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 ‘ScienceLovers pilgrimage’ Category

St Paul’s Cathedral, Saturday 25.9.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 26, 2010

Last night we had dinner with Tim’s niece Georgia (who’s an occupational therapist based here in London until she ‘stops having fun’) and this morning we had breakfast with my niece Cressida, her husband Marc and their two dear little girls.  They live here in London too now, and it was lovely to meet my grand-nieces for the first time!   

After that, we set off for St Paul’s Cathedral where, as part of the admission fee, we chanced upon one of the best tour guides we’ve come across.  His name was John and he took us through all sorts of interesting parts of the cathedral that tourists can’t usually access.  We went, for example,  into the Chapel of St Michael and St George and sat down among the pews, which are decorated with small individual plaques commemorating various military heroes.  The plaques are beautifully crafted in enamel, with coats of arms in vivid colours, and quite large, especially for chaps with many letters after their names.   We knew only one of them: Baden-Powell, who started the boy scout movement and after whom my grandfather Baden Powell Hill was named in admiration of the hero of Mafeking.  On the wooden carvings on the chapel walls we noted that St George was ready for battle but appeared to have lost a dragon to joust with – while St Michael had seven (representing the Seven Deadly Sins).  John (who had a rather droll sense of humour) said that he thought St George’s dragon was probably lurking among them.   

From there we went downstairs to admire Christopher Wren’s amazing staircase which has steps which seem to float in space.  Alas photography is not allowed because St Paul’s is a functioning place of worship, but you can see what it looks like from this link – which also shows a contemporary art installation called Flare II, by artist Antony Gormley.  This is not the only example of somewhat incongruous modern intrusions: there is also an exhibition of modern paintings down in the crypt which just looked silly there.   

From the choir, one can look up and admire the mosaics properly.  Apparently when Wren was commissioned to design the cathedral his brief was to avoid any of that un-Protestant florid popery beloved of those European Catholics, but it wasn’t long before there was consensus that British power and prestige would be well served by some extravagant mosaics and carvings and whatnot with which to impress those same Europeans.  So now there are magnificent golden mosaics of angels and so forth, and some of the carvings in the choir stalls are enchanting.  Above the altar the mosaics are even more impressive and I was pleased to be able to buy a souvenir book with close-up photos of these mosaics to browse through when we get home.   

Source: Wikipedia

 

Amongst the many plaques within the building, one of the first beside the entrance is a reminder of the bravery of the men who defended the cathedral against German bombing during WW2.  Night after night they climbed up onto the dome to protect it from the incendiary bombs which would otherwise have started fires in the roof.  They were not able to protect the cathedral from explosive bombs, one of which destroyed the altar entirely, and whereas repairs to other bomb damage in the cathedral are faithful reproductions, it was decided to replace the altar with Wren’s original design which was rejected at the time of building as being too fancy.    

The highlight for me was seeing the monuments and resting places of Britain’s best and bravest.  John Donne is there, looking remarkably pious for one who wrote such raunchy poetry, but judging by the respectful looks of my fellow-tourists when John talked about Donne’s religious poetry and ecclesiastical career, I was the only one who knew that.  Donne’s statue is the only one to have survived the Great Fire of London which destroyed the original St Paul’s.    

Wellington has a very impressive monument complete with a statue of the great man on his horse – apparently there was some to-do about the appropriateness of having a horse in a house of worship and even when it was agreed that it was okay, there was another fuss about which direction the horse should face because it wasn’t respectable to have its rear-end facing the altar.  Then as now, some people don’t have enough to worry about and so they create a fuss about nothing…   

In Artists’ Corner there are stone burial plaques over the bones of Joshua Reynolds, William Turner, William Blake, Van Dyk and British-born Randolph Caldecott after whom the American award for children’s book illustration is named.  In the Medical Corner there is Sir Henry Wellcome and Alexander Fleming, credited with the discovery of penicillin – though as Australians all know, it was Howard Florey who developed a method of manufacturing sufficient quantities of it to be useful, thereby saving countless lives during WW2.   

(Actually, it was quite interesting to see the extent to which the American contribution to WW2 is acknowledged, while that of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa seems to be completely ignored.  The Americans have a whole stained glass window, carvings and memorial reminders, but there is nothing to be seen to remind anyone about how the dominions rallied to the cause.  Tim thinks that perhaps this is because it was just expected that the Empire would turn up to defend the Mother Country whereas the Brits feel they have to be grateful to the US.  Two other Australians in our group were rather peeved about this neglect, muttering about how Australia had been there from the start of the hostilities whereas the American contribution was belated to say the least.)   

Whatever about all that, by the time we’d admired Nelson’s monument, we’d had enough of military heroes and sloped off to browse for souvenirs and have a cup of tea.  Yes, bizarre as it may seem, right there in the crypt there’s a cafe and a shop!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, England 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2010, MusicLovers pilgrimage, ScienceLovers pilgrimage, UK 2010 | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Last day in Rome: Capitoline Museums 5.11.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 24, 2007


Our last day in Rome, in Italy, in Europe…
We spent the morning in museums, starting with the Capitoline where we admired the massive bits of Constantine that are dotted about the entrance, found the Dying Gaul, the Boy removing a Thorn, the bird mosaics from Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, assorted philosophers and the best of the busts of the emperors. Downstairs, linking the two museums is a terrific tunnel with tablets documenting all kinds of Roman writing, and some token Greek too. We had lunch in the restaurant on top of the museum overlooking the city, which once again had blessed us with perfect weather.

 My last journal entry was written at an outdoor cafe, Ristorante La Carbonara in Campo di Fiore, beside the famous bakery and near the statue of Giordano Bruno, the patron saint of Skeptics. (He was burned to death for heresy in 1600, for suggesting that the earth revolves around the sun.) There was a farmer’s market in full swing, with fruit, vegetables and flowers for sale, not to mention the usual cheap copies of designer bags being sold by Africans keeping a wary eye out for the police. An energetic teenager was playing the piano accordion under the watchful eye of her patron, and we made friends with a couple of Swedish gays out walking their dog. It was a perfect night.

Posted in Dining out, Europe 2005, Italy 2005, Museums, Rome 2005, ScienceLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Uffizi, Florence, 28.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 30, 2006


Tina and Thorolf had paperwork to sort out with AMEX in Florence, while we had tickets for the Uffizi so we drove into Arezzo and took the train again. It was a crisp and hazy morning, so after we’d gone our separate ways Tim and I took a sight-seeing tour on a bus. Alas, the driver conformed to all those stereotypes about Italian drivers and hurtled through the city at break-neck speed, pausing only at Piazza Michelangelo for us to admire yet another David…
Once inside the Uffizi, however, all was forgiven. What an amazing collection! I loved the pale faces of the Botticelli maidens, the massive statuary (even if it is mostly only Roman copies) and my favourite: the Tribune Room with its mother-of-pearl dome. It is a little unfortunate that this room is arranged so that visitors can only walk around the perimeter of the room with the statuary fenced off in the middle, so it’s not possible to stand there and see the pictures properly, but still, this is where the famous Bronzinos are, and it was a treat to see them. One of my favourite souvenir bookmarks at home is of Eleonora of Toledo, and now at last I could see the whole painting in all its glory, as well as the enchanting portrait of little Bia Medici, gazing solemnly out at the world.

eleanor-of-toledo-wikipedia-google-art-project

Eleanor of Toledo with her son Giovanni by Bronzino (Source: Wikipedia, Google Art Project

There were Canalettos too, but not as fine as the ones in the Wallace Collection, and the Caravaggios are very badly lit. As seems to be usual in Italy, the Uffizi gallery guards/guides seem to do very little of either, and are so nonchalant that anyone could deface or damage these beautiful artworks and still they would be absorbed in their mobile phone calls or the fashion magazines they read while on duty. I love Italy and its relaxed attitudes to many things, but their care of world heritage artworks is scandalous.
We had lunch at the Uffizi cafe, where a most officious waitress was kept busy ejecting tourists who didn’t understand the rules about paying extra to have a seat at a table. The view is splendid, right over the roof tops of the city, and it was good to rest our weary feet!
In the afternoon we went to San Croce. The church was full of scaffolding but that didn’t prevent us admiring the monuments of many illustrious men (and one woman, Florence Nightingale). Rossini, Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli and of course Michelangelo are all there, with the most amazing statuary above their tombs, and there are also beautiful frescoes by Giotto.
Within the monastery one can also contemplate the cowl and girdle of S. Francis (maybe), and there is also a school for leatherworkers, with wares for sale. Tim had already bought a rather swish leather jacket in the morning, so we weren’t tempted.
We took the late train back to Arezzo, but were unable to reserve seats and Tim ended up standing for most of the way, impervious to my offers to swap seats. My hero then drove us back to Arezzo in the dark, and a quiet dinner at home.
Next, off to Positano!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, Europe 2005, Florence 2005, Italy 2005, ScienceLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Milan, 14-15.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 18, 2006

 We spent the day on the train. It was easy from Avignon to Nice, and the scenery was sublime. The sea is a beautiful blue, the villas are brightly coloured in yellow and terracotta, and the blue and teal shutters do look just the picture postcards. It’s good fun to admire the playgrounds of the rich and famous at Monte Carlo and Cannes, and we were very comfortable with the cabin all to ourselves.
At Nice, however, we had to race onto the train without a reservation because the queue was just too long and we would have otherwise have missed the train. We felt a bit anxious each time we stopped in case someone wanted our seats, but eventually the conductor turned up and although he couldn’t sell us a reserved seat because his machine was broken, he reassured us that we would be able to sort it out once the new conductor boarded at Genoa…
Well, she didn’t, but it didn’t matter. What spoiled the trip was three very disagreeable middle-aged Italian men who talked nonstop all the way to Milan, sniping at tourists (us), the trains, and young people, and then held a voluble argument about Italian cuisine and how bad all the restaurants were. They obviously didn’t realise that we could understand what they were saying!
Still, it was useful practice at listening to Italian, which came in handy the next day when we went back to the railway station to book reservations for Venice. Milan railway station is huge, with shops everywhere and dozens of confusing entrances and exits and places to buy tickets, but eventually we worked it out and found our way onto the subway for Castello Sforzesco.
 We didn’t have time to explore it thoroughly, but it’s a fascinating place. It’s certainly the biggest fortress I’ve ever seen, but I suppose the Sforza dukes had plenty to protect. The complex is built in the shape of a massive rectangle around a vast inner courtyard, and the clock tower in the middle of the façade is 70 metres high. Above the great door is a bas-relief of King Umberto I on horseback, and under the battlements is St. Ambrose among the coats of the arms of the six Sforza dukes. There’s a moat (minus the water) and a splendid drawbridge for the obligatory photo. There was no time to dawdle through the museum, but the park was peaceful and quiet after the city crowds, and we liked the monument to Napoleon III and the Arch of Peace.
 We had a lovely lunch at the Gambero Rosso Restaurant across the road from the castle. I tried risotto with cuttlefish ink, & Tim had linguine al pesto. My Italian was tried and found wanting, however, when I ordered two glasses of wine and got a bottle, and the waiter brought formaggio (cheese) instead of pane (bread)! Still, it was all very nice, and we tried Sardinian wine for the first time, a crisp and refreshing 2004 Nuraghe Majore, from Isola de Nuraghe. Nuragus is one of the oldest known species of vine, and was probably drunk by the Phoenicians!
. After lunch we discovered a phenomenon with which we were soon to become familiar in Italy, the famous landmark (in this case the Duomo) shrouded in sheets of advertising to mask restoration scaffolding. It didn’t matter – we enjoyed some terrific South American music in the piazza, and wandered through the Galeria Victor Emmanuel (Prada, Luis Vuitton, McDonalds) gawping at the ornate arcade with its frescoes and mosaics and breathtaking glass roof. From there we walked through to Piazza la Scala and saw the theatre and a marvellous monument of Leonardo da Vinci surrounded by four scholars all looking very erudite. Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to book tickets for The Last Supper and we couldn’t get in, but we’d had enough by then anyway and were glad to head back to the hotel for a rest.
Our Italian teacher, Maria Quinto, had warned us about La Passeggiata, the urban ritual of an evening stroll, but the real thing in Milan doesn’t leave much room on the pavement for a couple of hungry Aussies in search of a meal! Eventually, however, we found Sabatini’s off Corso Buenos Aires, and on the advice of a kind and helpful waiter who spoke very good English, we discovered that we like Valpolicella Classico Allegrini. Tim had a buffet antipasto, but once again I could not pass up the mushrooms and had bruschetta al funghi, followed by steak and porcini for him and green pepper pasta for me.
Our day in Milan had a couple of disappointments, but if we enjoyed our introduction to Italy in an impersonal busy city, then things could only get better from here onwards – and Venice is next!

Posted in ArtLovers pilgrimage, Dining out, Europe 2005, Italy 2005, Milan 2005, ScienceLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

London, The British Museum, 29.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 29, 2005


Since the British Museum was only round the corner from the Montague on the Park, even I couldn’t get lost. So when Tim decided to have a rest back at the hotel, I couldn’t resist venturing out on my own…
First (of course) I went back to see the antiquities: The Elgin Marbles, the Assyrians, the Romans and so on. I met some lovely people, including a friendly Greek gent who caught me admiring the Nereid Monument and wanted to know if I thought it should be repatriated to Greece. I said not, (not as emphatically as I might have otherwise) but we chatted amiably because I’m from Melbourne and Greeks are fond of Melbourne. (It’s the third largest Greek city in the world.)
Outside British prehistory there was a curator with a tray of items for visitors to touch and hold. She let me handle a small pick and a hammer head, but (as I couldn’t resist telling her) these were hardly ancient compared to Aboriginal culture, which goes back 40,000 years. I was a bit surprised to find that she didn’t know much about the technologies used by our Aborigines in prehistory, and she was very impressed when I told her I’d seen small ‘wells’ carved by hand in Wave Rock, Western Australia. These wells were filled with sand to stop precious water from evaporating during the drought. I think Aussies should do much more bragging about the unique culture and history of our Aborigines…

Later on I again felt like an excited little kid when I was allowed to hold coins from the reign of Cleopatra (20BC) and Ptolomy (240BC), a little ewer of oil used by an athlete on his skin before a race and an Athenian pottery dish for olives. I do so love to see these household objects from long ago.

I met up with Tim again in the Enlightenment Gallery, which is new since our last visit. When George III’s library was moved to its impressive new home in the new British Library there were empty bookshelves left behind, so they borrowed some books from the parliamentary library to make it look respectable and filled the gallery with an eclectic (but systematically organised) collection of memorabilia from the Great Men of the Enlightenment. I felt quite a pang when I saw the fossil collection of William Smith – the father of British geology, according to Simon Winchester. He was a canal engineer, who created the first geological map of Britain, but he got into financial bother and had to break up his precious fossil collection to sell it to a not very grateful public.
There were all sorts of natural history specimens there too, including Joseph Banks’ shells and a stuffed koala, bits of Samian (Aretine) ware, some tiles from 8th century Iran (when it was Persia), pieces of Wedgewood, a miscellany of Hindu deities and even a miniature gamelan. Amazing!

After that, we went to the special exhibition ‘Forgotten Empire’ and it was brilliant. Some of the pieces were only British Museum casts, made in the 19th century but now the only surviving examples for study. They show the magnificence of the carvings on the Persian palaces, but what I liked best was the jewellery – superb little golden chariots, so delicate and fine, and a magnificent drinking vessel with a carved base. Beautiful gold armlets and tiny little seals carved with miniature scenes of Persian life. There was also a special column with what was ‘almost’ an early Bill of Rights exhorting tolerance – used these days by the Iranians for propaganda purposes…
Tired out, we dined in, on squab risotto at the Blue Door Restaurant, which is the evening incarnation of the breakfast room at the Montague. The meal was nice, and the service very good, but the South African wine was woeful!

Posted in Dining out, England 2005, London 2005, Museums, ScienceLovers pilgrimage, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »