Archive for November, 2012

Architecture and Oranges. (November 2012)

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Valencia was a total surprise.

From the moment we arrived at the beautiful Art Nouveau, Estación de Norte, the Valencian architecture continued to delight.

This was our first trip without the Renault, so we were relying on the Spanish railway network.

Our commuter Renfe (Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles or Spanish National Railway Network) took us from Montgat straight to Sants Estació, where we picked up a long distance Renfe to Valencia.

Our hotel was walking distance from the station, so it was a rather effortless four hour journey.

We had arrived early enough in the afternoon to take the last city tour on the Hop-On-Hop-Off, tourist bus, This was around the historical centre of Valencia and gave us a good idea of where the sites were.

Our bus tickets were valid for 24 hours, so the next morning we took the second half of the city tour. This was around the new area of the city and down to the port.

It was cold and wet but the driver insisted that the best views were from the top of the bus, so he put up the vinyl roof and dried off the seats. There we were, the only tourists on the bus, with the best seats. In fact we had been the only takers the previous evening, so had the best seats then as well.

Having got a good perspective on the city, we decided to walk around the old centre in the afternoon.

This took us to the Central Market, where we bought some juicy Valencia oranges for lunch. We then visited the Silk Exchange, Generalitat Palace, Our Lady’s Basilica in the Virgin Square, the Santa Catalina Church Tower, the Bullring and finally back to the Estación del Norte, to take some more snaps.

Oranges are a feature of the station’s decorative mosaics, both inside and out.

The highlight of the old city was the Lonja de la Seda or Silk Exchange, built between 1482 and 1548. It’s a world renowned example of a secular building in the Late Gothic style and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is the 16th Century version of today’s stock exchange, with a large decorative trading hall, where the riches of the East and the New Wold were traded.

There were other beautiful buildings close to our hotel, like the town hall, post office and the Bank of Valencia.

Even our hotel had an ornate Art Nouveau entrance.

That was the old, now for the new.

Our second bus tour took us along the Antiguo del Rio Turia. This is the bed of the river Turia that was diverted after a catastrophic flood in 1957.

This area has now become a sunken recreational parkland and home to the City of Arts and Sciences.

Designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, the City of Arts and Sciences it is a group of breathtakingly contemporary buildings and bridges that has become the cities most popular, ‘modern’, tourist attraction.

This complex has done for Valencia what Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao.

Integrated inside this complex is L’Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe with 45,000 animals and 500 different species of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and invertebrates.

Not surprisingly it’s centered round the Mediterranean, Atlantic and the Americas.

It was getting late in the day so we wandered back to the hotel along the riverbed. The light was low and I could’t resist taking a few more snaps of the stunning architecture.


A quiet day in Barcelona. (November 2012)

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Thea was having her hair cut, and that can take a long time, so I spent four hours wandering around the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla.

What struck me was how quiet everything was.

The streets were free of pedestrians, the shops of customers and the restaurants of diners.

There were still plenty of tourists about but nowhere near as many as we had seen a month earlier.

Even the prized seat, at the front of the double-decker city tour bus, was empty.

The only disturbances to my peaceful stroll, were the graffiti cleaners and the jackhammers of the workers repairing the pavement around the cathedral.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”* (October/November 2012)

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Our last road trip was a combination of catching up with friends and trying to get into the minds of some of my creative heroes.

Wherever you travel in Europe someone famous was born there, raised there or lived there.

Trying to get closer to what inspired their work became my focus. Some encounters were planned and others just happened.

We travelled out of Barcelona to Lyon, another of those beautifully preserved French provincial cities.

In the Place des Terreaux is the Bartholdi Fountain.

It was originally created in 1857 for Bordeaux by the then 23 year old, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty.

Due to budget constraints it was never built there, and that was Lyon’s gain.

Four rampaging horses, the great rivers of France, complete with steaming nostrils, strain against their reins, under the control of an almost placid Paris, depicted as a female figure.

Paul Bocuse, the legendary French chef, is featured along with other heroes of Lyon on the painted facade of a riverside apartment building.

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, built between 1872 and 1884, sits high on the hill overlooking the city. It was undergoing serious internal renovations but beneath the scaffolding were a series of delicate, beautifully crafted, mosaics.

We overnighted at Chateau d’Etoges, in the Champagne region. This grande 17th century residence was once owned by the valet of King Louis XVI. He lost his head during the revolution, as a result of being a little too cosy with the monarchy.

Autumn was well advanced in the Champagne region around Epernay. The vineyards were a patchwork of browns, yellows, reds and greens.

We then headed north into Germany and weather turned even colder.

We picked up Hayden in Mannheim and then drove towards Heidelberg to catch up with our German friends in Bammental.

After an unexpectedly early snowfall the weather brightened up again and the sunflowers were soaking up the last of the Autumn warmth.

From there we travelled further north to Nieder Weisel, the hometown of a brave group of Germans who escaped from the troubles in Europe and took the long voyage to Australia in the 1850s’

Thea’s great, great grandmother was one of them and there’s a plaque near the church that commemorates their feat.

Next was Paderborn, a university town in Germany, where Hayden is spending 4 months as part of his PhD.

We visited, Schloß Neuhaus, just outside the town and situated on the Pader River, the shortest river in Germany. We also scoured Paderborn cathedral in search of the famous ‘Three Hare Window’, but it remained elusive.

We left Hayden to his studies in Paderborn and drove to Nuremberg, home to Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) Germany’s most famous graphic artist, painter and art theoretician.

There is no original work on display but it’s interesting to visit the house where much of his great art legacy was created.

Nuremberg was also home to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, covering 11 square kilometers. There is also the Documentation Centre with a permanent exhibition ‘Fascination and Terror’ which provides graphic information about the causes, context and consequences of the National Socialist regime.

Adolf is definitely no hero of mine.

Just on the outskirts of Nuremberg, in Stein, is the factory and family residence of the famous stationery company, Faber-Castell.

I grew up very envious of those kids lucky enough to have a box of their pencils.

Next was Ulm, with the world’s tallest church steeple, and the birthplace of Albert Einstein.

Albert only lived for a short period in Ulm and according to him, it had no impact on his life.

The original house was destroyed in 1945.

The snow was still on the ground in Saint Gallen, Switzerland, and the skies were grey.

The cathedral has recently been restored and has elegant Renaissance frescos on the ceiling and 16 elaborate confessionals.

By my reckoning that gives the church the ability to forgive 32 sinners in a single sitting.

Next was Arnex-sur-Orbe, Switzerland, an idyllic village, where one of my oldest friends has lived, with his family, for nearly 30 years.

From there we visited the ‘Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne’ This is a gallery, created in 1976 by the French artist Jean Dubuffet.

He describes what Art Brut is below.

“Art Brut works are produced by self-taught creators firmly entrenched outside the mainstream, harboring a rebellious spirit and impervious to collective norms and values.

These include psychiatric hospital patients, prisoners, eccentrics. loners and outcasts…”

This exhibition was an eye opener with some of the most original and creative, of off-the-wall art, I have seen in years.

Aix-en-Provence and the world of Paul Cezanne was the next stage of our cultural adventure.

There are numerous tours you can do to try and get a insight into the mind of the father of modern painting, or as Picasso described, “the father of us all”

We decided to do just three.

The walk around Aix, with emphasis on where Cezanne lived and studied, Cezanne’s studio on the Lauves Hill and The Painters’ Ground, with spectacular views of Sainte-Victoire Mountain.

We also spent a day just circling around the Aix region, where Sainte-Victoire Mountain is ever present.

Even if you aren’t a student of art, the rugged escarpments of white rock, contrasting with the red earth, is spectacular.

It’s no wonder that Cezanne immortalized the region with his art.

The next leg took us from the sublime to the sometimes absurd, with a three day tour around the Dalí Triangle.

Salvador Dalí’s life embodied the ideals of Surrealism and you can gain a small understanding of this very strange man by visiting three of his most significant buildings.

The Dalí House at Port Lligat was the home that Dalí and his wife, Gala, built over a forty year period. It is a maze of odd shaped rooms on many levels, the result of Dalí buying up the surrounding fisherman’s cottaged and ingeniously combining them together.

You are greeted at the entrance by a giant stuffed polar bear – that sets the tone for the entire house.

Stuffed animals and bizarre objects are a vital ingredient in much of Dalí’s architectural decoration, however he was sane enough to include a BBQ in the back garden, near the pool.

Next was the Theatre Museu Dalí, at Figures, the largest Surrealist object in the world.

The exhibition is housed in what was the former Municipal Theatre, however it was extensively ‘renovated’ to suit the Dalí aesthetic.

Apart from a wide variety of sculptures, paintings and drawings by Dalí, there are also works by other artists.

Like most great artists Dalí studied the Masters and there’s even a reference to Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros in one of Dalí’s etchings.

There is no doubt that this museum was built by Dalí as a homage to himself, as his tomb is in the crypt.

Dalí always fancied himself as the modern Renaissance Man, not confined to one medium or form of self expression. He used film, sculpture, painting, architecture and technology to convey his message.

However it’s his jewelry, in the Dalí-Joies collection, that best demonstrated how his talents could be expressed in alternative ways.

He used many of his reoccurring themes and turned them into beautifully crafted bracelets, broaches and necklaces.

The final part of the triangle was the Casa-Museu Castell Gala Dalí.

This is the 11th century Castle Púbol that Dalí purchased and then renovated as a gift to his wife, Gala. She accepted it on one condition, that Dalí could’t set foot inside the the castle unless he was given a written invitation.

The interior is less extravagant than the other two buildings we visited but still contains many examples of Dalí’s weird sense of humor.

There was no BBQ in the garden but there are some of Dalí’s strange elephant sculptures.

We spent a few hours in Girona on our way back to Barcelona.

Although it has a rich history and has been under siege 25 times, I could’t find any of my heroes in Girona.

*Isaac Newton

Marketing by cross purposes.

Friday, November 9th, 2012

This poster, seen in Saint Gallen, Switzerland, was the centre piece of a window display for the watch maker Maurice Lacroix.

The copy, a quote from Sir Bob Geldof, reads:

“I don’t want to live like you. I don’t want to talk like you. I’m going to be like me.”

Now I guess that Sir Bob, due to contractual obligations, wears a Maurice Lacroix watch. And I am equally sure that the manufacturers of Maurice Lacroix would like you to wear one as well.

Why else would they spend all that money to use his name?

Therefore isn’t the whole idea of wearing the same watch as Bob at cross purposes with his message?