Archive for the ‘museums’ Category

Brodies Restaurant and Devil’s Porridge Museum

July 27, 2017

We stayed overnight in the border town of Moffat (good photos) after our visit to Dumfries (see below). It’s a very pleasant town with many tourists visiting, often on bus tours. There are good walks around Moffat and, as this guide shows, the walk can be easy or difficult, depending on your mood and/or fitness. We stayed at the excellent Hartfell Guest House  and this proved to be extremely good value for money. We had a large room with superb views, the staff were friendly and helpful and the breakfast offered a range of options in a lovely bay-windowed, high ceilinged room. There is a restaurant attached to the guest house – the Limetree – and this had been highly recommended to us. It was closed on the night we were there.

This turned out to be an opportunity to try another highly-rated restaurant in Moffat and we found that it deserves its reputation. Brodies Restaurant was a real treat and lived up to its award winning status. We booked for dinner. When you arrive in Brodies, you are shown into a large lounge bar – called the gin lounge, with comfortable armchairs. They have an impressive list of gins on offer. They have a menu from which there is plenty to choose and vegetarians are well catered for. We opted to share the “Smoked Mackerel – saffron parisienne potatoes, lemon sorrel, confit of lemon, horseradish shoots, crème fraiche”, which was light and very tasty. For the main course, my wife had “Medallions of Chicken – wild garlic & spinach mousse, wild garlic mushroom en croute, charred carrot”, which was elegantly presented and delicious. My choice was “Local Hill Bred Hogget – tasting plate of Annanwater hogget, wilted greens”. As the photo below, kindly sent to me by Russell from Brodies, the presentation was also impressive. “Hogget” was a new word to me, although I guessed that it was sheep related e.g. little hog? Hogget is a lamb that is more than one years old and according to this article, is very good for you. The helpful waiter told me that it was the tender neck of the hogget, plus a small hogget pie. It was certainly tender and the pie had a light pastry which was filled with meat. The accompanying gravy boat provided the perfect finishing touch to this superb dish.

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Hogget dish at Brodies of Moffat (Click to enlarge)

 

We also shared a pudding aka a dessert. From an intriguingly mouth-watering choice, we opted for “Rhubarb & Custard Tart – almond frangipane, crème fraiche”. It was not only good to look at – see photo below – but was a great combination of the above flavours, plus firm but very tasty strawberries on top. The service was attentive and unrushed and there was a good atmosphere in the restaurant i.e. you could tell that this was a roomful of people appreciating and enjoying high quality food. If you are ever in this part of the world, try this restaurant.

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Rhubarb and custard tart in Brodies of Moffat

Our visit to  Dumfries (good photos) to see my sister and brother in law was supposed to take us back to the bonnie town of Kirkcudbright (pr Kir – coo – brae) (good photos). We arrived in sunshine on the Friday but Saturday was dreich, so we were taken to see the Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs. This was a fascinating visit to a museum dedicated mainly to the massive factory – the buildings covered 9 miles from start to finish and had 125 miles of railway within the site. The factory was built during the First World War due to a shortage of munitions and employed 30,000 people, mainly women. Its function was to make cordite for bullets and shells. The finished cordite was sent to munitions factories in strands of various thicknesses. The name of the factory is attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle who, when visiting the factory, noted that the paste produced by combining gun-cotton and nitro-glycerine was “the devil’s porridge” as it was so potentially lethal.

The story becomes more remarkable when you see the photos of the women working in the factory and the almost complete absence of health and safety. The photo below shows the women mixing the gun-cotton and nitro-glycerine by hand. There are no masks or protective clothing here, so it was very dangerous work. The museum tends to underplay this aspect of the story, concentrating on the heroic war work done by the women, who were employed in the absence of men, most of whom had been called up.

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Women workers at the Devil’s Porridge factory in WW1

In the next photo, there is some protection for the young woman but, considering that she was working with nitro-glycerine, there is not much. While the guide at the museum told us that the women could make much money from working with these chemicals, as higher wages came with higher risks, there did not seem to be any indication of the long term implications for the women’s health. This aspect is covered more realistically in an excellent article by Bob Holman.

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Young woman working in cordite factory in WW1

The story of the factory also alluded to the nationalisation of the pubs in the area and as far as Carlisle, due to the employment (and drinking habits) of 10,000 men from Ireland who built the factory complex in a remarkably short time. The 2 townships of Gretna ( a separate town from Gretna Green, famous as a marriage centre) and Eastriggs were built to house some of the workers, and some of the original buildings are still visible today. This is a little known museum but well worth a visit.

Dirleton Castle and gardens

July 21, 2017

The attractive village of Dirleton (pr Dirril – ton) lies 15 miles (25K) along the coast from Dunbar. I’ve featured the village on the blog before – here. We’ve been to Dirleton many times and I’ve cycled through village but we had never been to the magnificent castle and exquisite gardens before. The castle and gardens are now owned and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. After you pay at the entrance, immediately on your left is a stone gazebo (1st photo), which houses a small museum and from which you get a very good view (2nd photo) of the gardens which stretch out around an extensive lawn.

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Gazebo at Dirleton Castle (Click to enlarge)

 

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Dirleton Castle gardens

There are hundreds of different plants in the gardens and there was a brilliant range of colour in the shrubs on the day we visited. Many of the shrubs had flowers which contrasted well with the green leaves, such as this feathery specimen, whose name I didn’t know, but should have noted as there are many signs in the garden denoting the plants. Our good friend Sandra enlightened me as to the name- Astilbe.

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Flowering Astilbe at Dirleton Castle Gardens

I also took some close up photos, firstly of a thistle, and with its purple, pineapple-like, studded  head and dancing arms, it has a look-at-me appearance to attract the bees.

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Thistle in Dirleton Castle Gardens

I managed to capture a close-up of a bee on a thistle, in the photo below. This bee, with its gossamer wings and delicate colours on its hairy body, must have stopped for a second to allow me to capture it so well. I was going to crop more of the background but I like the surreal look of the flower head, as if parts of it are trying to fly off or are whirling like a dervish.

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Bee on a flower in Dirleton Castle gardens

You can walk around the gardens many times and always see something different – a newly seen peachy rose or a startlingly purple poppy, of which there are many varieties in the garden, such as the one below. I noticed this on the way back from the castle and was struck by its dark purple interior, the yellow starfish centre and the curving pale purple of the petals, parts of which were white in the sunlight. The gardens are strikingly beautiful collectively and individually and form a wonderful start to the visit.

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Purple poppy at Dirleton Castle gardens

The castle itself is only partly visible from the village green but once you turn the corner at the end of the gardens, it looms into view above you. As a show of strength and power, and architectural skill, the castle cannot but impress. What first strikes you is the thickness of the walls, designed to keep out the enemy and keep in the heat. As the photo shows, the walls were about 6ft in width and, given that some were built in the 1200s, they are still in remarkably good condition. Working on castle walls in those days was often a perilous occupation, with little thought to health and safety.

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Stone walls at Dirleton Castle

For the aristocratic families which owned the castle over the centuries, the de Vaux, the Halyburtons, the Ruthvens and the Nisbets, this was mainly a place of refuge where they could rule the lands around them and impress their guests with the huge dining hall aka the Great Hall. The 1st photo below is of one of the guide boards at the castle shows an impression of the hall with its high, ornately beamed ceiling. The 2nd  photo shows the remains of the hall as seen today. When you stand in the hall, you get an idea of just how big this space was and how many people might be entertained. Less fortunate were those who worked as servants in the castle, with the searing heats of the kitchens below and the cold, cramped accommodation in winter.

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Great Hall at Dirleton Castle

 

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The Great Hall at Dirleton Castle

There is much to see in this well preserved castle and there are many informative guides in the different rooms. The final photo shows the castle from the newly formed gardens which border the castle. The trees in the foreground are well established and you can see their height by the man captured in the far right corner. The castle imposes itself on the landscape above, another show-off, just like the thistle above. For another blogging cyclist’s view and photos of the castle and gardens, see here.

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Dirleton Castle from the west

Ditchling Beacon and Ditchling village

January 25, 2017

During our trip to London, we ventured south from Thames Ditton, where our rellies stay, to the village of Ditchling, an hour’s drive away. Before going into the village, we headed up the steep hill, passing a few cyclists straining hard, to Ditchling Beacon (good photos). This historical site – a hill fort was found by archaeologists – has 360 degrees views across Sussex. On the day we visited, we could see the sea behind Brighton to the south but we couldn’t see the coast of France. The Beacon is on the South Downs and you can see for miles across the rolling countryside. The Downs are made mainly of chalk and it was a new experience for us to walk on the creamy coloured clay. It had been snowing the previous day and there were quite large – but headless – snowmen to be seen next the icy path. The bitterly cold wind ensured that we didn’t stay long as, unlike the groups of walkers we saw, we were not dressed for the conditions. The photos show part of the Beacon and the snow still lying there.

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Ditchling Beacon paths

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Snow on Ditchling Beacon

The village of Ditchling has a long history and there are some very attractive Tudor-style houses in the main street. Our first stop was to the jewellers  Pruden and Smith where my sister in law wanted to buy a necklace. I wouldn’t normally stop for long in a “goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers” but we were given a short tour of the workshop below the main shop. What you find here is a small space which features a few work desks,  but also on display are the tools of the craftsmen and craftswomen who make the jewellery. The first photo shows a dazzling range of tools and it’s interesting to reflect that these tools, some of which are quite powerful, are instrumental in producing such delicate jewellery (see shop website for examples), along with the combination of the well-honed skills and artistic talents of those making the jewellery.

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Silversmiths’ tools in Ditchling

The second photo shows some of the older equipment used to roll out the silver and gold into which a variety of precious stones would be inserted. There was also an admirable display of jewellery on display in the cabinets. So an interesting visit to the shop and an excellent insight into the extensive and delicate work that goes into producing the rings, necklaces and bracelets.

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Rolling and printing equipment in the Pruden and Smith workshop in Ditchling

Our next stop was Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft which featured work by Eric Gill, whom I knew as a famous typographer from the 1920s and 1930s. Some of Gill’s typography is on display and I’d like to have seem more. I learned that Gill was also an accomplished sculpture and one of his works, with its beautiful flowing lines and delicate depiction of the woman’s face, is shown below.

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Eric Gill sculpture in Ditchling Museum

Also on display were examples from the Kelmscott Press founded by William Morris. There was an example of an old press, along with typefaces on display and you could see how intricate a task it was to put in letters individually – and upside down – to make a page of a book or newspaper.

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Printing press at Ditchling Museum

We had an excellent lunch at The Bull pub in the village. The pub has some very good examples of local beer from its own Bedlam Brewery. The food was impressive and I had a very tasty venison pie with chestnut mash and broccoli. It rained on and off on our stay in Ditchling but we managed a walk around this very attractive village, which is well worth a visit.

V&A exhibition and TS Eliot Prize readings

January 19, 2017

A delay in the blog this week as we were in London for a few days. We both went to the outstanding Victoria and Albert Museum to see the exhibition entitled You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 . This is a fascinating exhibition, particularly for people who remember the 1960s and the bands such as The Beatles, The Animals and The Who, amongst many others. When you go into the exhibition, there is a free audio provided. This is not your usual audio guide to exhibits, but is a soundtrack  (list of songs here)of the music of the middle and late 1960s. Some people found this distracting e.g. looking at John  Lennon’s written lyrics to Help while the soundtrack is playing Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. The exhibition covers the 1960s revolutions in music, protest, fashion and consumption. It has a vast number of exhibits, perhaps too many to take in during one visit, including photographs, letters, TV coverage, film, clothes and consumer items. It is a very stimulating exhibition, taking in the trivialities of some pop music to the horrors of the Vietnam war and civil rights violence. The V&A of course is always a pleasure to visit, with its numerous rooms and hallways full of statues. Even if you only visit the ornately decorated tea room (good photos), with the William Morris room adjacent to it, you are assured a superb aesthetic experience. No photos were allowed in the exhibition but I took one on my mobile phone’s (not very good) camera of the entrance.

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The Beatles’ at the entrance to the V&A

My treat on Sunday evening was to go to the Royal Festival Hall for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize readings. The competition for the best collection is worth £20,000 to the winner. One of the best things about this event is that, while the 10 poets read from their collections, the winner is not announced until later – no annoying Masterchef  pauses here. The readings were compered by the irrepressible Ian McMillan whose amusing but very perceptive introductions to each poet added much to the occasion. In one introduction, he referred to his Uncle Harry who had “sticky-out false teeth  – like a pub piano”. He also summed up the quality of the evening by pointing out that despite the vast hall and the hundreds of people in the audience, when each poet spoke, it was like being in a small room with only a few people. Two of the poets, J O Morgan and Alice Oswald (the favourite to win) recited their poems from memory and made a substantial impact on the audience. The winner, announced on Monday, was Jacob Polley’s collection Jackself which the judges called “a firecracker of a book” in which the main character can change into different shapes and things. I intend to buy this book, so more on this later.

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Jacob Polley’s collection entitled Jackself

 

 

Highlights of 2016

December 31, 2016

I was going to give myself a festive break from the blog but, every day in the paper there is some sort of review of 2016, so coming back from my walk today I thought I might do one as well. This is what went through my head: best photo, best meal cooked, best restaurant, best visit, best novel read, best book of poems read, best …. Not to mention major highlights such as the arrival of our new grandson Zachary Buddy in June and in the previous month, the glorious victory – the Hibees won the cup after 114 years! So I started to read the blog from the beginning of January and realised that it was going to take a long time to read all of the posts. So this is a flick through, fairly randomly and not covering all the categories mentioned above.

In January, we went down to London as I was going to the T S Eliot Prize poetry readings at The Royal Festival Hall. I’m going again in January, so more of that later. A highlight of the visit was a meal at The French Table in Surbiton. The meal was delicious and one of the dishes on offer was monkfish which was served with crispy samphire and truffle froth – photo below sent to me by staff at TFT.

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Monkfish served at The French Table (Click to enlarge)

Flowers feature often in the blog and I’m always trying to improve my close up photography in my garden and other gardens and wood lands. So here’s some examples (photos below) – snowdrops at Pitcox, tulips in my garden and the multi-coloured and delicate honeysuckle, also in my garden.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox

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Tulips in my garden

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Honeysuckle in my garden

Best picture I took this year? A hard one this as there’s such as variety of photos that I like – of favourite places like St Abbs Head or Dunbar harbour, but I’ve settled on one from my garden again, except the focus this time is not on the flower but on the bee. This is from a post entitled Summer flowers. Bees are not obedient. They move constantly and their wings beat even when they are attached to flowers. This one must have been enjoying the nectar so much that it momentarily stopped moving, allowing me to capture the bee’s complex physical structure, its vivid colours and its wing, which looks like a piece of ornate glassware you might find in an art gallery.

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Bumble bee on a hebe flower.

The best visit we did this year undoubtedly to the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From the moment you walk towards the outside of the building, you are in for a series of eyebrow raising moments and you lose count of the times you say “Wow!”. The external and internal structure of the museum represent a triumph of modern architecture, so impressive is the design and flow of the building. The two photos below can’t capture the wonder of this building but if it inspires you to visit, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

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Back of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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Front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

So that’s (part of) the old rung out and next week/year, I’ll ring in the new – more travel, more novels, more poetry, more photos – and anything else that comes in to the mind of this (at times) Bear of Little Brain – even if my favourite word is crepuscular.

 

 

 

Milan (2) and my gladioli

October 23, 2016

One of the most striking historical places to visit in Milan is the Sforza Castle. It has very impressive battlements, huge moats and you get a real sense of the builders of this castle wanting to show the strength of their power as well as their aesthetic design. There were numerous drawbridges around the castle walls and you can see the remains of them quite clearly. The castle has many museums but on our visit, we found that notice saying that the museums were open from 9am to 5.30pm meant nothing as the ticket office was closed at 1.30pm! It is still an experience to walk around the walls and the numerous courtyards in the castle.

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Drawbridge at the entrance to Sforza Castle

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Inside the walls of the Sforza Castle

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The clock tower in the Sforza Castle

The history of the castle is long and complicated, from the original castle to the marvellous extensions built by Francesco Sforza Duke of Milan, to the foreign occupation including that of Napoleon.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquest of Milan was obviously a major victory for the French emperor and there is an interesting legacy to Napoleon’s time in Milan. Far from wanting to be seen as a conqueror, Napoleon built a very impressive arch not far from Sforza Castle which portrays him as a peacemaker. The arch, set at the end of the beautiful grounds of Sempione Park, (good photos) is a stunning piece of architecture seen from a distance, and close up the detailed sculptures, smooth arches and commanding figures on the top are fascinating. It takes quite a time to see all the parts of the arch.

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Napoleon’s Arch of Peace, Milan

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The top of Napoleon’s Arch of Peace in Milan

One of Milan’s worldwide claims to being of cultural importance is of course the La Scala Theatre. The front of La Scala is, by Milan’s architectural standards, fairly plain but the inside is much more impressive. On the day of our visit, the theatre itself was closed as there was a rehearsal of the ballet Giselle (click on videos), but we could see the rehearsal through a little window, thus the lack of clarity in this photo. There is an extensive museum inside the theatre which contains many busts of composers, paintings of famous singers and musical instruments, such as Liszt’s piano, shown below. The La Scala visit was entertaining and educational and we watched a superb video of Riccardo Muti the famous conductor.

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Giselle rehearsal in La Scala, Milan

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Liszt’s piano in the La Scala Museum, Milan

Earlier this year, I came across an online offer for 150 gladioli bulbs for only £10 – it was a clearance as the bulbs should have been planted earlier if people had wanted summer gladioli. I prefer my gladioli to come out in the early to mid autumn, as they give an outstanding display of colour and texture when most of the other plants are starting to fade. Gladioli are also known as sword lilies because of their sword like structure and a flowering sword is a nice image – used to appeal to the aesthetic and not to violence. I like the variety of shapes and patterns of colour in gladioli, especially when you look close up. In this photo, the swirls of pink in the flowers are complimented by the deeper pink veins in some petals and the white of the stamen.

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Close up of gladiolus flower

I also like to photograph the gladioli after it has been raining as the raindrops appear to enhance the range of subtle colours and the more prominent stamens as in this photo. The stamens look like the tentacles of a creature reaching out from inside the flower to capture an unsuspecting passing fly.

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Gladiolus after the rain

Against the background of what was a hugely enthusiastic incoming tide, the gladioli and the fuchsia became even more attractive to the eye.

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Gladioli, fuchsia and rushing tide

 

 

 

San Sebastian: beach and museum, and Santander’s bronze figures

September 27, 2016

We spent three days in San Sebastian, the picturesque resort which is close to the French border on the Bay of Biscay. The internationally renowned San Sebastian Film Festival began while we were there – in the pouring rain. Fortunately, the previous two days were warm and sunny and we could walk along the semi-circular promenade next to the beach. This is similar to the Promenade Des Anglais in Nice and all day and well into the evening, people from a multitude of nations stroll along, looking at each other and wondering where everyone comes from. They also look at the wide sweep of beach where swimmers and surfers enjoy the breaking waves. On a sunny day, as in the photos below, the colours are contrasting – blue/turquoise sea and white waves; blue sky and white clouds.

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San Sebastian beach

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San Sebastian Beach

At  the end of the prom is a funicular railway which takes you to the top of Mount Igueldo from which you get spectacular views across the bay and far into the mountains.

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San Sebastian from Mount Igueldo

San Sebastian is famous for its food with a number of 3 star Michelin restaurants in the city such as the famous Arzak which offers a delicious tasting menu with a glass of champagne, although this will cost you about £150 per person. We thought we’d keep it for our next visit. We also went to the San Telmo Museum (good photos) which is near the sea front. This gave a fascinating insight into the history of the Basque people, in particular their agrarian background. While the first part of the museum is very modern, you walk through cloisters with beautiful ceilings (photo below) into an old church with its dramatic frescoes by Josep Maria Serp. One of the key features that you immediately see in San Sebastian (and to a lesser extent in Bilbao) is the prominent use of the Basque language. San Sebastian is the Spanish for Donostia, the Basque name for the town. All signs and menus are in Euskera, the Basque language, first and then in Spanish and then in French.

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San Telmo Museum cloister ceiling

Our last port of call was Santander where we only stayed one night but could have stayed longer. The town has a large ferry port and extensive promenade which leads to it sandy beaches (good photos). On the promenade, there are four bronze figures (good photos) of young boys, one of whom is diving into the water and it is fascinating to look at the figures from different angles.

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Los Racqueros in Santander

Like Bilbao and San Sebastian, the architecture in Santander is outstanding with many balcony strewn buildings which are kept in very good condition, as below. This was a new part of Spain for us but it comes highly recommended for many reasons.

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Santander architecture

Bilbao: Architecture, pintxos and the Guggenheim Museum

September 22, 2016

 A delayed post as we were in the north of Spain for the whole of last week. We spent the first 3 days in the very attractive city of Bilbao. This is an architecturally outstanding city with some very grand buildings in the main street, the Gran Via (good photos) and lots of narrow streets in the old town (click on photos), with tall buildings featuring some very elegant balconies as in the photos below. Bilbao is a city to explore on foot, to be a tourist and stroll down one street after another, passing the niche shops and many, many eating places. One of the gastronomic features of the Basque country is their pintxos – a Basque word for a small bite-sized snack, with a crusty bread slice for a base and a wide variety of toppings e.g. cream cheese and smoked salmon or prawn. You choose your pintxos (pr pinchos) from the range displayed on the bar and in some bars, the range was extensive. We did not find one which was not a very tasty lunchtime snack to accompany a beer, glass of wine or sangria.

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Old town Bilbao

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Balconies in Bilbao

The highlight of our visit to Bilbao – indeed of our whole trip – was a visit to the magnificent Guggenheim Museum  (good photos). The building itself is a work of art with its various shapes at the front and back and on the roof. The photo below shows the approach to the main entrance. You have to stop and take in the enormity of the building, which looks complicated at first, until your eyes go over the curves and folds.

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The front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

If you think there’s a definite Wow factor to the outside of the building, when you go inside, you will be amazed at the height of the Atrium, with its huge expanses of glass and large tiled walls, with light flooding in from a skylight 3 floors above you. The architect Frank Gehry’s design (good photos and drawings) is breath-taking. You look up to a long shapely glass curtain which you then discover is a shield for the elevator. Then to your left, you see a curved tiled block on a plinth which rises to the upper floors. The excellent free audio commentary tells you that none of the tiles are exactly the same shape. The first photo shows the glass curtain and the second shows the tiled block.

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Glass curtain in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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Curved tiled block in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The commentary then invites you to go out on to the balcony and you are greeted with a burst of colour from Jeff Koons’ Tulips. These large, stainless steel, shining “flowers” are not only visually delightful (to my eye) but they reflect the curves of the museum building itself, meaning that where they are placed is as important as what they are, as the photos show.

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Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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tall Tree and The Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Two other external sculptures are equally eye-catching. The first is Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye which consists of 73 reflective balls which rise to form a tree-like shape. When you look at this sculpture from different angles, you see the building and the surrounding area reflected in the individual balls and each ball reflects its neighbour. This mathematically designed object is both craft and art.

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Anish Kapoor’s “Tall Tree and the Eye” at the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

The second sculpture, which you see as you approach the museum from the river side, is Louise Bourgeois’ Maman. This looks like a huge spider and is dedicated to the artist’s mother who was a weaver. It’s a fascinating construction and you can walk under it and between the spider’s legs. You see the spider close up on your approach to the museum and then from the museum’s balcony. Each time you look, it seems to be slightly different. The spider is both monstrous and protective of the eggs in the middle but it is also very elegant.

The final external work of art is the monumental Puppy, also a creation of Jeff Koons. This is a huge sculpture in the shape of a puppy – I think that it looks more like a cat – with the outside covered in flowers which are bedding plants and presumably change with the seasons. It’s an amazing sight but also a very attractive one.

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Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

 

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Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

I’ll cover what exhibitions we visited in the next blog post but as you can see from the photos, the Guggenheim Museum is a unique piece of modern art and sculpture. The museum is a modern (if non-religious) cathedral and just as people hundreds of years ago were agog at the construction of the world’s many cathedrals, so the people of Bilbao must have looked on in awe as this superb edifice rose from the side of the river. It is by a country mile the most impressive museum we’ve ever been to.

Trip to Tokyo (2):National Museum of Japan and National Museum of Western Art

September 10, 2016

While in Tokyo, I had the chance to visit two of the many museums in the city. The first visit was to the splendid Tokyo National Museum. It is a beautiful building and has a very attractive entrance – a large pond with water lilies and on the day I visited, the building was reflected in the water.

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Tokyo National Museum

This is a very large museum with separate buildings for some collections, so I only got to see the collections in the main building. There is a useful YouTube video of the museum. At the start of the permanent collection, there is some early pottery on show, as well as some sacred statues which are very elegantly designed and have intricate detail.

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Early Japanese pottery

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Religious statue in Tokyo National Museum

One of the most striking artefacts in the museum is the range of 18th and 19th century kimonos. Kimonos change according to the seasons and the one below is a 19th century hitoe which was worn in June and September. The kimonos on display in the museum are very ornate and  were presumably worn by the richer women in Japan.

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19th century hitoe kimono

In the ceramics section, there are many examples of beautiful plates, many featuring flowers, as in the one shown below, also from the 19th century. The photo shows the range of colours on the plate but when you see this plate close up, the colours are far more striking and makes you appreciate the quality and precision of the artwork.

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19th century large dish with flowering plants

My next venue was the National Museum of Western Art which is also in the vast Ueno Park. The museum’s building was designed by Le Corbousier and is a stunning example of modern architecture. As with the other museum, there are many rooms to visit and you can only appreciate part of the collection in one visit. I always find that spending one hour in an art gallery is long enough if all the paintings are not to blur into each other. If you need to see more, make a return visit. As you would expect, there were many memorable paintings and pieces of sculpture but the first one  that stood out for me was Rodin’s St John the Baptist Preaching. This presents you with a tall, imposing, muscular figure with one arm outstretched. The detailed bearded face and the strong body show why Rodin’s sculptures are so widely admired, not just as craft but also as art.

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Rodin’s St John the Baptist Preaching

The second piece was a painting by the French artist Andre Bauchant entitled Canal in Alkmaar. What attracted me to this painting  was the clarity of the depiction of the canal. The photo below can’t capture the stunningly clear canal, trees and boats. This is one of these paintings that when you stand really close, you can see the myriad daubs of paint on the canvas, and it is only when you stand back that you appreciate the way the artist has captured the view and the brilliant reflections in the water.

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Andre Bauchant Canal in Alkmaar

I would highly recommend both museums to visitors to Tokyo and on a hot and very humid day in Tokyo, they were not only a haven of culture but also an escape into welcome air conditioning.

Two exhibitions – local and national

August 18, 2016

Last week, we went to two art exhibitions, one here in Dunbar and one at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

The first exhibition was Inspiring Impressionism and featured the works of very well known artists Van Gogh and Monet. However, the main focus of the exhibition was on the man who inspired Van Gogh and Monet, with a new style of painting – Charles Daubigny. I’m sure that, like many others, I had never heard of Daubigny but he was a prolific artist and one who shifted the focus of art from strictly realistic, and often internal, painting to take in landscapes, which were often painted outside, at the scene of the painting. As Daubigny progressed as an artist, his depiction of the landscapes became more impressionistic and he was called “the father of impressionism”. There are many very impressive paintings in this exhibition – see highlights –  and among my favourites was Fields in the Month of June shown below, under the Creative Commons Licence. If you click on the painting to enlarge it, you will see what is perhaps an idyllic landscape with common elements seen in may paintings, such as the women working in the fields, the donkey nearby and the geese flying overhead. However, it was Daubigny’s use of paint to portray the poppies that was unusual at the time and he was criticised for this by the more traditional art establishment.

Fields in the Month of June by Charles Daubigny

Fields in the Month of June by Charles Daubigny

Another outstanding work is Sunset on the Sea Coast in which you can see how Daubigny influenced Monet and Van Gogh. The is one of Daubigny’s most impressionist painting and the mix of colours and the contrast between the darkening land, the vivid sunset and the evening sky are beautifully done. When you stand next to this painting and look close up, it appears to be a random succession of daubs of paint, but step back and this almost volcanic looking sunset strikes you. I felt it was real privilege to see all Daubigny’s works, as well as those of Monet and Van Gogh.

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Sunset on the Sea Coast by Charles Daubigny

The  second exhibition is a set of reproductions of the paintings of artist James Howe. The exhibition was mounted by East Lothian Archaeology Service and it takes the form of digital reproductions of Howe’s paintings, which you see as actual size and with some paintings, at first, you think you might be seeing the actual painting. The exhibition and very well produced accompanying booklet are sponsored by Rathbone Investment Management Limited. James Howe was born in 1780 in the village of Skirling in the Scottish borders and he went on to become a prolific artist – like Daubigny – specialising in the painting of horses, which he loved doing. In order to make a living, he also did portraits of wealthy people in Scotland. The first painting below (permission given) shows the helter-skelter of the horse fair in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, which today is a major tourist attraction. The second painting focuses on the horses preparing to start a race at Musselburgh race course which is still going strong today. While the eye is drawn to the magnificent horses, there is action at the front and rear of the painting, with boys being chased by a soldier. This was a very interesting exhibition of the work of a Scottish painter of whom I had not heard.

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Horse Fair in the Grassmarket Edinburgh by James Howe

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Preparing for the Start by James Howe