Monday, 22 March 2010

The Joys of Moldavian Wine

"Wine can of their wits the wise beguile,
Make the sage frolic, serious smile
- Homer

Having recently met someone who was busy setting up a business to import Moldavia wine into Europe, I was intrigued to find out more about a land I knew very little about, let alone its wine production. Generally, when one is asked to name wine making countries, the usual set of names roll off the tongue, whereas Moldavia gets scarcely a mention. Maybe it is due to the fact that we assume that in that part of the world vodka is the preferred drink. Whilst vodka remains the traditional toasting beverage of the region, the last few years has seen wine consumption increasing in popularity.

The Republic of Moldavia, can be found between the Ukraine and Romania and lies on the same latitude as that of Burgundy in France. This country covers an area of 33.70 square kilometres, and due to its fertile soils, relatively mild winters and long hot summers it is an ideal place for the production of fine wines.

Although Moldavia has produced wine for many centuries it has had to deal with various obstacles over the years, such as a non-alcohol policy during Gorbachov’s office, the effects of two World Wars and general pollution, which has led to the destruction of some vineyards and decline of wine production as a whole in Moldavia. As yet the re-immergence of Moldavia as a potentially interesting wine area is slow but sure.

There are twelve regions in Moldavia, where different varieties of grapes are grown, but generally white wine is produced in the centre and red wine in the south and west. Wine is not only produced from grape vines indigenous to Moldavia but also foreign ones. Examples of other white wine sorts are Italian Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon, red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Grape sorts native to Moldavia include: Aligote which comes from a white grape, is the most well-known and produces a light, mild fresh wine with a straw-gold colour and a green tint, Rkatsiteli also from white grapes is used for the production of fine cognac and a high quality champagne, as well as Saperavi from a red grape which is a late maturing grape and produces a pink juice unusual for red grapes. When comparing Moldavian wines to those of other countries around the world Moldavian wines can be said to be on a par with those of New Zealand.

Most of Moldavia’s wine is exported for Russian consumption with only 3.5% going to European countries. Once Moldavia has prepared a wine classification system, comparable with the ‘Appellation of Origin’, system their wines should become more interesting for the European market.               

An example of a particularly famous Moldavian winery is Cricova , whose its cellars are 100 meters underground in a limestone mine. The labyrinths of this cellar run for almost 60 kilometres in length. The natural limestone in the cellars helps in the wine making process by keeping both the temperature and humidity at a constant level. This microclimate is unique and cannot be compared to any other in the rest of the Republic or abroad.

Producing numerous brands of high quality red and white collection wines as well as fifteen different brands of sparkling wines; Cricova has received many prestigious awards. Wine can be sampled in grand tasting halls, each with a different themed interior and accompanied by the local cuisine. The more unusual varieties in their collection include a red champagne, as well as white methode champenoise bottled in stylish cut crystal bottles and in scripted in 24 carat gold.

So, next time you feel like trying a new sort of wine - there is always Moldavian wine!.

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #8 July 2005

East Meets West - Maya Miklic

Comfortably nestled between the dominant modern blockhouses of east Groningen, in a row of seemingly forgotten terraced houses, is the home of Maya Miklic. The minimalist but welcoming interior with wooden flooring, is a complimentary setting for the powerful images of Maya’s paintings, hung in prominent places around the room. Intrigued by the imposing impression of a face eyeballing me as I enter called ‘Wanting’, with a very strong African influence and vibrant colours, I ask her if she has ever visited that continent. ‘No, I haven’t’ she says ‘Other people have said that too, but my work stems from an interest in people’s faces and the emotions that I see all around me, so much so that I have to paint them’.

As a former student of psychology in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Maya refused to accept the confines of her study as a true measure of the human condition. Instead she chooses to explore what she sees and feels about the world around her, with the aid of brush and canvas, often using photographs for portraits or as a stimulating reference for her work. This can be seen in ‘Satisfied’, where she has managed to capture the essence of the subject in a black and white photograph. 

Another impressive work is the triptych of El Tiempo, with its individual parts named el pasado, el presente, el futuro, (past, present and future). This monochrome piece was named after a holiday in Spain and can be hung as a single painting or as three individual panels. An expression her feelings at the time, there are hints of India in the shapes and intricate patterning on parts of this painting. India is a continent that she would very much like to visit in the future and maybe this piece of work reveals that subconscious desire.

‘Heart full of passion’, is a very graphic and striking image, which in its simplicity, with its almost ‘bleeding’, reds shows us yet again that the portrayal of emotions is very important to Maya in her work.

Maya arrived in Holland seven years ago from Slovenia, and has since then established herself under the name of ‘Indivisual’, She is, like many artists today, a multi-faceted one, busy exhibiting here and has plans for a future exhibition in Slovenia (subject matter, Holland!) as well as volunteering her time to work for a group called The Art of Living, who promote an improved lifestyle through the power of breathing. Maya’s talents include graphic and web design, photographic work, and paintings as well as translation work from Slovenian to Dutch.

When asked what direction she sees her work taking in the future Maya replies that she is searching for a more spiritual direction ‘But I am not ready yet’, she says. Like so many other creative people she also quotes wanting to achieve international fame through her work, but for Maya this is not just for personal comfort and acclaim. Her philosophy is that via her art she will be able experience life to the full, by meeting and learning from as many different types of people and cultures as she possibly can. This she sees as the natural way to develop ones awareness and talents in life. ‘To be just as you are, not pretending, this is what I like’, she says. Maybe we could all learn something from this philosophy.

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #8 July 2005

The Gold Office.

The Goudkantoor (Gold Office) was built in 1635 and was then known as the ‘Collectehuis’. It can be found in the Waagstraat complex behind the old City hall. Over the years it has been used for many different purposes. Presently in use as a café-restaurant, it was also once a ship museum, a tourist information office, and a part of City Hall.

This is a delightful building to see and stands amidst the modernity of the shopping district in the centre of Groningen. With a rich historical background this building was once actually used as a tax office for Groningen and the surrounding provinces. The Latin proverb on the front of the building ‘Date Caesari quae Caesaris’ means ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’ which referred to the collection of taxes.

The name the ‘Goudkantoor’ comes from the period when it was used as an assay office for gold and silver pieces, during the 19-th century. Here gold and silver objects were assessed for their quality and given a hallmark accordingly.

Built in the Dutch Renaissance style, this building has a very striking façade. The eye catching shell-like forms that appear above both doors and windows are said to be the handiwork of a sculptor from Bremen. Tests on the paint remains of the bricks (in red, ochre, gold and blue) are said to be the original colours. Motifs on the walls are from the 17-th century with origins from South Scandinavia, the German coast and the Low Countries. This kind of decoration was often used in preference to glass and Goblin tapestry.

Acquired at the beginning of the last century by the City Council of Groningen the original coat of arms of the province was immediately replaced by that of City of Groningen. This was seen as a great conquest as between Groningen and the province there has always been a great rivalry, as long as can be remembered.

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #8 July 2005, 

Cucumber Time!

What does one do in the summer months often referred to by the Dutch as ‘komkommer tijd’ (cucumber time)? Not much can be organized or done during this period as everyone is planning his or her holidays. If you have not already flown to foreign shores, or disappeared to the nearest lake with a good book for the afternoon, you could always join the exodus to one of the islands along the coast of the Netherlands for a week or two. There are five in total: Schiermonnikoog, Terschelling, Ameland. Vlieland and Texel. Each offer a diversity of nature, scenery and activities to appear to all.

This island can be reached from Lauwersoog in twenty-five minutes, and its size makes it perfect for a day visit. Cars of visitors are not allowed on the island, as it is a nature reserve so the main means of transport is the bicycle. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes both for adults and children. The tandem is a regular sight and trailers can be filled with your baggage or even small children for quick transport around the island and down to the seashore.

Apart from the obvious attraction of the sea with its dunes and grasses, the natural beauty of this national park includes salt marshes as well as a variety of flora and fauna. There are numerous cafes, restaurants and pavilions, a lighthouse, and a bunker from the Second World War to be visited along the way.

Terschelling can be reached from Harlingen by boat and takes an hour and a half. This is somewhat bigger than Schiermonnikoog and is made up of a number of small villages all easily accessed via a connecting road system. The best way to get a good impression of what Terschelling has to offer is to walk from the Noordzee to the Waddenzee right across the island. Along the way you will see the natural dune formations and pass through the different ecosystems of the island (there are nine in total), which are homes to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The beach is the widest of the Dutch coastline and in the whole of Western Europe.

Generally there are plenty of places to stay on the island unless you choose to visit around the time of the annual ‘Oerol’ Festival. During this time because of the festivals enormous popularity, most places are fully booked although some camping areas may have a few places available. 

Oerol this year is 10th – 19th June and has a nautical theme entitled ‘Geen zee te hoog’ (‘No sea too high’) and has to do with the bond between the islanders and navigation. During the festival the whole island becomes a stage and the backdrop for (street) theatre, cabaret, circuses, dance acts, and artistic creations. Tickets sales begin on the 8th and 9th of June on the island with half being withheld for sale during the festival itself. More information about Oerol can be found at:

To reach Ameland the boat goes from Holwerd and takes forty-five minutes. Used to belong to the royal family around the beginning of the 18-th century but since the early 19-th century has become part of the property of Friesland.

The island has 4 villages, a population of 3,500 and measures 25 kilometres in length and is 4 km at its widest point. Again interesting to explore it is rich in flora and fauna. One such area, known as the Nieuwlandsreid, is a marsh filled with unusual vegetation due to the fact that it is regularly flooded with salt water.

The natural history museum offers activities and information as well as an enormous aquarium filled with a diversity of fish and shellfish whose natural habitat is the Noord- en Waddenzee.

This island can be reached by boat from Harlingen and takes one and a half hours. This island also has a no car policy for non-residents, the bicycle again being the main means of getting around the island.

The tourist office has all the infomation about what there is to see and do on Vlieland and offers a variety of different excursions around the island. There is an aquarium which is filled with sea life native to the area, but there is also a special aquarium filled with rays and dog sharks that can be stroked if you dare!

Other attractions for all ages include the ‘Kabouterbos’ (‘Gnome wood’), ‘Jutterszolder’, (‘Beachcombers attic’) filled with all kinds of objects that have washed up on the seashore, and a ‘Wrakvondstenzolder’, (‘Shipwreck attic’) exhibiting objects retrieved by divers from Northsea shipwrecks.

Texel is the biggest and most diverse of the ‘waddeneilanden’ (‘wadden islands’) and can be reached by boat from Den Helder in twenty minutes, and is home to large herds of sheep and birds

On Texel, EcoMare can be found in the center of the National Park ‘Duinen van Texel’ (‘Dunes of Texel’). This comprises of a visitor’s center, a center for education about nature and the environment, a museum, a crèche for sea lions, and a bird sanctuary. There is also information available about the North Sea, the Wadden area, nature on Texel and the influence of man’s presence on all this. The dune park of 70-hectares has a number of different walks marked out, which can also be done as part of a guided tour, giving the visitor a good idea of the diversity of plant life on the island.

More information about the islands and Holland: HERE

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #8 July 2005 

Discovering Groningen by Waterbus

With the weather warming up, now’s the opportunity to take one of the circular boat trips round Groningen and view the city from another angle.

Lasting about an hour, the trip starts across from the Central Station and follows the canals that circle the city centre. With refreshments on board one can sit back and enjoy the multitude of historical buildings, bridges, towers and houseboats that seem to glide effortlessly by. This is accompanied by a pre-recorded tour guide via the tannoy on Groningen’s history and inhabitants, in Dutch, English and German.

If you would prefer to see the Groninger countryside on a more extended trip then maybe the Reitdiepcruise is more for you. Leaving Groningen early in the morning on the ‘Ommelaand’ and returning at 20.00 in the evening, the trip follows the Reitdiep channel to a lake called the “Lauwersmeer". Included in the ticket price is morning tea or coffee and lunch.

Other cruise destinations available from Groningen are Nienoord, Delfzijl - Dollardvaart, Damsterdiep, and the lakes, Zuidlaarder Meer and Paterswoldse Meer. The boats ‘Pronkjewail’, and ‘Goudraand’ of the excursion company Kool, sail all the year round and are also available for group excursions such as weddings, business lunches, school trips and promotions.

For more information and reservations:

© Alison Day

First published in the Connections magazine #8 July 2005, 

Friday, 19 March 2010

Hello World!

My goodness! 'Start a blog,' she thought. 'That'll be easy,' she thought... Not so initially, after wading through the navigational options, making two blogs instead of just the one required, throwing together a quick header and trying to fathom out what boxes to check and what not...gotta be careful I don't come out of this a total pillock...Alison Day Designs the blog is born. Of course the grey background isn't quite what I wanted, but I haven't found where to change the colour yet; never fear, I will eventually.

So, why a blog I hear you ask? Well, having written articles on a variety of subjects for a number of years now for a expatriate magazine Connections (of which incidentally, I am also editor), I find that I actually enjoy writing. Also,  I wanted to put all my previously written articles in one place, maybe write a few more, and well, see where it leads to.

One thing I would like to make quite clear from the onset, is that I am terrible at spelling and don't expect a cure any day soon, so please bear with me. Yes Mum, I know they used to drum it into kids at school in your day, but obviously I missed that bus! As far as I'm concerned ,as long as you get the gist, that's all that matters, and why else was the spell check invented?

Also, I wanted a place to ramble on to my heart’s content on whatever I felt like. This includes stuff about my artistic creations too. My website and work, if you're interested can be found here.

My big news of the moment, on the art front, is that next week (26 March) I fly to England for a week, to deliver an artistic creation (on 30/31 March) that I made especially to submit to the Royal Academy's annual  Summer Exhibition!  It did, finally make it to my sister's house (Caroline)  in London, notwithstanding UPS and their 24 hour vigil of "let’s just circulate this one, one more time for the lads, round the depo carousel."

From previous years it seems that entrants for the RA number 13,000 and, looking at last year's programme (kindly sent to me by my friend Kate, who lives in Crete, Greece, only about 1300 pieces of work get chosen to exhibit. Anyone can enter, using any medium. Mine is my signature style art, which I refer to as papiermaché-mosaics, and her name is Lola. (I can't show her publicly yet, so here's Bead Lady instead). I'm nervous and excited and it would be amazing to be able to hang on the RA's walls during their world renown exhibition, but I almost don't dare think it. I should hear early June if I have been watch this spot...for potential champagne corks/sobs!

Well, the sun has yet to pass the yard arm, but what the heck it's Friday and there is no sun to be spotted here in the Northern Netherlands, so I think a snifter or two is in order. To clarify, in my family the sun has to have passed the yard arm before the drinks cupboard can be opened, but I think that was a vain attempt by my father to protect his alcohol stocks from three reprobate drunken teenagers of yore. 

© Alison Day