Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

That Was the Year That Was – 2022

December 31, 2022

As this is the last blogpost of 2022, I am looking back over this year’s posts and making a fairly random search to pick out some highlights.

In February, I wrote “Every year I try to go somewhere different to take photos of the snowdrops which now adorn our woods and gardens. In 2021, I posted this description of the snowdrops at Smeaton Lake. I also remind you each year of Alice Oswald’s uniquely beautiful poem The Snowdrop – read here by Andrew Motion, accompanied by some elegant and graceful photos, including a close-up one of raindrops on the flower. I have just found another site in which you can look at and listen to – “The Snowdrop: An immersive exploration of the science, folklore, and horticulture of this first sign of spring”. Produced by Cambridge University Botanic Garden (good photos), this site is well worth exploration for its information, stunning photography and The Snowdrop – with lyrics – read by Sandie Cain, the garden’s Horticultural Learning Coordinator. I make no apologies for once again quoting from Oswald’s poem “Yes, she’s no more than a drop of snow/ on a green stem…. But what a beauty, what a mighty power/ of patience kept intact is now in flower”.  The photo below gives a close-up view of a peaceful and sedate looking snowdrop community. As ever, the heads – gorgeous white bells – are bowed as the flowers maintain their private thoughts. The photo also shows the forest floor environment in which the snowdrops grow during their relatively short lives. Not only are there brown leaves from last autumn but the green, spiky, storm-blown mini-branches of the neighbouring fir trees. The sunlight adds to the aesthetics of the photo, emphasising the brilliant whiteness of the snowdrop heads.

Snowdrops in Lochend Woods (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

In May, my wife and I went to Perthshire (now Perth and Kinross) for a short break. The blog post began “We recently had a two day break in Perthshire, staying at the excellent Grandtully Hotel, of which more below. The bonnie town of Aberfeldy (good photos) is 5 miles/ 8.1k from the hotel and is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area. It has an excellent bookshop – The Watermill (good photos) – and I would heartily recommend that you also visit its café (good photos, especially the food) downstairs. The town is best known for its glorious walk, known as The Birks of Aberfeldy (good photos). Birks in Scots means birch trees although part of the walk has mostly beech. The photo below was taken on the early part of the walk and you can see the Moness Burn flowing through the stones, as well as the newly-leafed trees, with their delicate greens. The stones take on various hues as the water passes over them and, at the bottom right, the stones which sit out of the water are moss-covered, adding yet another shade of green.

Flowing water in Aberfeldy

I also included this video of the rushing water further up the hill.

In August, we paid a visit to Berwick Upon Tweed and I wrote: “We have not been back to Berwick Upon Tweed (good photos) since 2019 – see this blog post. We walked along the promenade at Spittal Beach which is a long stretch of sand close to the town, which is usually just referred to as Berwick. The photo below shows the southern end of Spittal promenade and the end of the beach. There is a Lowry connection here as his painting Beach Scene can be viewed on the highlighted link. The beach can be seen from the top of the cliffs in the photo below in the second photo, which shows the extent of the beach and the railway viaduct to the left. In the second photo, the tide is further out. On the day of our visit this year, there were many families on the beach and quite a number of adults and children swimming in the water. On occasion, you heard the scream of a child as s/he first entered the cold water with feet warmed by the summer sun.

Spittal Beach
View across Spittal Beach to Berwick

In October, my wife and I went on a short holiday to Porto and one of the main highlights was the visit to the  Palacio da Bolsa (good photos). I wrote “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 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 Arab Hall in the Palacio da Bolsa

I took this video when in this magnificent and unique room.

So that was 2022. We had a bleak start to the year as Covid restrictions were still place and mask wearing was compulsory inside buildings, but there was a gradual improvement, especially during the longish, hot (for us) summer. As I write, we are 9 days beyond the shortest day of the year and already, there is more daylight. It only remains for me to wish you all A Guid New Year and thank you for reading this blog. May 2023 bring you good health, prosperity, love, luck and laughter.

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.

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.

Visit to Berwick Upon Tweed and the L S Lowry connection

August 25, 2022

We have not been back to Berwick Upon Tweed (good photos) since 2019 – see this blog post. We walked along the promenade at Spittal Beach which is a long stretch of sand close to the town, which is usually just referred to as Berwick. The photo below shows the southern end of Spittal promenade and the end of the beach. There is a Lowry connection here as his painting Beach Scene can be seen on the highlighted link. The beach can be seen from the top of the cliffs in the photo below in the second photo, which shows the extent of the beach and the railway viaduct to the left. In the second photo, the tide is further out. On the day of our visit this year, there were many families on the beach and quite a number of adults and children swimming in the water. On occasion, you heard the scream of a child as s/he first entered the cold water with feet warmed by the summer sun.

Spittal beach (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
View across Spittal Beach towards Berwick

We then went into the town itself. Berwick Upon Tweed is famous for its bridges across the wide River Tweed (good photos). There are three bridges crossing the Tweed at Berwick and you can see a good photo of all three here. The Berwick Bridge (good photos) is described thus “The present bridge dates from 1624 and is the fourth to have stood on this location. Two of the previous structures were destroyed by flooding and one by an English attack. The bridge is 355 metres long and was the original route of the A1, before the construction of the Royal Tweed Bridge in the 1920s”. The Royal Tweed Bridge (good photos) was “Built in the 1920s to divert traffic off the older Berwick Bridge across the River Tweed. It is a reinforced concrete bridge. Until the bypass was built in the 1980s it carried the A1”. The third bridge, across which many people have travelled on the train north or south, is the Royal Border Bridge (good photos). This bridge was built between 1847 and 1850 and was opened by Queen Victoria. It is a “Grade 1 listed railway viaduct” and “The bridge is 659 metres long. It has 28 arches, constructed of brick but faced with stone”. The first photo below is of the Royal Tweed Bridge, with its elegant and graceful arches meeting each other in perfect symmetry. This is the bridge across which we drove to go into the town centre. The second photo below is taken looking under the bridge and this gives what the engineers who built the base of the bridge might have seen as they formed the structure of the bridge to make it safe. It is a series of interlocking steel and concrete sections put together as a 1950s or 2020s child might have built a Meccano set.

The Royal Tweed Bridge

Looking below the Royal Tweed Bridge

In the town itself, you cannot miss the ramparts (good photos) which surround the town and formed the defensive structure. These huge mounds of earth, with bastions or gun emplacements were first built in the Elizabethan period and later modified. Along the route of the ramparts, you come to the ruins of Berwick Castle (good photos) which had a commanding view over the River Tweed and was therefore difficult to attack. The photo below is an information board at the Scots Gate which was one of the very narrow entrances to the town from the area near the sea. It would have had a portcullis which could be raised or lowered as necessary and thick, studded wooden doors which are still there.

Information board for the Scots Gate in Berwick

The Manchester based painter L S Lowry (biography) was a frequent visitor to Berwick and there is a Lowry Town Trail which you can follow. The photo below is of one of the panels you see on the trail. The painting – A Market Place Berwick Upon Tweed – was described by one expert as “a classic street scene by L S Lowry, painted during the golden, middle years of his career, and depicts the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, just before the Second World War…. The picture has a joyful appeal, showing a bright and bustling street with Lowry figures going about their daily business.” 

Lowry panel in Berwick Upon Tweed

The photo below shows the street of Marygate in Berwick leading up to the impressive Town Hall (good photo) and this history site tells us that “The area between Marygate and the Tweed shore is thought to have formed the core of mediaeval Berwick through later centuries”. We are also told here that the existing town hall was built in the 1750s “and it replaced a long succession of mediaeval tolbooths and town halls. Featuring a 150 foot spire and bell-tower, and often mistaken for a church, it became the centre-piece of the town”. When you first see the town hall, it certainly could easily be mistaken for a church.

Marygate towards the Town Hall

We stopped for lunch in the excellent Atelier restaurant/cafe (good photos). I had their very tasty Punjabi chicken soup with artisan bread and my wife had salmon paté with the best gluten free bread she has ever tasted. This is a busy, friendly, reasonably priced hidden culinary gem in Berwick. If you are in the town, that is definitely the place to go for delicious food and a range of local beers.

The Soane’s Museum and the Royal Opera House in London

July 25, 2022

Following on from our visit to the Edward Munch exhibition (last blog post), we visited the Soane’s Museum (good photos) in London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This is the house and museum of Sir John Soane who “was one of the foremost architects of the Regency era, a Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, and a dedicated collector of paintings, sculpture, architectural fragments and models, books, drawings and furniture” according to the site above. Once you walk inside the museum, you see that it is absolutely packed with beautiful art, sculpture, furniture and pottery. An example of the latter is seen in the photo below, taken in the first room that we visited. This is a stunning display, encompassing many elements – the elegant and graceful urns, the decorated window panels and the view into the next room, which appears to be a garden but is an interior lit by a glass dome above. The second photo shows what this site calls “An Apulian (Greek) Mascaroon krater known as the ‘Cawdor Vase” and is from 4th century Greece. A description of the object here states that “On one side is an enigmatic version of the preparations for the chariot race of Oinomaos and Pelops, and on the other a familiar type of naiskos scene”. If you enlarge the photo, you will see the chariot in the top section. I had to look up naiskos and it means temple. The “Cawdor Vase” is a fascinating and beautiful piece of art.

Urns in the Soane’s Museum (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)
The Cawdor Vase in the Soane’s Museum

The Soane’s Museum also houses examples of Sir John Soane’s art collection. The most famous example and one only revealed for a short time each day is The Election ( engraving) by William Hogarth (biography and examples of his work) and you can see this painting in my photo below. The painting was inspired by the election in Oxfordshire in 1754 and depicts the Whig party’s attempts to gather support from local voters by plying them with alcohol and entertaining them with music in a local inn. The painting is full of drunken revelry and merriment, although there appears to be the opposition party outside the window and the Whigs are pouring liquid on them and one man is ready to launch a stool. There are many different faces here and, as the painting was designed by Hogarth to be a political satire, many of the faces have a grotesque element to them. There is also much colour here, as well as light and shade and a class element also, with the be-wigged men looking much better dressed than the others. This kind of political gerrymandering – to use a more modern phrase – was common in the 18th century.

The election by William Hogarth

One outstanding feature for me was not a painting or sculptured busts (of which there were numerous) or the famous Sarcophagus of Seti (good photos), but the magnificent iron range (photo below) in the kitchen. The lettering on the left reads “EAGLE RANGE AND GAS STOVE C.L., EAGLE PATENT, VENTILATING CANOPY, DRAUGHT REGULATOR, & HOT CLOSET”. On the right, it reads “REGENT St LONDON, EAGLE PATENT” with the bottom 2 lines repeated. This range was, however, a replacement for the original and dates to 1902. It is still an impressive piece of ironmongery and you can imagine that this kitchen must have been a very hot and uncomfortable place for staff. It has beautiful tiles below the canopy and intricate ironwork e.g. in the demon-shaped handles on the oven doors. On the canopy, I admired the doorknob shaped handles. This is a work of art in itself.

Kitchen range in the Soane’s Museum

I had never visited the Royal Opera House (good photos) while the other three in our party all had for ballet and opera. We went at lunchtime to see the interior of the building i.e. not a performance and it is an excellent visual experience in terms of interior design. The present building has most of the same façade as the one built in 1858. Some of the interior is of lush design, an example being this beautifully ornate staircase (photo below) leading up to the Crush Room (good photos) which is described by the ROH as “Dating back to 1858, the glorious Crush Room has been fully and carefully restored to its original gilded splendour. The room is adorned with 17th century Flemish artwork as well as two crystal chandeliers crafted from the original chandelier that once hung in the centre of the main auditorium”. The staircase, with its combination of gilded metal, smooth wood banisters and highly decorated carpet, provided an impressive entrance to the Crush Room, now used for private dining.

Staircase in the Royal Opera House

One of the most impressive areas in the Royal Opera House is the Paul Hamlyn Hall (range of photos) which is like a vast auditorium on its own. The first photo below shows the hall from ground level and you can see the central bar/champagne bar in the middle. The rest of the floor is often filled with dining tables, but for special dining, I’m sure you might want to sit at one of the tables on the balcony, with their sparkling white table cloths. There is a viewing area above and the second photo below shows the view from there. This really is a sight to behold, as you are looking into the magnificent glass frontage and panelled glass roof. These reminded me of the huge railway stations build in the Victorian age and the glass let the floor area be flooded with shadows on this early summer’s day when we visited. Paul Hamlyn was a very successful publisher and later became a philanthropist, with his foundation providing the funds for this hall. The large arch in the centre is complemented by the four smaller arches below – an impressive sight.

Paul Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House
View of the Paul Hamlyn Hall from above

You can also go up an escalator to a terrace bar with an elegant seating area (first photo below) which is lined with attractive shrubs in pots and covered with a diamond-like roof. The terrace is on the 5th floor of the building and is light and airy in the summer and heated in the winter. Each shrub pot has a tall, green plant and a rounded, hedge-type plant at the bottom. From the side of the terrace, you can look over Covent Garden’s ( second photo below) outdoor and indoor restaurants and bars. The open area is surrounded by some of London’s best architecture. Covent Garden (good photos) is a major tourist attraction in London. You can read about some of the buildings in the photo here.

Terrace bar area at Royal Opera House
View down to Covent Garden

If you are visiting London, these two venues are something you should put on your must-visit list, as there is much more to see and appreciate than I have covered here. Enlarging the photos above will provide you with a better appreciation of what you can see on your visit.