Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Historic buildings’ Category

Kasteel de Haar, Sunday June 7th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 8, 2015

On the way back from Utrecht, we visited Kasteel de Haar, one of the most bizarre historic buildings I’ve ever come across.  It was basically a ruin when the impecunious heir decided to restore it, which he was able to fund by fortuitously marrying a Rothschild.

The Neo-Gothic restoration by Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers was extravagant, to say the least.  It’s a bit gaudy from the outside, and rather gloomy in most of the rooms inside, but the rooms that Helena Rothschild had a hand in are lovely, and there are some stunning artworks and architectural features as well. It had very advanced plumbing and electrics, and a ginormous kitchen full of gorgeous copper pots too. Alas, I am not able to show you any photos of the interior because they not only won’t let visitors take photos, they also don’t have any for sale in the gift shop (if there is one) and there aren’t any pictures online either. All I have is a few pictures of the castle and garden, but, well, my heart wasn’t in it because I wanted to photograph the interior, or at least buy postcards of it.

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Now, far be it from me to encourage anybody to break the rules of unreasonable tourist attractions such as this one, and no, I have no idea how Wikipedia comes to have images which were forbidden to us, but if you want to have a look at least at the kitchen whose copyright they are so assiduously guarding, click here!

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Posted in Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Netherlands | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Utrecht, Sunday June 7th 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 8, 2015

Utrecht is a university town southeast of Amsterdam, about 45 minutes by bus.   It is a lovely place to explore, and we were fortunate to have an expert guide called Ingeborg Behari to show us around.

We started off in the Railway Museum Het Spoorwegmuseum where Ingeborg volunteers as a guide.   We were not interested in the trains, it was the beautiful building that was so captivating.  Typical of many of these grand railway stations built in the 19th century it featured stunning architecture and grand interiors, and this one even has a Royal Waiting Room.  (Though truth be told, this room was actually somewhere else to start with, but was transplanted here to the railway station when it became a museum.  BTW, do check out the height of the mirror in that Royal Waiting Room.   It is absurdly high, impossible even for tall people so its purpose was really to make the room look larger.)

PS (Tuesday)  I had an email from Ingeborg with some extra info about the ceiling of the Royal waiting room.

“Because there were no photos of the original ceiling and the year is the same as Kasteel de Haar (1892) the architects who restored Kasteel de Haar decided the ceiling could have looked like this.”
Thanks, Ingeborg!

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After that, we took a stroll through the canal districts, where Ingeborg regaled us with all kinds of interesting stories about the rich, the famous and the ones who wanted to be.   But one who definitely deserves to be famous is Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen who won a Nobel Prize for discovering X-rays, and you will see a tiled image of him in the slide show below. Utrecht encourages its citizens to come up with good ideas to enhance the city, and as well as ones like this that commemorate its most eminent citizens, there are also some that show paintings from past times, sited in the same place so that visitors can see the place both then and now. The best of these is the one that shows the cathedral before the tornado blew half of it away in 1674.

Utrecht is also very excited about two major events this year. They are hosting the start of the Tour de France, and they are celebrating the 60th ‘birthday’ of Miffy. If you don’t know who Miffy is, you had a deprived childhood, because the Miffy books are enchanting.  There are large Miffys all over the city, decorated by various artists, but this one is wearing a cape to keep it warm, courtesy of university students who play all kinds of pranks in the city, including chucking some of the ubiquitous bikes into the canals, so much so that they have had to increase the depth!

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We were sorry to come to the end of the tour, but we enjoyed a nice lunch at Graaf Floris.  Tim had Kroketten (which are, you guessed it, croquettes) and I had pork satays.  He also sampled two of the local beers including one drunk with a slice of lemon in it, and I had a cup of honeybush tea which was divine.  I haven’t had a decent coffee in the Netherlands yet, but their herbal teas are really nice.

We had just enough time to buy some bread, cheese and sausage at the Farmers’ Market for an in-hotel meal tonight and to duck into the cathedral before it was time to go.  The cathedral is gorgeous, restrained and elegant by comparison with the more extravagant Catholic cathedrals, and I was especially impressed by the altar which looks from a distance as if it is made of ivory.

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And then we were off to see Kasteel de Haar…

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Dining out, Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Museums, Netherlands, Utrecht | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Amsterdam June 5 & 6, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 7, 2015

Well, here we are in Amsterdam, and it’s all been very interesting so far. We flew in from London at lunchtime yesterday and were met by the tour leader, a nice young man called Nick Gordon who has a PhD in history but escaped from academia and is now making a living as a tour guide. We were escorted to our hotel in a swish Mercedes Benz, but things went downhill from there because the hotel is disorganised and they didn’t manage to get our room ready until late in the afternoon.  These things happen, I know, but it was hard not to be a bit fed up – and we weren’t the only ones…

But apart from that it’s been very nice. Nick took us on a walk around the historic canals area and pointed out various palaces – though as you’ll know if you’ve been to Amsterdam, a Dutch palace is quite modest compared to everything else in Europe. Most of them are five stories high but they are narrow and if they have any gardens at all they are around the back of the building where you can’t see them. Missing also are the grand churches that you see in Europe’s capitals, I’ve only seen one church and it was quite ordinary.

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Anyway, after the walk we had a ‘welcome’ dinner which was very nice and (based on previous experiences of Dutch domestic cuisine) not how I expected Dutch cooking to be.  Alas I forgot to take my camera so I have no pictures, but we had numerous small courses, beautifully cooked and creatively presented.  We were very impressed!

In the morning Nick gave a talk about the long and complicated history of the Netherlands, and then – armed with knowledge about the hostility to Catholic Spain – we visited the Church in the Attic. This was a hidden church where worshippers came together in secret to avoid persecution. There was even a small confessional, and a little baptismal font. I know that religious persecution was widespread all over Europe, but still this little church was a vivid reminder that certain kinds of worship could result in a visit from the Inquisition during the period that the Spanish were in control here.

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From there we went to Rembrandt’s House, bursting with wonderful paintings and portraits and drawings by the great man.   They have tried to recreate the house as it was in his time, using the documentation from when he was made bankrupt to know how it was furnished.  There are paintings hanging on the walls as they would have done in his day, when apparently he displayed his work in the front rooms of the house for buyers to come and purchase.  You can see some of them here,  but of course it is nothing like actually being there.  I didn’t take photos because I thought we weren’t allowed to, but I have some postcards to use when I scrapbook this trip when I get home. My favourite room was his studio, which is a lovely light-filled space near the top of the house, and you can stand right there in the same place that he stood beside his easel. I wonder what he would have made of his home becoming a tourist attraction…

We had lunch at a restaurant called Senses and once again the food was excellent. All my preconceptions about Dutch food have now been laid to rest!

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We now have the rest of the day at leisure. So we’re putting our feet up for a bit, and will go out again later on, to brave the Saturday night crowds and the young people whizzing about everywhere on bicycles.

Posted in Amsterdam, Cathedrals & churches, Dining out, Europe 2015, Historic buildings, Netherlands | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Victor Hugo’s House, Paris

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 7, 2012

On our way home now, and with just one full day day in Paris, we decided to dawdle around in the Marais, a district we have not explored before.

We marked an historic moment at the site of the Bastille, and then went to Victor Hugo’s house.   Like Dostoyevsky Hugo had many addresses, but I was content to enjoy this one which (though the street address is authentic) is more of a reconstruction of a ‘typical house of that era’ than the way it really was in his day.   The Chinese Room is very startling – not a restful room by any means, but there was interesting memorabilia including a photo commemorating the visit of Aung Sun Suu Chi.  (By coincidence, I ‘watched’ the recent film of her life, ‘The Lady’, on the plane).

You can read my thoughts about Les Misérables on my ANZ LitLovers blog.

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Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Paris 2012 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Dostoyevsky Museum, St Petersburg

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 2, 2012

We spent our last day in St Petersburg at the Dostoyevsky Museum.

Like some of the other tours we’ve attended, the tour consists of transport provided by the tour company and the services of an interpreter who translates for the local guide.  It was like this at the Tolstoy and Chekhov estates and although I suppose it’s possible to go independently, (which may be cheaper) it has been a real pleasure to hear from local guides who are experts on their topics and have a passion for their work.

So it was today where the local guide enthused about Dostoyevsky, so much so that the interpreter apologised afterwards for not quite keeping up with her, but we didn’t mind at all.  It was a great experience to go through his house – one of many that he lived in, but this is the one that he wrote The Brothers Karamazov in, and the one that he died in, aged only 59.

The house had been subdivided during ‘Soviet Times’ (as locals call the era) but it has now been restored to the way that it would have been during Dostoyevsky’s lifetime.  They peeled off 20 layers of wallpaper and then made reproductions of the original, and they have decorated it with authentic furniture, including the author’s own desk, the one where he was working when he died.

In the children’s bedroom you can see a poignant little note from his son, and also a rocking horse – Dostoyevsky was devastated by the deaths of two of his children: his daughter Sofia died when an infant, and his son Aleksei died of epilepsy when only three.

In the study of his second wife Anna you can see her account books and her abacus where she kept meticulous records of their money.  Despite his fame, the family was often in debt, partly because he was a gambler but also because he had spent time in prison due to the political nature of his works. (Apparently Anna’s family was none too keen on the marriage because he was disreputable, but she was crazy about him so they married anyway).

There are family photographs on the walls, and in the reception room there are photos of the notables who came to visit Dostoyevsky once he became famous.  I thought it was rather sad that in the last home of an author who died of lung disease, they have kept his last packet of tobacco on display under a glass case.

There is also an exhibition of photos and facsimiles of his manuscripts, and of course, a monument outside!

Update: November 2013

I’m still scrapbooking this trip, and I’ve realised that I skipped a whole day of the tour.

It was the day we went to the Yuspov Palace, and had lunch at the Renaissance Hotel afterwards.

The Yusopov Palace is, apparently, one of 57 palaces owned by the Yusopovs but it was Felix Yusopov’s favourite.  It features a theatre, because it wasn’t respectable for princesses to attend the theatre, so they built one in-house.   The palace is famous for being the site of Rasputin’s murder, a bizarre tale, which you can read about at Wikipedia.

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Russian Museum, The Benois WingAfter that we took a walk and ended up at the Benois Wing of the ‘Russian Museum’, which is mostly 20th century Russian Art.  Here’s a link to a virtual tour of it.  

And we had dinner at the Vodka Museum, which has over 200 different kinds of vodka to try, which may be why I didn’t get round to writing about the day …

Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Museums, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Summer Palace at Peterhof

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 31, 2012

After visiting Catherine’s palace at Pushkin, we then went to the Summer Palace of Peter the Great.  Built to rival Versailles on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, the Palace Park is the most spectacular I’ve seen. It has the world’s largest system of fountains adorned with stunning gold statuary.

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Posted in Gardens, Historic buildings, Palaces, Peterhof 2012, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Historic moments – in the Hermitage

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

I’ll bet many tourists walk through a small and (by the standards of the rest of this lavish Palace) somewhat nondescript room in the Hermitage without having any idea that they are on the site of one of the most momentous events in the 20th century…

Small dining room where Lenin’s Bolsheviks stormed the Provisional government

Source: Virtual Excursions, Hermitage Museum

This is the ‘small dining room’ in the Winter Palace where in 1917 the Provisional Government of Nicholas II met.  (See the photo at left). This Provisional Government was a token effort by Nicholas to meet the demands for political reform, but it had no real power because he simply revoked any reforms that they made if he didn’t like what they had decided.   It certainly didn’t meet the demands of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and so on the 7th of October, they entered the palace from the main entrance (at right) and the west side and captured the Provisional Government as they met in this dining room.

Over on the mantelpiece there is a clock, stopped at ten past two, because that was the actual moment when the October Revolution began.  There is a plaque next to it which explains the significance of the room, but because it’s in Russian, most tourists won’t realise where they are unless they have a tour guide or (presumably) a guide book.  (Actually, the Hermitage is pretty good with signage – a lot of paintings and artefacts are captioned in both Russian and English but not this room).

It was an amazing experience to be standing right where one of the most significant events in the history of the 20th century took place!

Posted in Art Galleries, Historic buildings, Museums, Palaces, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | 1 Comment »

Gogol’s Restaurant, St Petersburg

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 30, 2012

Last night we took the advice of our genial tour guide, Igor, and went to dinner at Gogol’s Restaurant.  We were told that Gogol himself lived here, (and perhaps it is true) and there are Bookish touches throughout the restaurant, most notably the menu which has been crafted like a novel.  The restaurant is composed of several small rooms, so it is like eating in a 19th century home, and the waitresses are dressed in simple 19th century costumes.

There is always a risk with places like this that are designed to reel in the tourists, that the food will be a disappointment, but no.  We dined with five of our new friends from the tour group – two fellow-Aussies from Heathmont in Melbourne, an American couple from New York, and a Professor of Fine Arts from the UK, and all of us enjoyed our choices.

I forgot to photograph our second courses (possibly because our Languedoc wine was so nice), but you can see our entrees in the slideshow below.  Ron’s little pastries that look like ravioli are white fish pelmeni; that little glass on the plate of fish is vodka with horseradish (which Tim said was delicious); the Prof had an excellent borscht, and Betsy had black ‘milk’ Siberian mushrooms.  Mine was a prawn salad with a delicious cherry sauce, and Tony’s was an excellent eggplant salad.   You can also see the scrumptious homemade breads as well.  The service was excellent, and the ambience a delight.  Good company, good Russian cuisine – what more could we want, eh?

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Posted in Dining out, Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

St Petersburg: St Isaac’s Cathedral

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 29, 2012

St Isaac’s Cathedral is just around the corner from our hotel, the Renaissance Baltic, and like all the other churches we’ve seen today it’s splendid.  Unlike the others, however, it’s a museum, not a religious building, though apparently church leaders are campaigning to have it returned to them.

Among the many impressive aspects are the massive doors.  There are three of them, carved  by Ivan Vitali, with reliefs of Christ and the saints, and the main ones weigh 20 tons.  Understandably they’re not opened very often, most recently on the 300th anniversary of the city, and before that in 1917 during the Revolution.   Unusual in a Russian church, there is also a stained glass window which is the centrepiece of the iconostasis (the royal doors, which correspond to where an altar would be in a Christian church).  Again there are all kinds of precious stones but the most amazing of all are two priceless columns of lapiz lazuli, some of which had to be imported from Afghanistan.  When you think how expensive a small piece of lapis lazuli jewellery is, these columns must be worth a king’s ransom.

All these splendours, however, were created at enormous human cost.  The gold leaf on the turrets was applied by to a mercury base which was heated to secure the gold leaf – and the serfs who worked on it all died from mercury poisoning.  Building went on all year round, right throughout Russia’s frigid winter, and hundreds of serfs perished in the cold and damp.  And, while not the same kind of tragedy, the architect who came from Italy as a young man and spent his entire life building it, was denied his last request to be buried there because it was against Russian church tradition.  His widow took his body back to Italy where he lies in an unknown grave.   You can see a bust of this remarkable man, Auguste de Montferrard, in the slideshow.

St Isaac’s was our last stop for the day.  After a short rest we went out for dinner to Gogol’s – a gorgeous restaurant where Gogol the author wrote Dead Souls. My other bookish moment for the day was a glimpse of the monument to Peter the Great, which I read about it Andrei Bely’s Petersburg.  Hopefully I’ll get back there to take a proper picture in due course.

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St Petersburg: Saints Peter and Paul Fortress

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 29, 2012

The fortress of Saints Peter and Paul is the original citadel of the city which was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.  At the time, Russia was fighting off Sweden, which was then a great power, and this spot was chosen as a strategic defence post, though it was never actually used for that purpose.  The still-operational Russian Mint is within its walls, but (as you’d expect)  it’s not open to tourists, and there were no free samples.  (Actually, it’s quite interesting to compare Russian banknotes with Australian ones: ours are full of all kinds of encrypted whatnots to prevent forgery, but Russian ones don’t seem to have the same inbuilt protections).

Many famous people have been imprisoned here, including assorted revolutionaries such as Trotsky and Tito, but also Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was released after a very short time because of the international uproar.  Apparently he suffered from lung disease and it was feared that the appalling conditions would be fatal to one of Russia’s great writers.  The fate of other prisoners was very different though the situation was reversed in 1917 when the revolutionaries were freed and the tsar’s supporters were imprisoned there instead.

The Cathedral is different because Peter the Great hired an Italian architect called Domenico Trezzini to design it: it’s not a traditional Russian church architecture with icons all over the place, it’s got frescos all over the ceiling and a golden spire instead of the typical onion shaped turrets.  It was converted to a museum under the Soviets, and suffered considerable damage from bombardment during WW2, but has been beautifully restored.

It’s also the last resting place of the Tsars.  All the sarcophagi are white marble except for two, Alexander II and his wife Maria’s which are carved from jasper and rhodonite.   Most poignant is the burial chapel of the last of the Romanovs, who were executed during the revolution.  Nicholas, his wife and children, and their loyal servants were all finally laid to rest here in 1998.

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Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Historic buildings, Museums, Russia 2012, St Petersburg 2012 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »