Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Walk on the Biel estate and Keith Brockie paintings at Waterston House

January 31, 2023

I last posted a reference, with photos, to Biel House, almost exactly two years ago on this blog. In order to get to Biel (pronounced Beel) Estate, which c3miles/5K from Dunbar, you leave the A199 and go up a long drive to the house, firstly passing a cottage which would have formerly been the gatehouse to the estate. Once you are over the bridge spanning the A1 dual carriageway, you come to a newish set of gates (photo below) which lead to an impressive avenue of cedar trees. This is a stunning entrance and it is a very pleasant walk with the tall, thick trees to your left and right and the Lammermuir Hills in the distance. There is farmland on both sides of the trees, with the winter/spring wheat growing slowly but becoming a sparkling lightish green in the sunshine.

Entrance to the Biel Estate (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

At the end of the cedar walk, you come to a lane (photo below) with a small forest on each side. The side of this narrow road is still decorated with fallen leaves from the autumn and this scene refreshes your memory of when the leaves were yellowing and browning, but still on the trees. The adjoining wood is a mixture of rhododendron bushes, evergreen and deciduous trees. So there is a contrast all the way up the hill, with the bare tree on the right and the branches of the fir tree extending across the avenue. At some points, where there are mainly deciduous trees, you can see through to the fields beyond. This view will disappear in the late spring.

Lane leading up to Biel House

At the top of what is quite a steep hill for walkers and cyclists, you come to a crossroads, with the left taking you down to the Biel Burn and the right to attractively named Beeseknowe Farm (good photo). The entrance to Biel House itself (photo below) has impressive, elegant and graceful twin columns, with decorated, thistle-like rounded tops. The sign says Private and this is meant for cars, as walkers and cyclists appear to be welcome as passers-by. The photo shows the still flowerless rhododendrons to the right and left but if you look closely at them, you can see the small buds appearing, a sign of beauty to come. As you can see, there are some impressively tall trees here and the carpet of rust-coloured leaves adds to the attractiveness of the entrance.

Entrance to Biel House

We visited an excellent exhibition recently at Waterston House in Aberlady, the home of SOC (Scottish Ornithologists’ Club) to see the work of well known wildlife artist Keith Brockie, whom I have featured here on the blog on more than one occasion, the last time being in 2017. The exhibition finished not long after our visit and we are looking forward to the present exhibition, featuring examples from Scottish Nature Photography Awards. I am grateful to again to Laura Gressiani at SOC for sending me, with Keith Brockie’s permission, the three examples of his outstanding work below. The first example (photo below) is entitled Brooding Tawny Owl and shows Brockie’s truly amazing grasp of detail and his ability to portray the details of the tree and owls. It is hard for me as a non-artistic layman to imagine just how long this must have taken him to paint, but the result is a wonderful piece of art. Seeing Brockie’s quite large paintings at the exhibition is quite a different experience from looking at the photo, but the enlarged photos here will give you a chance to admire his work at close hand. On first seeing the painting, you notice the adult owl and its tired but still alert looking face, as well as its colouring and the very realistic looking feathers. Then you see the baby owl, fast asleep it seems to me and its green beak accompanied cleverly by the green, exquisitely veined leaves. Then there is the patterns on the smooth bark of the silver birch. In all, a painting to be admired again and again.

Brooding Tawny Owl by Keith Brockie

The second example (photo below) from the exhibition is entitled Mistle Thrush and is another example of Brockie’s supreme artistry in portraying birds and their environment. Once again, you are struck by the sheer amount of detail here. This bird, with the unfortunate (for us) scientific name of turdus viscivorus, has an enchanting song, which you can listen to here (scroll down to song audio). Brockie’s bird is not singing, but is perhaps waiting for an opportunity to sing to attract a mate, perhaps. The patterns on the bird’s breast give an aspect of surrealism, whereas the keen eye and the sharp beak, ready for the berries below, are painted realistically. The colour contrast been the berries and the bird draws our attention to both. The branch upon which the bird sits has a claw-like feature, seen just above the artist’ signature. A study in ornithological concentration is presented here and is as eye-catching as the owls above.

Mistle Thrush by Keith Brockie

The final example shows Keith Brockie’s art (and artistry) at its finest. This is a stunning portrait of a wild animal and you can see the muscularity in the hare which will give it its lightning speed. Out cycling around Dunbar, I have often seen hares, whether on the road in front of me or in a field, and when they start running, they go so fast that you think they might be flying low above the ground. The hairs on the animal’s ears, face and body are drawn so convincingly that you think this must be what it is like to be really close to a hare. There is alertness in the ears, the eyes and the nose and this is a hare which is very aware of its surroundings and possible dangers. This site (good video) tell us that “The hare grazes on vegetation and the bark of young trees and bushes”. You have to admire Brockie’s skill in painting the grass upon which the hare will feed and the way in which the grass mimics the shape of the hairs on this powerful but stunningly beautiful animal. The contrast in colours – white, brown, black, orange and green – in the painting should take your eye up, down and across the painting to appreciate its visual beauty. This was a most remarkable exhibition and if you ever get to see a Keith Brockie art show, grab the opportunity with both hands. A huge round of applause to Waterston House for acquiring this enchanting display of wildlife art.

Brown Hare by Keith Brockie

Trip to Porto: Skyline, river and Luis 1 bridge

December 9, 2022

To get one of the best views across the city of Porto, you need to climb up from the river all the way past the station (blog post) and round to the magnificent Porto Cathedral (good photos). The cathedral was closed for renovations when we visited, but the photo below shows the grandeur of the building, built as a place of worship but also as a structure to dominate the city and send a powerful message to its inhabitants. This site tells us that “Built in the highest part of the city, the Sé Cathedral is the most important religious building in Porto. It is located in the Batalha district, next to the walls that once protected the city. The exterior of the building has the appearance of a fortress with battlements”. My first impression on seeing the back of the cathedral was that it appeared more of a castle than a cathedral.

Part of the outside of Porto Cathedral (Sé do Porto)

From the back of the cathedral, you get wonderful panoramic views across the city. The photo below shows a range of domestic, corporate and local authority buildings. The red pantile roofs are of various vintages but make for an attractive sight on a warm, sunny, early October day. On the right in the foreground, you can see some of the tiles on the houses and the balconies which are ubiquitous in Porto. The tower in the distance is the Torre de Clérigos (good photo) and the site tells us that “The Church of Clérigos (Ecclesiastics) is a genuine baroque masterpiece dating from the mid-18th century. It was designed by Nicolau Nasoni, an architect of Italian origin”. We are also told that “The tower extends upwards through 75 metres of elegance forming rhythmic stages before rising to its crowning glory, the spherical clock house. The baroque decoration is thoroughly delicate and of a wonderful lightness”. This seems to me to be a very good translation of an excellent description.

Looking over the roofs of Porto

Again looking over the ramparts of the cathedral, the photo below shows some more of the blue tiles on the face of the houses, the various shades of pink and red on the tiles, and a range of different styles of windows, balconies and doors. At the bottom right of the photo, you can see two doors with the names FADO and SE painted in white. I checked this out and it is the Casa do Fado Sé i.e. the house of Fado at the cathedral. I was once invited to run workshops in Lisbon and the hosts took my wife and I to a Fado concert. The singer was melodious and the guitar playing was superb, but although we couldn’t understand the language, it was clear that Fado songs are not joyful. One dictionary definition of Fado is “a type of popular Portuguese song, usually with a melancholy theme and accompanied by mandolins or guitars”. Above the doors are two banners, one with a mandolin and one with a guitar, and if you look above that, you will see a mandolin on display. You can hear some beautiful guitar an mandolin playing in this video, advertising the Casa do Fado Sé and see and hear a Fado song on the video below. This is a lovely rendition but Fado concerts tend to last about an hour and that is a lot of misery to take in.

Looking down from the cathedral

Running through the middle of Porto is the wide river Douro and we did a long walk (14k) from our hotel near the city centre out to the Foz do Douro (good photos) on the Atlantic coast and back. This is a very busy river although it does not look so in the photo below. However, if you look at the top left of the river, you will see two medium sized cruise ships (example) parked on the south side of the river. Out hotel looked over the river and each morning, we could see new the ships arriving or leaving. Along the right hand side of the photo, you can see a number of piers going out into the river, and these are for river cruises (example), of which there are many. From the bottom right, you can see the walkways along the river and these feature markets during the day and, further up the photo, a multiplicity of restaurants. These were packed out each night and, without booking, it was very hard to get a table anywhere.

Looking west along the river Douro in Porto

The river is also quite spectacular in the evening, after dark. We went to the excellent Muro do Bacalhau (good photos) restaurant and the view below is the one from outside the restaurant, looking west. The reflections in the river are best seen by enlarging the photo and in the enlarged version you can see one of the little ferry boats in the middle of the river. There are new buildings going up across Porto and you can see one with the crane in front of it on the right hand side of the photo. Next to it, with the black sign, is one of the stores holding Porto’s most famous product – port.

Douro river and reflections at night

I took this video from the Monastery of Serra do Pilar (good photos) which stands on a rockface above the river and it is quite a climb to get to it. The monastery – run by the Augustinians – dates back to 1527 and is well worth a visit inside the circular buildings.

You can briefly see the Luis 1 bridge in the video. You can walk across the bridge, which is also used by trams and when there are no trams, people walk down the tramlines. You can see the bridge, with the tram wires but no trams, in the photo below and the building at the end of the bridge on the left, is the monastery. The bridge crosses the river and is one of six bridges that traverse the Douro. You can see excellent photos of the bridges here. The views from the bridge give tourists and locals a spectacular view down the river. The second photo below is an example and it shows one of the river cruise boats about to go under the bridge. We went on one of the 6 bridges cruises and it was an enjoyable 45 minutes. It should have been 50 minutes but the sea mist (haar in my part of the world) rolled in. The guide in the Palacio da Bolsa (previous post) told us that this is known locally as “dragon’s breath” and that the dragon is the city’s emblem.

Looking across the Louis 1 bridge in Porto
River Douro from the Luis 1 bridge

The bridge, named after the king of Portugal at the time it was built, is a magnificent structure as the photo below shows. The bridge opened in 1886 and this site tells us “With a span of 172 metres (564 ft) and a height of 44.6 metres (146 ft) this was a great feat of engineering. The designer this time, Téophile Seyrig, had been Eiffel’s partner on the previous project and showed himself to be a more than able engineer with this bridge”. The reference to Gustave Eiffel (of Paris fame) is because Eiffel designed another Porto bridge earlier. As the photo shows, it has two levels, trams on the top and cars etc on the bottom level.

Dom Luis 1 bridge

The Palacio da Bolsa and Joseph O’Connor’s Inishowen

November 29, 2022

One of the best visits we made while in Porto was to the Palacio da Bolsa (good photos). This magnificent building dates back to 1842 when it was built as a stock exchange by Porto merchants, on the site of a former convent, which was burned down during the siege of Porto ten years later. You pass the palace as you walk uphill – apart from along the river, you are always walking up or down hill in this city, so it is not for the unfit – towards the the city centre. The impressive exterior of the palace is best seen from the park across the road. The photo below shows the extent of the building with its four sturdy columns, multiple windows with small balconies and impressive clock tower. The date of 1834 represents the date when the original building was started. In all, the building took 70 years to complete in its final version.

The entrance to the Palacio da Bolsa

You can only enter the palace by buying a ticket for an organised tour, but it certainly worth every euro cent because of the quality on show as you are taken from one grand room to another by the very informative guide. While waiting for the guide, you are shown into a vast hall (1st photo below) with its beautiful balcony, ornate windows and doors and paintings representing the various merchant trades and emblems of Porto. All this below a stunning glass skylight. This hall, known as the Pátio das Nações, was the original trading floor. When you are looking up and around the walls, you are standing on colourful geometric floor (2nd photo below) with its circular patterns and an elegant and very graceful symmetrical centrepiece.

Entrance hall in the Palacio da Bolsa (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
Geometric floor in the Palacio

There are two rooms, also highly decorated with sculptures, paintings and exquisite furniture on the tour and again, the standout feature is the floor. The photo below shows the mesmerising patterns on the floor in this grand room. At the start, you see a beautifully crafted pine floor, with light squares bordered by darker wood. If you look away and then look back again, you see a different floor, as this time it looks as if it is created in 3-D. As you walk through the room, the patterns constantly change. There are many paintings in the Palacio but these floors are works of art in themselves.

Eye-catching floor in the Palacio

The last room you visit is the one worth waiting for. This site (good photos) tells us that “The pièce de résistance of the Palácio da Bolsa is the Salão Árabe (Arab Hall) by architect Gustavo Adolfo Gonçalves de Sousa, who was inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain”. The hall was restored again in 2009-2010. The style is faux Arabian and you can see in the first photo below how the designer completely embraced the Moorish forms on the walls, the pillars and the ceiling. Note also the highly decorated pillars, with a different design at each stage going from the floor upwards. The floor is also very impressive and the site above adds “As in the rest of the building, here too, the floor is made from the finest woods such as mahogany, rosewood, satinwood, rosewood and maple”. The second photo shows the ceiling’s symmetrical, interweaving patterns and, like other similar North African styles, it reminds me of Aboriginal art in Australia.

The Arab Hall in the Palacio
Intricate ceiling in the Palacio

I took this video as a reminder of our visit to this fabulous room, which was used for concerts and balls. Imagine dancing in this luxurious space in your tuxedo or evening dress after a grand dinner and, of course, some superior local port.

I recently finished Joseph O’Connor‘s novel Inishowen (review). The novel was published in 2000 and is thus one of O’Connor’s earlier novels. I think that if he was writing this novel today, O’Connor would do some serious editing because, while there is superb dialogue and not a little humour in the parts set in Ireland, the parts of the story set in the USA are less convincing. Inspector Martin Aitken has problems at work and at home, as he is seen as a rogue detective at work and his drinking has led to his divorce from his wife. Eileen Donnelly is an American woman who is trying to find her birth mother and, by contacting nu ns in Ireland, she finds out that her mother – remarried with children – is in the village of Inishowen. Eileen also has a dark secret that his not revealed until midway through the book. Aitken first comes across Donnelly when she passes out on a Dublin street. The two make a trip to Inishowen later in the book. There are some fine and funny set pieces between Aitken and his police colleagues and O’Connor gives us an insight into Dublin city as well as the Irish countryside. There is an ongoing plot but I felt that O’Connor complicated the story near the end of the book. Despite this, he is an accomplished novelist and a great storyteller and if you accept the flaws in some parts of the book, you will find this an intriguing and enjoyable tale, which I highly recommend.

Trip to Porto: Hotel, Radiogram and the São Bento Railway station

November 16, 2022

On our visit to Porto (good photos) in October, we stayed at the excellent Memoria Porto Hotel where we had high quality service. We were picked up at the airport by a pre-ordered taxi, with the hotel charging about the same rate as if we had queued. Our flight was late – Ryanair long delays on the way out and back – but at the hotel Luiz at reception greeted us warmly, offering us tea/coffee and cakes and a glass of port. The hotel has a great location – see view from our bedroom in the photo below – near the centre of the city and the staff were superb e.g. recommending and booking restaurants for us. This is a fairly small hotel and it has a cosy and welcoming breakfast room, with an exceptional spread each morning, as well as spacious bedrooms. The value for money here is outstanding, so check it out if you are going to Porto (which you should, if possible).

View from Memoria Porto hotel room window (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

One feature of the breakfast room – also open in the afternoon and evening with a superb selection of cakes – was the radiogram which played gentle music when we were having breakfast. The photo below shows the radio part, with its multiplicity of stations and the casing of the radiogram, with the handle of the side cupboard to the left. This is an Arabella (good photo) radiogram, made in Germany and you can see that it is operated by knobs and buttons – no digital equipment here.

Arabella stereo radiogram at the Memoria Porto hotel

When the two side cabinets were opened, they revealed further features of this remarkably well preserved radiogram. The photo below shows the left hand one in the photo above when opened and it revealed a turntable which you can see in the photo below. It has a 45rpm record on it and you will be able to see the 16,33,45 and 78 settings more clearly in the enlarged photo. The needle holder has a Dual sign on it and this shows it was made by the company Dual. Below the needle arm, you can see repet – German for repeat, but then stop and start in English. Maybe this was done for the international market. As a piece of nostalgia, this is an excellent example, although the revival of vinyl has meant that many people now have turntables once again in their homes.

Arabella radiogram turntable

Opening the other side reveals a large tape recorder, with the name of the company which made it Nordemende shown prominently, as is the Grundig tape. Compared with later tape recorders, this looks enormous but it may have provided a much higher quality than its descendants. The buttons at the bottom are Aufnahme meaning recording, Sperre meaning lock and Trick which translates as Trick, but must mean something else. If you know, get in touch with me, please. So, who would have thought that we would have found a German radiogram, with sophisticated equipment, in a hotel in Porto? Opening the side cabinets was a pleasurable surprise for me and the other guests near our table. A conversation about radiograms, vinyl records and tape recorders ensued with our fellow guests from the USA, reviving memories for all of us, although none had seen a tape recorder like this one.

Tape recorder in Arabella radiogram

There are quite a few must-visits in Porto but the São Bento (good photos) – the main railway station, unique because of its magnificent tiled walls at the entrance, is one of the top visits. The tiles are azulejo and the site above states that “The word azulejo stems from Arabic roots, meaning small polished stone”. You can see tiles on many buildings in Porto, but the ones on display at the railway station are large and highly decorated tiles which make up a range of stunning scenes from the city’s history. The tiles were painted over a period of 11 years by artist Jorge Colaço and, as the photo below shows, the tiles are presented on a huge scale. The battle scene below shows the victor and the vanquished, with a multiplicity of details – soldiers, horses, flags, pikes, swords and castle walls.

Henry the Navigator in Porto railway station

A more peaceful scene is depicted in the photo below. Here we see oxen carrying barrels of port across the river and boat with a large sail behind that. In the foreground, your eyes are draw to the three women, one navigating and scanning the land at the far side of the river, and another woman cradling a baby, with perhaps her rather poor looking daughter to her right. it is a poignant depiction of the women, who look worried, perhaps about what they will find or experience on the shore. The scene also takes in the view upriver, with the mountains in the distance. Once you start to look at the details of the picture, you forget about the lines of the tiles and appreciate the art work here.

River crossing in the Sao Bento station in Porto

I took this video inside the station to show the wonderful display of tiles. I have left in the noise of the crowds coming and going in the station as it gives the atmosphere of this ever-moving place. To add commentary, I would have had to cancel the crowd noise, so add your own.

Autumn comes to East Lothian

November 5, 2022

We are now into November and this week, I have been planting a variety of Spring bulbs into the pots, now devoid of their resplendent summer flowers. Autumn is here and we are into the 3rd month of this season already. The clocks have gone back an hour and it is dark at 5pm. The photo below shows a beautifully dark maple tree in the gardens at Spott House, on our walk and often featured here on the blog. In Clive James poem Japanese Maple, he writes “My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new./ Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame”. James sensed that he was nearing the end of his life and he added, poignantly “What I must do/ Is live to see that”. In the photo, the maple tree stands out, even if it is in shadow, against the greenery of the grass and nearby trees, the pale sandstone of the house, and the blue of the pond, the sea and the sky beyond. The shadow at the bottom left is cast by a nearby building which has a brewery-like chimney pot on its roof.

Spott House in the sunshine and shadows (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Walking back from the house, we pass one of the driveways up to the house itself. The photo below shows the leaf-laden driveway, with many more leaves to come. In Emily Emily Brontë’s poem Fall, Leaves, Fall, she writes “Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;/ Lengthen night and shorten day;/ Every leaf speaks bliss to me/ Fluttering from the autumn tree”. In this photo, there is certainly a kind of bliss, with the yellowing leaves on the ground, the evergreen bushes to the left and right and the trees, some of which are deciduous, in the sunshine beyond the path. There was little wind on the day, so there was a calmness about this scene, which can be wild, windy and noisy on some autumn afternoons.

The side driveway up to Spott House

Walking back down the driveway, the view is one which can be appreciated at all times of the year. The trees on both sides of this avenue still have their leaves but those they retain are changing colour, from green to yellow or russet. While the trees change shape and colour throughout the year, the view in the distance, to North Berwick Law (good photos) is constant. The brown fields you see below The Law ( as it is known locally) have recently been ploughed but will soon turn to a brilliant green (on sunny days) as the Spring wheat emerges. This was late afternoon, so a perfect time to catch the multiple shadows which stretch across the roadway from one grass verge to the other, with patches of white sunlight seemingly randomly scattered amongst them. This is one of these vistas that, no matter how often you see it, you have to stop walking and just take in the beauty of it.

Another autumnal scenario can be found at the Knowes Farm Bridge, also featured more than once on the blog e.g. here. The recent rain has greatly increased the flow of water in the River Tyne at the bridge and the water was hurriedly hastening onwards towards, eventually, the sea. The photo below shows the river from the side with the fading grasses and young trees. This is a crossing but a dangerous one on a day like this and you can see the exit point in the left middle of the photo. Once across the bridge – to the right of the photo – you can walk behind the trees on the far bank and follow the river on an often muddy track all the way to Preston Mill (good photos). The water is calm to the left and then hits some rocks to form a rushing, white-water gallop, before settling down again as it goes under the bridge.

Looking from the bridge – photo below – at this time of year, you see the river below through the berried branches of the hawthorn tree. To the left of the river, there are fields where the spring wheat is just emerging and bringing a new, startlingly bright green and signs of new growth in this season of decay. John Clare delighted in this time of year in his poem Autumn – “I love the fitfull gusts that shakes/ The casement all the day/ And from the mossy elm tree takes/ The faded leaf away/ Twirling it by the window-pane/ With thousand others down the lane”. No gusts on this day but there are times when a gale blows and you have to hang on to the side of the bridge to keep upright.

River Tyne and autumnal berries

I took this video of the river, so look and listen and enjoy the energetic but peaceful sound the water – no commentary needed.

One of the late blooming bushes to be seen up the country lane from the bridge is the holly. The photo below shows the prolific amount of berries on this bush, which forms part of the hedgerow at the side of the fields to your left and right as you walk up the lane to the road leading to East Linton (good photos) to your left and Tyninghame (good photos) to your right. The holly is usually associated with winter but autumn brings vibrant displays like this, but only on some bushes. Further down the lane there is a large holly bush, but it remains a thorny green, deprived of solid red berries. So, if you look around on your autumnal walk, you see the last of the leaves falling and dying – but later feeding the ground as they rot, but also the recent growth in the fields and on the holly bush. It may be colder now but, in some ways, autumn is the season of colour, perhaps in a more subtle manner than the gaudy summer, but no less beautiful.

Holly bush near the Knowes Farm

Villefranche Sur Mer and Nice marina

October 26, 2022

Many years ago, my wife and I had a holiday in Beaulieu Sur Mer (good photos) and I remembered swimming in the warm sea there. On our recent trip to Nice, my pal Roger and I went to Villefranche Sur Mer (good photos) which is the second stop on the train from Nice, while Beaulieu Sur Mer is the next stop. This is a beautiful and charming little town, built mainly on the hills surrounding the beach and the sea. One of the great pleasures of visiting the seaside towns of Provence is being able to walk straight into the sea, with no shock to your feet, your legs and the rest of your body which you experience if swimming in most of the UK. I have a memory of swimming in Cornwall with the water much less vengefully cold there, but still nothing like the welcoming, pleasant temperature of the Mediterranean. The photo below shows the beach at Villefranche and the calm, pleasurably blue sea, with its slight ripple and what Philip Larkin called “the small hushed waves repeated fresh collapse” in his great poem To the Sea.

The beach and sea at Villefranche Sur Mer

I took this video on the promenade, just along from the beach and you can briefly see the beaches to the left at the beginning of the video.

The town of Villefranche Sur Mer sits on steep hills around the bay. You can walk up from the railway station, through narrow streets with shops and cafés, up to The Citadel (good photos), a huge 16th century fortification built to protect the townspeople from raiders arriving by sea. The Citadel was “purchased by the commune in 1981” and houses the Town Hall and four museums (good photos of museum rooms). Unfortunately, on our visit, all the museums were closed for renovations and remain so. This was a major disappointment. You enter and exit the Citadel via a drawbridge. The photo below shows the chains of the drawbridge and note the solid walls, the thick wooden beams above the entrance/exit and the solid iron door. Also, you can see the wonderful view across the town from this point. The Citadel was built in the mid 1560s as a result of a Turkish attack in 1543, with 110 galleys headed by the pirate Barbarossa.

I took this video on the way up to the Citadel and it gives a good view of the town across the bay from the Citadel side. Note the train approaching the station, on its way back to Nice. If you are ever in this area, a visit to Villefranche Sur Mer is a must.

One of the proposed visits on our trip to Nice, in addition to going to the football to see Nice play Angers on the Sunday, was to visit the very impressive Museé Matisse (virtual tour in French). Unfortunately, when we got there, the museum was closed for 3 months from that day i.e. I had not checked the website before going. I was telling an Irish tourist in a café later about this and he said “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – perhaps a cliché but a new one to me, and certainly a truism. There are terrific views of the city from the museum and also, next to it is the Cimiez Monastery which is well worth a visit. The photo below shows the inside of the monastery’s church and note the wonderfully preserved frescos on the ceiling – enlarge photo for best effect.

Cimiez Monastery in NIce

A walk around Nice marina (good video) is a pleasant way to enjoy a quieter part of the city. The range of yachts and motor cruisers – of various sizes – on view is impressive. There has been a vast amount of money spent on these pleasure boats and it makes you wonder how often they are used. Are they investments for rich people perhaps, rather than boats on which people regularly pursue leisure activities like sea fishing? On our visit, during the week, there was very few people about, apart from what looked like the crew on board the large cruiser you can see in the photo below. I am sure that many of the yachts on view here are an impressive sight with their sails up, out on the nearby ocean, but none were on view on our visit.

Nice marina

There are two very different, but equally interesting pieces of public art at the marina. The first is Lou Che by the contemporary sculptor Noël Dolla. The photo below shows this elegant and graceful sculpture which sits at the head of the marina, near the tram terminus. It represents three boats sailing on the waves and it is only when you look closely at the shapes (seen clearly in the enlarged photo), that you see the outlines of the three boats and you can feel the motion of the waves on these fragile looking structures as they make their perhaps perilous journeys across the sea.

Lou Che by Noël Dolla at NiceMarina

At the other end of the marina, going up the hill, you come across Un Dimanche A Nice (A Sunday in Nice) by the sculptor Stéphane Cipre (examples of his work). The photo below shows this unusual example of public art, which combines design, realism and humour, with the little car and its roof rack with lilo, ring and beach umbrella. As a metaphor for a Sunday outing to to beach in Nice, it is a very cleverly thought out and constructed work, suitably placed on the hill overlooking the marina.

Un Dimanche A Nice by Stéphance Cipre

Nice is one of these cities that you can visit time and time again and never tire of its attractions, its views, its restaurants and its variety of cultural activities on offer. Put Nice on your list.

Trip to Nice: Promenade des Anglais and the Negresso Hotel

October 14, 2022

My pal Roger and I have missed our annual trip to a European city to see the sights and take in a football match for two years because of the pandemic. Sanity was restored with our recent trip to the outstanding city of Nice (good photos). One of the most iconic places in Nice which is a must for all visitors, is the Promenade des Anglais (good photos), a seven mile/11.3k stretch of walkway and road which goes from the city centre almost to the airport. The photo below shows part of the long promenade, covered for a short while at this point, and looking over to the stony beach, the light blue of the shallow water and the deeper blue of the water further out. As you take a tourist stroll along here, you are passed by more serious walkers, runners, cyclists and people on scooters – scooterers or scooterists? There is still some sunbathing on the beach and on the promenade, but much less than you would have seen maybe 30 or 40 years ago, as we are all much more conscious of the effects of the sun on our bodies.

Promenade des Anglais and Nice beach (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

There are two significant sculptures on the promenade, one which celebrates unity and one which remembers a tragedy. The first is the Neuf Lignes Obliques ( good photos) which was designed by Bernar Venel and built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of the then County of Nice into France. The photo below shows this magnificent piece of public art at night, when it is illuminated in a range of changing colours. The nine metal beams, representing the previous nine regions which eventually made up the country of France, are 30 metres long and converge at the top to symbolise the unity of the nation. It is a superb sight and you cannot but be impressed by the imagination of the sculpture, the sheers size of the work and the grace and elegance of the upwardly stretching beams, which take your eye into the sky at all times of day.

Neuf Lignes Obliques in Nice

The second sculpture is L’Angle de la Baie (good photos) by Jean-Marie Fondacaro and it was constructed to remember the victims of a terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais on 1th July 2016, when 86 people were killed. The photo below shows this beautiful art work, with the top designed to be a male angel, head bowed in sorrow. The site above notes “The lower part represents a wave, on which is engraved a heart, in which are the names of the 86 victims of the attack”. I did not know what the sculpture represented and was just admiring the smooth, elegant lines and apparent movement of the top half, when I read the plate below, telling me what it represents. The sculptor stated that “I worked the aluminium so that the work is luminous, it will not be polished everywhere, there will be nuances. It will be in full light, facing the sea. It will reflect the blue”. It is worth just standing for a while, to admire the sculpture and reflect on its deadly origins.

L’Angle de Baie in Nice

M y wife and I have been to Nice before on our own and with our extended family and have walked past the very impressive Hotel Negresco (history and photos) a number of times without venturing in. This is an exclusive hotel in more than one sense i.e. it is very expensive and there is a large notice outside telling tourists that they must NOT enter the building unless they are going to eat, drink or stay in the hotel. We decided to go in for a late afternoon glass of red wine. A very small glass of red wine cost us 19 euros each, but you are in one of the most opulent bars that you are likely to experience. The photo below shows just a part of this opulence. The portrait is “One of the three state-portraits of Louis XIV, by Hyancinthe Rigaud (the two others are at the Louvre and Versailles)” according to the hotel website here. The small bar is at the right hand side and from this emerged an eager but friendly barman, offering us a range of comfortable armchairs. There is an expression “how the other half live” but this felt more like “how the top 10% live”. For example, if you wish to stay in the Sea View Suite, the average cost is 3,500 euros per night.

Inside the bar of the Hotel Negresco

As customers, we were allowed to go beyond the bar and see the extraordinary interior of the hotel. The first photo below shows part of the huge rotunda beyond the entrance of the hotel. This site states that “Hanging from the high dome is a splendid chandelier composed of 16,800 separate pieces of Baccarat crystal initially commissioned by Czar Nicholas II, but which remained undelivered due to the October revolution. Its twin is housed in the Kremlin”. The chandelier is an amazing tribute to the designer and the crafts people who made this gloriously decadent piece of art/decoration. The second photo shows part of the modern art on display inside and on the walkway around the rotunda. These model cars are probably worth a fortune each and they sit on this gorgeous Japanese-style carpet with its vivacious patterns and colours – enlarge the photo for best effect.

Part of the rotunda of the Hotel Negresco in Nice
Model cars on the rotunda carpet in the Hotel Negresco in Nice

The modern sculptures in the passage next to the rotunda are an eclectic mix of shapes, materials and sizes. On which caught my eye (photo below) is Jeanne de Loulou by the French sculptor Franck Tassi (public sculpture photo). This is an intriguing, if rather bizarre model of what looks like a robotic dancer, made up of metal parts of a stripped down machine. Perhaps Tassi is suggesting that such creations might be made by other robots which have come across old metal structures left behind by humans, whom the robots have replaced? There is certainly a suggestion of movement here, perhaps of a figure skater and you can imagine the skater smoothly gliding across the ice BUT look at the feet. The dancer/ skater is wearing Nike trainers, suggesting that Tassi is, in fact, teasing us. I liked this piece especially its humorous aspect. The shadows behind the sculpture add to the drama of the movement.

Jeanne de LouLou by Franck Tassi in Hotel Negresco

From the ultra-modern to the more traditional, this magnificent silver serving trolley/stand (photo below) is one of the Christofle (good photos) creations. It looked as if was silver plated but may have been part of the Gallia collection (good photos) which was “Created at the turn of the 20th century, at the time of the famous 1900 Paris Exposition, and the Gallia collection takes its name from a tin alloy of enormous importance in its time”. The writing below the opening mechanism reads Christofle Orfevre and on the enormous lid, so you can see the intertwined NH indicating the Hotel Negresco.

Food server in the Hotel Negresco

On the Promenade des Anglais, you can sit and watch the world go by on a bench overlooking the sea. In the Hotel Negresco, you step into a different world altogether, and each has their own fascinations.

Visit to Bologna: Piazza San Maggiore, Basilica San Petronio and the public library

October 4, 2022

The centre of Bologna is dominated by the magnificent Piazza San Maggiore (good photos) with its magnificent buildings. The photo below shows the clock tower in the piazza and it is part of the Palazzo D’Accursio which was formerly the seat of political power in Bologna and today holds some of the city’s art collections, as well as its library. The clock itself stands just below the cupola above and the tower is symmetrical in design. At the foot of the building, you can walk through Bologna’s famous porticos. On the bus tour of the city (recommended) the guide told us that at one time, all new buildings in Bologna were required to have such covered walkways as part of their design. As you walk around the city, particularly in the university area, there are many fine examples of porticos.

Clock tower of the Palazzo D’Accursio in Bologna (click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Just around the corner from the clock tower, you come across the equally striking Fountain of Neptune (photo below). This remarkable piece of sculpture was erected in the 1560s and is still wonderfully preserved. Although the statue and fountain were built in honour the the pope at the time, with Neptune representing the all powerful pope, the site above notes that it was not all religious “To begin with, it represents a pagan god, Neptune. Once it was unveiled, Neptune, so muscular and manly, was considered too sexy. And how about those four sensual sea nymphs squeezing water out of their breasts?”. I am sure that there can be many different interpretations of the sculpture. As you walk around the four sides of the fountain, you begin to notice a range of figures, including dolphins.

Fountain of Neptune in Bologna

I took this video of the Piazza san Maggiore and it shows how impressive a place it is.

Also in the piazza is Bologna’s largest church, although it is not recognised as the city’s cathedral, the Basilica San Petronio (good photos). The church is a huge building with an equally spacious interior. The ceilings are particularly impressive and the photo below shows one of the domed structures which you look up to in the church. The enlarged photo shows of the intricate nature of the design of this part of the church. It appears to be a series of concentric circles taking your eye up to the smaller dome at the top. The church goes back to the 14th century and major work was done in the 1530s.

Domed ceiling inside Basilica San Petronio

The video below shows the interior of the basilica and its superb architecture and stonework.

One of the buildings that I most enjoyed visiting in Bologna was the city’s public library, known as the Biblioteca Salaborsa. I began my professional career as a librarian before going into university teaching in the UK and Australia, so libraries are of great interest, and this one particularly impressed me. The photo below shows the main interior of the building, although there are library rooms surrounding this part. When you walk in, you are aware of the vast space and the three levels of the library. It is beautifully constructed, with its pillars and of course, its very impressive symmetrical ceiling. This is very busy library, not just with the many tourists who come to admire, but also the locals using the library as a cultural, literary and information resource.

Inside Bologna’s public library

This aspect of the library as a local resource can be seen in the photo below which shows the reference section of the library, where locals and tourists are perusing a wide range of newspapers bought by the library. He we also see another part of the ceiling, with its clever combination of the skylights and decorative panels. This makes the room a very pleasant place to study or to browse.

Reference area in the Biblioteca Salaborsa

The library building stands on the ruins of Roman buildings and some foundations which go back even further than that. As you walk across the main floor, there are glass panels through which you can look down and clearly see the ancient walls and pillar stumps. On this site, you can see some excellent examples of what can be seen by visitors as they go beneath the library floor. The photo below (from the site) clearly shows that this was the base of a substantial building in Roman times. You can see the combination of rough stone at the bottom of the walls and the dressed stone above.

Roman ruins beneath Bologna’s public library

I would highly recommend a visit to Bologna, perhaps for three days at most. There is much I have not covered here, including some excellent restaurants for lunch and dinner.

The Roman mosaics in Ravenna and the Biblioteca dell’ Archiginnasio in Bologna

September 26, 2022

While on holiday, we went by train to the beautiful town of Ravenna (good photos) by train. Ravenna is famous for its mosaics and there are several sites to see e.g. the Basilica San Vitale (good photos and video). We only had a short time in the town, so went to the famous Domus of the Stone Carpets (good photos), the original name being Domus de Tappeti Pietra. These mosaics date back to the Byzantine era in the 5th and 6th century and inside the building are a stunning series of rooms with mosaic floors. The site was discovered only in 1993-94 and “What stood out among the different archaeological stratigraphies was a 700-sqm complex (the so-called “Byzantine palace”) made up of 14 rooms and 2 courtyards”. I had to look up stratigraphy and it means ” a branch of geology concerned with the study of rock layers (strata) and layering (stratification”. Some of the mosaics found dated back to Roman times and some from the 3rd and 4th century BCE. The photo below shows one of the large floors which you can see on the walkway round the site. There is a superb range of patterns here and it is constructed in a symmetrical way around the centrepiece. Given that each mosaic stone is the size of your thumbnail, the work which was put in to construct this magnificent piece of art would have been laborious and must have taken the workmen – and it would have been workmen in these times – many days or weeks to complete. As you look at the floor, your eye diverts from one shape and pattern to another as you look at the twists and turns in front of you. This was a room in a house of a very rich family who could afford to construct this geometric wonder. They may also have had slaves to do the work.

Mosaic floor in Ravenna (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

There are two outstanding floors which depict humans and animals and both can be seen in this video. The first is the Dance of the Geniuses of the Seasons and the first photo below shows the floor setting of this mosaic picture. The dancers represent the four geniuses – artistic, musical, literary and scientific – and it is believed that each of us falls into one or more genius. In this case the geniuses represent the four seasons of the year and they are dancing to the figure of Pan, who is playing his pipes. The floor decoration in itself is very intricate but the addition of the central figures is a marvellous sight, at which you stare in amazement. The second photo below shows a closer view of the central panel. When you look at the detail of the dancers’ clothes and the way they seem to be in motion as they circle in the dance, you can almost hear the music and visualise this ancient dance. In Italian, the panel is the Danza delle Stagioni.

Dance of the Geniuses of the Seasons in Ravenna
Dance of the Geniuses of the Seasons in Ravenna

The second panel, which is displayed on a wall, is the Buon Pastore (good shepherd) and the photo below shows another eye-catching artwork. The information at the site stated that this depiction of the good shepherd is unlike any of the early christian paintings of the same figure. There is much to see in the mosaic artwork, starting at the top with the two peacocks which ” were at the top of the branches of the plants, intimated a sort of halo” suggesting that this might be a saintly representation. To the shepherd’s left, we again see the Pan pipes which hark back to Greek mythology and the shepherd is tending the animals. If this was a painting it might not be so admired, but the fact that it is made up of thousands of mosaic pieces makes you stare in wonder at it. The interlinking pattern at the edge of the main section reminded me of some of the Aboriginal art to be seen in Australia.

Buon Pastore mosaic in Ravenna

This was a great experience and it would certainly be worth visiting again if we were in that region. There is much more to see in Ravenna, in addition to the mosaic sites, so a return visit is likely some time in the future.

Back in Bologna, home to the University of Bologna (good photos), the oldest in the western world and founded as The Studium of Bologna in 1088, we visited a part of the old university, the Biblioteca dell’ Archiginnasio (good photos). There are two main areas which you can visit in this very old library. The first is the Teatro Anatomica (good photos) which was a lecture room – first photo below, from the the site highlighted – for teaching anatomy to students in the 17th century. The walls are made of fir wood and the statues around the walls are of famous doctors in Bologna at the time. It is a beautiful room, with its impressive panelling and ornate chandeliers. The statues and chandeliers may have proved distracting to the anatomy students unless the lecturer was holding their attention. The second photo is mine and shows the lecturer’s chair, “which overlooks that of the demonstrator, is flanked by two statues called “Spellati”, sculpted in 1734 to a design by Ercole Lelli, which were used to visualize the human body, like an open book”. I have never given a lecture or conference presentation in such glamorous surroundings, but I would enjoy doing so.

Teatro Anatomica in Bologna
Lecturer’s stand in the Teatro Anatomica

The second room on display to visitors is the Stabat Mater lecture room/library/concert hall. This is a highly decorated – some might think it is overly ornate – room, as you will see in the video below. There are many plaques dedicated by students to their eminent professors. The photo below shows one such plaque, to Giovanni Bonfioli, a law lecturer, and the inscription states that the teacher should “enlighten the most hidden sides of the laws through the light of wit, of the doctrine and through the splendour of the cultured word”. Signore Bonfoli is a man who had a similar approach to teaching as I did.

Plaque to Giovanni Bonfioli

You get a glimpse into the one of the rooms of the library itself – photo below – and again we see the high decoration and more plaques to lecturers and professors. The books are mainly behind glass and it is very unlikely that the students would have been allowed to browse shelves as we do now, but would instead have to order books from one of the many librarians.

Looking into the library rooms in the Biblioteca Archiginnasio

I took this video of the Stabat Mater hall – named after a performance of Rossini’s work of the same name – and what a privilege it would be to give a lecture/talk in this fabulous room.

Pease Bay walk and Grahame Green’s Brighton Rock

September 5, 2022

It is well over two years since we last visited Pease Bay (good photos) which is 9 miles along the coast going south from Dunbar. As it was very busy Sunday afternoon, we had to park on the hill overlooking the holiday park. We walked along the wide stretch of beach in front of the array of mobile homes. The tide was far out and there were a couple of hopeful surfers near the shore, but that day the sea was flat calm. This is a very popular surfing area and you can see from these photos that when the surf is high, the surfers, body boarders and canoeists flock to this spot. This photo shows the beach we walked along when the tide is in. When the tide is out, you can walk past the rocks on to another big beach – a USA visitor we took here many years ago said we could be in California – which ends with the layered cliff in the photo below. As you cast your eye across the cliff face, you see the very attractive sandstone rock shining in pink. Many of the houses in Dunbar, including our previous house, which you can see with the red door on this Google street map , were built with this type of sandstone which was sources from local quarries.

Cliff at Pease Bay (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Walking back to the first beach, I could see that, since we last visited, there had been some coastal erosion – see photo below. In some ways, this is what might be seen as a superb piece of natural sculpture, with the huge rocks seemingly carved out of the hillside and placed in a structured group to provide a visual delight to the eye. These massive boulders look as if they might have been hewn out of the rockface to provide solid material to build a castle or even a pyramid. The truth of course is less attractive, in that climate change is producing more extreme weather e.g. Storm Arwen (video) last November, and rising seas and stronger winds leave coasts such as that at Pease Bay exposed and vulnerable. There has been coastal erosion for millennia but the rate of erosion has increased rapidly in recent years. The rocks remain, even in their fallen state, very attractive to look at, with their multiplicity of patterns and subtle shades of yellow and grey.

Coastal erosion at Pease Bay

Just around the corner from these rocks, you come to a small cave with the most stunning and colourful strata that you will find anywhere. The photo below – enlarge for best effect – shows this graceful and elegant display of colours, lines and streaks of what look like daubs of paint. I am always reminded of Aboriginal paintings when I see these rocks and I feel that a native artist from outback Australia could add dots and curves to these rocks and produce an incredible work of art, like the one here by Clementine Ecila. On a more prosaic note, the bottom half resembles a slice of layered cake, with a strawberry filling. The more you look at this picture, the more patterns you see.

Strata at Pease Bay

Adjoining the above strata, was another piece of natural art, this time resembling a surrealist painting more than anything else. The rock looks less formally stratified and green algae/seaweed has started to form on the curved rock, with a plethora of shapes e.g. the long dinosaur-looking head and body near the centre of the photo. The white surrounding the pink shapes highlight this seemingly random array of mythical creatures depicted here, not by a human but by the effects of sea and wind. In the bottom half of the picture, you can see what looked like to me an elongated shark, showing off off its vicious, flesh tearing teeth to foe and prey alike. This petrified creature is lying on the sand and I felt that it would well swim away when the tide came in and covered the pock-marked sand. The cliché about nature being wonderful certainly applies here.

Fascinating rocks at Pease Bay

I picked up a copy of Grahame Greene‘s novel Brighton Rock (review) in a second hand bookshop, neatly called The Reading Room, in Haddington, the next town west of Dunbar. The book was published in 1938 and there are certain passages which would not be seen as acceptable today but were not subject to the editor’s red pen in the pre-WW2 era. It has a dramatic beginning “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”, so we are set for a crime novel but this book is much more than a plot, which does contain murders, as we are introduced to a range of characters, firstly from Brighton’s gang world and then a woman who is determined, sometimes comically, to find out who murdered Hale, and why they did it. Greene’s main character is Pinkie, a 17 year old who has taken over one of Brighton’s minor gangs but has high ambitions for himself. Greene does not say so explicitly but the reader immediately feels that The Boy – as he is called early in the novel – is out of his depth.

The book often refers to the Catholic faith and Pinkie is ridden with guilt about his crime and also fears having his first sexual experience. Pinkie’s angst is contrasted with the devil-may-care attitude of Ida Arnold, the last person Hale was with, who doggedly follows leads in the case, while enjoying drinks in the local pubs. There is a dramatic ending but not overly dramatic as Greene builds up tension with Pinkie and Rose, whom he has married so she cannot testify against him, driving into the countryside with a gun in the car. This is a very tense novel but one which will keep you by turns intrigued and amused. Greene is a master storyteller and I urge you to read this book.

Grahame Green’s intriguing book