in Brisbane and we headed off early this morning to Redcliffe to board the purpose-built whale watching boat Eye-Spy.



Every year the magnificent southern humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to warmer waters. They feed, mate and play in the clean blue waters of Moreton Bay on their way north and the return journey south.

There was a welcoming committee sunning themselves on the rocks near the dock.


Soon we were in the capable hands of Captain Kerry Lopez and her helpful crew.


We sailed towards the northern point of Moreton Island.


In about an hour we were in position and waiting for the whales to appear.



We didn’t have to wait long for a pod of whales to approach the boat. Whale-friendly, low noise propellers minimise underwater noise, and electronically controlled engines reduce fuel usage and exhaust emissions.

The whales seemed unbothered by our presence and came very close, even swimming under the boat, perhaps to scrape the barnacles from their backs. Kerry was excellent at spotting them and directed our eyes towards approaching whales and other pods in the distance.











We were close enough to see the markings and barnacles on their skin. They were happily frolicking in the water around the boat. They didn’t jump into the air and breach, but we didn’t mind, they are magnificent up close and seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them.

We also saw dolphins and turtles enjoying the bay, but they were a bit more difficult to photograph.

After a delicious lunch it was back to dry land.


On the way back to the car we came upon a flock of cockatoos playing and feeding in a Norfolk pine, rounding off a very good day.

I have been whale watching before. I have a photograph somewhere of my father holding 1 year old me in his arms in front of a slaughtered whale at the Tangalooma whaling station on Moreton Island. Whaling was carried on there from 1952 until 1962.

There was a yearly quota of 600 whales, which was easily reached in the early years. One whale could yield more than 8,000 kilograms of oil, which was used to make margarine, glycerine, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. In August 1962, only 68 whales had been caught and the whaling station was closed. In the 10 years of operation, 6,277 humpback whales and one blue whale were killed and processed.

The operation seriously decimated the east coast population of humback whales to less than 500 individuals from the original population, which was estimated at 15,000. In 1965 humpback whales were placed on the Protected Species list.

It is estimated that $32 million was earned each year from whaling in Australian waters. Currently whale watching earns about $70 million per annum.

It is clearly much better to watch them than kill them.



Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 4, 2014

DIY smoothie

We came upon this ingenious idea at the James St Food and Wine Trail on the weekend. Choose your fruit from the delicious selection.



Then hop on the bike and pedal your way to a fruit smoothie.


Perhaps every kitchen could have one and you could pedal up a cake mix or pizza dough, think of the savings! You would save on power and get some exercise at the same time.

There were lots of other great things at the food festival. We really are very lucky in Brisbane to have such a great range of delicious things to eat…take a look.


It was a gorgeous day to be out enjoying the winter sunshine.



James St, Fortitude Valley is a great place to shop.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 1, 2014

The winged lion and the man on the crocodile

A winged lion and a man on a crocodile stand guard on top of columns at the edge of the canal in the Piazetta di San Marco in Venice.




The Lion of Venice is an ancient bronze winged lion which came to symbolise Venice after its arrival in Venice in the 12th century. It has a long and interesting history. It is a composite of different pieces of bronze created at different times. Some of the oldest parts probably date from the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd centuries BC. The statue took its present form sometime in the Medieval period.



Napoleon pinched it and took it to France while on his 1797 campaign in Italy. It was damaged at this time and was restored by French sculptors. It was dropped and badly damaged when it was returned to Venice and was stored at the Arsenal before it was restored by Bartolomeo Ferrari and returned to its column in 1816.  His tail was altered and now sticks out behind him; it was previously tucked between his hind legs. The book under his paws was recast.

The winged lion also symbolises St Mark, one of Venice’s patron saints. There are many winged lions all over Venice.

The man with the crocodile standing on the western column represents St Theodore of Amasea, patron of the city before St Mark. He is holding a spear and stands on a crocodile which represents the dragon he is said to have slain. It is also made up of parts of ancient statues. It is a copy, the original is kept in the Doge’s Palace.

I have not seen the man with the crocodile anywhere else but on the column in the piazetta.


The best view of the sculptures is from the terrace of the Basilica of San Marco. It is worth paying the small fee to see the museum and the view from the terrace.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 29, 2014

An elegant place to stay in the centre of Florence

Hotel Scoti is in the very stylish Via De’ Tornabuone, one of the best shopping streets in Florence. Gucci, Pucci, Armani, Prada and many more iconic fashion houses will be your neighbours if you stay there.

The entrance is directly opposite Fendi.



A lift will take you up from the foyer.


The hotel is in a 16th century palazzo. The 17th century floor to ceiling frescoes have been retained in the living room.

All the rooms have been lovingly restored and the common rooms will make you want to stay for ever. There are single and double rooms, each with ensuites.  Breakfast is available.



It is just around the corner from my favourite cafe in Florence, Giacosa, making it the perfect place for me to stay in the city. The charming owner speaks English and Italian and has an extensive knowledge of Florence which she is delighted to share.

Our stay at the Scoti was too short, but I know we will be back.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 26, 2014

Inside Basilica di San Marco

Basilica di San Marco is one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture.  It is modelled after Constantine the Great’s Church of the Holy Apostles and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It has a floor plan in the shape of a Greek cross, with a dome on each of the four arms. Each arm has a central aisle and two side aisles.


We lined up early to be the first group in for the day. Photographs are not allowed inside, so I kept my camera in my handbag…until I saw dozens of people snapping away, and nobody was stopping them…so I joined in.

The interior is decorated with Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic art mostly in glorious gold. Gilded mosaics dating mostly from the 12th century cover an area of about 8,000 square metres on the vaults and cupolas, earning it the nickname Chiesa d’Oro (church of gold).



The altarpiece is the Pala d’Oro, a panel of gold emnedded with gems (now behind glass). It was commissioned from Byzantine goldsmiths in 976 and further embellished over the centuries. Naploeon pinched some of the precious stones in 1797.


The spectacular floor is a 12th century mixture of mosaic and marble in geometric and animal designs.

Not far from the Pala d’Oro is a special paving stone. It is marked by a heart and the ducal corno (ceremonial hat) and indicates the place where the heart of Francesco Erizzo (doge from 1631 – 1646) was buried. The rest of his body lies in the Church of San Martino in Castello, near his birthplace. The black shape under the corno dogale symbolises a hedgehog (riccio in Italian), the symbol of the  Erizzo family. Most people walk right over it, and we would have too, if not for the wonderful book, Secret Venice.


The Tesoro (Treasury) is on the far right of the main altar and for €3 you can enter and admire a collection of Crusaders’ plunder from Constantinople.






It pays to be early to enter this incredible church. We didn’t have to wait too long and it wasn’t all that crowded. Basilica di San Marco is not to be missed if you visit Venice.

The next person to follow Bagni di Lucca and Beyond will be the 4,000th…quite a milestone. Who would have thought when the blog started that so many people would come along for the ride?

Thank you to all those who have signed up, and thank you especially to those who take the time to leave a comment, it is always good to hear from you.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 23, 2014

Ristori…coffee, gelato and more

Just before I left Italy I discovered a lovely new place for coffee, gelato and a snack in Lucca. Ristori  takes its name from the perfume store it replaced in the main street, Via Filungo, between Via Buia and Via San Giorgio.

The long, narrow shop  has been lovingly restored. You can stand at the tiny bar for your coffee or sit at one of the tables.

I can report that the coffee is very good. I didn’t try the cakes, but I will next time. They look delicious.









I need to try the gelato as well…all in the name of research, of course.



There are a couple of tables tucked in a little corner at the back of the shop.



I think Ristori is a great addition to Via Filungo.

Take a look at their Facebook page.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 19, 2014

Fennel and blood orange salad

On my final night in Italy I had dinner at a restaurant beside the Hotel Julia, where I always stay in Rome. I ordered saltimbocca and a fennel and blood orange salad. The saltimbocca was fairly ordinary but the salad was delicious.

I recreated it myself shortly after I arrived home…it was quite simple.

The ingredients…a fennel bulb, a blood orange, pitted olives and anchovies.



Slice the fennel finely.


Pour a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper on the fennel and let it sit for a while.


Peel and slice the orange.



To assemble the salad, place the olives in a dish.


Arrange the anchovies over the olives.


…then the fennel.


…and the orange slices.


I served it with some grilled Tasmanian ocean trout. The only thing missing was lovely Rome.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 16, 2014

I would live in Venice if I could live here

I know Venice can be crowded and full of tourists, but if you get away from San Marco and Rialto and the streets that join them, the city can be remarkably peaceful, beautiful and quiet.

On our last visit to Venice in June we went to the Dorsoduro area behind the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute.

As you can see from the photo below, there are no crowds.


We came upon a gorgeous piazza, or campo, as they are called in Venice. This one is actually a campiello, a small square.


There was a pretty garden.


I can’t tell you what the campiello was called, the name had worn off.


I like the house with the glassed in balcony, the rooftop terrace and the fabulous chimneys. I think there would be Grand Canal views from there.


Not far away was a cute bar where I could go for lunch every day.



San Marco and Rialto are wonderful and it is understandable why they are popular, but it is easy to find quiet places in Venice if you wander off the main streets.

To get to Dorsoduro, take the traghetto (ferry) to Salute, walk behind the church and wander aimlessly. Getting lost in Venice is inevitable and desirable.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | July 13, 2014

Meet the growers

In Australia 2 large retailers have most of the market in fresh food. I don’t really think this is a good idea. The big supermarkets have too much say in prices and even what farmers grow.

This is just one of the reasons I like to shop for food at farmers’ markets. We have some great markets here in Brisbane. Yesterday I went to the Powerhouse markets in New Farm. It was a gorgeous sunny winter day and there was some great produce on offer.

The markets are very popular, which is great so see.



One of the fun things about the market is that you get to meet the people who grow your food.


I met a particularly delightful farmer who,  with her family, grew the delicious mandarins, limes and lemons below.






In all cases the produce is picked as close as possible to the selling day, meaning it is going to taste better and last longer…and be better for you.

This is my haul for the day.



Do you shop at farmers’ markets?

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