All posts by maristravels

About maristravels

There are still some countries I haven't seen and some things I haven't done and won't do now (like trekking in Nepal) but I've covered a fair bit of the globe as a traveller. I've been a professional travel writer, blogger, and photographer for some years now, love cinema, theatre, books and art (well, not all of it). I try to cover these subjects in blogs when they crop up in my travels. I live in the UK and these days I travel mainly in Europe and Asia.

Serpotta’s Stucco in Palermo

Palermo is this year’s Italian City of Culture.  The city has stunning architecture, beautiful churches and art that is equal to that in many other parts of Italy, but for me, Palermo’s gem is the baroque Oratory of the Rosario in Santa Cita.

My favourite putti
The Playful Putti

Tucked away in a back street of the capital, this exuberant masterpiece is often overlooked as one stumbles from one opulent Baroque creation to the next in this very theatrical city.  The flamboyance is all inside the building, because the Oratory, by its nature, had to be simple.  Perhaps that is why it is often missed by visitors to Palermo.

Cherub from Serpotta's stuccoes

I first saw the Oratorio on the 1912 BBC series Unpacking Sicily, presented by art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli.  As the presenters walked us into a room whose walls were covered with sparkling white putti climbing and curling around pillars, playing with and teasing the allegorical statues I fell in love with the place.  It seemed to me to be redolent of joy and happiness as the impossibly round and naked infants cavorted along the walls oblivious to saints or sinners.

Notice the devil above the statue
Two allegorical figures sit ledges while all around are figures, faces, leaves, fruit.

Giacomo Serpotta (1652-1732) the Sicilian artist responsible for the interior of the Oratory was a sculptor of genius whose work in stucco* produced a very distinctive style. His work was already sited all over Palermo when he was commissioned in 1699 to transform the Oratorio and according to art historian, Anthony Blunt, he was provided with an artistically complex iconographical plan for the oratory.

In his use of stucco, he created a new art form.   Sacheverell Sitwell, who considered his female figures to be the equivalent of those in portraits by Gainsborough, states that the sculptor lifted a minor art “out of itself into an eminence of its own”.

Icons

One of three Oratorios (the others being San Dominico and Santa Zita a few metres away) the Oratorio of San Lorenzo is a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque.   The artist worked on this interior between 1698 and 1710, and apart from the cavorting, mischievous cherubs, it features a series of 10 symbolic statues, plus panels detailing the lives of Christ, the lives of St. Francis and St. Lawrence, and one that tells the story of the Battle of Lepanto.

Of extraordinary elegance, white swathes of stucco supported by a swarm of putti flow over the walls;  life-size allegorical figures sit casually on ledges as though at a picnic while cherubs play with the draperies of their skirts and blow kisses, and a cornucopia of fruit and flowers adds joy to the scenes.

End Wall of Oratory.
The Battle of Lepanto panel. Below the ship sit two boys, one Christian and a victor, the other an Infidel and a loser in the battle, but they are alike in their sorrow.
Above Lepanto scene - one cherub foot missing, one crying, one supporting
A less-happy trio of cherubs, one has already lost a foot, one is supporting him and one is crying.
These could be today's urchins in Palermo
These could be today’s urchins from the streets around Palermo, clothes, stance, everything. In the middle the detritis of war.

The Battle of Lepanto is the panel in front of which people stand for a long time absorbing the detail of the battle, the virgin protecting the fleet, the stormy seas, and the two boys sitting on the edge of the panel, one Christian and one infidel, who resemble in every way – even down to their clothes – the street urchins one can still see playing in the streets of Palermo.

Centrepiece on a wall

The 16th century Battle of Lepanto was the largest naval battle since antiquity.  A fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of European Catholic maritime states of which the Venetian and Spanish Empires were the main powers, inflicted a major defeat on the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras.   It marked the last major sea battle fought between more than 400 rowing vessels and was the largest naval battle since antiquity.  Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was one of those injured in the battle.

I think it fair to say that Serpotta displays an anti-war sentiment in this work which I think was unusual for the time.

Window wall with playing cherubs

The altar in the Oratory is disappointing after the sheer gorgeousness of the walls.  It was originally famous because of the painting, Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence (1609), a masterpiece by Caravaggio, but this was stolen in 1969.  It has never been recovered despite a massive reward being offered.  It is presumed that the theft was the work of the Sicilian Mafia and the latest rumour is that it was shredded and fed to pigs.

In 2015 a rather poor digital copy of the altarpiece was placed in the vacant space but it cannot be considered even a good copy.

And now I’ll let the pictures fill in the gaps.

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*Stucco: The artist first constructed a model using frames of wood, wire and rags, held together by sand and lime. Over the model a mix of lime and plaster was applied, to which marble dust was added to achieve the smooth surface glaze,  This was the invention that lifted Stucco to a higher level and Giacomo Serpotta is credited with creating an original technique that imparted to his work a lustre, not unlike that of stone or marble.  Great skill and dexterity were needed as plaster mix dried very quickly but it was valued as it allows the artist not only to build up forms but to carve into them as well.

Address:  Via Immacolatella, 90133, Palermo.    Tel: 0921 582370

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Majolica – Made in Faenza, Italy

Becky’s lovely Tavira vase post reminded me of the beautiful ceramics we saw a few years ago on a trip to Faenza in Italy, the town between Bologna and Florence which produces work of great originality from old, traditional, designs and occasional new designs.  These ceramics go by different names, depending on who is speaking about them: sometimes they are called Majolica ware, and sometimes they are called Faience, the French word for the ceramic, and the word from which the town derives its name.

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Faenza has been a flourishing city from the 2nd century AD; from the 11th century it started to really expand and grow and by the Renaissance period it had reached its peak, thanks to good relations with nearby Florence, the centre of Italian artistic life.  The city we see today with fine Renaissance architecture and Neo-classical monuments is a testament to this period of prosperity and growth.  P1090225

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Faenza majolica was born here because the land was rich in the type of clay needed for the production of fine pottery and because the inhabitants were able to mould the clay into beautiful objects.  Over the years the craftsmen absorbed the knowledge flowing from Florence and became experts in shape and line as they perfected the pottery and became artists.

Crowns, crowns and more crowns - a very popular subject
Crowns are one of the most popular objects and are very traditional

Majolica is terracotta clay, glazed with powder and water which makes the object waterproof and gives it a high gloss surface on which traditional designs are painted.  Sometimes the object is fired twice to give it strength and sometimes it is baked in a plaster cast which is then broken to expose the piece.

Crowns awaiting embellishment

The designs are etched on to the glaze, or sometimes the object is covered in paper on which pin-pricks are made, after which black coal-dust is used to stamp the lines through the pin-pricks – a form of stencilling.  Precious metals are also used and this makes the object more expensive, of course, as gold, silver and platinum need 3 firings and to be heated to 750 degrees.

Birthing set - for the new mother after baby is born
This set is given to a woman when she gives birth. It is for her first meal and includes a soup-bowl, egg-cups, plates, teapot etc.

One of the expert painters works on a design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceramic Plaque on Wall in Faenza

This is the sign for the oldest workshop in Faenza

Crowns are a very popular subject

In September and October international contemporary and classical ceramic art events draw majolica amateurs, collectors and artists to Faenza from all over the world.

This 'silver' decoration is pure platinum
The ‘silver’ stripe is actually platinum and the vase was priced at €1,400.

The ceramics alone make the trip to Faenza worthwhile and there are over 50 workshops most of which welcome visitors – look for the signs outside the shops (see one above).

However, Faenza is also a town of outstanding artistic and architectural features, two beautiful squares in Renaissance style, elegant arcaded streets, palaces, a 15th-century cathedral and an 18th-century theatre add to the aesthetic enjoyment while the food is superb.

Not to be missed:   The magnificent Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza has some of the world’s most beautiful pieces of majolica from every epoch and from all over the world, including a section dedicated to pottery from the Renaissance period.

A very expensive group of ceramics
Most items here are expensive.  For example,  the animal skin ceramic tea set was €400.

FOOTNOTE=

A ‘Majolica line’ can be traced from Faenza to the UK, through the centuries right up to the nineteenth when the technique of tin and lead glazing was further developed in London and Brighton before moving to Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.   Herbert Minton’s porcelain factory in Stoke on Trent was already quite famous when, Leon Arnoux, the great French ceramic chemist joined it in 1841 to help regenerate the production of lead-glazed pottery based on Renaissance designs.

These early pieces were destined for English gardens as the lead glaze protected urns, fountains, garden seats and ornaments from the English weather.  Minton then used the same process for their fast-growing trade in culinary dishes, each piece descriptive of the food that would be served on it, oyster plates, fish platters crab, lobster and sardine boxes,  and game dishes showing rabbit, partridge, pheasant and quail.

(I have seen references to the effect that the word Majolica refers to the fact that the goods were first exported to Majorca and then re-imported,  It seems plausible but I haven’t been able to ascertain that this is, in fact, where the word came from).

 

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The new Theme doesn’t work. Sorry!

I feel I must apologise to everyone who glances at my Posts because I’ve made a right mess of the blog.   All I wanted to do was remove my photograph from the middle of the featured image on my former theme but I couldn’t do this, so I tried to change it again.  This didn’t work and then I found I couldn’t get back to my former theme as it seems to have been discontinued.

Four or five themes later and at least a couple of hours, I have got to call a halt as I have Christmas presents to wrap.  I shall try and fix this tomorrow, but somehow, I have a feeling this is going to take a long time.  I am very frustrated with it now so I shall pour a large glass of red wine to help me put things back in perspective.  And I can blame WP for this!

Anyone got any ideas?  I want my categories at the top as I had before, but not so spaced out as they are on this theme.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend

My one and only balloon trip was over the vineyards of Rioja and the town of Lograno in Northern Spain.  It was both exhilarating and exciting but I’m not sure I would do it again!  It was dark when we got to the spot and dawn was just breaking when we took off – it was magical, wonderful, and a time I shall always remember.

Here are a few photographs of the Ascent.

I apologise to the readers, I cannot get rid of the white space between two of the photographs.  I shall have to work on this and try and re-edit.

Righting the Balloon

 

It’s scary when the flame goes Whoosh (Is she praying, by the way?)

 

 

 

 

I may look calm ……
A Pink Dawn
High Above the Clouds
Rioja’s vineyards

 

 

Gothenburg: New Beginnings

In Sweden last week, and despite the -4 degrees, I had one of the best walks I’d had in Gothenburg for many years.  I’ve always loved the city but on earlier visits to family, we’ve stuck to the areas I know and enjoy.

Fish Market
Exterior Fish Market, Gothenburg

My first visit is always to the Feskekorke – quite literally translated as “fish church” – where fishmongers have been hawking their freshest wares since 1847 and where the shop in the basement and the restaurant up top can satisfy both the inner and outer gourmand.  Sweden’s fish, in its quality, is the best in the world in my opinion.

The Avenyn

Then there’s the Avenyn, the wide Boulevard that runs from the centre of town up to the Konstmuseet, where one can see works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Rembrandt, and some truly delightful 19th-century Nordic art, including the beautiful, evocative paintings of Carl Larsson.  The old part of town is known as The Haga, well worth a visit to browse the chic boutiques in the narrow streets full of old Swedish charm, and to people watch from the cafés that serve everything from vegan to high-end Scandinavian food.  Many of these are housed in pretty 19th-century wooden dwellings that not long ago were slated for demolition.

Skansen Kronan, Gothenburg- Pixabay
Skansen Kronan, on Risåsberget Hill in the Haga district.

 

Shopping Mall, Gothenburg
Shopping Mall in Gothenburg

I never seemed to get beyond these places, partly because of the numerous coffee shops selling cinnamon buns that I found it difficult to resist.  In Gothenburg, independent coffee shops are the rule: ask for a Starbucks and you’ll be directed to the train station where you’ll find the only branch of the chain in the city.  Coffee comes strong and black but there us always milk on the side.  In many places, a second cup comes free.

This time in Gothenburg, however, we went somewhere quite different.Canal walk in Gothenburg

The Gothia River, which cuts through the city, was home to the massive Swedish shipbuilding industry between the mid-19th century and its demise in the 1970s, much like the shipbuilding industry in Scotland and Belfast.Canal walk in Gothenburg 2

 

At its peak, 15,200 employees worked in the industry; Gothenburg was known as a shipbuilding town and Sweden was a world-leading shipbuilding nation.

Work in progressIn recent years, however, the wharves, factories and large tracts of derelict land have been undergoing a slow and painstaking transformation.  The area of Lindholmen is now one of the most dynamic places in Gothenburg, a hub of entrepreneurial skills, universities, colleges, and a business hub to encourage business and academia to work together.   Cranes and overhead gantries are silhouetted against the sky, ferries bustle across the water carrying workers and residents of the new elegant apartments lining the embankment to and from the new ‘town’.

Stena Line Boats in Harbour
Stena Line ships awaiting passengers in the Harbour

Lindholmen has moved on and has morphed from a lively shipbuilding area into a flourishing residential town, businesses have relocated here and former industrial buildings have become sports halls, gymnasiums, and chic cafes and restaurants.  The well-laid out streets and paths along the waterside, the canals that run through the ‘town’ and the sense of a young, innovative spirit is palpable. The free ferry ride to Lindholmen

There are many ways of getting to Lindholmen, bus, tram, cycling or by the free ferries which runs every 8 minutes between Stenpiren and Lindholmspiren, weekdays between the hours of 07:00 to 18:00. The ride only takes 5 minutes.

AsOne of the sleek ferryboats that criss-crosses the river in Gothenburg we had walked from the train station in town we took the ferry and walked around the area, admiring the elegant apartments with balconies that overlooked the harbour, the colourful buildings and the ducks that waddled up to us when it looked as though we might stop and feed them.  Canal in Gothenburg (Lindholmen)It was a delightful walk in an area I’d never visited before, but it’s now on my list for further exploration and a return visit to the Turkish restaurant which served one of the best pastas I’ve had in years.

How’s that for Internationalism!

Gothenburg, colourful building
New colourful buildings in the University/Business area of Lindholmen

A few tips:

Invest in a Göteborg City Card. It may seem pricey at £28 for 24 hours, but this gives you free or reduced entry to most museums and attractions, free travel on public transport including the Gothia River ferry taxis, as well as some city tours.

Do have a ride on Electric bus route 55:  Gothenburg’s first route for electric buses runs between Lindholmen Science Park and Johanneberg Science Park via Avenyn, Brunnsparken and Götaälvbron. The buses are silent and emission-free and run on electricity from wind power and hydropower. The bus route is among the most modern in the world. Among other things, passengers can recharge their phones onboard and enter and exit the bus from indoors. Ordinary Västtrafik tickets are used to ride the bus.

Beware of cyclists – like many Scandinavian countries, the bicycle is king in Gothenburg. Don’t walk on the cycle tracks (the trails are well posted on the pavements) and keep a particular eye out for them on the pavements of the wider streets.  Bike station, Pixabay

End of the day over Gothenburg Harbour
Sunshine on a steely sea: late afternoon, Lindholmen, Gothenburg

 

The Bamboo Forest of Kyoto

I’d done my research and I knew about the 17 UNESCO Heritage sites in Kyoto, the 1,500 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, the ancient traditions that still inform the daily lives of the people, the tea ceremony, the flower arranging, and of course, the geishas, that in Kyoto showcase the heart and soul of traditional Japan.  All of that I saw and wondered at, but nothing prepared me for the beauty of the green bamboo glade through which we walked on our second day in the city, the tranquillity, the sighing of the leaves and the faint sounds of birds hidden in the branches.

Bamboo-forest,-Arashiyama,- (2)

If you’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon you will have gained some idea of what this place is about:  I found it totally magical.  Higashiyama is the main tourist area with the best shopping, the major artisan shops and the top heritage temples and shrines to visit, but because of this, it is mostly bustling and busy.  So a short bus ride to Western Kyoto to Arashiyama to experience the wonder of this bamboo forest is the perfect antidote to the crowds.

Bambool Trail

 

Infinite stalks of thick, green, bamboo stretch endlessly ahead, a forest of trees unlike any other forest you will see.  There is a sense of otherworldliness in the place and a strange quality to the light which is impossible to capture in photographs.

From Green to Black - Under the Bamboo

Everyone I spoke to was disappointed with the images they produced from their cameras, but it’s just impossible to capture something so intangible.

Kimona Clad Locals sightseeing in Bamboo Forest

 

Japan has many natural beauties, the cherry blossom in spring, the dazzling palette of red and gold leaves in the autumn, and the scenic splendour of the snow-covered Japanese Alps, but the Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, a city that moves to an entirely different rhythm from the rest of Japan, is my choice for top attraction in that land of much beauty.

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A Walk on the Ramparts of Ypres

I didn’t imagine it would be so difficult to write about my walk on the Ypres Salient in Belgium, as I followed the course of the World War l battle of 1917 but it’s impossible to write about the horrors of the 3rd Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) without including great chunks of history to explain just why we were walking there, and a blog is no place for a history essay.   That being the case, I have to forget my idea of doing a Monday walk for Jo and just add a few photos with connecting text. A few historical notes will be appended at the end of the blog for those who want to read them.

Menin Gate at night
The Menin Gate just before the ceremony of The Last Post

First though, a few details.

During the course of the war, Ypres was all but obliterated by artillery fire.  At the end of what we now call The Great War, it lay in ruins, only a handful of buildings were left standing.  First-time visitors to Ypres find it hard to believe that this magnificent town with its enormous square surrounded by medieval and Renaissance buildings was completely flattened by 1918.   Virtually the whole of the town you see today was reconstructed from scratch, stone by stone, brick by brick during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Rubble that could be incorporated into the buildings was collected, cleaned and re-used and the planners, by referring to the medieval sketches and diagrams that had survived, were able to painstakingly rebuild the squares, streets and beautiful buildings of this ancient Flemish town.

Throughout the town, you will see bronze plaques bearing the outline of the Cloth Hall, the Cathedral and the Menin Gate at street corners.  These are the signposts for the 5.5km  provincial Heritage Footpath,  the most complete footpath in the Ypres inner city.

Ypres Panorama (sort of)
Panoramic View of Ypres centre with the famous Cloth Hall on the left – © Mari Nicholson
Ypres by night
Ypres at Night with famous Cloth Hall on left –  © Mari Nicholson

Ypres had been fortified since about the 10th century and the Ypres ramparts are the best preserved in the country.  The town originated on the banks of the Ieperlee and some ten centuries ago it was contained within little more than an earth wall and some moats, parts of which, dating from 1385, still survive.  Later, stone walls and towers were added and later still, under occupation by the Habsburgs and then the French in the 17th and 18th centuries, the walls were strengthened, and bastions, advanced redoubts and more moats were added.  The Lille Gate is the only city gate left out of the many that existed in the past.

Ramparts Walk 2
On the Ramparts at Ypres – © Mari Nicholson
Ramparts Walk
Ypres Ramparts

The Ypres Ramparts are wide and strolling them in autumn is delightful as the falling leaves cushion the feet of the walker.  The signposted route is 2.6 km long and meanders past lakes and ponds (the remains of the moat), interesting statuary, and through the Lille Gate into a small W.W.l military cemetery filled with the upright white headstones erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, so familiar to visitors to France and Belgium.  The municipal museum is located not far from the gate.  Along the route, 23 panels provide information on the various points of Vauban’s ramparts.

Ypres-cemetery---peaceful-now,-but-it-was-once-a-scene-of-horrow

A peaceful spot in the Lille Cemetery on Ypres’ Ramparts – © Mari Nicholson

There are 198 soldiers buried here, among them the graves of six New Zealand troops who were killed simultaneously by the same shell:  their graves are now symbolically grouped together.

Ypres-cemetery---Headstones-to-a-few-of-the-fallen
Six New Zealand soldiers buried here together as they were killed by the same shell – © Mari

There follows some photographs I took on this walk which ended at the back of the Menin Gate, in some ways more beautiful than the gate whose picture we are familiar with at which buglers from the local Fire Brigade play the Last Post every night at 8 p.m. This custom has continued since 1928 when it was first inaugurated, save for 4 years during World War ll when the German occupation prevented it.  This year being an Anniversary Year it attracts a few hundred people every night but sometimes there are just a few onlookers, yet the volunteer buglers nightly continue their tribute to the fallen.

Menin Gate (back of)
The Menin Gate from the Ramparts side

 

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Notes:

A.  Engraved on The Menin Gate Memorial are the names of over 54,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces who died in the Ypres Salient before 16th August 1917 and who have no known grave.  Tyne Cot has 35,000 names and there are  75,000 engraved on the Thiepval Memorial.

B.  Menin Gate Last Post:  At 7.30pm the police arrive and all traffic is stopped from    driving through the Menin Gate until 8.30pm.  For one hour the noise of traffic ceases.  A   stillness descends and the crowd is hushed.

7.55pm: Buglers of the local volunteer Fire Brigade arrive and stand ready at the eastern entrance of the Menin Gate Memorial.  They then step into the roadway under the Memorial arch facing towards the town.  The Last Post is played.

 C.   Of the battles, the largest and most costly in terms of human suffering was the Third   Battle of Ypres (31 July to 6 November 1917, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele),   in which the British, Canadian, ANZAC, and French forces recaptured the Passchendaele  Ridge east of the city at a terrible cost of lives.   It had been a battle across muddy,  swampy fields taken and lost, then lost and taken again.  After months of fighting only a few miles of ground had been won by the Allied forces at a cost of nearly half a million casualties on all sides.

D.  The defence of Ypres was essential for the Allied forces as the town was a strategic point blocking the route of the Imperial German Army to the Belgian and French coastal ports (the ‘race to the sea’).   Thousands of Allied troops died in the rubble of its buildings, the shattered farmland around it and the fields and meadows that had been deliberately flooded by the Belgian King to try and prevent the enemy from gaining a foothold.   Both sides fought ferocious battles and lived in inhuman conditions to maintain possession.  On the German side, thousands of lives were lost on the battlefields around Ypres during their four years of offensive and defensive battles.

 

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Journey’s End at Ypres – In Remembrance

I thought my first post after my trip to Belgium last week would be about my walks around the battlefields of Ypres, but my mind is so full of the experience of seeing R.C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End, performed in an Ammunition Dump in that Belgium city, that I want to talk about that instead.

flyer-front

This particular run of the play finishes on November 12th, so I urge anyone in that area or anyone who can reach it easily, to book quickly to see the play (details below).

Journey’s End is the only drama about the First World War written by a playwright who actually fought in the war.

r-c-sheriff_2
R. C. Sherriff

 

Exactly one hundred years ago, Sherriff fought at Passchendaele in the 3rd Battle of Ypres and approximately 90 years since the play was first staged in London (with Laurence Olivier in the lead) it is being staged by the UK based MESH Theatre Co. in an old restored ammunition dump with 3-metre thick walls made to resemble the dugout in which the play is set, in Ypres, the town that was razed to the ground and re-built.

The action takes place over 4 days prior to the disastrous battle of St. Quentin and deals with the physical and mental ordeals of trench warfare experienced by a group of British officers during the run-up to the battle, the changes wrought by the war on one officer in particular (an alcoholic at just 21 years old, a causal effect of the war) and the effects of shell-shock on another.  Only a few forward-looking medics took much notice at that time of what we would now call PTSD but which then was often considered cowardice, or if you were lucky, shell shock (after being named such in 1915).

Ramparts Walk 3
A Walk on the Ramparts at Ypres  © Mari Nicholson

The ‘Theatre’ is accessed through a couple of hessian sacks serving as a doorway to the dug-out, the setting is atmospheric, lighting restricted to a few candles and two or three oil-lamps which barely illuminate the smokey trench.  Seating is limited to about 80 seats which surround a centre space on which the action takes place, the acting is powerful and emotional and being immersed in the atmosphere of the trench makes for a very moving experience.

The current run extends to November 12th with tickets at €15. Matinees 3.00 Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with evening performances at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the performance running just over 2 hours.

If you don’t manage to see it this year, make a note in your diary that the company will be performing it again in 2018, the centenary of the end of the Great War, at Thiepval, France from 18th September – 8th October and at Ypres, Belgium from 10th October to 12th November.

Menin Gate at night
Waiting for the Last Post to be Played at The Menin Gate  © Mari Nicholson

 

 

 

Photography Challenge: Pedestrian

A misty morning on the pedestrianised bridge over the Lake of the Restored Sword in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Pedestrian Bridge over Lake of the Restored Sword, Hanoi

They assured me I could walk in safety here but I chickened out when I saw the railway line running down the middle of the street.  Unfortunately, it also started me humming The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House, which my grandfather used to sing, and it stayed with me for days.

Railway in Hanoi Street

Orta San Giulio, Italian Lake town

One of the prettiest towns on Lake Orta, it charms with its pebble-studded lanes and stepped alleys branching off from Piazza Motta, the long narrow street behind the lakeshore with its wonderful selection of traditional food shops.  Rising high above it is the Monte Sacro (Sacred Mountain), a destination for pilgrims who come to pray at the many chapels on the hill.

Sitting facing the waters of the lake, shaded by chestnut trees and serenaded by the birds, I drank in the panoramic view of the tiny, but beautiful, Island of San Giulio which sits in the middle of the lake (which I had visited the previous day) and wondered if this perhaps, wasn’t the most beautiful spot along the lakes.

Isla-San-Giulio
Taken from top of Sacra Monte © Solange Hando

The town is a typical Italian town, narrow streets lined with ochre-coloured houses from which jutted wrought-iron balconies hung with geraniums and ferns.  The buildings date mainly from the 17th and 18th century but behind the main square, Piazza Motta, there are some dating back to medieval times.  These you will see if you make the climb up to the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta and to the SacroMonte.

 

There are small baroque palaces here and there with open galleries, pergolas and flower-filled balconies as well as hidden courtyards behind wrought-iron gates through which can be glimpsed lush vegetation.   On the corner of the square stands the little Palazzo della Comunita which bears the coat of arms of the lake communities that took part in its construction in the 11th century.

I have to confess that I didn’t make the trip to the top of the hill to visit the Santa Maria Assunta church.  The pebble-stoned pavements were very difficult to walk on, but when I got halfway up and turned to look around, my old friend vertigo decided to pay me a visit and I was halted in my steps and had to be helped down again!  Luckily, my friend and fellow-traveller, Solange Hando, was able to continue to the top and she has kindly allowed me to use some of the photographs she took from the top.

The-Vertigo-Inducing-steep-street-down-from-Santa-Maria-Assunto
Very Steep pebbled stoned street from Sacro Monte

The Sacro Monte’s most important building is the Sanctuary which is made up of 20 chapels built between 1591 and 1757, differing in style but blending well into the natural surroundings.  Originally it was intended to erect 30 chapels which would narrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, but in the end only 20 were built.   The interior of the chapels are decorated with frescoes and sculptures most of which are the work of the early 17th century Milanese painters, Giovanni Battista, Giovanni Mauro della Rovere, Giovanni d’Enrico, and the sculptor Christoforo Prestinari.  In all, there are estimated to be 900 frescoes in the complex.

Santa-Maria-Assunta
Church of Santa Maria Assunta

I was sorry not to have seen these frescoes and to have missed walking in the tranquillity of this remarkable site, but perhaps another year I may have more luck.

Under-the-Chestnut-Trees-looking-Across-to-Isla-San-Giulio
Under the Spreading Chestnut Trees Looking Across to Isla San Giulio © Solange Hando

Meantime, here are some photographs of this beautiful town, and the food shops piled high with mushrooms of every type, truffles, olive oils, balsamic vinegars (I saw one priced at over £100), and breads of every shape and taste.

 

Isla-San-Giulio-taken-from-the-top-of-Monte-Sacro-by-Solange-Hando.
© Solange Hando