In the Palace of the Sun King: A Visit to Versailles

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A few summers ago, we had the opportunity to visit the palace of Versailles. While journey to France was pretty straight forward, our SatNav proved a bit iffy. We had set the device for “The Palace of Versailles,” and it dutifully led us to the suburbs of Paris to the Versailles Palace Nursing Home.  We then resorted to the printed road map to find our way to our true destination.

As we arrived later than expected, we found parking more complicated, and ended up in an overflow car park.  We had a mobility scooter for my wife, so the trip into the palace wasn’t too difficult, though she did have to negotiate cobbled streets and pathways.

The palace itself is what one would expect of the court of the man who was arguably the most powerful monarch in Europe. Louis XIV built for himself a place of ultimate luxury, and the architecture evidences this everywhere.  Even the most mundane purposed buildings are bedecked with sculptures and embellishments.

The gardens too, manifest this opulence.  The journey would be worth it for the calm and beauty of the formal gardens if for nothing else.  But, the grounds also have magnificent statuary and water features.

The interior of the palace is no less grand than the surroundings.  The Hall of Mirrors, and the Chapel Royal are “must sees.”  There are more statues, wonderful murals, and amazing chandeliers to round out the overwhelming experience.

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Versailles is a place to take an entire day.  It is all that you would expect of “The Sun King,” and it will not disappoint.


Water Lilies and More: A Visit to Monet’s Giverny

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Japanese Bridge

A while back I had the opportunity to make a summer visit to Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny, France.  My youngest had long had a fascination with the artist, so we decided to take her there for a birthday treat.

The gardens were relatively easy to find, and we were able to park easily for entry into Monet’s estate.  The water gardens, formal gardens, and house all provided a wonderful backdrop to his work, and we spent time just looking at the beauty, but also trying to find the vantage points from which some of his most famous paintings were made from.

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Water Lilies

The water gardens were my favourites, and the Japanese Bridge, and the Water Lilies were easy to find.  The weeping willows, moored boats, and flower gardens also featured, and we much enjoyed seeking them out.

The queues for Monet’s house were the busiest place, but as a whole the gardens while busy were not crowded.

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Monet’s House

The village of Giverny had a nice cafe, and we were able to have a brief snack before making our return trip to the UK.  This was a wonderful place to enjoy natural beauty, and to reflect on art history.


The Beauty of Practical Ceramics (and a stay at Riad Dalia)

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One of the outstanding features of my visits to the Middle East, Iberia, and Morocco is the beautiful tile work.  These are wonderful artistic expressions, and many of the hand decorated tiles are unique.  Even the stenciled ones make for fabulous mosaics that make the art and architecture stand out.

In Morocco (and in Iberia), I found not only the tiled walls, but even the pavements in places had intricate patterns and sidings.




Even the bathrooms featured tile patterns which made accented the copper sinks and presented an artistic atmosphere.

Riad Dalia - Fatima Room Detail (wash basin)

Moroccan tiled Bathroom

Riad Dalia - Courtyard Detail 2

Doors and Screens (and Tiles)

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Tiles and Hangings

The pictures above shows the beauty of how these features all come together to give a a scenery experience.  This sense of space and place really enhances life, and it is because of this that the motifs have been borrowed to create atmosphere elsewhere (see below).




Much (but not all) of this wonderful art was found in and around my hotel, Riad Dalia which was a terrific place to stay. I stayed at the Dalia for two nights, and enjoyed the peace, beauty and atmosphere of the place. Mohammad and his staff are truly wonderful people, and were helpful from the booking onwards. They arranged transfers for me on arrival and departure. I was greeted at the taxi stand and shown the way to the riad through the twists and turns of the madina (all this with them carrying my bags). I was given a bottle of cold water on arrival, and shown to my room which was beautifully decorated.

The quality of sleep was wonderful. The double bed was one of the most comfortable I have slept in whilst on travels (there was also a second single bed in the “chamber” which was softer as well). Since the room overlooks the courtyard there was ambient noise through the shuttered windows, but this was quiet chat on the first night, and a member of staff softly practicing traditional music on the second (a marvelous sound to drift off to).

The breakfast was served in the courtyard. Moroccan bread with butter, cheese, and jam; a boiled egg and freshly squeezed orange juice served on arabesque plates. The meal was tasty, and the coffee good. In fact, I should note that I found the juice far better than the “must have” juice at the Jamaa el Fna. The riad also offers other meals if you let them know you want them. While I didn’t arrange either of my evening meals here, I was served some very nice bread, tomatoes and juice just before my departure.

The helpfulness and attention of the staff can again be mentioned, as I was once again guided out of the narrow streets till I got a handle on the route on my second day. Staff members also helped with my bags to the pick up point on the day I left.

The courtyard, rooms, and common areas are really atmospheric, and the decorations gorgeous. I spent some very pleasant time just chilling in the shade of the courtyard.


Link to Riad Dalia

Morocco: Windows, Doors, and Arches



I am not a great artist, yet I do appreciate things of beauty.  Whether it be natural landscapes, or thoughtful and creative examples of human expression.  There are many wonderful examples of both in Europe, but in style and “exotic” quality, I really found Morocco had a lot to offer.

In today’s travel post, I am going to focus on some of the under appreciated aspects, many going unnoticed in European architecture: the doors and windows. Many of these that I saw in Marrakech were not the standard rectangular parallel posts and lintel construction, but ones that incorporated screening, rounded and peaked arches, and decorative paneling.



In the labyrinth of narrow allies and passageways in the old city, I was able to use the distinctive features of these designs to navigate along the almost uniformly pink walls. Some of these were augmented by spectacular tile-work, but most were purely identifiable by the patterned screens and arches.

The windows, as well as the doors, offered amazing diversity, and enhanced the arabesque feel of the experience.  Some of these has woven and carved screens, and others various patterns of coloured glass.



In the close allies and in the courtyards of riads and restaurants there we wonderfully crafted archways, whether as passage entries, or as features of fountains and even as “bathroom” fittings.

These artist expressions are not only beautiful, but practical aspects of the architecture, serving as landmarks and in some cases I am told in regulating the circulation of air to moderate the temperature of the areas.  For me though, they made for a culturally rich North African experience.  [They also make for some great travel photos].

I will blog on the wonderful Moroccan tiles in a future post.


Exploring A La Ronde House

A la Ronde House

A la Ronde

The National Trust property, Al la Ronde House, is an 18th-century, 16-sided house located near Exmouth in Devon. The house was built in 1796 for two spinster cousins, Jane and Mary Parminter. The house with its diamond shaped windows, sixteen external walls, and general octagonal character is a wonderful piece of architecture.


A la Ronde Tea Room

Tea Room

We arrived before the house opened to the public, so went to the tea room which is very lovely, and the service friendly. The hot chocolate was good, and the coffee as latte okay, but the filter coffee was a bit bitter. This said the smell of baking, and general atmosphere made the tea room portion of the visit pleasant.

When we went around to the main entrance (a word to those with mobility issues there is an uneven path from the tea room) our problems began. We were treated like unruly children. We were instructed how to carry handbags (as “not to damage the wall hangings”), and we were told in what I thought were quite rude tones not to take flash photography (though we had yet to take a single picture). As we started to view the house we discovered that the “tour route” led up a narrow curved stairway (which was more than we could handle with mobility issues), so we asked if there was another way around. We were told we would have to go back the way we came. There was no offer for barriers to be raised for us the move on as has been done at other Trust properties (notably Wimpole Hall). So, we reversed direction and were soon challenged by another member of staff with “You are going the wrong way.”

Here we had had enough, I explained the situation to the staff member, we looked at one or two more downstairs rooms (we were never offered to go “the wrong way” up the straighter staircase), and then left.

The positives: The house itself is pretty, if a little quirky.  The architecture is amazing. The wall hangings and craft work of the spinsters is creative, and are very talented. Among the fascinating features are room surrounds made of feathers, and wall hanging art made of cut paper silhouettes.  The upper area has a gallery made of 25,000 sea shells, all of which are unique and captivating.

The negatives: It would have been wonderful to see the house without what seemed constant admonishments to alter our ways. The shell gallery because of its fragile nature is viewed by using a touch screen virtual tour.  The exterior areas are a bit rugged for some with mobility issues.

I never thought I would write a bad review for a National Trust property.  So, despite the house and grounds being pretty, and the house itself having very interesting features (though we did not see all of it), I must say it was a somewhat disappointing visit.

I would still suggest it to be something to take in if in Devon, but with a consideration of the negatives to inform your visit.


National Trust link


Biscay Cruise (Part Five): The Basque Region

Our next port of call, Bilbao, brought us to the Basque country.  Bilbao is an attractive city, and a gateway to the Basque region. It is home to the Guggenheim Museum (in the shape of a ship, but also with titanium tiles like fish scales), and of some outstanding engineering in both its White Bridge and the Transporter Bridge. The city is fairly clean, and has less graffiti than I saw in some other regions of Spain. With the ferry, and cruise ports it is an excellent place to start any visit to the Basques. We, however, deferred checking out the city and headed inland.

Our first stop was Guernica (Gernika).  This was a powerful and moving place to explore.

Picasso’s Guernica

The horrors of war were brought home to Guernica on a Monday morning in April 1937. This small market town was purposely and symbolically attacked from the air by Franco’s Nazi/Fascist allies. This was a direct attack on democracy, and on a civilian population. It is not surprising then, that Guernica should be along with Hiroshima a living reminder for the need for peace.

The attack on Guernica so appalled the artist Pablo Picasso that he began a monumental mural to call the world’s attention to the atrocity.  A tile reproduction of that famous work now stands near the Magistrates Court in the town.

The town also is the site of the Gernika Peace Museum. This museum and its fronting square serve as a reminder. Here the horror of war, and need for peace are focused on. There are several international photo displays on the outside as well, showing a kindred theme.

As I have noted, Guernica was purposely chosen as an example.  This is because the town was the home of the Basque Parliament.  One of, if not the oldest continuous democracies in the world.

This ancient democracy originally met in the shade of an oak tree.  The stump of the old oak is preserved under pillars, and its offspring now officiates in front of an additional pillared structure.

This said, there is now a “modern” assembly house for the Basque Parliament, the Casa de Juntas.  This serves as a debating and law making chamber. The assembly room is full of paintings and the red chairs for the members of the assembly, but an outer room with a huge stained glass ceiling is used for informal discussions, and has loads of symbolism most notably of the oak.

Under the chamber there is a small cinema area in which a very informative presentation on the Basque democracy is presented and explained, and again the oak is featured.

The Basques are a proud people with a huge legacy.  Our guide noted that their language is unique in that part of Europe, and that the people were notable for having never  been conquered by the Romans or the Moors, as was the rest of Spain.

Casa de Juntas is a great place to learn about the Basque people, their democracy, and history more generally. It is highly recommended.

After Guernica we went to the fishing village/town of Bermeo.  There is a vistors’ centre, a really lovely park with a sculpture trail and a carousel, and several nice tapas bars.  We went to the one called Akatz.  We had some really nice coffee and tea from an iron teapot.  We also had some really high quality tapas, in the regional style of everything served with toothpicks or skewers.  The prawns were is a wonderfully spiced seafood sauce, and served with a soft baguette.


Ballenero Aita Guria is an old whaling vessel and is along the port area of Bermeo near the tourist information and the waterfront park. It is an interesting dark wood ship, and while it has no masts, still gives the feel of the bygone era.

After a brief stay we were once again on our way.  This time to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. This is in a fascinating bit of the Basque coastline with the surfer bays, rugged islands, and outstanding scenery.  It is now famous as well for being one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones. There is some lay-by parking available to look down on the area from above for those for whom the walled walks and rugged paths are beyond their abilities.


Basque Coastline

After taking in the scenery, we made our way back to Bilbao, and to the Vizcaya Bridge,
the world’s oldest transporter bridge, This is an incredible feat of engineering. Built in the late 19th Century by one of the students/colleagues of Eiffel, this bridge bears all the hallmarks of that relationship. The bridge ironwork looks much like Eiffel’s tower, and the mechanism of moving the platform across the river in ingenious. While it only carries a few vehicles at a time, the crossing only takes 8 minutes, and foot passengers are carried across on the sides as well. The high beam allows river traffic to move, and the platform is quickly cleared away as well. This too is a “must see.”

Transporter Bridge

Our day coming to an end, we returned to Aurora to begin our journey towards France.


Gainsborough Museum

Gainsborough House

Gainsborough House

We have visited Sudbury on several occasions, but one of the more interesting was when we took in the Gainsborough House Museum.  This was the home of the great artist, and it now serves as a museum to his life, a gallery for his works, and a research hub for other artists.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) was portrait and landscape painter, and print-maker. He was also a founding member of the Royal Academy.

Gainsborough Plaque 1 (1)

The museum has several gallery spaces, a library, an archive of his prints, and a nice little shop.  On the day of our visit there was an additional exhibit of the works of other period artists as well.

Painting by Joshua Reynolds

Work by his rival, Joshua Reynolds

I really enjoyed Gainsborough’s work, some of which had photographic qualities.  These are really masterful portraits.

The museum also has really lovely gardens, and as we were visiting in the early summer, tulips were in bloom.  This added to the beauty of the visit.  In the middle of the garden is a 17th Century mulberry tree.  This is a great reminder of Sudbury’s legacy as a centre for silk weaving, the source of much of the town’s wealth.

After our visit we went to David’s Deli/Cafe a favoured retreat of ours.  The restaurant offers fresh locally raised produce, and regional meats, but also a wide and very high quality assortment of continental cheeses.  David’s is unique in the area as it has an adults only policy owing to its seating capacity and the desire to provide a more relaxed, chilled environment for its customers. David himself makes no apologies and a few jokes about his policy including the assertion that “child catchers” are always welcome.

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Child Catcher Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


David’s link


Italian Renaissance in Eastern Poland

I was lucky enough to visit Zamość a couple of years ago.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is well deserved.  The town was “designed and built in accordance with the Italian theories of the ‘ideal town,[wiki quote]'” by the town’s founder Jan Zamoyski and the Italian architect, Bernardo Morando.

The central square boasts Zamoyski’s Palace, the “Armenian Houses,” and a wonderful pink-hued pavement.  It has far more a Mediterranean feel on a summer’s day than that of Poland.

There are some nice cafes along the market square, and it is a beautiful place to take in the architecture while sipping a drink.

A bit of the dark past of Zamość is not far away, however, as the synagogue of what was in pre-war times a Jewish community of 12,500 stands as a memorial.

This is (and I hate the over use of this term) a gem in the Polish countryside.  A must visit!


The Art of Travel (Part 2)

This is the second posting from my travels which mirror the journeys of  great artists.   The artworks give an added dimension to the richness of my remembered experiences, and set my photography into a historical context of change and continuity.

I find that after decades or even centuries, that places of beauty or historical significance are as compelling today as they were in yesteryear. Art reflecting art. Art capturing wonder.

John Constable (Stonehenge - England)

John Constable “Stonehenge”

Chinese School Hong Kong Harbor

Chinese School (1850s) “Hong Kong Harbour”

Vaclav Jansa Prague Starnova Synagogue.jpg

Vaclav Jansa – “Prague Staronova Synagogue”


Claude Monet - Water Lilies at Giverny

Claude Monet “Water lilies at Giverny”

David Roberts (Kom Ombo - Egypt)

David Roberts “Kom Ombo, Egypt”


The Art of Travel (Part 1)

I have done a lot of travel over the years, and while much has been associated with work or study, a great deal has also been for pleasure and self-improvement.  As I have made my way to “must see” sites, I found it interesting to compare my own experiences with the viewpoints of great artists who have visited them before me.

There is a certain enriching quality of not only seeing the fantastic sites, but in comparing them to the eye of a master.  While this post may not be deep in any philosophical or spiritual way, I do hope others might take up the challenge of sharing their “art of travel.”

Claude Monet - Bridge at Giverny

Claude Monet “Bridge at Giverny”

Claude Monet (Windmill - Amsterdam)

Claude Monet “Windmill  Amsterdam”

David Roberts (Eastern Gate - Jerusalem)

David Roberts “Eastern Gate Jerusalem”

J A Grimshaw - Scarborough Grand Hotel from harbour

J A Grimshaw “Scarborough Grand Hotel from Harbour”