Monday, 25 July 2011

Grand European Tour

Here's my new look blog. I decided if I was to write so much it's only fair on those who'd like to read it that they not have to do so with reverse type which is hard on the eyes. So here is the more friendly black text on white...

I've gotten a bit carried away and written rather a lot, so if you'd like a more condensed pictorial summary, please go directly here where you'll find the pics. For those who are more your details type of person, please read on...

After the Grand European Tour, I'm full of inspiration and the possessor of much time in which to do inspired things. After fretting excessively about returning to the mid-summer heat in Florence, turns out we're having a week of unseasonally cool weather (probably the coolest 4th week of July since 19-somthing-or-other) and it's a fresh 25 degrees today with a cool breeze that even comes close to being chilly. Thrilling!

I had a fab time in England, spending 4 nights with Uncle Full Up and Jane (and Robbie and Liv) before heading to London. It was different to visit Bridge Farm in the middle of summer when the garden was a bloom, tortoises well and truly out of hibernation and (gasp) the sun shining. Such a refreshing change also from the melting pot of Florence that I relished the fresh country air and tranquility, taking Darci for walks and wandering around the countryside with Phil (who knows EVERYONE within coo-ee). We had lunch at an old pub on the canal where we watched boats traverse the locks, and one day spent the afternoon at the splendidly grand Waddesdon Manor (refer to pics). Treat of treats was our outing to the theatre to see Jekyll and Hyde in Milton Keynes (where it's all at), which was brilliant even with the understudy playing the main role (the lead actor had a few days prior been biffed in the nose by an over zealous dancer and carted off to hospital mid performance with said appendage properly broken - now that's entertainment for you).

Morning of departure for London I was struck by a migraine so left a little later than planned which meant I missed catching up with my friend Vivien and family who were also visiting London. Disappointed! I started feeling well enough to venture out of my lodgings about 3pm so went for a boat ride down the Thames all the way to Greenwich. I had no idea the ride was 3 HOURS return until I was boarding, by which time I was committed and wondering how I'd cope with post migraine head for so long. Turns out it went in a flash with a highly amusing cockney commentary from one of the crew which had me hanging off every word and turning left to right to check out the referred to features. Fascinating! eg. Did you know that WHARF stands for Warehouse At River Front?.

Next morning hopped on the tourist bus and took a wee spin around London, seeing the sites with the wind in my hair and an interesting and informative commentary. Hopped off for a picnic lunch on a nice patch of grass in the perfect possie to study Buckingham Palace, where I could contemplate things like had the Queen had ever done such a thing in her life as sit on the grass eating a take-away salad from Tescos? I think emphatically not. Said Queen wasn't about (she was in one of her other houses for a wee 'oliday), but sitting before the palace I was struck by an overwhelming urge to get 'in' somehow. The best option (on account the ferocious looking guards in their bear hats at the gate), seemed to be a visit to the mews. Quite impressive all those 'orses and lovely carriages. I was particularly fascinated by the surrounding servants quarters... did you known She has about 600 servants! Can't rightly imagine what they're all doing, but there you have it.

Next day I met up with Dianna at the National Portrait Gallery which was showing the BP prize (similar to the Archibald in Sydney). We also came across the die hard Harry Potter fans camping out in Trafagar Square for the premier event of the final film which was happening in 2 days time. Some had been out in the elements for days already. By the time I came back the day of the event, there were so many people it was a major feat to squeeze my way into the National Gallery and it's possible the entire British Police force had been enlisted to keep things under a semblance of control.

Post lunch we navigated our way via tube to Harrods which we explored in a wide-eyed-gob-smacked kind of fashion for what seemed like ever (not a born shopper this one) and still didn't make it through the vastness. What an extravaganza. The entirety drips expensiveness leaving me to wonder really how many people could afford to shop there. Still, we enjoyed gawking at the outrageous price tags on the outrageous stuff under the outrageous ceilings.

Was very sad to take leave of Dianna as it was our official farewell since she's left Florence now. My last morning I went to the Tate Gallery and National Gallery again before heading to St Pancras to hop on the eurostar to Paris. Loved London, it's easy to navigate and everyone speaks English (a constant surprise), and they're ever so friendly. Not to mention the galleries are free!

Training through the French countryside I marvelled at the comments of a French guy at school about how civilised the French are compared to the Italians. He went as far as to say Italy is third world (bit extreme) but seeing how neaty-pin everything looked between the English channel and Paris I was tempted to agree with him. So, full of expectations, it was somewhat unexpected to walk with Heidi from Paris Nord station to her house through what might have been the middle of South Africa. Clearly the French guy is from the countryside, and clearly he's never been to Paris! I admit it took me some days to recover from my false expectations and accustom to the dirtiness, the homeless people, the crowds, the beggars and the men peeing where-ever they please. But I think by the end of my 5 day sojourn it had became more of an organic entity, pulsing with life in all it's colours, joys and hardships, laden with culture and best of all, a genuine passion for the arts.

The French love their art. The Louvre is no small testament to that. I set aside a whole day to do it, which happened to be the day after Heidi showed me around Paris on foot (all the way to and a bit beyond the Eiffel Tower, which is a sight to behold)... Since I am more your cycling everywhere type person, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself morning of my Louvre day. Anyhow, wouldn't be deterred and I set off with the rest of the population to see me some art. I didn't expect to have a one-on-one bonding moment with Mona or anything, but sadly I had to jump up and down behind the papparazzi just to get a glimpse. Outrageous... really, what are all those people doing there anyway? The Louvre is a VAST museum and I somehow sniffed out a deck chair in the park nearby after stopping for lunch and for the gathering of strength for part 2. In the end I think I did see all the paintings, as well as Napolean's apartments and some of the artifacts at the bottom (only because I couldn't find an exit at one point and walked 3 miles underground past mummies and other things creepy til I found it, sweating with frustration and crowdaphobia). Tick, Louvre.

Over the next few days I did the Orsay Museum (which had a temporary Monet exhibition on) - wonderful in every way, Siene river cruise (in 6 languages, 5 of which were somewhat trying after the first 10 minutes), private home and studio of Gustav Moreau - fab, Montmartre and Basilica, Pompidou Centre with its awesome views of Paris, Luxumbourg Gardens and a farewell lunch with Heidi. I had a terrific time and was surprised at how helpful and willing to speak English (for the most part) the French were as I'd been warned otherwise. Was wonderful to be able to stay with Heidi and have a real home to come back to each day too.

Next stop Holland via fast train. Somehow fumbled my way through peak hour madness at Rotterdam station to arrive safely at Den Bosch where Marije and Sander were waiting for me with big hugs. The first couple of days were cold (down to 12 degrees), raining (as if Holland needs more water) and blowing an umbrella turning gale. Not quite what I'd had in mind. But not wanting to waste a moment of my Dutch discovery time, Marije and I braved the elements for the love of art to explore the Mauritshuis and Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag. I'm sure the city is usually quite lovely but it wasn't that day... we fought unruly umbrellas every step and puffed wetly with relief whenever we were safely re-ensconced in a building or mode of transport. Despite the hardships we saw some wonderful masterpieces, the best know being Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Finally a wonderfully sunny day and we all 3 went to see the windmills in the Heritage Listed park Kinderdijk. This is when I started to understand that the windmills weren't just there to give the Dutch something to be known by and also when I came to realise just how much water there is in Holland. Canals, rivers, lakes, the sea, dams and puddles! They needed the windmills to stay on dry land. (Still the case but now they use more modern thingies). I was fascinated by the working windmill that was set up as a family household as it would have once been. Later we went to Gouda (as in cheese), a quaint little village with wonderful town hall and square, and of course a canal!

We spent a day in the Hoge Veluwe national park where there is the house and museum of Helene Kroller Muller, an avid art collector in the early 1900s. The house is a work of art in itself and her private art collection is extensive including a whole room full of Van Gogh paintings. The park provides bicycles at various points for visitors to use to ride between points or just enjoy the park. I spotted a deer but there are apparently many other wild-lifes living there too. A fab day out.

I was totally taken with the Dutch love and appreciation of cycling. There are even undercover parking stations for bikes, special lane-ways all over the place and of course the absence of hills makes it the choice mode of transport...

Sander and Marije live in a really cute town with little laneways, old buildings, water and blackberries growing wild. It was such a thrill for me to be able to visit them in in their natural habitat and enjoy their hospitality. I spent my last night in Amsterdam after Marije and I spend the day together at the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. I wasn't expecting to be so inspired by the work of Van Gogh. I was completely taken by his drawings and it's set me on a mission to draw and draw. It was also fascinating to see the progression of his work and see how some pieces were successful and others weren't as much. I've got more drive to not sweat the failures because the next one might be a winner. I'm loving having time off to draw and perhaps get a few paintings done too. I'm also chomping at the bit to start back at school in the first week of September.

To save you scrolling back to the link up top, you can see pics here.

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