The flowers are blooming

Posted May 6th, 2008 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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Anyone reading my scribbles will undoubtedly think that all we do is travel to some place, take lots of photographs and then write about it here. And if they do think so, Amen to that. This Sunday we went on a day trip to Longwood gardens near Philadelphia . Now, I have been meaning to go there for a few years but given the seasonal limitations in touring gardens, it never panned out. But this year, I was determined to make it this time, the spring blooms festival was going on and I didn’t want to miss it. We started bright and early (for a Sunday, that is) at 9 am along with our friends Ajith & Lakshmi and their super-friendly kid Adithya to Longwood—about 2 hours drive away.

Longwood gardens has about 1000 acres of parkland of which approximately 300 acres are open to the public. These contain several outdoor gardens and a some indoor gardens including hothouses and conservatories. In early 1900s, Pierre Dupont bought this land from the Pierce family: a Quaker family, who were owners from the late 1700s. They had already planted a small arboretum on the land. Peirre du Pont probably was delighted with the arboretum and he wanted to make sure that the gardens are preserved for the future. He and his wife were keen horticulturists and developed the gardens, often getting ideas and seedlings from the various places around the world. The gardens have always been open for the public to enjoy.

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We started with the indoor conservatory, which has several smaller gardens within. Amongst the common begonias, hydrangeas, geraniums, lilies, daisies and nasturtiums, pansies that we regularly see, there were a thousand other varieties of flowers some of them I had never seen or heard of but all of them in peak bloom. Unlike the flowers at the florists where the flowers are often genetically modified and have no fragrance, the entire conservatory was redolent with gentle wafting perfumes from all these flowers. There were flowers from all over the world : giant hibiscus flowers with colors and size that I have never seen, beautiful fragrant roses, various varieties of orchids that made me rethink my belief that orchids were over-rated, the exotic bird of paradise flowers just to name a few. Other than the flowers, the indoor conservatory also had a fern passage that had myriad varieties of pitcher plants, the Venus fly traps, giant ferns, a tiny fruit house with figs, clementines, kumquats and melons and a collection of amazing bonsais

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We had a picnic lunch where we ate the unusual but wonderfully tasty combination of spicy fish wontons, caprese salad sandwich and some mouthwatering chaat. We then walked off our heavy lunch by touring the outdoor gardens. There were several gardens each of them uniquely designed and each one of them more beautiful than the previous one. The tulips were in full bloom at the flower walk, there was the symmetric Italian water garden with several fountains, vast meadows lined with gigantic copper beech trees, a topiary where evergreens were trimmed to create whimsical shapes, a waterfall, lakes, a tree-house and an idea garden for those who wanted to carry off a tip or two to try in their own gardens.

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By the end of the day, our legs were tired from walking all throughout but we still couldn’t tear ourselves away from the gardens. I was a little worried at the beginning of the trip, if the gardens would live upto the expectations that a two year wait created. But I needn’t have worried, after all good things come to those who wait!!

Photographs at our photosite.

Wide Angle View

Posted August 21st, 2004 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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Like all self respecting newly married couples, Seejo and I went off on our honeymoon, full of high spirits and dreams. Ok, I confess, I was dreaming about the wonderful cuisines we would taste and Seejo…well Seejo was not dreaming. He was in a blissful state worrying about all the zillion things that could go wrong with this trip. Our passports could get stolen, we could miss our buses/trains/planes, we could get arrested and deported, and oh horror of horrors….even our camera could get stolen.

We returned from our exciting tour of Italy to the mundane excitement of deadlines and dead bills and the monumental task of sorting out the 1500 odd photographs that we took in 10 days. Aparna asked me to send a few pictures of Seejo and me together from our trip. I blithely promised her that I would do that as soon as I can. But after looking through the 1376 photos that we took during the trip, I was forced to conclude that there were less than 10 photographs of both of us.

The problem with there just being two people on a honeymoon is that there was nobody to take photographs of us as a couple. We did manage to take some self pictures of both of us, but as Seejo’s hands are not the law (kanoon ke haath bahut lambe hain!…oops), all we could manage was shots of our heads. So we have a few photos of our enlarged heads and wide teeth grinning away looking cross-eyed at a camera thrust a few centimeters away from our face. When we saw the final pictures we calculated that my teeth covered 12% of one photograph.

Nobody can say we are not quick learners….We soon realized that we need an extra pair of hands to take photographs of us. And since in all our wisdom we realized that we could not grow another pair so soon, it was decided that we would ask a fellow tourist to oblige us by taking a picture of us while we cuddled for his benefit. Since most of the places we went to were swarming with tourists, it would have posed us no trouble to find another tourist. But well, that was without considering Seejo. With cautiousness bordering on paranoia, Seejo rejected every potential photographer. He sneered when I pointed out the first person that came our way with a. “How can you just entrust your camera to the first person who comes along….you never know he might waiting to run off with our camera”. Chastened, I quietly pointed out the second person, a lady in designer shorts with two young kids. Seejo was not satisfied, nah….could be a gypsy in disguise, was his answer.. I then suggested a small group of American teenagers, all with cameras. We could ask them, couldn’t we?. Seejo looked at me scornfully. “Look at their cameras…..It is the point and shoot type of camera….they wouldn’t know how to focus getting a good photograph. After a careful screening procedure, the only people who were declared “safe” were an elderly Japanese couple. We followed them about the Forum, pausing when they paused and smiling brightly when we caught their attention. Understandably they were spooked and rushed off…murmuring something….it sounded like ‘gypsy’ or something

The next “would be photographers” we spotted were honeymooners like ourselves. We thought people in the same boat with us could emphathise and so we politely offered to take their photograph. Funnily they did not accept….but hell nobody said persistence pays without reason. Finally, they agreed. I think it was pleasure of solitude that did it rather than our nice offer. Anyway before they could even relax their smiling muscles we whipped out our camera and asked if they could reciprocate.

They probably were not good at photography. I can’t think of any other reason that the photograph had our heads chopped off.

Then there was this other person who offered to take our photograph after watching our numerous attempts at self photography with increasing amusement. Our new friend was a British gentleman and a budding photography enthusiast. Armed with tripods and assorted equipment, he spent the better part of fifteen minutes, adjusting the various settings on his camera and tinkering with his tripod. It seemed like he knew the job. We got a beautiful picture of the St. Mark’s basilica in the evening lights. And if you look very carefully amongst the people in St. Mark’s square you can even spot both of us.

The only other method was to take photograph with the camera self timer. After all which honeymooners couldn’t return without even one photo that they need to hide from the world. We finally selected a beautiful background for this “secret” photo. I arranged myself as gracefully as possible, made sure that my dress hid my paunch and smoothed my hair. Seejo balanced the camera on a ledge in front of us and ran back to put his arms around me. It was difficult to smile watching a 500 dollar camera balancing precariously on a tiny ledge. I had to resist the impulse of rushing forward, to catch the camera in case in fell. The final photograph seemed like I was trying to escape the embraces of a monster and Seejo was trying his best to pin me down to his side. Anyway it was still a “don’t show anybody this photo” photo.

Some photographers in India have seen this void and rushed to fill in. A friend got this interesting offer from her wedding photographer. After the wedding he said he would throw in a little extra. For the same (and exorbitant) price of the wedding photos, he would tag along on their honeymoon to Ooty and take some more pictures. Pity the region they covered did not stretch as far as Italy !