Archive for the ‘sculpture’ Category

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.

The Bone Seeker, views of St Abbs and the Number Four gallery

December 6, 2016

I’ve just finished reading M J McGrath’s  The Bone Seeker, a crime novel set in the Canadian arctic. This is a crime novel with interesting characters, including the heroine Edie Kiglatuk, a teacher who is seconded to help the police solve the mystery of a local girl’s murder. One the key “characters” in this novel is the arctic itself as well as the local Inuit culture. McGrath introduces us to Inuit words like  qualunaat – white people and avasirnguluk – elder, to create a convincing environment for her story. The history of the exploitation of the Inuit by outsiders, such as the US and Canadian governments, is  covered but with a light touch. McGrath is a story teller and the plot is well-paced. The reader does get a real sense of how people live in this (to most of us) extreme climate. Most of the novel is set in the summer where darkness is absent and the endless light can prevent people from sleeping, but winter approaches fast near the end of the novel and the transformation of the land and sea is well portrayed. Perhaps the ending features too much action in a short space of time in this book where the story builds to a complex conclusion. This is not just a book for readers of crime novels, so get it if you can.

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The Bone Seeker by M J McGrath

Regular readers will know that my wife and I visit St Abbs Head on a regular basis and these visits have featured on this blog many times. This visit was on a very cold and frosty Sunday morning but the sky was huge and Australian blue. Leaving the car parked at the number four art gallery (of which more later), into which my wife ventured, I walked along the path which leads to another path, which leads to one of the cliff-top walks. In this photo, you can see the cliffs in the distance, with sheep in the field and before that rows of winter wheat, which are a delicious green in the winter sun.

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Looking towards the cliff-tops at St Abbs Head

I crossed the road towards the village, with a large field on my right and the disused church at the top of the hill. What I liked about the field (photo below) was the bright yellow of the grasses at the edge of the field, and the way your eyes are drawn to the lines in the field, both the narrow crop lines and the wider tractor tracks. All seem to lead to the now abandoned church on the hill. The pink-tinctured clouds are also attractive.

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Stubble field at St Abbs Head

Across the road is the imposing Northfield House, with its head of St Ebba above the gates. I’ve photographed the gates from front-on and the head in close up before, but I’ve never taken a side-on shot of the entrance. In this photo, the impressive stone entrance is shown off by the field and sky. There is a large walled garden here, part of which is in view.

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Side view of the entrance to Northfield House in St Abbs Head

I walked to the St Abbs Visitor Centre (open March-October) and looking down to the harbour, I saw a strange sight – a tractor was reversing into the harbour. On a second look, I could see that the two yellow poles behind it were part of a platform. One of the wee fishing boats reversed and sailed gently on to the tractor’s trailer.

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Tractor in St Abbs Harbour

I walked back to the car in the fading afternoon light and you could feel the cold deepening, ready to freeze anything that didn’t keep moving. We’ve been to the number four art gallery many times over the years and have bought paintings and glassware for our home and for presents. With my camera at hand (and this blog already in mind) I took some photos, with permission. The gallery is part of a very well maintaned stone built row of what presumably were farm buildings and has a very attractive entrance – photo below.

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number four gallery in St Abbs

The inside of the gallery (photos below) is bright, well laid out and encourages you to walk around to view the paintings – some superb landscapes were on view on our visit – prints, glassware, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery. See examples here.  One of the reasons many people revisit this gallery is the warm welcome given by the staff, who are very helpful, informative but unobtrusive. The original works available here are of excellent value, so pay a visit if you are in the area.

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

Dirleton Kirk and the Dunbar Creel Loaders sculpture

November 7, 2016

A recent walk in the attractive village of Dirleton which is up the coast from Dunbar, took us around the village green, past the impressive Dirleton Castle (good photos) and on to the local church yard. In Scotland, a Presbyterian church is called  a kirk which originates from the Old Norse kirkja or the Old English cirice. The word kirk was used – I assume – after the Reformation to distinguish these Protestant churches from their Catholic counterparts, called chapels. When you turn the corner to see the kirk, it is the tower that first catches your eye. On the day we visited, the RNLI flag was flying. There’s an extensive graveyard with many old headstones, some of which tell the occupations of the people buried there. As with all churchyards, the people seen to be the most important – usually the wealthiest – in the area, got the biggest headstones. There are 3 books on the headstones available.

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Dirleton Kirk (click to enlarge)

One of the most attractive features for me in the kirkyard is the presence of well coiffured yew trees (see below) whose proper name is Taxus Baccata, probably derived from the Greek for bow and the Latin for berry. The yew trees have the look of green headstones and perhaps, if you knew where to look, there might be a secret inscription inside.

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Yew trees in Dirleton Kirkyard

As you walk from the kirk back to the village green, you get a superb view of the village trees, the wide open green and the castle walls in the background. This view (photo below) was greatly enhanced on our visit by the magnificent tree with its autumn finery on display and its random scattering of leaves the ground adding to the colourful scene. We’ve had very strong NW winds this weekend in East Lothian, so it’s likely that this tree will now be fairly bare, but the elegance of its structure and branches will remain.

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Dirleton village green in the autumn

We have a new sculpture here in Dunbar. The Creel Loaders (photos below) is the work of sculptor Gardner Molloy who has done a number of public sculptures in East Lothian. This work sits at the junction of Victoria Street (on right in photo below) and Castle Gate. This is very near the harbour and the sea can be seen in the middle left.

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The Creel Loaders by Gardner Molloy

Gardner Molloy writes “My carving style is vigorous, simple and strong and I relish the use of textural tool finishes to provide contrast. I feel that neat chisel marks enhance the finished surface”. The words “vigorous, simple and strong” could be applied to the Creel Loaders on first looking at this very impressive piece of sculpture, but there is a complexity to work that emerges on closer examination. The woman’s head, which reminded me of an Egyptian goddess, is delicately carved and there is a determined (and maybe resigned) look on the woman’s face.

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The Creel Loaders – detail of the woman’s head – by Gardner Molloy

The sculpture was built to remember the harbour women of Dunbar who put a wicker creel/basket on their backs and waited while two men loaded the creel with fish – herring in particular in the early 20th century. The women then walked many miles into the countryside along the Herring Road (good photos) to sell their fish. This was backbreaking work and a perilous journey in the winter. What is often forgotten is that the women not only carried the fish as far as Lauder (33 miles/54K away) but they also often bartered their fish for fresh vegetables, which were in short supply in the poor harbour area, and carried the vegetables back home. This may account for the determined and resigned look on the woman’s face.

Of course, there is more to this sculpture than a realistic representation of an historic event. In the photo below, you can see the elegant lines, flowing curves and intricate patterns in the bodies of the people (and the cat), in the woman’s headband and in the wicker creel. There is much to admire in this superb addition to Dunbar’s public art works and repeated visits will, I’m sure, reveal even more complexity in the work.

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The Creel Loaders – side view – by Gardner Molloy

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

 

 

 

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.

Cove harbour and Co’path church

July 5, 2016

On a  recent walk down to Cove Harbour (good photos), which is 10 miles/16.2k from Dunbar, we parked near the cottages. Before you go through the gate leading down to the hidden harbour, there is a memorial devoted to the victims of a fishing disaster in 1881.  In all, 189 fishermen from ports along the Berwickshire coastline lost their lives in a fierce storm. The port of Cove was particularly hard hit, with 11 out of the village’s 21 fishermen lost at sea. The photo below is of the top of the memorial and shows the stricken women and children looking out to the vicious sea.

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Memorial to lost fishermen at Cove

You walk down a long path and through a dark tunnel to get to the little harbour which nestles behind a large sea wall. The wall is man-made but it is the natural structures of stone that are fascinating, both close up and from a distance. The next photo shows a close up of weathered sandstone. This looks like a series of sculpted rock put together for an exhibition and the difference in the colour of the rock and the intricate patterns on the rock are fascinating. If you look closely, you can see deserts, statues and cave dwellings – and much more.

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Weathered sandstone at Cove Harbour

From the harbour wall, looking south, there are two large rock formations, shown in the photo below. Behind the structures are glacier-formed slopes and you wonder what this landscape looked like millions of years ago. The structures are relatively recent in geological terms and if we could have photographs from say 200 years ago, they may look completely different. Cove was known as a haven for smugglers in the past and the structure on the right definitely has the attributes of a smuggler’s cave. The sea will of course change these structures again over the next 100 years.

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Rock formations at Cove Harbour

Just up the road from Cove is Cockburnspath (good photos). The village’s name is pronounced Co-burnspath and is locally known as Co’path. I pass the village regularly on my bike by seldom go into it. We stopped to look at the village buildings – the quaint, low-doored cottages, the Mercat Cross which is a stone edifice identifying where the thriving country market would once have stood and the church with its unusual tower. The church is an excellent example of stonework and the round tower at the top – with no cross visible – looks as if it might have been a prison if it was in another building. The stones used in the church are off different colours, shapes and textures but they are combined to produce a building of stature and strength and it will last for many centuries if maintained.

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Cockburnspath church

The graveyard has burial stones going back hundreds of years. All are weather-beaten and some to the extent that you can’t read what is written on the stones. One feature of old gravestones is that they often give a context to the person buried underneath, although this information is usually about men. Women are identified as wives and mothers whereas men can be merchants or farmers or blacksmiths. This is an idyllic setting with the surrounding countryside and the large cedar tree in the middle of the graveyard.

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Cockburnspath church graveyard

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Cockburnspath church graveyard

Co’path lies at the eastern end of the Southern Upland Way a very well-known walking route and it’s a village worth walking around for its variety of buildings and the open countryside which surrounds it.

 

Community bakery and Dunbar High Street

April 24, 2016

This week’s blog is very parochial and does not stray beyond my home town of Dunbar. I’ve mentioned our local Community Bakery before on the blog but yesterday I thought I’d go in, take a few photos and write a bit more about it. The bakery was opened a few years ago after an enthusiastic committee received a number of grants to set up a new baker’s shop. The grants were added to by local people buying a share in the bakery. The philosophy of the bakery is to be a profitable business but to reinvest profits into the bakery itself, as well as trying to give jobs to young people who are unemployed. The bakery is thus owned by the local community, as the sign shows:

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Dunbar Community Bakery sign above the entrance to the shop

The produce is of a very high standard with none of the mass-produced bread available in supermarkets. We buy the 70% wholemeal bread which is tasty and wholesome, as well as the softer, but equally tasty oats and buttermilk loaf, which goes very well with homemade soup. There’s a range of specialist cakes also, as well as rolls, ciabatta, pies and quiche. Here’s what the inside of this very friendly, efficient and welcoming bakery looks like.

 

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Cakes and loaves at Dunbar Community Bakery

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Oats and buttermilk loaves for sale in Dunbar Community Bakery

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Dunbar Community Bakery shop window

Dunbar has a long history  with the remains of a house dating back to 8300 BCE having been discovered just outside the town. It has an impressive High Street which is said to have been wide enough for a regiment of soldiers to march along. In rural Australia, many towns have wide high streets but these were built to take large flocks of sheep not soldiers. Coolamon is a very good example of this. The high street in Dunbar is dominated by the Town House which was built in the late 16th century. It has the oldest council chamber in Scotland. Part of the building was originally a jail which over the centuries was reputed to house local drunks, debtors and people accused of witchcraft. It’s an impressive sight as shown below.

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Dunbar Town House

Outside the Town House is a statue of a young John Muir, arguably Dunbar’s most famous son. John Muir was a famous conservationist who went to the USA from Dunbar when he was 14 years old. He is probably most famous as being the founder of Yosemite National Park in California. He was “discovered” in Dunbar in the 1970s and there is now a John Muir House in the town. Much has been written about Muir’s achievements. Some of this is openly hagiographical and, from this local historian’s perspective, there is a lack of critical analysis in relation to John Muir, outstanding as his achievements clearly were. The statue is shown below.

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Statue of the young John Muir in Dunbar High Street

 

Marseille – Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde and MUCEM

July 7, 2015

We spent a week on holiday based in Marseille – the French spelling has no “s” at the end. We’ve had a few trips to the south of France but mainly to Nice and its surrounding towns, such as Beaulieu Sur Mer. The city of Marseille is much bigger and more varied than Nice. It’s a city of contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the Vieux Port marina not far from poor immigrant areas. For the tourist, there are plenty of options. The centre of the city is around the Vieux Port where a the old fishing harbour has been transformed into a forest of yachts, large and small and there is a constant flow of boats taking visitors out along the coast.

Vieux Port Marseilles

Vieux Port Marseilles

Looking back across the Vieux Port from the harbour entrance

Looking back across the Vieux Port from the harbour entrance

Overlooking Marseille is the Basilica  Notre Dame de La Garde, a high ceilinged church built in the 19th century on the top of a hill which was formerly used as a fort and an observation post. We took the long route through the city walked for about an hour, finishing with a steep walk up to the basilica. The views from the top are stunning as you can see across the city and out to the islands.

 Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Islands near Marseille from  Notre Dame de la Garde

Islands near Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Whether you are of a religious persuasion or not, this is an impressive building and you wonder how 19th century workmen coped, firstly getting the building materials up to the summit and then building the huge church. The inside of the church is very ornate and in some respects reminded me of Greek and Russian Orthodox churches I’ve seen.

Inside Notre Dame de la Garde

Inside Notre Dame de la Garde

When you strain your neck and take a close look at the high ceiling, you can see the different influences at work, for example the Greek and Roman lettering around the cupola.

Ornate ceiling in Notre Dame de la Garde

Ornate ceiling in Notre Dame de la Garde

At the entrance to the harbour in Marseille, there are 2 forts. On the right hand side going out to sea is Fort Saint-Jean which was originally built in the 12th century. This area has been transformed into a walking route around the ramparts of the old fort but mainly as the location of MUCEM (good photos) which was built as part of Marseille’s year as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. So there is a contrast between the ultra modern buildings of the MUCEM, with their vibrant art exhibitions, and the mediaeval structure of the ramparts. The entrance is a stunning walkway of interlinked wooden branches.

Entrance to MUCEM in Marseille

Entrance to MUCEM in Marseille

As you walk around the ramparts, through the lavender filled gardens, you come across some very modern sculptures such as the 4 large faces and then, further on the very impressive Villa Méditerranée .

Sculpture at MUCEM

Sculpture at MUCEM

Villa Mediterranee at MUCEM

Villa Mediterranee at MUCEM

So Marseille has much to offer the tourist willing to walk around the city and discover the stunning views and a wide variety of cultural activities. Being on the Mediterranean, of course, it has wall to wall sunshine and the temperatures in late June were 25-28 degrees Monday to Friday and 32-34 degrees on Saturday and Sunday. It is a big city and we were told by locals to keep camera and handbags strapped across our chests, and not to keep them hanging on our shoulders.