Saturday, 29 June 2013

En avant!

I am closing up my delightful blog residence for a few weeks. The chandeliers have been 'bagged' and dust clothes placed over the furniture.

Because AGA and I are off for a month travelling hither and thither in England: ambling north south east and west.  It's all very exciting I must say.  My camera is charged.  My itinerary is ready.  Clothes for all seasons have been packed 'just in case'.

I have chosen to take the following books to read:

'Crown and Mitre' by Robert Neill - an old favourite of mine set in the time of the Restoration of King Charles II

'Daggers in the Forum' by Keith Richardson - I recently obtained a copy of my own, in pristine condition, of this 1976 classic on the lives of the Gracchi Brothers in Ancient Rome

'The Life of St Teresa of Avila by Herself' - I get a lot out of reading this book

'Memoirs of the Missionary Priests' by Bishop Challoner.  I shall be in York and will be visiting the site where some of the Missionary Priest were martyred in the 16th Century.

'The Letters of Pliny' - I do like that gossipy old Roman Gentleman!

I wonder if I shall actually read them all?  Probably not but I shall try.  I can't travel without at least some books to read and having a car for this trip means that I can travel with a small portable library which I intend to augment by various purchases en route!

Anyway, as I say, our bags are packed.  The hire car is ready.  Our Euro Tunnel tickets are to hand and a picnic is being prepared for us to have en route for our first night, in Calais.
We leave in an hour so there is just time for me to wish you all an enjoyable summer or winter with all the nice things that those seasons should contain.

 I have left a tray of Eccles Cakes for you to eat in my absence:

And feel free to wander about our small balcony garden:

I shall return in August feeling (hopefully) revived and ready for action after what has been a somewhat busy and difficult twelve months.
Bye for now,

Friday, 28 June 2013

The day I became a Barceloni

Over the past few days AGA and I have been having a short holiday in Barcelona.
The holiday was the grand finale of my fiftieth birthday 'celebrations' and I was really looking forward to going, because while AGA has been there a few times, this was to be my first visit.

Modern Barcelona consists not only of the old town of Barcelona, but various nearby villages as well.  All the spaces in between these various communities were filled in (in the 19th Century) with a street system laid out in a grid pattern, for which we have to thank the great urban planner Ildefons Cerda i Sunyer.  This is similar to Melbourne (albeit on a smaller scale) which was laid out by the equally far-sighted urban planner Robert Hoddle.

I liked this aerial photograph of Barcelona because the orderly grid is smudged by older areas with their narrower, twisting streets and lanes.  The smudge near to the harbour is the old town of Barcelona.
That diagonal road on the left is the 'Diagonale'.  It is a wide boulevard, which in common with a few other streets in the city has, for much of its length, a tree-lined, pedestrian 'walkway' down the middle, which is very convenient for strolling about with no fixed intent.  

The first thing that struck me about Barcelona was how exotic it looked; with its palm trees, heat, and raucous parrots...  In small ways it reminded us of Melbourne.

Another thing that I noticed was that Barcelona is a bilingual city.  All signs and notices are in Catalan and in Spanish (often termed 'Castilian').  This is similar to the Welsh and English usage in Wales.  In Barcelona many many people speak English too.
Catalan sounds like a cross between Spanish and French - or at least it did to my ears - and I found that I understood more than I thought I would.  

Our hotel was just off the Diagonale and it was nice to sit on the balcony, in the cool of the evening, after a long day of tourist-like activities!

When I spoke with work colleagues about going to Barcelona, words such as 'Sagrada Familia', 'Gaudi', and the 'Modernista Movement' were mentioned.  These are things of which the city is justly proud, however there is much more as I soon discovered!

Having never been to Barcelona before I wanted to get an overview of the city and so, having arrived at our hotel, we bought two two day passes to travel on the 'Bus Turistic'.  This is a 'hop on, hop off' bus service, travelling three different routes throughout the city.  I think that it was well worth the money.
There are three routes and we went on all three over the two days allotted.  
Having been on the two main routes though, I was ready to explore.   
(The third route goes by the beach and we left that to the afternoon of the second day)

AGA told me that as this was my birthday trip we would do whatever I wanted. So grab your hats and sunglasses and come with me on my own tour of Barcelona...

From our hotel, we could walk into the centre of the city by way of:
La Rambla is the main promenade from the Diagonale to the Plaça del Rei, overlooking the Marina.  La Rambla is filled with beautiful buildings, cafés, fabulous shops, and lots of people:

When you have walked the entire length you come to the Plaça del Rei, crowned with a statue of Christopher Columbus:

The figure on top of the column looks like this:
He is pointing towards America...

The old town is an enchanting maze of winding streets and little courts.

La Rambla cuts through the old town, and so we decided to turn to our left and plough straight in.  Known as the 'Gothic Quarter' it is where one finds the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia:

It is a casket of many treasures!  For me an important one is this:
Set up on the wall; it is the tomb of my adventurous and scandalous ancestress Almodis de la Marche.  I will tell you about her one day.  Nearby is the tomb of her third husband, Ramon Berenguer I, Comte de Barcelona.
In the crypt sits the tomb of the Roman Martyr Saint Eulalia.  She is the patron of Barcelona:

Attached to the Cathedral are the original cloisters.  Here are kept the thirteen cathedral geese.  They are thirteen in number to represent the age St. Eulalia was when martyred:

Fresh water comes from the well of St George.  If you cup your hands you can get a cool drink from it.

If you are brave enough to go up to the roof, there are some wonderful views of the city to be had.  In the interests of this blog I made the ascent even though I do not care for heights.  I felt like an intrepid reporter!

Next to the Cathedral is the old Royal Palace.  In this chamber sat the infamous Inquisition.  It was said that the walls themselves would move if someone told a lie.  It was also in this room that Ferdinand and Isabella greeted Christopher Columbus after his returned from the 'New World':

The Courtyard of the Palace reminded both AGA and myself of Siena:

And beneath the Palace, the Courtyard, and part of the Cathedral, are to be found the largest subterranean Roman ruins in the world.  The ancient city of Barcin:
The ruins stretch for quite a way and while it was rather warm down there, I found it to be very interesting.  They have even discovered a piece of marble engraved with the town name:
I read that Barcelona was originally settled by the Carthaginians...

Did someone mention hats?  This is the place to go:
I bought two very nice Panama hats here.  AGA bought one.  I justified buying two as I need a larger brimmed one for the summer and a trilby for Spring and Autumn when the sun is still out but not quite as hot...
There are so many things to see in Barcelona . . .

At this time of year one can find flowers and fruit all over the place:
The fallen acacia blossom looked like scattered gold:

Everywhere one looked there were beautiful buildings:

There were more Roman remains:
(That archway is the remaining piece of the Roman town aqueduct.)

There were little reminders that once Barcelona had a thriving Jewish population:

Reminders that the city was once the headquarters of a powerful family of Counts: 

And reminders that in the not too distant past, this city was the scene of bloodshed and turmoil:

This is the church of St Philip Neri.  It was to this church that Antoni Gaudi was travelling for Daily Mass when he was knocked down by a tram and received injuries from which he later died.  Some say that marks on the walls here were made by bullets as people were executed during the Civil War and others say that no executions took place here but the pockmarks relate solely to the incident when a bomb was dropped onto the square, killing both adults and children sheltering within the church.  It is has been left unrepaired as a monument to those killed.

This chapel in the Cathedral has been set aside in memory of the many priests, monks and nuns killed during the Civil War:

There is of course the famous Sagrada Familia.  Very much 'under construction':

Then there is the wonderful ceiling of the atrium at the National Museum of Art of Catalunya:

Inside is the largest collection of Romanesque Artwork in (I believe) the World:

Much of it has been rescued from Civil War damaged Churches and Monasteries.  They have made what looked to be fibreglass molds of church buildings, into which the rescued frescoes and paintings are set: 

It was very impressive.  As was the exterior of the building and its surrounds:

And from the main entrance there is a wonderful view to be had across the Plaça Espanya and the distant hills:

There are many beautiful buildings from the Modernista period.
This is the famous Casa Battlo:

There are buildings on a monumental scale:

And there were 20th and 21st Century buildings too:

Everywhere there are wonderful balconies:

Beautiful examples of carving in stone:

Interesting door decoration. . .:

. . . I could go on and on but I fear I have already written far too much.  So I shall end with one small recommendation.  It involves cakes.  I love cakes and pastries and this café was a highlight of my visit to Barcelona.  It is called 'Caelum'. and can be found at de la Palla 8.  I would definitely recommend it

While AGA had a cappucino with a lot of froth on top, and an almond and egg yolk cake, I shall always remember that it was here that I had my first taste of the heavenly Tarta de Santiago. . .

Sunday, 23 June 2013

En Vacance

We are on a short holiday to Barcelona.
There is a lot of sun (perhaps a little too much to judge by my arms ana AGAs face.  (i am wearing my faithful new panama hat). However it is a lot of fun being here:
Three of my favourite pastimes...

I havent worked out how to put photos on this blog from my iPad and i am typing this while on a bus!
I guess this is being a blog reporter 'on the spot!!'
A few more days and then it is home again. . . And i will report some more.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Presenting my Antipodean 'stepmother'...

There are many places throughout the world that I would classify as 'favourites'.
Equally, there are many places that, given the right circumstances, I would like to live in; but I have to say that the place I want to live in most of all is Victoria, in Australia.

Victoria is my adopted mother country.  My 'stepmother country'.  
For a long, long time, after my family moved there from England, I disliked this Antipodean stepmother of mine.  
I resented everything about her.
I averted my eyes.  
I grew sullen when she was mentioned.  
I longed to 'escape' her presence.
I ran away at least three times in our first few years there.
I constantly tempted my poor parents to return 'home'.
But as the years passed and I did indeed escape - on many occasions and for long periods of time - I found that in fact, I missed her.  Was it a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder?  Maybe.  Maybe it was she had crept in to my heart.

These days I feel as much at home in Victoria as I do in England; in parts of France; here in Kaiserswerth,  and other such places.

I was once told that people who moved countries in their childhood, become restless.  They feel that they do not belong anywhere.  There is no place that they could say is their 'home'.
I think that I am living proof of this.
When asked what my nationality is I can say that I am a U.K. citizen.  Thanks to dual nationality I am also an Australian citizen.  But when it comes down to it I do not feel as if I 'belong' to any nation.  So I guess I should say that I am a world citizen.

Having said that though, I do like Victoria.  A lot.  Especially the countryside and the rural towns and villages.  In my travels I see many places that remind me of the Victorian landscape: Provence in particular. 
Maybe that is why I like Victoria so much: Because she reminds me of other places...

Of course, Victoria is no Saint.  She has her 'moments':  The extreme heat of February and early March. The periods of drought.  The bushfires.  Corrugated Iron.  Those horrible poisonous snakes and spiders(!) The suburban sprawl...  
But I am 'okay' with that.  I don't mind.  When you love someone you love them with their imperfections as well as with their beauty.

So I decided that I would post some photographs of Victoria for you to see for yourself.  I hope you enjoy them!

This is Melbourne from the Railway Station at Camberwell.  You can see the city skyline in the distance:
The city of Melbourne is like any other really: a mix of old and new.  The new dwarfing the old:
Inner Melbourne is littered with remnants of her Victorian era splendour:

A recognised 'culinary capital', one can eat dishes from almost any part of the world, while in Melbourne.  Here is a selection of Polish food from the restaurant 'Borscht, Vodka, and Tears':

But once you leave Melbourne and its suburbs behind you enter another realm:
Country Victoria is full of little towns and villages:
This is the town of Beechworth on a Winter's afternoon:

. . . and here is her Italianate Post Office:

Here is Clunes Town Hall:

The Public Library at Alexandra:

And the town hall at Heathcote:

This is the façade of the long gone old Beechworth Hospital:

There are old houses:

Old churches:

Not-so-old Churches:

And then there is the country itself.  The spaces in-between all the towns, villages and hamlets:

I have decided that I don't mind her coastal regions as much as I used to:

I don't find her native trees to be as 'boring' as I did in my teens:

... and I have grown to like the native flowers:
This is the Australian Sarsaparilla plant:
This is a form of Corea:

Here is a red-flowering gum:

. . . and the wildlife such as these Crimson Rosellas:


There are many more pleasures awaiting those who visit or live in this relatively small state.  In future posts I will try to show some of them, but for the time being I hope you enjoyed this small plate of Victorian hors-d'oeuvres...