Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coffee in Oz

First coffee back in Australia after nearly two months.


I heard in London that there are several new cafés being started by Australians. I can see why they would be successful. The coffee shops I visited in London all felt a bit like conveyer belt establishments. Slick, perhaps, but lacking that personal touch.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A movie marathon

I made it home safe and sound and the flight back did not seem as long as usual.
Partly that must be due to the three excellent German movies I watched:  Mr & Mrs Adelman, My blind date with life (Meine blinde Date mit dem Leben) and SMS for you (SMS für Dich). I recommend them all - charming, witty and insightful. 

Singapore Airlines knows how to pick them.  I watched Barbara on the way over and it was also excellent (about the difficult choices people had to make about living in East or West during the DDR days).

I listened to Jonas Kaufmann sing his way through Mahler's Lied von der Erde, a new recording from Vienna with Kaufmann singing both tenor and baritone parts. I enjoyed it so much (with noise cancelling headphones - best travel investment ever) I listened to the whole thing twice.  I think I'll have to buy the CD. There were still some hours until landing so I watched a New York production of Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Blum playing Romeo.

No wonder the flights seemed shorter - and in fact they are, an hour and a half shorter than the other direction and you notice the difference.

Now I'm back in NSW. It must be winter as lots of people on the train had colds although the temperature is about the same as Hamburg in early June. The difference is that houses here are chronically underinsulated and underheated so it seems much much colder.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Neckar Valley

The Neckar river, a tributary of the Rhine, winds from Mannheim south east to Stuttgart.

The Neckar Valley, east of Heidelberg, is a very pretty place and ideal for convalescents who need to recover from stomach bugs and weddings.
Rainbow in the Neckar Valley
I have spent three water-and-boiled-rice days here and have been very grateful that I have been able to recover at the home of friends. Also very grateful for the lift here by a family member on the way to Frankfurt. My cloud has had many silver linings.

The view over the Neckar Valley changes constantly with the weather and apparently rainbows are common, though not rainbows as spectacular as this one.

The diet and rest has worked a treat and I feel very much better, which is just as well as I leave shortly. I write this in Frankfurt Airport, waiting for my flight.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Wedding in Alsace

My ultimate destination in France was a family wedding in the Alsace not far from Strasbourg. I had intended to spend two days in Strasbourg, but the EU Parliament was sitting for exactly the two days I would have been there and hotel prices tripled, so I chose Paris instead.

From Paris I took the TGV (fast train) east. The speed of the trains are posted on internal screens  so I know we traveled 317k/m but it didn't feel that. It was an easy trip.

Obernai
In Strasbourg I joined other family members to drive south. Our destination was about an hour and a half from Strasbourg but we stopped at picturesque Obernai for lunch then headed for the tiny roads to wind our way over the hills to beat the heat (34C). The temperature guage dropped as we climbed through the forests.

The Alsace is as pretty as they say. Lots of forests, patches of wheat and hay, houses built to withstand snow, some villages with very  'French' architecture and others that reminded of Switzerland.
Bluets et Brimbelles. Definately recommended.
Our accommodation,  Bluets et Brimbelles  was an artfully renovated barn. The internal woodwork leading up the three storeys was beautiful and the place was big enough to accommodate a larger family party.  Family members arrived a couple of days early so there was time to adjust and to help. It also meant the wedding became a sort of family reunion as well.
Stairwell at Bluets et Brimbelles
Bluets et Brimbelles reminded me of those TV Building and Renovation programs.  This one was a very successful make over. 
 View from our accommodation
The wedding was held over three days. As international guests (there were many) arrived they joined the local family for lunch under the shade of hazelnut trees. Dinner was within walking distance at a community building down the road with lovely gardens and extensive lawns. Lunch the next day was at the same venue where locals made Flammekueche in an outdoor oven.
Making Flammekueche
After lunch guests walked over to the town hall for the wedding ceremony. The hall was already brimming with local townfolk.

The ceremony was about an hour long, most of it designed by the bridal party. It was casual, charming and moving.
Town hall wedding
Share rides were organised to get everyone to the venue of the celebration party in the evening (40 minutes away), and to he breakfast venue next day.
The three days were a masterpiece of good planning; very relaxed but effective. All credit to the young couple.

Party venue with dancers
The Alsatians are rightly proud of their food. On every side people were exclaiming at how delicious this or that was. Unfortunately I can't report myself as I got a stomach bug on day 1 and was on 3 days of water rations.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Louvre

The Louvre opens at 9am and the weather forecast said 'hot' so I arrived at 8:30. There was already quite a queue but once the museum opened the crowds moved in fairly quickly.
Queues at the Louvre at 8:30. 
The glass pyramid houses the entrance steps and once inside it was interesting to watch the crowds orientate in the large underground courtyard. Many people made straight for the Mona Lisa - including me. It was very well signposted so the crowds moved quickly up the stairs and around the corners ignoring artworks on the way.  I must have stopped to look more than others as there was a large crowd of people craning to take pictures when I arrived.
Crowds taking selfies with Mona Lisa

This is what they were looking at
The Mona Lisa is a sort of pilgrimage piece and when you see the crowds taking photos of this and all the other work you find yourself contemplating art and it's importance in society.

I moved on to the 'decorative arts' wing.  It was a good choice as the museum is too big to see in its entirety and the decorative arts section was fascinating. I had not yet been to the similarly adorned Palais Garnier, so the decorations on the walls and ceilings were the first of the type I saw.

Some walls were plain, others were entirely covered with every sort of decoration.
Decorative arts plus

The vitrines were full of remarkable objects like this, a bowl with head carved from.a single piece of marble
I would take some photos then put my camera back in my bag saying 'no more photos' then walk into another room, gasp and take out the camera again. The artisanship on display is extraordinary.

Creation of the world clock





Friday, July 07, 2017

La Sylphide in Paris

Hugo Marchand. It's a name I had to look up when I got home but all those sitting near me at the Paris Ballet knew him and whooped when he came on stage after his performance in La Sylphide.  I suspect some went to the ballet just to see him.
Taking their bows
He was the star of the evening although I think the ballerina who danced la Sylphide was actually the main role. She was excellent, he was unforgettable.

In the Palais Garnier
It is a long time since I have been to a ballet and I didn't realise it is rather like opera where the audience will clap an aria. The ballet was a story as an excuse for a series of set pieces each of which were applauded.
Hall in the Palais Garnier
I went because it was performed in the Palais Garnier which I had seen a model of in the Musee dOrsay. It is an elaborate building with a famous ceiling by Chagall.

Palais Garnier entrance hall


The building didn't disappoint and nor did the Chagall. You couldn't wish for anything more ornate - and the ceiling is beautiful.
In fact every time you look up you see another artful ceiling.
Chagall ceiling

Ceiling in adjoining hall

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Paris

Paris! What a pleasure to be in a city that looks as if it is loved. Flat footpaths that are easy to walk on and aesthetically designed buildings.
View from the steps of the Palais Garnier

Central Paris, like central London, is noisy and busy but I don't find the noise and crowds oppressive here. I am trying to figure out why I feel so much more comfortable in Paris than London despite lack of language here. I guess I am simply more European than British.
Bollards at the Louvre

I have landed in a part of Paris with many Africans and African shops.  I took a Metro to  look around and landed in an area with five Japanese restaurants and a Japanese food store in one block.

The Metro is so well signposted it could be a model for other cities (I'm looking at you Sydney).



Chunnel tunnel

Getting on the Eurostar train to Europe at St Pancras station in London, is a bit of a hassle with security and customs just like the airport,  but once you are on it is oh so easy. You speed across the English countryside (and several tunnels) then into another tunnel and suddenly you pop out in the middle of French wheat fields.

It makes you realise just how close these countries really are.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Salisbury and the Magna Carta

Salisbury is an hour and a half by train from London and near Stonehenge so it is a perfect place for a day trip. Southern Rail offers promo return fares.
Salisbury
It's a pretty little place but its main claim to fame is its wonderful Gothic cathedral and adjoining Chapter House which houses one of the four copies of the Magna Carta still in existence.

Seeing the Magna Carta was worth the trip by itself. It is written on cow skin parchment in such beautiful but tiny writing you wonder how the scribe managed it. He must have been young with a steady hand and excellent eyesight.

Photo of part of the Magna Carta
The Salisbury Cathedral is one of great beauty. It is very plain grey-brown stone, built in the 13th century, with high arching columns. How did the builders manage to get those columns so perfectly round I wonder. Wooden lathes and lots of elbow grease said the friendly guide, Steve Dunn. 
How did the stonemasons get these surfaces so perfect in 1220? 
Steve Dunn was a mine of information and said that the interior of the church would once have been painted (you could see traces on the walls and roof if you looked hard enough) but that this was all scrubbed off during the reformation as it was considered too Popery. It remains the oldest purely gothic church in exsistence.

The scrubbed version of the church, which lacks any of the fancy trimmings that came in the later gothic, is entrancing. 
Gothic cathedral at Salisbury.
(Photos don't do it justice)
There is a modern and stunning window in one wall dedicated to  'all prisoners of conscience'.


Window dedicated to all prisoners of conscience
One of the things the cathedral houses is the world's oldest working clock. I found out just how complicated clocks are when I was at Dunedin art school and attempted.to make one. It was so complicated I gave up. This clock in Salisbury was constructed in 1368 and is still working.
World's oldest clock
There are lots of tombs in the church and a wonderful plaque to the 'vertuous (sic) and religious Elhonor Sadler'. I said to Steve Dunn that she looked like someone you wouldn't want to cross and he replied that she had had a reputation for timing the sermon with an hourglass and then complaining if it was a single minute less than an hour.
'vertuous and religious'
An interesting exhibition of figures by artist Ama Maria Pacheco called Dispersing the Night was set up through the cathedral. The figures included John the Baptist's head on a plate ...it seems to have followed me from Leipzig where Salome cut it off.
Dispersing the night

There was also a floral tribute to the victims of the Grenfell fire. (Steve Dunn's comment : 'We'd be remiss if we didn't have one.)
Floral tribute to Grenfell victims
at Salisbury Cathedral
As you can tell, I was captivated by this church and it's history. Definitely recommend a visit!

Stonehenge

On Sunday I took the train to Salisbury, then a bus to Stonehenge. It was a brilliant sunny day and I was pleased I went by bus and was not one one of the people in the long queue of cars winding around the wheat fields.

One of the attractions of Stonehenge is that it is set in the field, far from a town. You can walk a couple of km through the fields to get there...or take a shuttle bus. I didn't have time for the walk but if you are planning a visit it would be a wonderful way to arrive.
Stonehenge: You can tell the size of the stones
by comparing with the people behind them

The stones are exactly as they look in the photos but being there is the thing. If I was to go again I'd aim for early morning (or evening) and take some time to walk there and then just sit there.

Some tours promote themselves by saying you'll be there before the crowds, and they have a point as this ancient site has millions of visitors. I left about 1pm by which time the ticket queue was very long.

There is a rope around the site to protect it, close enough from the stones to give you a good view but far enough to disperse the crowds. I think the National Trust does a great job of protecting the site and informing the public. There were lots of helpers


Posh London

You too could have a river view like this ... if you had the dollars.
Houses on the Thames
at swish Bermondsey.
If you don't want to buy, you could  rent. Here's an ad to show you what you'll pay for a 2 bedroom flat in one of these river-front houses:

£2340 per month is A$3960.
River walkway at Bermondsey

Houseboats on the Thames at Bermondsey


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

London sketches

I have carried my little sketchbook with me in London but haven't found many places to sit with a sketchable view.

This, though, is right up the top of the Tate Modern which is a converted power station. There are lots of girders and steel struts.
Tate Modern ceiling

Another unexpectedly quiet (well relatively quiet) place in the teaming mass of humanity around Covent Garden was the garden behind St Paul's church (not the cathedral). The outdoor space is full to the brim with weathered garden benches.

Back.of St Pauls
People squeeze between them to take a seat or lie down. I sat there and painted the wall that bounds the garden. It seemed to me a typical London scene: red brown brick, smudgy white window sills, external pipes and shutes. 
London wall