Gardens of Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana Archaeological Site
Gardens of all kinds attract me like a moth to flame. Grand, monumental, historical, famous, botanical, natural or pruned to within an inch of its life, or beautifully designed small domestic gardens – each of these types of garden are places in which I find peace, joy and happiness.
Happiness is an Archaeological site to explore.
Tivoli, a small town about 30km from Rome, contains two UNESCO World Heritage sites – Villa D’Este, which has a very grand monumental garden, containing more fountains than I have ever seen in one garden and Villa Adriana (Hadrians Villa) which is an archaeological site.
Gardens of Villa D’Este
Visiting the gardens of the Villa D’Este was a most joyful and happy experience. I felt as if I had gone down a rabbit hole and entered an architectural wonderland. The garden is on several levels, covering around 4ha, with tree and hedge lined avenues, gardens with around 51 fountains, with hundreds of jets, water spouts and over 60 waterfalls (numbers not verified, but I can verify that there were more fountains, waterfalls and water features than I have ever seen in one garden.) Sculptures and cherubs abound, all making this garden feel like a giant fantasyland. Iris and roses were flowering profusely adding splashes of colour.
Villa d’Este was designed and laid out for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este by Pirro Ligorio. Work on the Villa and its gardens commenced in 1550 and took 20 years to complete, and is a splendid example of a High Renaissance garden.
Wandering along avenues, and down stairs and paths, my exploration of the garden felt like a never ending journey through paradise. One of the more fantastical fountains is the Rometta Fountain which is meant to represent ancient Rome.
I loved the tree lined Avenue of 100 fountains, so called because there are around 100 carved fountain heads, through which water falls into a long canal.
The garden covers an area known as Valle Gaudente – the Valley of Pleasure. What an apt place to create a garden – my visit was a pleasure – although pleasure is only a small part of the experience. Emerging from the rabbit hole, back to my reality was a less than optimum experience.
Villa Adriana – Hadrian’s Villa
Hadrian was born in 76CE and was the Roman Emperor 117CE to 138CE, when he died. He is buried in the Castel Saint’Angelo in Rome.
He was responsible for building projects throughout the Roman Empire, with the Pantheon in Rome being his most substantial achievement. He was also responsible for the building a defensive wall, (Hadrians Wall) marking the northern limit of Roman Britain.
I have visited the Pantheon on numerous occasions and seen a few of the remains of Hadrians Wall. During the dark days of the plague, to assist motivating myself to get out of bed, I completed a virtual walk alongside Hadrians Wall, which during the course of the walk, provided extensive views of the wall.
How could I resist a visit to the ruins and archaeological site of one of the places Hadrian called home.
The Villa complex was built between 118CE and 121CE over 120 hectares. As befitting a Roman Emperor, it was opulent – clearly no humble abode – as the plan indicates.
The Villa was Hadrian’s retreat from Rome. Wandering around the site I could imagine the grandeur, despite the ruins. Reflecting Hadrians scholarship and extensive travels, the complex of seven classical buildings were based on Greek and Roman classical architecture. The pools, canal, baths and sculptures complete the “international” style of architecture.
The remains of the various water features and sculptures give a better idea of how grand this country retreat was. Makes my family’s country retreat, a bach at the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, seem like a squalid hut.
The Serapeon of Canopus was supposedly an Egyptian style canal. There was a Theatre with a round colonnaded pool, baths and Hadrians swimming pool – the Poercile.
Above: Serapeon Canopus
In Hadrians day, there were extensive gardens – landscaped, wilderness areas and farmland. Today very little of the area contains gardens. There are large expanses of grass, numerous varieties of trees and shrubs, and some large areas of wildflowers, which on the day I visited were a glorious mass of colour.
My visits to archaeological sites have always proved to be a great learning experience. I research before I visit, and research and learn in more depth after a visit. The visit to Villa Adriana was no exception.
When I came to the end of my day in Tivoli, I was happy to be returning to Rome and its glories – if I had been returning home, the black dog would have not have only been breathing down my neck, it would have been perched on my shoulder.
Dasada, Little Rann of Kutch, Patan, Modhera and Ahmedabad
Dasada and the Little Rann of Kutch
Dasada is a small rural town, and a gateway to the little Rann of Kutch. The Little Rann is a salt desert, and part of the Great Rann. Despite its name, it is a very large salt desert of approximately 30,000 square metres.
I love camels. I was very happy to see camels, camels and more camels around Dasada. Camels alone, camels pulling carts, camels with beads around their necks, all looking as haughty and superior as only camels can.
The Rann Riders Resort, near Dasada is a perfect place to stay to explore the area, for many reasons. The resort is eco friendly. The owners very actively assist the local communities. They care about conservation and sustainable tourism.
My accommodation at Rann Riders was a Kooba house of the Bajania, which I loved. There were also Bhunga structures of the Rabari shepherds. There are other options, but I loved my little house.
A jeep safari, run by Rann Riders into the the Little Rann, proved to be a magical and inspirational experience. The people from Rann Riders have a superior level of care for the environment, and knowledge of the geology and of the wildlife which inhabits the area. I felt so privileged to see Asiatic wild ass – an endangered species. The birdlife would make the most experienced birdwatchers feel that they had died and gone to their heaven. My visit was not during the optimum bird watching time, but I still experienced the joy of viewing the few remaining flamingo’s in what was left of the wet season water.
Among the local people Rann Riders were assisting were the Mir, a nomadic people, who were living in temporary “homes” nearby. The Mir women created artwork with beads, and sold their creations by the roadside of their temporary dwellings. Rann Riders, on their website, acknowledge that, with the design intervention of some of their guests, (see below*) the Mir women were able to create jewellery, using their beads, which people would buy.
I shall never forget these beautiful women and children, and shall always feel so privileged to have met such resilient women.
Patan and Modhera
The drive from Dasada to Ahmedabad takes about 2.5 hours – or it would were it not for the need to stop and explore stepwells and temples along the way.
Stepwells are unique to India, and are subterranean water storeage and resource systems. These wells were constructed in Gujurat from around 600AD, and later spread to other parts of India. Stepwells evolved from pits in the ground to multi levels of elaborately carved sculptures – artistic and architectural masterpieces.
The Rani-ki-vav is a UNESCO World Heritage site at Patan, on the banks of the Saraswati River. It is constructed in the form of an inverted temple, and has seven levels of stairs, each level containing beautiful sculptures – said to be about 500 principal sculptures and many more minor sculptures. It was not difficult to descend down the levels and although the climb up was more onerous, I spent time on each level examining the sculptures, so really only ascended one level at a time.
The Modhera Sun Temple is a shrine dedicated to the Hindu sun god, Surya, and was constructed in the early 11th century on the banks of the Pushpavati River. The Temple is made up of three parts, Gudhamandapa – shrine hall, Sabhamandapa – assembly hall and Surya Kund – stepwell.
The temple is an excellent example of Solanaki style architecture, magnificently carved inside and out with gods, goddesses, birds and beasts and flowers. I could easily have spent more time examining these carvings in order to learn more about the gods and goddesses.
The Surya Kund contains several platforms and terraces, which include numerous small shrines. This stepwell was much easier to descend into, and particularly to ascend than was the Rani-ki-Vav. The Surya Kund would not provide relief from the heat as the Rani-ki-Vav does since the platforms and terraces are more open to the sun.
Ahmedabad, situated on the banks of the Subarmati River is the largest city in Gujurat, is named after Sultan Ahmed Shah, who founded the city in 1411. Ahmedabad was an important business centre during the Mughal period, and was home to Mahatma Ghandi for several years. His home is now a museum, the Subarmati Ashram. Ghandi arrived in Ahmedabad in May, 1915. He started spinning at the Ashram in 1918. “The spinning wheel and hand-woven cloth or khadi gradually became emblematic of Ghandi’s economic, social and political ideals. He believed that the demise of handicrafts and cottage industries, in particular the art of spinning, had led to the decline of village life..” (Ghandi, Peter Ruhe, Phaidon – page 68).
The Ashram was far from serene, with large number of people viewing the interior and many more relaxing in the grounds on the river bank. Not a place for quiet contemplation
Ahmedabad is India’s first World Heritage City. A heritage walk through the old quarter of Ahmedabad showcases the various architectural styles, which blends Hindu and Islamic influences including Islamic monuments, and Hindu and Jain Temples. The carved wooden houses are unique, and athough one should not covet thy neighbour’s ox (or whatever), I certainly coveted these houses.
The streets in the old quarter provided the opportunity to observe day to day life in that area. People in temples and at shrines, women making bread, a woman ironing and cows and goats milling about.
I was a little startled to observe a palanquin, covered by fabric to ensure the occupant was not able to be observed, passing by. It reminded me that Ahmedabad has a large culturally significant muslim population. It occurred to me that if I had a palanquin when I was a teenager in a gossipy New Zealand village it would have saved me from those lace curtain twitchers in that village.
The Sidi Saiyyed Mosque is a beautiful building, built in 1573. It has an exquisite Tree of Life stone latticework covered window, the beauty of which adds to the architectural splendour of the mosque.
Having “collected” photographs of doors in many places I have visited over the years, I managed to add to my collection in Ahmedabad.
The Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad contains superb textiles dating back to the 15th century. It was founded in 1949, and contains a magnificent collection of antique and modern Indian textiles. Even a most unpleasant bossy attendant did not totally diminish the experience, but she certainly did not make a wise career choice.
The creativity and imagination which is invested in the making of Kathputti puppets and the narratives the puppet shows tell results in a visually exotic experience, even though not a word of the story was understood by me. The actions of the puppets occasionally gave some vague idea of the story, such as a snake being pursued, or retribution of sorts for a recalcitrant.
Kathputti puppets are made of wood and are very brightly coloured. They have sharp features, and “speak” in a high pitched squeak.
Attending the performance outdoors with a background of large trees, watching puppets and humans perform, was a fitting finale for my visit to Gujurat.
I hope that visiting Gujurat was not a once in a lifetime experience. There are a lot more stepwells to explore.
(**Note: One of the Rann Riders guests who provided the Mir women with design assistance and materials, and assisted with marketing, is Carole Douglas of Desert Traditions in Australia. Carole is a textile and arts expert who has been visiting Gujurat for many years. Her company organises small tours to Gujurat, (and other places) and can take textile and embroidery lovers to visit many artisans homes and businesses which tourists do not generally get to see. Desert Traditions believes in and practises sustainable tourism. Carole can be contacted at http://www.desert-traditions.com
Desert Traditions can also be found at face.book.com/deserttraditions and on instagram.)
Churches in Italy never fail to impress. Architecture, paintings, sculpture, mosaics, history and so much more.
Chiesa San Michele has something I had not previously seen in the numerous churches I have visited. It has a ceramic floor of Majolica tiles, called the Garden of Eden. Dating from 1761 there are approximately 1,500 tiles showing Adam and Eve as they are expelled from the garden. Leonardo Chiaiese was the craftsman who created this masterpiece, depicting the serpent in the tree, the expulsion and some of the most glorious animals described in the bible.
To properly appreciate the entire floor, it is necessary to climb up to the gallery.
Having viewed the entire floor, I then descended down to the ground floor to examine the floor in detail. My favourite animal/creature I think was the unicorn, closely followed by the elephant, the camel and the owl.
There is, of course more to see in Chiesa San Michelle, but the majolica tiled floor is unique – the art and general decor is secondary.
Capri is so beautiful, has so much to offer historically and is so much more than just the blue grotto. This church was an unexpected delight.
Arriving in Stresa as evening approached was magical. The mountains surrounding Lake Maggiori were starting to merge into the dusk, their snowy white peaks starkly contrasting with the bluish purple of the mountains.
The winding road down into Stresa provided beautiful views of the lake, the Borromean Islands, and boats heading in to the wharf.
Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy, and crosses the border into Switzerland. Messing about in boats is clearly a popular activity. Fishermen’s boats abound on Isola dei Pescatori, pleasure boats of all kinds jostle for space with the ferries around Stresa. Stunning lakeside residences have beautiful yachts moored nearby.
Serious hikers and cyclists were thick on the ground early in the morning, heading out to conquer all obstacles. No doubt skiers joined the early morning exodus during the season. Being among the more slothful types, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the terrace of my hotel, overlooking the lake, contemplating the leisurely activities I had planned – visiting the gardens of Stresa and surrounds.
Isola Bella, one of the Borromean Islands, is wholly occupied by the Palazzo Borromeo, and its extravagant garden. Work started on the Palazzo and garden in 1632, and was not finally completed during 1948-59.
The garden is constructed on ten terraces, and is Baroque Italian style. It is the most grandiose, flamboyant and fanciful garden I have ever visited. Magnificent trees, ponds and fountains, statues, obelisks and pinnacles, orderly flowerbeds and lawns, shrubs, flowers, roses, hydrangea, camellia, azalea and citrus together with expansive views over Lake Maggiore to the mountains provide a visual overload of massive proportions.
The garden is entered through the Palazzo. A colossal camphor tree greets you as you emerge in to the garden. It arrived as a sapling in 1819. There are numerous notable old trees around the garden, which help to balance the grandiose architecture and ornamentation and “carved” trees with nature.
The Teatro Massimo (the rear of which is visible in the image above) has to be the most extreme baroque architectural garden structure ever. It is topped by a unicorn being ridden by a winged figure representing either love or honour. There are 4 huge statues representing four elements – fire, earth air and water. There are statues of the four seasons, each holding a plant applicable to their season. Add some huge scallop shell decorations and many more statues, and you should get the vision.
Terracotta pots of pansies or pots of round clipped buxus lined the various steps between terraces, carpets of multi coloured poppies filled some of the formal flower beds, and everywhere statues were thick on the ground. Here a Neptune, there a Diana presiding over a pool and huge concrete vases, some filled with fruit.
White peacocks strut about on the manicured lawns in front of the Teatro Massimo, occasionally showing off their magnificent tails.
A loud voice rang out over the lawn “Oh I say Mabel, look at them peacocks – we don’t have any in England”. It made me think of a visit to Leeds Castle in Kent a few weeks earlier, where several white peacocks were strutting their stuff. If I had been able to identify the voice, I may have suggested she and Mabel should visit Leeds Castle.
Sipping a cocktail in the Piano Bar at my hotel that evening, looking out over the Lake and listening to Chopin was a perfect end to an enchanting day.
“A beautiful garden does not need to be big, but it should be the realisation of one’s dreams” said Neil Boyd McEacharn, the creator of the Botanical Gardens at Villa Taranto, Pallanza.
All very well for him – the beautiful botanical gardens at Villa Taranto cover around 20 hectares. Still, that gives those of us with city gardens some hope of creating a place of beauty.
McEacharn established the gardens in 1931-40. He travelled the world in search of rare species. There are around 20,000 plant varieties in the gardens, which include a terraced garden, a bog garden, a water garden, a dahlia garden and a herbarium.
The Villa Taranto contains one of of Europes largest collections of exotic species. McEacharn’s dream to create one of the world’s most beautiful botanic gardens was fulfilled. The fountains, ponds and architectural features add to the beauty of the garden.
McEacharn died in 1964, and is buried in a mausoleum in the garden.
Gustave Flaubert, in 1845, said that “Isola Madre is the most sensual place I have ever seen in the world”, and described it as an “earthly paradise”.
Isola Madre is the largest of the Borromean Islands. The botanic garden on the island covers an area of eight hectares, and is described as an English style garden, and was landscaped in the early 19th century. It is one of Italy’s oldest botanical gardens, and contains a 200 year old Kashmir Cypress and a 125 year old Jubaeae Spectabilis Palm. There is no trace of the earlier orchards, and olive and citrus groves.
The garden seemed more tropical to me than an English style garden, with its eucalypts, banana and hibiscus, although it does have wonderful azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. The ponds and landscaping were a little reminiscent of an English garden.
The modern sculpture in the garden included Velasco Vitale’s Foresta rossa (red forest) and Branco, a pack of dogs. Foresta rossa is the name of a pinewood near Chernobyl, so named because immediately after the disaster in 1986, the trees all turned red, and then died. Foresta rossa was created from concrete tar and sheet metal.
These dogs are fun. They are created from different materials, and all look different. Each dog is named after a vanished city.
Champagne cocktails in the Piano Bar that evening provided a perfect end to another day in paradise.
Giardino Botanica Alpinia
The Alpine Garden is 800m above Stresa, and provides panoramic views of the Borromeo Islands, Lake Maggiore and its surrounding peaks. The Swiss Alps can be seen in the distance.
The garden was created in 1934, and is the second largest alpine garden in Italy. It covers an area of 40,000 sq. metres, and contains more than 1000 species of alpine and sub alpine plants, and includes many rare trees.
The garden contains botanic species from the Alps and Alpine foothills and from the Caucasus, China and Japan. A wetland area has been created for aquatic plants. An Alpine garden is a pretty wondrous place – seeing the variety of plants which grow and thrive in an alpine climate never fails to impress me.
I combined my visit to the Alpine Garden with a long walk which took me through Alpinio and through beautiful trees of many varieties.
I then utilised the Mottarone cable car to reach the top of Mottarone. I felt as though I was on top of the world, looking down on creation, when I walked up from the cable car terminus. A 360 degree uninterrupted view of mountains, from the Ligurian Apennines, the Maritime Alps to the Monte Rosa Massif, and the high peaks of Switzerland, seven visible lakes and the Po Valley – this view has to be up there with the best.
Having dinner on the terrace, looking out over the lake, accompanied by a cold crisp white wine, I felt as if all was well in my world.
Parco della Villa Pallavicino
The Pallavicino family acquired this property in 1862. The park was a work in progress for many years, and in 1952 a zoo was added.
The park is approached along a line of Cypresses, tortured to form a row of arches, reminiscent of a cloister, with magnificent views over the lake.
The garden is said to be reminiscent of an English garden, which in parts it was. The rose garden is mid 20th century, and did remind me of English rose gardens, especially the rose archways in the Regents Park in London. The rose garden was established in mid 20th century.
The current flower garden layout is from the 1950’s, and is also reminiscent of an English garden. The flower garden was the former kitchen garden.
The trees are magnificent and include centuries old chestnuts, beeches, maples redwoods and magnolias. There are numerous water features from ponds and fountains to waterfalls.
There are grassy slopes, leading up to more forested areas, with rather odd, though pretty, flower beds here and there. Peacocks roam about, adding to the colour and contrasting beautifully with the green, green grass – or should I say lawns. What I have in my garden is grass full of weeds, what this garden has is beautifully manicured carpets of green.
I thought that the request from the grass was a great deal more persuasive than the usual command to keep off the grass.
Grand Hotel Des Isles Borromees
I stayed in this historic hotel in Stresa, and had the bonus of its park to wander around. The hotel opened in 1863, and the park/garden has evolved since then.
The park contains hundreds of varieties of azaleas and camellias, and is in the style of a classic Italian garden. There are pathways winding through trees. Marble statues, mostly representations from Greek and Roman mythology, are liberally sprinkled around, including Neptune with his trident, Apollo and Fortuna, Paris and Helen, Dionysus cupids, and many more.
My room overlooked a fountain and garden. Fountain doesn’t seem an adequate description. The fountain is a reproduction of a marble fountain by Italian sculptor Vicenzo de Rossi. It is much more than a mere fountain. Two levels, granite stairs, multi coloured arabesques, mosaic walls, and a superb mosaic carpet. Statues representing 5 continents (sad to say us Antipodeans are not represented as Oceana had not been discovered).
The most startling thing about this fountain is that on the hour a music box in the fountain plays Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the ninth symphony. Luckily it ceases late at night. I love Beethovens 9th, but a music box version of Ode to Joy every hour stretches the friendship.
There were no gardens on the Isola dei Pescatori, the third of the Borromean islands, but I hopped off the ferry there one day to have lunch. It is a very pretty spot, with the fishermen’s boats lining the shores, swans sailing around majestically and lots of lovely spots to sit and enjoy the views. However I shall never again ask for a “doggy box” at a restaurant.
Having arrived in Stresa at dusk, leaving early in the morning provided a different perspective. As my car wound its way up from Stresa, the lake was sparkling in the sun and the snow on the mountain top was starkly white in the morning sun. There were a lot more boats on the lake. The ferries were making their way to the islands and settlements around the lake and the pleasure craft were heading out the places unknown. I was sad to leave. There are many more gardens to explore in the area, so I will return.
I am attracted to the memorials of the dead writers who have had an impact on me.
Monuments, which do not claim any personal presence of the dead writer, can be very moving, or can make the visitor feel that the monument is less a memorial to the dead writer, lucrative as that may be, but merely a site to generate income, without a meaningful association to the dead writer. The latter for example might be a house where the dead writer had the slightest of links.
Iran has produced many inspiring poets, and the tombs of many of the Persian poets are considered holy by Iranians. In fact Iran is said to be the Land of Poetry.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit several of the dead poet’s tombs in Iran.
Saadi was born in Shiraz , and died there in 1291. Saadi is said to be one of the greatest poets of the classical Iranian tradition. Gulistan and Bustan are among his most notable works. When I visited, people were reading his poetry at the tomb. Restoration of the tomb was completed in 1952.
A carpet, bearing a poem from Gulistan, Bani Adam, can be found at the entrance to the UN in New York.
Hafez was born in 1315 and died in Shiraz in 1389. He was a prolific poet and a religious scholar. Apparently his collected works, The Divan, are said to be found in most Iranian homes. People were reading his poetry at the tomb. His marble tomb is engraved with versus including “On the day of my death, give me a minutes time to set eyes on thee, Then from this world and life I shall be set free”. I wish I felt as philosophical about death.
The longest epic poem written by one person is the Shahnameh – the Book of Kings. It was written by Ferdowsi over a period of 30 years. Ferdowsi was born in 940AD and died around 1020, in Tus, near Mashad. His current tomb was built between 1928 and 1934 and remodelled in 1969.
My favourite part of the tomb is a frieze of life size sculptures depicting scenes from the Shanameh. I was contemplating, with revulsion, a depiction of Zahhak (a bad king) who had serpents growing out of his shoulders. To keep the serpents calm they had to be fed children’s brains. At this point, the Iranian guide, with a straight face, said “of course there was quite a brain drain during this period”. Of course there was.
Omar Khayyam was born in 1048 and died in 1131. His mausoleum is in Nishapur, about 40 miles west of Mashad. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a collection of hundreds of quatrains. It was first translated from Farsi to English in 1859. There are numerous quotes which I love, but with Covid-19 raging, “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life” is one which resonates with me.
I was hissed at in the garden near the mausoleum. A group of elderly men took exception to something about me – maybe my headscarf was too far back. The rest of me, other than my hands and face were totally covered. I was hissed at once before at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt by a group of young men, when I inadvertently took my jacket off, and exposed my arms from the elbow down, so at least I knew what the hissing was about.
Russia has many famous writers. The memorials I visited were not architectural or artistic gems such as those in Iran, but I was very moved by most of them. I have enjoyed reading Russian literature for a long time and visits to the places where some of the books and poems I love were written were very meaningful.
Anna Akhmatova lived in rooms of the former Sheremetev Palace, in St Petersburg. These rooms now form her memorial by way of a museum. She documented the suffering and hardship of the Stalin terror and the Second World War. I felt the cold terror of a dawn knock on the door when coming up the stairs, I saw the candle holder, which would have illuminated the Mother of God Icon, and the icon. A couple of lines from her poem, Requiem came to mind “He was taken away at dawn, a candle flares, illuminating the Mother of God.”
After the visit, a friend recited the Requiem in the courtyard, which bought tears to my eyes.
Alexander Pushkin was born in Moscow in 1799 and died in St Petersburg in 1837.
There is a Museum and memorial apartment in St Petersburg, honouring Alexander Pushkin. I did not find the museum particularly inspiring. Pushkin only lived in the apartment in 1836-37 until his untimely death in a duel. The apartment is apparently an example of a nobleman’s residence of the 1830’s. I did not feel Eugene Onegin or the Queen of Spades. I did like his monument in the Square of Arts.
Pushkin married in Moscow in 1831, and took an apartment at No 53, the Arbat. There is a memorial Apartment at no. 53, but as he only lived there for around 3 months, I did not venture in. Arbat Street is one of the oldest streets in Moscow, and was home to writers such as Tolstoy and Gogol. It was the subject of a novel, Children of the Arbat by Anatoli Rybakov which is set in 1934, the period just prior to Stalin’s great purges. I found the novel chilling, dark and depressing, but essential reading to help understand the time. In the novel Arbat Street is the intellectual and artistic centre of Moscow.
Yasnaya Polyana is now a house museum, and a memorial to Tolstoy. It is in the Tula Region, around 200km from Moscow. Tolstoy was born there in 1828 and died there in 1910. His 13 children were all born there. Tolstoy’s unmarked grave is in a pretty glade, a short walk from the house through woods.
War and Peace and Anna Karenina are long time favourites. Bald Hills Estate in War and Peace was modelled on Yasnaya Polyana. A visit to the estate, where those two novels were written between 1862 and 1869 was a moving experience. The simply furnished house, the huge library, and the idyllic park bought his books to life for me.
Peredelkino Writer’s Colony is about 15km from Moscow. It is set among the most glorious silver birch forests and contains the house museum of Boris Pasternak. Pasternak died there in 1960. Most of Dr Zhivago was written at Peredelinko. The soviet authorities did not approve, and Dr Zhivago was not published in Russia until 1988. The novel was first published in Italy in 1957 and won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1958, which Pasternak was required to decline. Pasternak was “rehabilitated” in 1987, and his son accepted the Nobel Prize in 1989. While visiting the house, the first two lines of Lara’s Theme “Somewhere my love there will be songs to sing/Although the snow covers the hope of Spring”, came to mind, and reflected the history of the book. Sad that Pasternak died before the spring.
I shocked myself for being knocked out by Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, written between 1928-1940, during Stalin’s regime. Bulgakov was born in 1891 and died in 1940. The Master and Margarita was not published as a book until 1967, in Paris, although a censored version was published in a Moscow magazine in 1966-67.
A memorial to him in Moscow is the Bulgakov House Museum, in an apartment in which he lived for a period. There is a mural of him, and the cat on a side wall of the apartment, and a couple of interesting sculptures at the entrance. It was closed when I visited.
Why was I shocked to be totally enthralled by the novel? The various genres have been described as satire, romance novel, farce, fantasy fiction and occult fiction, all of which I generally avoid. Thank goodness I did not avoid The Master and Margarita.
Who could not be knocked out by the description of Berlioz slipping onto the tram line “the tram car went over Berlioz, and a round dark object was thrown up on the cobbled slope…..it went bouncing along the cobblestones of the street. It was the severed head of Berlioz.”
Bulgakov was buried in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow.
Christian, Muslim, Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu and Egyptian artists, among others, have been creating images of Last Judgments for many centuries. It is fascinating to compare not only the different faith’s interpretations of what the judgment day will look like but also the different interpretations of heaven and hell over the centuries. For example, the torments for those bound for hell often reflect the society’s punishments prevalent at the time. In some centuries, god is stern and vengeful, in others benevolent.
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Rome is probably the most viewed and commented on work of art dealing with the judgment day, and was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Michelangelo created this fresco along the whole length of the alter wall. His work is of the Italian Renaissance period, and was created around 1536-41. He depicted himself as St Bartholomew. The gates of hell, bottom left, appears to be the mouth of a cave.
I was suprised to find an Armenian quarter in Isfahan, Iran, which was established in 1606. The Vank Cathedral is an Armenian Church, built in Safavid style, with an Islamic dome. The Cathedral was completed in 1664 and contains a medieval depiction of the Last Judgment, called “Heaven, earth and hell.” Note the gates of hell in this painting, lower left. Quite a number of last judgments gates of hell are monsters, with the damned being fed into its mouth.
A Russian Orthodox Icon of the Last Judgment can be found in the Dormiton Cathedral, in the Kremlin in Moscow, and is dated around 1408. The torments of hell are more gentle than usual, although the beast on the left, and the numerous devil figures are menacing enough.
Driving through Southern France, I came across one of the oldest Last Judgments I have seen. I was visiting Conques, which was a major stop on the St-Jacques de Compostela Pilgrimage route from Puy En Velay.
The Church of Sainte-Foy (1050-1130CE) has a stone carved relief on the tympanum of the Judgment day. God is depicted in the centre, and by the look of the torments of hell, he was not a benevolent god.
Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a Buddhist temple complex, originally built as a Hindu Temple. The Judgment by Yama is a 12th Century bas relief, and is a 60 metre long panel dedicated to the Judgment of Yama. Yama, in Buddhist mythology is a wrathful god, and is based on Yama of the Hindu Veda.
The panel is in two tiers depicting heaven and hell. There are 37 heavens and 32 hells. Each level of hell contains a spot where those not good enough for the first level get tipped down to the next, and so on. It is very difficult to photograph, so I only have a couple of images of the detail.
I loved the religious art in the Ethiopian Orthordox Churches, and was very pleased to find a Last Judgment in St Georges Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was created by Maitre Afewerk Tekle in 1958.
When visiting the Reza Abbasi Museum in Teheran, I came across a late 19th century Muslim last judgment, by Mohammed Modabber. Titled “Day of the last Judgment” it has a monster on either side at the foot of the painting. It seems that the one at the right would be the gates of hell, as tormented souls are entering the mouth of that monster.
When visiting tombs in Egypt, I was always drawn to images of the weighing of the heart ceremonies. The Ancient Egyptians had a complex journey after death. The heart was kept in the body so that it could travel with the deceased to the underworld. The deceased finally reaches the Hall of Final judgment. The final part of the judgment was the ceremony where Anubis the god of the dead weighed the heart, which contained a record of the deceased’s actions in life. The heart was weighed against the feather of the Goddess Ma’at. Souls heavier than the feather would be devoured by Ammut. Those with lighter souls would ascend to a heavenly existence. Ammut’s mouth could be compared to the depictions of monster’s mouths in various christian images.
I have not seen any one image which captures the entire journey. The most graphic images are those of the heart weighing ceremony.
On the journey to heaven, the dead sailed in solar boats. If ancient Egyptian Last Judgment images included the entire day in one image, the journey through the underworld, the heart weighing ceremony, the 12 chambers of hell and the solar boats would all appear in one image rather than as a scroll, reading from left to right (as depicted in Books of the Dead).
My absolute all time favourite Last Judgment is Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly delights. That painting is the feature image above. It is a triptych oil painting, created between 1490 and 1510. The torments of hell are among the more hideous warnings to sinners of the fate that awaits them if they do not repent. Seeing this painting was the highlight of my visit to the Museo de Prado, in Madrid.
For the very best Gates of Hell, you need look no further than Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the Gates of Hell, depicting a scene from the Inferno, from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The sculpture was begun in 1880 and took 37 years to complete.
The last judgments featured are but a very small example of the many last judgments I have seen. Wassily Kandinsky painted a last judgment in 1912. Unfortunately I have only seen reproductions, as the original is in private hands.
Future travels will involve tracking down modern images of Last Judgments.
I have been a regular visitor over many years. No visit to London is complete without at least one day at Kew. When I lived in London, I visited Kew almost monthly, so have enjoyed its splendour over all seasons.
What can be more uplifting than a visit to Kew when the snowdrops and crocus appear, to signal that spring is coming. Daffodil and bluebell time provide glorious sweeps of yellow and blue. Cherry blossom time is divine. Every season provides a smorgasbord of beauty.
Dale Chihuly is a Sculptor, working in the medium of glass. I first became aware of Chihuly in 2005, when an exhibition of his work went on display at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. The exhibition was “Gardens of Glass”, and it is true to say that I had never before seen such idiosyncratic beautiful glass art. The riot of colour and the shapes of the various installations transported me to wild places in my imagination.
My favourite installation was the “Thames Skiff” which was floating in the pond in front of the Palm House. It was described as a “19th century type vessel, refashioned into a raucous, drunken boat full of abstract passengers.” I have added this image to my collection of The Ship of Fools.
It was with great excitement I discovered Chihuly was mounting an exhibition, “Reflections on Nature” in Kew Gardens in 2019.
Reflections on Nature was as original and innovative as Gardens in Glass. It was difficult to choose a favourite, although the waterlilies were up there.
The temperate house had many wonderful installations, but my favourite would have to be Temperate House Persians, a 9metre sculpture, predominantly blue glass – blue glass being my favourite.
The installation around the flowering cherries, among the tulips was quite spectacular.
Reflections on Nature included some monumental outdoor installations.
The installation, based on seashells, which was indoors, was exquisite. It was very easy to see the seashells in these beautiful glass sculptures.
There were so many more installations which gave me great pleasure, incited my imagination and gave me hope that creativity and beauty will prevail. Dale Chihuly, long may you live to create such beauty.
Skara Brae, a stone built Neolithic village on the Orkney Mainland, had been on my must see list for nearly 20 years.
I first became aware of Skara Brae when I viewed Simon Schama’s “A History of Britain” in the early 1990’s. Part of the village had been unearthed in 1850 when a storm battered Orkney, causing the sand which had covered the village to be stripped.
Lolly girl was up for a trip, and was happy to increase her knowledge of Neolithic civilisation, and as it turned out we learnt a lot more about the Vikings as well.
Flying in to Kirkwell, the main town on the Mainland we could see the causeways built between the Main Island, Burray and South Ronaldsy Islands – white ribbons threading across the blue sea. Approaching Kirkwall the patchwork of fields and rolling hills provided a taste of the beauty of the Orkney Islands.
Locating our apartment in Finstown, 6 miles northwest of Kirkwell, was a challenge. We were looking out for “a narrow driveway on our right, white house on one side and grey house on the other, and if you get to the cemetery, you have gone too far”. We got to the cemetery. To describe the narrow alleyway between the two houses as a driveway was a leap of faith.
The apartment had a changing view across the Bay of Firth, depending on the weather. On calm sunny days, the bay was like a mirror reflecting the buildings and trees. Other days, it was moody grey and rough with whitecaps whipping across the surface.
The drive from Finstown to Skara Brae required great self discipline. There seemed to be something that must be explored around every corner.
Skara Brae was inhabited between around 3100BC and 2500BC.
There are nine surviving Neolithic houses, which were connected and consisted of one room. They still contain stone dressers and box-beds. These beds would possibly have been lined with fur, straw or maybe dried seaweed. One of the houses, house eight, is different to the others. It does not contain beds or dressers, and is not connected to other structures. Schaama suggested it may have been the equivalent of the local pub. This suggestion was met with scorn by a scholar friend, and refusal to watch any more of the Schaama series, on the basis he was trivialising history. I tended to the view that he was making it accessible and interesting to an audience other than scholars.
Archaeologists are unsure of the use to which this structure was put, but there is a view that it may have been a workshop. There is also speculation that it may have been a later addition.
There was a great deal more than Skara Brae to explore. The Orkney Islands have been inhabited for about 8,500 years, originally by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes, then Picts. They were annexed by Norway in the early 8th and 9th centuries, and settled by the Vikings. The Orkneys became part of Scotland, when James III of Scotland received them from Christian I, King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in lieu of a dowry.
Skara Brae was probably part of a group of Neolithic Monuments in the area. The Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, both ceremonial stone circles are within a few miles of Skara Brae and the Stones of Stenness can be seen from the chambered Cairn at Maeshowe. There are numerous standing stones between the sites, which suggest some kind of ceremonial walkway.
Standing stones can be found in numerous parts of the world. Gma and Lolly girl track them down with the tenacity of hounds on the scent (of standing stones). There is a lot of debate about their purpose. A place of rituals and other ceremonies is a prevalent theory. Another theory is that they could have been astronomical sites. I visited an ancient stelae field of carved standing stones in Tiya, Ethiopia. Those stones appear to be grave markers.
We were accompanied on our visit to the Stones of Stenness by a group of fat woolly sheep, one of whom used a stone as a back scratcher. There are only four stones still standing, on a flat grassy site overlooking the Loch of Stenness. The site dates from around 3100BC, and is one of the earliest stone circles in Britain.
The Ring of Brogdar is a candidate for the theory that stone circles were used as astronomical observatories. Another theory suggests that due to its size, it was built to accommodate a larger number of people than Stenness. The theories are almost as fascinating as the stones themselves.
Lolly Girl is a keen birdwatcher. While Gma is content to photograph the birds, Lolly Girl is more interested in identifying them. The Orkney Islands are an ornithologists heaven. There are hides around, which anyone can use. There is generally a list of birds recently spotted, and one we entered had numerous bird books. Although the puffins proved to be elusive when we visited the Brough of Birsay, we did see some Auks
One evening in Kirkwall, the peace was shattered by the most ear shattering din. A dilapidated old truck came careering down the street, carrying a very strange assortment of people on the tray, including a man wearing few clothes, tied up and with a gooey looking black paste on his face and body and feathers everywhere. Other people had feathers in their hair, or very weird wigs on their head. There was much shouting, screaming, jumping up and down, beating of drums, and whistle blowing. Several people were banging the side of the truck with sticks. Wine was involved – lots of it, generally drunk from the bottle.
The truck did several circuits of the town. I was expecting the police to arrive, to at least restrain people from jumping on and off the truck.
We later discovered this was a “Wedding Blackening”, and is a tradition. Hence the police don’t view it as a breach of the peace, and let them be. The man stripped, tied up and covered in black goo (treacle, flour and feathers) is the groom to be. He is then paraded about on the back of a truck, and can end up in the sea.
We had seen strange sign in the public toilets earlier in the day, saying no to lasses clarted in molasses. After witnessing the wedding blackening, we realised the sign was forbidding people from cleaning up in the public toilets after a blackening.
There are several sites of interest in Kirkwall. St Magnus Cathedral was founded in 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald, in honour of his Uncle, St Magnus who was martyred in the Orkneys. The stained glass windows are beautiful, and when the sun shines through them, they cast an intricate mosaic like pattern on the wall. The window’s are relatively new, having been installed between 1913 and 1930.
St Magnus Cathedral
I loved the numerous gravestones on the walls, a number featuring skulls and crossbones. The medieval collection of stones with the symbols of death – bones and coffins are among the best I have seen.
The gravestone of a merchant in Kirkwall, who died in 1673 was possibly my favourite. The detail below shows death dancing and piercing an urn with a dart. A cherub is blowing into a long trumpet.
In contrast to medieval stones was a modern painting commemorating the 900th anniversary of the Martyrdom of St Magnus by Norwegian artist Hakon Gullvag. I enjoyed this painting so much, it inspired me to search out more of his art. I loved his Biblical Cycle, particularly the Tower of Babel and Noahs Ark.
A little fortification was required before exploring the Bishop’s Palace and the Earl’s Palace. Lolly Girl is partial to a drop of fine whisky, and was keen to visit the Highland Park Whisky distillery. Gma wanted to compare a local gin to her current favourites. Highland Park was full of tourists, so Lolly Girl made do with a miniature bottle of 20 year whisky to take home. The gin distillery did not have any gin to taste. Neither did they have any small bottles. Fortification by way of a less than sublime coffee didn’t quite put us in a nice floaty place.
I prefer my Palaces to be in ruins. The Bishop’s Palace and the Earl’s Palace were entirely to my taste. The Bishop’s Palace is a medieval 12th Century palace, originally built for the first Bishop, William the Old. In the early 1600’s the Bishop’s Palace was incorporated into a Renaissance Palace – the Earl’s Palace. The buildings are no longer co-joined.
A lot of cruise ships spend a day at Kirkwell or Stromness. We chose a non cruise ship day to visit Stromness. Wise choice. We almost had the place to ourselves. Even so, driving through the village was a challenge. The streets are mainly only wide enough for one car, but are not one way. We had to back up to wider spots several times to allow another car through.
It was a grey damp day, but the boats and their reflections in the still harbour were far from grey.
Stromness, around the harbour, is very quaint and picturesque. After wandering around the narrow little streets, devoid of people we had a splendid lobster lunch at a pub on the waterfront. Seafood is exceptionally good in this part of the world.
Lolly Girl decided to compile an album of images of ruined cottages. There was no shortage of subjects, and she built up a most impressive collection. I tended to favour ruined palaces. The site of the Earl’s Palace at the Brough of Birsay contained excellent ruins. The Palace was built between 1569 and 1579 and was the residence of Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, a half brother of Mary Queen of Scots. Robert was apparently a harsh earl, with royal pretensions who oppressed the people of Orkney. His son Patrick Stewart, the 2nd Earl of Orkney was apparently even less likeable than Robert.
Above – Earl’s Palace, Birsay.
We had been very keen to visit Maeshowe, a neolithic chambered cairn which had been built some 5000 years ago. The Cairn looks like a mound in the field until the entrance comes into view.
The low entrance passage is aligned with the setting of the midwinter sun, which allows light to illuminate the interior. Entering the tomb from the entry passage we emerged into the large central chamber. There were too many people in the group for us to really get a feel for the site, but the structure was most impressive.
Vikings broke into the Cairn through the roof in the mid 1100’s. They left graffiti, carved in runes. It was impossible for most people see this graffiti while the guide explained it. A quick single file view later was less than satisfactory.
The Tomb of the Eagles is on South Ronaldsay, and is another example of a stone age chambered cairn. The long entrance tunnel had to be negotiated by lying flat on what appeared to be a large skateboard, and pulling yourself along by a rope on the ceiling. A panic attack would have overwhelmed me if I tried to enter the cairn. Lolly Girl decided she would have a go. She lasted for all of 20 seconds.
The walk to the site more than made up for our cowardice. The sheer cliffs dropping to the sea below were inhabited by dozens of seabirds nesting. Wildflowers carpeted some areas, and all had identification tags. Coming across a field of pink, or white, or purple was a vision splendid.
We stopped off at a most extraordinary Chapel on Lamb Holm on our way back from South Ronaldsay. The Italian Chapel was constructed by Italian Prisoners of War during the Second World War. The Italian POWs had been sent to Lamb Holm to construct the causeways to protect the British fleet in the Skapa Flow. The Chapel was created with two nissen huts. Italians with the requisite skills created the interior. It was a most moving experience to stand in this Chapel, seeing that even the chaos of war, such beauty was created from very little.
We decided to spend a day visiting two more Viking sites. The archaeological remains of Earl’s Bu and Church at Ophir consist of the foundations of a large drinking hall, a romanesque round church and the remains of a horizontal water mill. The Orkneyinga Saga, which is the story of the Earls of Orkney, refers to a feast given by Earl Paul in Ophir – and describes a large drinking hall and a magnificent church. The Orkneyinga Saga Centre is situated alongside this site. A video, and paintings around the walls tell the story of the Norse Earls of Orkney. As there is so little left on the site, it was useful to visit this centre to gain a better understanding of what we were seeing.
The Brough of Birsay is an island, connected to the Orkney Mainland by a causeway. Access is limited to a couple of hours either side of low tide. The Picts were there before the Vikings, but there is little visible of the Picts settlement -600 -700AD.
The Norse settled on the Brough of Birsay during the ninth century AD. The archaeological site quite clearly identifies a church, with a rectangular nave, chancel and apse. The remains of long houses are also visible.
The art and craft scene in the Orkney Islands is very vibrant, innovative and creative. From exquisite, interesting jewellery, yarn crafts to art print and photography, and much more, there is so much to view.
Hoxta Tapestry Gallery at St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay was my favourite. A local Orkney artist, Leila Thomson creates unique large woven tapestries. Her work “is inspired by the rhythm of life and landscape of Orkney”. (https://hoxtatapestrygallery.co.uk) As well as tapestries, art prints are created. Printed images are photographic taken from the original art work and are hand signed.
I could have acquired numerous art prints. I finally chose “Ribbon of Life”. The tapestry itself is huge, and apparently hangs at the top of a stairway in a stately home. My art print brings the Orkneys into my less than stately home, and is much loved and commented on.
Lolly girl and I barely touched the surface of the Orkney Islands. We are planning another trip to explore other islands, and to learn more of the history of the Orkneys. We shall go in Puffin season.
Those of us whose ancestors emigrated to the new world in search of a better life generally have a very mixed ancestry.
My ancestors were predominantly from Ireland. I also have English, Scottish and Portugese ancestry. Searching for them, and travelling to the places they came from and researching what their lives may have been like, has been most enjoyable. Particularly the travel.
The Portugese ancestors are elusive.
I have been unable to verify where in Portugal my great grandfather, Antonio Joseph Thomas came from. One branch of the family say he was from Portalegre. A person bearing the same name as my great grandfather, was naturalized on 16 June 1886, in Auckland. That Antonio is stated as having been born in the Azores. His occupation at that time was a painter.
My great grandfather’s occupation was stated on his marriage certificate as a Labourer. At the time of my grandmother’s birth he was recorded as a painter, on her marriage certificate a house painter, and his death certificate recorded his occupation as a retired painter. His death certificate also recorded the name of his father as Antonio Joseph Thomas.
Antonio Joseph Thomas (Tomaz) is a very common name in Portugal, and sifting through the records available is as difficult as tracking down the numerous Irish ancestors who carried the same name as hundreds of Irish non ancestors.
Antonio was 16 when he came to New Zealand. He was said to have been a seaman who jumped ship in Auckland. There are a lot of records of a seaman named Antonio Thomas, who worked on coastal cargo boats around Australia, before and after his arrival in New Zealand.
My great grandfather married my great grandmother, Matilda, in Auckland in 1880. The marriage record does not record his place of birth. Portugal was noted as his place of birth on my grandmother’s birth certificate, and on Antonio’s death certificate. So – Portalegre or the Azores.
My visits to Portugal have not been in an effort to trace ancestors. Not speaking or reading the language makes that impossible. Rather, it was to experience a part of the world my ancestors had come from. I had always enjoyed the thought of having Portugese ancestry, and was interested in visiting places and seeing things my great grandfather may have visited and seen.
I first visited Lisbon some years ago when I was working in London. I had booked a hotel by Eduardo VII park. When I gave the taxi driver at the airport the address he indicated that was a very bad choice. I should not, under any circumstances, set foot in that park, as it was a very seedy part of Lisbon. I should take a taxi wherever I wished to go. His taxi of course.
I thought the park was a very pleasant place, and my first explorations of Lisbon were on foot, and through the park.
Antonio would not have seen The Castelo de Sao Jorge as it is now. The ramparts remained in ruins after an earthquake in 1755. What I saw was a result of a complete renovation began in 1938.
The views over Lisbon and the Tagus River from the Castelo are magnificent. Perhaps Antonio enjoyed the view from the ruined ramparts.
Antonio would have seen the triumphal arch on the north side of the Praca do Comercio.
I did take a taxi to Belem. Not my airport taxi, and not because I was scared. With only three days in Lisbon, I needed to move about as quickly as possible.
Lisbon’s shipyards and docks were situated in Belem in the estuary of the Tagus River. The early Portugese explorers set out from these shipyards in the 15th-16th century. Antonio was a seaman. Did he embark on a ship in Belem when he left Portugal? If he did, he would have seen the Torre de Belem, completed in 1519. It was built as a fortress which guarded the estuary. It is a gem of a building, with openwork balconies and North African inspired watchtowers.
The Monument of the Discoveries was built at Belem to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, who died in 1460. The eastern side of the monument has statues of Portugese great explorers, and the western side has statues of of those people who empowered the 15th century age of discovery.
Of those explorers commemorated on the eastern side of the monument, I knew about Vasco da Gama who had discovered the sea route to India, Ferdinand Magellan, the first to circumnavigate the world and Bartolomeu Dias, the first to navigate the Cape of Good Hope. Perhaps my Portugese ancestry is responsible for my restless spirit and need to travel.
St Jeronimos Monastery in Belem was commissioned by Manuel 1 in 1501. It was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s voyage, and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for the success of the voyage. Vasco da Gama is entombed in the monastery. The monastery is a symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. It is a most pleasing confection of a building. Antonio would have been aware of this monastery if he had embarked from Portugal at Belem, but I doubt if he would have appreciated the architecture.
I love gargoyles. St Jeronimo has some wonderful examples.
I came across the Gulbenkian Museum quite by accident. It is situated north east of the supposedly dangerous Eduardo VII Park. What started as an accident turned into a magical experience. Think classical art including Egyptian, Greco Roman, Mesopotamian, Eastern Islamic, Armenian and Far eastern art, and so much more.
The museum is set in a park, and contains the private collection of an Armenian oil Magnate, Calouste Gulbenkian. The collection is outstanding.
I did not have enough time on this visit to spend much time in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, but I did manage to see Hieronymus Bosch’s “Temptations of St Anthony” triptych. Hieronymous Bosch is one of my all time favourite artists, and St Anthony was wonderfully gruesome.
There is an abundance of blokes on top of poles in Lisbon. There may have been a woman somewhere, but I didn’t see one.
I visited Portugal again a couple of years ago, this time with KT. I enjoyed revisiting Lisbon, and experienced a different Lisbon. KT was happy to accompany me on trawls of those parts of Lisbon which Antonio may have seen. She was also interested in the food and wine, and so I enjoyed much better dining and drinking experiences, although custard tarts are not up there on my list of favourites.
I had been very keen to visit Sintra. Lord Byron visited in 1809, and referred to Sintra in Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes in variegated maze of mount and Glen”. I wanted to see that glorious Eden.
KT and I caught a train to Sintra. We took so long to locate the correct railway station that by the time we got to Sintra it was nearly lunch time. Sharing the sites with the multitudes meant that the queues for entry to the palaces were were up to an hour long.
We headed to the Palacio Nacional da Pena which is situated in the hills of the Serra de Sintra. This palace is a fantastical colourful extravagance. It has domes, towers and a drawbridge. It is very brightly painted, yellow here, red there. It sits on a rocky outcrop, where once a castle stood.
The palace has an entrance guarded by a magnificent mythical gargoyle. Elaborate stone carvings and beautiful tiles add to the fantasyland feel of the palace.
I could not imagine that Antonio would have visited the palace. From what I have heard of him, even if he had, he would have had no appreciation for the art and architecture.
Our late arrival, and the hoards of people resulted in not having the time to explore other fabulous palaces, but we did see some of them whilst driving out to the coast. Monserrate was one of these.
KT and I caught a train from Lisbon to Porto. The lift up to the platform was very slow. I don’t do slow if there is an alternative. The escalator beckoned. While sailing regally up the escalator, suitcase safely tucked beside me, the suitcase decided it would prefer to stay in Lisbon, though not on its own. It flipped backwards and knocked me down with it. What followed was a most spectacular backflip. Two backward rolls later, I end up sailing feet first up the escalator. KT had the grace not to laugh at the sight of Gma coming up the escalator feet first.
Bleeding profusely, I arrive on the platform, with people flocking around suggesting calling an ambulance. The injuries were minor and I was not planning on missing the train to Porto.
Our hotel in Porto had been alerted to the arrival of the wounded Gma. An upgraded room was a great consolation prize.
If Antonio had visited Porto, there is much of Porto that he would recognise today. The riverside district, medieval Ribeira with its cobbled narrow streets would not have looked much different.
The Cais da Ribeira, with its bustling restaurants and bars is a perfect place to stroll along, eat or sit with a drink, watch the river traffic and observe people. The raised embankment which facilitates the riverfront promenade, would post date Antonio, so he would not have experienced the leisurely stroll KT and I had. I suspect he never experienced an icy cold gin and tonic in his life, let alone in Porto.
I love ceramic tiles. I have been collecting them on my travels for years. Portugal produces blue and white tiles like I have never encountered. Porto is a tile lover’s heaven.
The Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the Rococo Baroque Style. It is adorned with blue azulejos tiles. The tiles pay tribute to “our lady” and tell the story of the church’s foundation.
The Igreja de Santo Ildefonso is a church built in 1739, but the azulejo tiles were only added in 1932. The tiles represent the life of St Ildefonso.
Portugal is known for its catholic culture. It is doubtful that Antonio was a catholic. His children from his relationship with my great grandmother, Matilda were not catholic.
Igreja Sao Francisco is a gothic style church with an opulent baroque interior, which appears to be covered in gold, due to the gilded wooden carvings. A particularly gruesome carving of the Martyrs of Morocco took my eye. Heads were being severed from the unfortunate martyrs bodies. Those already severed were rolling about at the feet of those yet to lose their heads.
One of the altarpieces represents the family tree of Jesus, showing his descent from the Kings of Judah and Israel. At the top of the tree is Jesus, with Mary and Joseph. The 12 Kings of Judah are connected through the branches. Jesse of Bethlehem is reclining at the foot of the tree.
Igreja Sao Francisco was deconsecrated in the 19th century. It has been said that the opulence of the interior became a bit of an embarrassment to an order who take a vow of poverty.
The narrow cobbled streets, churches, shops, merchants houses and cellars for storing port along the banks of the Douro river would have looked very much the same to Antonio as they did to me. Only the Dom Luis 1 bridge, which was completed in 1886 was built after his departure from Portugal.
I enjoyed looking at the graffiti around Porto. I wonder if there was a version of modern graffiti around in Antonio’s days.
Antonio, by all accounts, was not a very nice man. He deserted my great grandmother and their 8 living children in around 1900. He failed to comply with a court order requiring him to support my great grandmother, Matilda, for which he received a three month suspended jail sentence. He had several more children from another relationship. His descendants from that relationship say he was born in Portalegre, Portugal. They also say that he returned to Portugal in order to obtain money which was his share of of his father’s property in Portugal. If this is so, he may well have been in parts of Portugal I visited.
I am inclined to believe that the descendants of Antonio’s second family would know more about him than I do. They would have known him for longer than his first family knew him, and he may have shared more details of his life with them. They also may well have a different view of his character.
As more records become available, I may find out more about Antonio. I certainly plan to visit Portugal again, even if I do not.