Celebrating a Milestone Anniversary inside the Enchanted Fig Tree of Australia

Fig Tree Restaurant

Enchanted Fig Tree Restaurant: One of the most unusual and one of the very best restaurants we ever dined in.

Alex and I have traveled to nearly 70 countries. We celebrated our birthdays and anniversaries in places like a street corner café on Easter Island, tiny seafood restaurant in Cochi, Kerala,  a second century BC villa –turned Renaissance palace-turned art studio in Rome; opera singers’ favorite tavern in Palermo near the famed Teatro Massimo, just to name a few. But we had the most unique experience this year on March 5th, when our new friend Steve Lane, Kangaroo Island’s Sea Dragon Lodge owner and our exceptional guide, took us to the remote Snellings Beach on the north coast. As a present on our milestone wedding anniversary, Steve invited us for a luncheon inside a… tree.

The brain-child of two extraordinary chefs Rachel Hannaford and Sasha Sachs, this pop-up restaurant is called (how else?) “The Enchanted Fig Tree” and is indeed located inside a 150-year-old fig tree on the Hannaford family’s property. Between the mighty tree roots and under its enormous canopy, there are five distinctive large spaces, called “rooms” by the owners. The lucky ones to get reservations, about 30-to- 40 people, sit in these “rooms” by elegantly set tables adorned with white table clothes and candles. Each table is placed in a nook of a sort that looks and feels like a private party room among the leaves and boughs of that tree. Thanks to our friend, on March 5th we were the ones “chosen by the tree” in a room for three people. Outside the tree, the enchanted world inside is not visible: all is covered by a great canopy. We felt we entered the Shakespearean Arden forest.

Our meal was a tasting menu based on the best of island produce. It happened to be nothing short of a marvelous symphony composed of taste sensations, textures, shapes, and colors.  The appetizers –   Carpaccio of local fish with homemade totopos and liver parfait with agrodolce and paper thin sourdough wafers, also homemade – were out of this world. As an entrée, understood in Australia as a first course or a starter, I chose Mexican-inspired pozole made of white chicken broth with lime, avocado, chili and corn, which was excellent. Alex had wild mushroom galette:  Sasha Sachs’s secret recipe puff pastry with local mushrooms on a watercress salad with parsnip puree. It seemed to evaporate from his plate, even before I wanted to ask for a taste. Instead of the main dish, we were treated to a real banquet, a Greek themed variations of taste. Local lamb with sofrito dolma was followed by a fresh grilled local fish with marjoram and vegetables. All was accompanied by Sasha’s wonderful taramasalata and quinoa salad with Kangaroo Island’s sheep cheese, pureed with roasted fennel. The knock-out crescendo of this concerto was a divine desert: raw sugar meringue with figs from the tree inside of which we were eating!

After the meal, we met the owners, Rachel and Sasha, to express our feelings of owe and admiration. When I told them that they are amazing food artists, these talented chefs, two extraordinarily women, seemed surprised. They just do what they love to do: creating an unforgettable experience and thus enriching lives of everyone they host in their magic forest.

Useful links:

  1. The Enchanted Fig Tree Restaurant: http://hannafordandsachs.com.au/enchanted-fig-tree/
  2. The story behind the enchanted tree: http://hannafordandsachs.com.au/our-story/
  3. Pre-requisite: stay in the Sea Dragon Lodge! http://www.seadragonlodge.com.au/
Fig Tree restaurant entrance

Entering this fairy-tale place is like getting inside the Shakespearean magic forest

Steve Lane, Irene Shaland, and Alex Shaland at Fig Tree Restaurant

Thanks to Steve, we had one of the most memorable celebrations!

Irene and Alex Shaland at Fig Tree Restaurant, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Irene and Alex Shaland celebrate their anniversary inside the 150-year-old fig tree

Author Irene Shaland and fig tree restaurant owners

Irene with two extraordinary chefs, restaurant owners, Rachel Hannaford and Sasha Sachs

Home-made appetizers served inside the Fig Tree

Appetizers from the Fig Tree: Carpaccio of local fish with homemade totopos and liver parfait and with agrodolce and paper thin sourdough wafers

Appetizer taramasalata

Sasha Sachs’s taramasalata pureed with roasted fennel

Divine dessert of raw sugar meringue with figs

The knock-out crescendo of this food concerto: a divine dessert made of the raw sugar meringue with figs from the tree inside of which we were eating!

Fig Tree Restaurant owner Sasha Sachs serves salad

Sasha Sachs is serving her quinoa salad with Kangaroo Island’s sheep cheese

Posted in Australia, General, Nature, Travel Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Where to Stay on Kangaroo Island, Australia: the Sea Dragon Lodge is an Excellent Choice

Koala looking at visitors

Usually koalas sleep over 20 hours a day but this one was very alert and quite curious

Since childhood, I always wanted to live among the animals of Australia – even if for a few days only. And this was how the Kangaroo Island, a small dot in the Indian Ocean, materialized first in my imagination, and then – in our itinerary for the Spring 2016 trip. Overlooked by most popular guidebooks, this third largest Australian island (after Tasmania and Melville) remains the largest secret of that country for many globe trotters. There are precious few corners left in our 21st century urbanized world where Australian animals could be observed in the wild, and Kangaroo Island is exactly that place.

Just like the island itself, its best accommodation (at least in our opinion!) is not mentioned in either the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, the very books usually consulted by travelers to Australia.  This picturesque luxury establishment with its main lodge and free-standing 5-star villas faces a secluded private beach and seems as ubiquitous to the island landscape as Australian bush. Situated on a 250 acre seafront estate and surrounded by woods, the Sea Dragon Lodge constitutes a true refuge from the modern world – for people and the wild animals alike.

I do not remember how I found the Sea Dragon. Was that just surfing the internet? I believe not in coincidences but rather in that web of connections that brings people together. And before I knew it, the lodge owner Steve Lane and I were corresponding, and I felt I found an understanding friend. I am sure that this is how Steve, as a lodge owner and a guide, operates: treating all his customers with acute sensitivity to their needs and wants. But both my husband photographer Alex and I felt we were the “ones and only” dear, long-awaited friends of Steve who finally arrived to see his island.

Calling the Kangaroo Island “the only guilt-free place in Australia,” Steve introduced us to its history. The British Government commissioned Capitan Matthew Flinders to explore this part of Australia in 1800. He found no humans there but an abundance of – well – kangaroos.  The Aboriginal people avoided this island because they believed that it was inhabited by evil spirits.  Modern archeological evidence suggests that the Aboriginals left the island at least two thousand years prior to Capitan Flinders’s arrival.  After World War I, the Australian Government offered the island’s land to returning soldiers either as a reward for their service to the Crown or to get deeply traumatized veterans out of big cities. Today, most of the island’s land is a national park or reserve established to protect its unique wildlife and sublime natural beauty.  The climate there is very pleasant and mild, of a Mediterranean kind, and could as well be a setting for a Shakespearean play. So it was only natural for us to see Steve becoming our Prospero who instead of creating the Tempest for his old enemies, unveiled for new friends the magic of his island, one treasure at a time. We were treated to two full-day safaris with Steve as our driver and a naturalist guide. Our island discovery trip culminated in a night walking tour of the bush led by Steve’s friends, the Chesters, a renowned photographer and a contributor to the Royal National Geographic, and his wife, a biologist and a National Park ranger.

The island is very diverse landscape-wise and is indeed rather large. It takes almost three hours just to drive east to west, from Cape Willoughby to Flinders Chase National Park, and over an hour – north to south – from Stokes Bay to Vivone Bay. Guided by Steve, we slowly took it all: rolling hills and secluded bays of the North Coast; the rugged, almost surreal landscape of the South Coast; iconic Remarkable Rocks on the western end; the picturesque seaside village of Penneshaw on the Dudley Peninsula; and of course – the animals. The Kangaroo Island was spared by the damage done to the mainland by the species introduced by the European settlers, such as foxes or rabbits. As a result, it preserved its unique environment. Some animals either evolved into distinctly different-looking creatures like long-haired kangaroos, and some, almost extinct on the mainland, like Tammar wallabies, flourished.

We could not drag ourselves away from Steve’s “secret” place, just around the corner from his estate, where Australian sea lions and New Zealand seals sun-bathe on the shore surrounded by their babies. In the morning we were greeted by giant long-haired kangaroos and curious wallabies. Late evening we had the cutest brush-tail possum honoring us with his regular visits to our deck.  One afternoon we encountered two echidnas crossing the road: each one stopped to either pose for Alex or pretending it was a stone. Koalas slept up high on eucalyptus trees, but one was considerate enough to demonstrate us her amazing front and hind paws: she stretched them one at a time in a slow tai-chi-type motion. We were among the animals of Australia, true indigenous custodians of this island.

For us, the Sea Dragon Lodge became the center of this unique world.  Steve, an excellent guide, was a wonderful host as well. He presented us with a bottle of champagne on our milestone anniversary and organized a once-in-a-life-time experience to celebrate our special day: a luncheon inside an…ancient fig tree! (See my next review/blog).

A great majority of US visitors concentrate their exploration of Australia on Sydney and Melbourne, supplementing their experiences by visiting either the Ayers Rock or the Great Barrier Reef. While these iconic places are certainly the “musts,” no true understanding of this country could be complete without a trip to the Kangaroo Island. And, of course, without encountering the host-guide-friend par excellence: Steve Lane and his terrific Sea Dragon Lodge!

Useful links:

1.       The best place to stay and discover the island: Sea Dragon Lodge: http://www.seadragonlodge.com.au/

2.       To get to the island, fly to Adelaide and then take either Regional Express Air: http://www.rex.com.au/ or

3.       SeaLink Ferry: https://www.sealink.com.au/kangaroo-island-ferry/

View on Sea Dragon Lodge, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Rustic-looking five star Sea Dragon Lodge seems to be blending with the bush around it

Terrace in the back of Sea Dragon Lodge

When you are on a Lodge’s terrace, you feel light years away from the 21st century urbanized world

Lodge guest practices yoga on the terrace

With spectacular views all around, terrace seems perfect for morning Yoga practice

Wester Grey Kangaroo resting

The Island’s kangaroos evolved to look different from their mainland cousins: they are bigger and actually brownish-reddish

Small kangaroo came close as if to talk

Long-haired kangaroo seems to be talking to us, the intruders

Small red-necked Wallaby hiding in the bush

Red-necked wallaby earns its name from the rusty-reddish fur on the back of its neck and shoulders

A pair of red-necked pademelons in the shade

Red-necked pademelons seldom ventures outside the forest

Australian kangaroo half asleep

Female kangaroos are usually gray

This huge granite boulder with smaller rocks on top is called Remarkable Rocks

Peculiar clusters of granite boulders on the south-west shore of the island look like they came from one of Dali’s paintings

Closer view of Remarkable Rocks

One of the most popular island’s landmarks , Remarkable Rocks seemed to be a nature’s art gallery of stone abstract sculptures

Visitor standing next to huge rocks

Irene tries to mold herself into Remarkable Rocks formation

Australian Goanna

Called goannas, these lizards have patterned with spots skin arranged in bands. Unlike other lizards, they cannot drop their tails.

The head of huge Emu bird, Australia

The emu is the second-largest living bird by height. It is endemic to Australia where it is the largest native bird.

Sunny day at the black rock beach, Australia

Secluded beaches of the island are truly spectacular

Admiral Arch, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Admiral Arch is one of the most unusual landmarks of this diverse island

Irene Shaland stands on the beach at Kangaroo Island

Exploring the island marine life

Australian fur seal

Australian fur seals like to sun themselves on the stony beach

Australian fur seal pup

A curious seal pup is watching us very intently

Two sea lions and fur seal

Sea lions and fur seal resting near Admiral Arch

Sea lions swim near shore

Watching fur seals swimming was one of our favorite pastimes on the island

Australian koala holding on to a branch of eucalyptus tree

Koalas are adorable

Sleeping koala

When sleeping koalas often turn themselves into a furry ball

Koala sleeps on a branch

This sleepy koala decided to show off her front and hind paws in a super slow Tai Chi-like motions

Australian Echidna

This echidna was leisurely crossing the road and paid no attention to us

Fig Tree Restaurant

Enchanted Fig Tree Restaurant: One of the most unusual and one of the very best restaurants we ever dined in.

Fig Tree restaurant entrance

Entering this fairy-tale place is like getting inside the Shakespearean magic forest

Irene and Alex Shaland at Fig Tree Restaurant, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Irene and Alex Shaland celebrate their anniversary inside the 150-year-old fig tree

Steve Lane, Irene Shaland, and Alex Shaland at Fig Tree Restaurant

Thanks to Steve, we had one of the most memorable celebrations!


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Going to Iceland? We recommend this book


Going to Iceland on vacation or business?  Take a look at this Insight Guides Iceland. This book is a great trip companion. Invaluable for trip planning and once you arrived, for exploring. Lots of historical and current information and photos.  Articles are well written and maps are some of the best.

Includes chapters on Iceland history, features, Insights, photo features, places, travel tips, transportation , accommodations, and activities.

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Hotel Borg of Reykjavik Exemplifies the Very Best of Iceland

View on hotel Borg from the square

Hotel Borg Reykjavik Iceland

We went to Iceland in November seeking the land of fire and ice, volcanoes and glaciers. We imagined endless days of complete darkness and the magic of dancing lights in the Arctic sky. We expected the sub-zero temperatures and winter storms.

The reality was amazingly surprising. The weather was almost as mild as we had it in Cleveland Ohio at a time we left for Iceland: in the upper 30s Fahrenheit. Though we did have our share of icy winds and bone-freezing cold, for the most part the days were calm and often sunny, from 9:30 in the morning till about 4:30 or even 5 in the afternoon: just enough time for touring this surreally beautiful land.

At the end of the seemingly long day filled with thrilling super-jeep rides through stunning primeval landscapes, we would come to the world of tranquility and sophistication – Hotel Borg.  Our home away from home in Iceland, this hotel offered perfection in both professionalism of service and taste of its interior.

The Icelandic capital’s classiest hotel was born out of a dream of a true Viking descender – an adventurer and strongman – Johannes Josefsoon. Jonannes was a champion wrestler, who after competing in the 1908 Olympics, went to the United States to perform with the Barnum & Baileys circus.   He returned to Iceland many years later, rich and determined to build the first luxury hotel in his country.

In 1930, the year Hotel Borg opened, Iceland was celebrating the first millennium of the country’s democratic beginnings. And just like the Alþingi at Thingvellir, a parliamentary assembly established by the Vikings in AD 930, signified the birth of the Icelandic nation, Johannes’s Hotel Borg marked Iceland’s entrance into modernity.

One of the many charms of Icelandic culture that we discovered was their pronunciation. Their “P” is pronounced “th:” and so their parliament is pronounced as “Althingi” giving a new meaning for us of  the English word “thing” that, as we were told, originally meant assembly!

Among the many celebrated figures of European history and arts that stayed at Hotel Borg was Christian X, King of Denmark (and Iceland at the time) famous for saving the entire Jewish population of his country during World War II.  The list also includes Marlene Dietrich, Anthony Hopkins, Ella Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner, to name just a few. On November 16, 2015, our family of three joined that celebrated company whose famous ghosts are said to still frequent this establishment.

The hotel is located in the heart of Reykjavík, shares the square with the House of Parliament (Alþingi), and is minutes away from most the city attractions.  And, Borg – within this Icelandic capital – presents its own unique world.

The hotel was designed in the Art Deco style, fashionable in Europe and the U.S. in the flamboyant 1920s. But Iceland – the land of erupting volcanoes, intimidating glaciers, spurting geysers, and boiling mud pools – transformed Art Deco into its own, adding a typical Scandinavian restraint.

In the 1990s, the hotel was lovingly renovated true to its original design. There is no overabundance of fan-like shapes or garish colors: we were immediately taken by the interior’s muted color palette and near-minimalistic straight lines. The designers applied an almost obsessive attention to details from door hinges to room numbers and parquet flooring. Art Decor furniture, both in our room and elsewhere in the hotel is beautifully finished in dark veneer and lacquer. Contemporary features like the Bang & Olufsen desk phone with its angular lines or Philippe and Starck style bathrooms were in perfect harmony with the original Art Deco pieces in our room. The just-opened Fitness Studio and Spa were wonderful, complete with saunas and a big Jacuzzi.

The hotel breakfast was abundant and delightful. I highly enjoyed the gravadlax (dill-cured salmon sliced more thinly than usual and served with mustard sauce) and the famous Icelandic desert – skyr. This type of a yogurt dish was brought by the first Viking settlers from Norway about 1,000 years ago and is even mentioned in Icelandic sagas. It tastes very rich, but since it is made from clotted skim milk, it is actually fat-free and healthy. Skyr’s slightly acid taste has a wonderful tinge of sweetness. I tried to find it in the U.S. but only located its cousin in Trader Joe called Siggi’s Icelandic Style Yogurt. It tasted great, but not the same.

I guess we will have to plan visiting Iceland again, this time during the summer, and you can guess where we will stay – Hotel Borg of course! I want to express our heartfelt gratitude to the hotel’s front desk staff: Sigurjon, Gudny, Ingunn, Arner, and Agla. They all truly represent the face of this beautiful hotel and embody its class and professionalism. All the young ladies and our Viking-looking new friend Sigurjon Arason became our most personal and attentive hosts and helped to turn our visit into an experience we will never forget.

When planning your trip to Iceland, make Hotel Borg your home away from home.

geyser sending water up to many feet

Iceland – the land of fire and ice: spurting geyser

barren landscape with snow covered mountain in the background

Icelandic primeval landscape

super jeep crossing stream in iceland

Super-jeep drive is not for the week-hearted!

view on waterfall with rainbow

Magnificent waterfalls of Iceland

northern lights appear over the ocean

Northern lights of Iceland

view on Borg hotel from the Parliament square

Another view of Hotel Borg

inside hotel Borg

Hotel Borg interior: Art Deco reimagined- Icelandic style

chairs in hotel rooms are original art deco pieces

Original Art Deco tub-style arm chairs in our room

inside hotel room

Original bed circa 1930

comfortable chairs in the lobby of hotel Borg

In the hotel lobby

reception clerks at Hotel Borg

Sigurjon and Arner make every visitor feel at home and among friends


This recommended book includes chapters on Iceland history, features, Insights, photo features, places, travel tips, transportation , accommodations, and activities.

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New Art Exhibit at Opus Gallery Feb. 20 – March 20

Images from art show

Come to Opus Gallery for the opening of the new art exhibition on February 20, 2016, 5 to 8 PM.

This exhibition presents three Contemporary Artists who created Still Life in wide spectrum of styles-from work, like old Masters, to Photorealism paintings, to Prints of Linocut and Collage.

Featuring: Vitally Grigoriev – Oil Paintings, Vladimir Verezhnikov – Pastel, and Maria A. Zanetta – Mixed Media.

Irene Shaland will introduce her latest book: “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories

 Opening Reception:  Saturday, February 20, 5 to 8 pm 

See Exhibit Flyer: OPUS_Gallery_FEB_20_2016

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The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories Released

cover of Irene Shaland book the Dao of Being Jewish and Other StoriesNew book of stories from Irene Shaland is now available in paperback. In The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories Irene Shaland presents a collective Jewish narrative from various parts of the globe. She takes the reader on a fascinating journey, both familiar and unknown, from Europe to Asia and Africa, from Vienna to Delhi and Nairobi. The fate of the brilliant Jewish community of Vienna annihilated during the Holocaust shines a disturbing light on the stories of the current rise of Antisemitism in Scandinavia and throughout Europe. Two-millennium old tales of little-known Jewish communities of India and China, who never knew religious persecution, reveal happy chapters in the history of Jewish Diaspora filled with so many tragic events. And striking stories of the uplifting revival of Judaism in Sicily and Sardinia after 500 years of the expulsion of the Jews from these islands give us hope for a more harmonious future. Based on the author’s interviews during her travels to ten countries and three continents, this book is Irene Shaland’s passionate quest to preserve the Jewish heritage, identity, memory, and history.

This book is now available on Amazon

Irene Shaland is an internationally-published art and travel writer, educator, and lecturer. She is the author of two books and numerous magazine articles published in the U.S.A., Canada, Kenya, and U.K. Her lectures on cultural travel are enthusiastically received by audiences in museums, libraries, synagogues, and theaters throughout the country. Irene and her husband, travel photographer Alex reside in Lyndhurst, Ohio.


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Chasing the Elusive Northern Lights in Iceland

northern lights in iceland

Northern lights, Iceland

by Alex Shaland

All visitors to Iceland fall into two distinctive categories: those who saw the northern lights and those who did not. When Irene set her trip target on Iceland, she was determined to place herself, our daughter, and I squarely in the first category. The problem was that unlike the predictable crowds at JFK on the way to Iceland, the famous northern lights of Iceland are highly unpredictable. However, the best time to see them is from November through December.  So mid-November looked pretty good. Oh, and  it also happens to be one of the coldest months of the year.

In addition to the time of the year, there are several other components essential for seeing the northern lights. First, the surroundings have to be as dark as possible, meaning you have to be far away from Reykjavik, or other areas where humans light the skies with their electric bulbs. Next, the weather has to be just right: clear skies and a cold night are the best combination. Your viewing location is also important: on the same night, one lucky group of tourists might be rewarded for freezing in the open for hours with a fantastic light show, but another unlucky bunch just a two-hour drive away will be turning into icicles for nothing.

Speaking of luck, it increases substantially if you stay in Iceland for at least a week and have all or most nights available to chase the northern lights. As it happens, northern lights have a nasty habit of showing up for a day or two and taking a few days off to rest. The good news is that once you book a Northern Lights excursion through one of the bus companies, they will keep taking you on the northern lights chase until you see the lights, or decide to quit and go home.  But even then, the tickets are good for two years – come back to Iceland and hop on board to continue your quest.

This generosity of the Gray Line Iceland tour company turned out to be our lucky number. After driving from one observation point to another for hours, we returned to our Hotel Borg after 2 AM with only three nighttime photos in my camera: the moon, a boat, and a lighthouse. However, after we boarded the Gray Line Iceland tour bus the following night, Nature reworded our persistence with one of the most spectacular phenomena.

Yeah, yeah, we all saw those highly Photoshopped multi-colored northern light images. What we saw however, were mostly whitish patterns that appeared, disappeared, and morphed into new shapes on the background of the black sky. Digital camera sensors painted those fantastic patterns green.  Out of the three necessary night photography components (a good tripod, a remote shutter release, and knowing what you are doing), I possessed only the first one – the tripod. The shutter release cable I bought a couple of days before the trip did not fit my camera, even though it was “designed” for my model by those creative engineers. My non-existent night photography skills acquired on the brightly lit squares of European capitals at night were as useless as the cable that I tried to exchange the night before the trip. Another factor that did not help was our location: we observed the northern lights over the ocean, and the water vapors made the air less clear. So when you look at the photos, just keep in mind that the northern lights are indeed spectacular!

photo of the moon

First night – the moon was spectacular.

boat at night

Boat on the beach at night – first night.

lit sky

First night – not the view we expected.

northern lights in Iceland

Second night – finally, after an hour of waiting, the northern lights started forming in the sky.

northern lights in iceland

The lights appeared to the right of us.

northern lights

Further to the right – a new pattern over the houses.

Aurora Borealis

They started slowly changing shape.

Aurora Borealis or northern lights

The lights on the left, over the ocean, became brighter.

Iceland northern light

Meanwhile, the pattern over the houses morphed into a horseshoe shape.

vertical pattern of northern lights in Iceland

On the left, the lights formed a column shooting straight up.

horseshoe shape of northern lights

The horseshoe over the houses started straightening up.

Beautiful norhtern lights

And here is the grand finale!

This recemmended book includes chapters on Iceland history, features, Insights, photo features, places, travel tips, transportation , accommodations, and activities.

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Saarinen House – a Hidden Gem in the Midwest

Cranbrook Art Academy in Detroit Michigan

The Cranbrook Museum of Art built by Eliel Saarinen. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

“Architecture embraces the whole form-world of man’s physical accommodations, from the intimacy of his room to the comprehensive labyrinth of the large metropolis.” Eliel Saarinen.

We found out about the Cranbrook Art Academy and the Saarinen House by pure chance: our architecture-buff friend mentioned it when we talked about my upcoming presentation at the Detroit Public Library.  We immediately decided to schedule a private tour of the House. And what a great discovery it was!

The story behind the academy
Cranbrook Academy of Art, called “the cradle of American modernism,” is a small, highly-selective graduate school that since 1930s has been influencing the fine arts, architecture, and design on international scale. Located on the 300-plus-acre estate in Bloomfield, an affluent suburb of Detroit, Michigan, the academy is at the heart of the Cranbrook Educational Community, which is often described as “one of the most enchanted architectural settings in America.” The idea of an educational community dedicated to art was a brain child of George Gough Booth, a Detroit multimillionaire, who made his fortune in publishing. We were told that virtually everything published in Detroit was owned by this Midwestern “Citizen Kane.” Booth also knew a thing or two about the arts: inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement, he closely followed contemporary modernist architects.

Union made in heaven: George Booth meets Eliel Saarinen
Booth first approached Eliel Saarinen, a famous European modernist, in late 1920s, when this Finnish architect was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. When after World War I, Saarinen decided to leave his home country, Finland, because he could not find any major commissions , Booth invited him to move to Cranbrook and design – just about anything, from landscapes to buildings  – to create an educational community. Beautiful Cranbrook hills and meadows became a canvas for the genius architect, on which he created an innovative blend of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, and Swedish Modern with his own vision of a universal beauty, where man and nature united. The Cranbrook School for Boys was completed in 1928, Kingswood School (for girls) in 1931, and the Cranbrook Art Museum and Library building in 1942. Eliel Saarinen became the first President of the newly-established Art Academy, where both he and his wife, a textile artist Loja Saarinen, taught. Every architectural and decorative detail outside and inside the buildings – chest of drawers and closets, beds and bedcovers – were designed by the Saarinens.

The landscape gardens and the sculptures
The park that surrounds the Cranbrook Museum of Art, also designed by Saarinen, is a complete work of art on its own.  Comprising reflecting pools, ponds, walking trails, herb gardens, and a superb collection of outdoor sculptures, the garden is considered one of the twenty five “most amazing sculpture gardens” in the world. Approaching the Art Museum building from the parking lot, we were drawn to the giant Orpheus Fountain designed by the renowned Swedish artist Carl Milles. Familiar with his famous works in Stockholm, we immediately recognized his style. Milles served as a Chairman of the Sculpture Department at the Academy until Saarinen’s death in 1950. His sculptures are spread out throughout the gardens and around the Museum.

Just like our Cleveland Museum of Art has Rodin’s Thinker in front of the building, the Cranbrook Museum also features its own Thinker by Marshall Fredericks: …a monkey, whose back is strangely human, is gazing at the sky, seemingly immersed in deep thought.

Experiencing the gardens is a personal journey: you have to take a leisurely walk-through to truly understand the Saarinen’s unique way of uniting architecture, nature, and art. For us, walking in these gardens was a process of endless discovery: new vistas and angles, one after another, revealed the unity and coherence of the initial design. One of the most remarkable masterworks of the 1920s, the Saarinen’s landscape reflects the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement where man is at one with nature.

Saarinen House
Designed in the late 1920s, Eliel Saarinen’s house is a true masterpiece of his unique blend of modernist movements.  Until Saarinen’s death in 1950, the house served as his and his wife’s residence and studio. Subsequent presidents of the Academy significantly altered and redecorated the house according to their tastes and needs. In 1977, then-president Roy Slade began a complete restoration effort to return the Saarinen’s house to its original form.

A leading proponent of the latest modernist movements in the United States, Saarinen thought of architecture as a total art where every detail – from silverware to furniture, doorknobs and carpets – is an integral part of the designer’s overall vision. The house represents a collaboration of the entire family: Loja, the textile artist and Chairperson of the Weaving Department at the Academy; daughter Pipsan, an interior and glassware designer; and son Eero, who later became one of the towering figures in the architecture of the 20th century – they all contributed to the magic ambiance of the Saarinen house.

For any history buffs and art-lovers, a visit to Cranbrook is a must. After you tour the park and the House, you might be asking, just like we did: “Why did not we know about this treasure before?”

The information about the Cranbrook Art Museum and Saarinen House could be found at: http://www.cranbrookart.edu/museum/Saarinen-house

39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303. Telephone: 248-645-3324

The House could be seen only on a guided tour. Public tours are offered from May through October. We, however, highly recommend a private tour to those who want to learn more about the architect and American Modernism.

Gardens on the campus of Cranbrook Museum of Art

View on the gardens from the Cranbrook Museum of Art. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

Orpheus Fountain buiilt by sculptor Carl Milles

In front of the Museum is the giant Orpheus Fountain designed by the renowned Swedish artist Carl Milles. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

The Thinker sculpture is placed in front of the Cranboorg Museum

In front of the Museum is the sculpture called “Thinker” by Marshall Fredericks. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

Main Entrance of the Saarinen House

Eliel Saarinen’s House is a true masterpiece of his unique blend of modernist movements. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

Living room of Saarinen House

Saarinen’s living room. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

Dining room with round table and chairs

Saarinen’s dining room. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

Couches and table in the corner of studio

The studio alcove in the Saarinen House. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI

Another view on the Studio in Saarinen House

The studio viewed from the studio alcove. The chairs are designed by the architect’s son Eero Saarinen. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI


Objects in bedroom of Saarinen House

Master Bedroom in the Saarinen House. Dressing table mirror and lamps are designed by Eero Saarinen in 1930. The Cranbrook Art Academy, Detroit, MI


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Our Annual Theater Trip: Stratford August 27 – August 30

This year once again, we went on our annual “pilgrimage” to Stratford, Ontario. We firmly believe that Stratford offers the best English-language theater outside London, U.K. Over our four-night stay we saw seven outstanding shows:

  1. The Adventures of Pericles. This play was only half-written by Shakespeare, and with its mixture of an epic hero, evil princess, good princess, sex slavery, sea storms, pirates etc, is very difficult to stage. However, Stratford as usual, produced a wonderful show, both moving and full of fun.
  2. The Last Wife. Written by an actress-playwright Kate Henning, this play focuses on the last surviving wife of Henry the VIII. It is witty, intelligent, compassionate and powerful.
  3. Love’s Labors’ Lost. I think that this year, Stratford pleased the audience with one of the most delightful and elegant productions of this Shakespearian comedy. Nothing “labored” in this show beautifully staged by the U.K. director, and there is so much love in it that nothing is lost!
  4. Physicists. This play by Fredrich Durrenmatt is as disturbing as it is funny. You leave the theater laughing and, at the same time, with a conviction that human race is most surely doomed by its own cruelty and greed for power.
  5. Hamlet. This was definitely one of the best Hamlets we have seen over the thirty years of theater-going.
  6. Oedipus Rex. This was perhaps the only show we had a problem with. While appreciating artistic risks any director is taking when trying to bring Sophocles play into the 21st century, we thought that this staging was too hectic and devoid of the play’s deep meaning. In addition, the translation was in prose, and the great poetry was lost.
  7. The Alchemist. This 17th-century comedy by Ben Johnson may not be your idea of fun reading, but in Stratford, it has become a hilarious show led by terrific actors.

I wish we had time and money to see the entire 2015 repertoire.

Next season promises to be one of the most exciting we have ever encountered in this theater-lovers’ paradise.  If you have not been to Stratford yet, consider making your first visit in summer of 2016!

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Face-to-Face with Africa and other Wildlife Photography Exhibit

Buffalo stands in Kruger National Park, South AfricaCuyahoga County Public Library Orange Branch Presents Photography Exhibit: Face-to-Face with Africa and other Wildlife by Alex Shaland

November 5th – December 1st 2015
Cuyahoga County Public Library
Orange Branch, 31975 Chagrin Boulevard
Pepper Pike, Ohio 44124   Phone: 216-831-4282

Internationally-published artist photographer Alex Shaland has a life-long passion for travel. Together with his wife, travel writer Irene Shaland, they have explored close to 70 countries. His photographs have appeared in more than twenty magazines published in the USA, Canada, UK, France, Kenya, and South Korea. Through his photographs, Alex shares his excitement and love for our beautiful world.

MEET-THE-ARTIST Open House:   November 8th   2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Refreshments will be served

Download a Flyer: Flyer Wildlife Photography

Photo of Giraffe in Africa



Lion, South Africa

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