Category Archives: travel

little idiosyncracies of mine: Mappa Mundi sketches

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This is from one of the 17th century globes in the Museo Coreo in St Mark’s Square in Venice. I took a lot of photographs of what I could find on what are basically hard to read 17th century globes.

These things fascinate me. They are remarkably beautiful but simple illustrations which you find on a lot of maps and globes of the era. We don’t put much effort into making our tools look beautiful these days I think.

 

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Anyway you’ll find an album of them in various stages of bluriness here.

Venice, my love

I spent my holidays in Venice this September.

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I have not yet finished bringing the sketchbook up to date because to be honest the photos were really only accessible on my phone and it’s a drag to draw, sketch and paint from there.

This is the view towards Salute on the Grand Canal. I love, love Venice and over the coming couple of months will probably post more photographs and sketches as they are done.

An afternoon in London

I had a few hours free in London lately so I prioritised them to do a couple of wants and technically wants but really needs.

I went to the British Museum because I wanted to see the Rosetta Stone again. I remember the first time I saw it; pretty sure it wasn’t locked away in some sort of glass/acrylic jail cell. It’s a measure of how the world has changed I guess. Also, it is now subject to the Mona Lisa effect where crowds of people hoard around it and really you can’t get to see it in any comfort any more. Either way, I still went. For me, it is THE iconic thing in the British Museum. You can take the girl out of translation but possibly not translation out of the girl.

While I was there I hopped along to see the Lewis Chessmen. There are a few of them in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but really, the bulk of them are in Bloomsbury. They really are worth a look – I think they are beautiful. I zipped by Sutton Hoo which used to be one of my go tos – obviously still is, and the German ship clock. Then I had a look at the Parthenon Marbles and the Assyrian wall hangings. Absolutely wonderful. I bought *some* stuff in the shop but not much.

After that I made my way to the main Fazioli dealer in London as I had heard a lot about those pianos but had never actually met one for real. So I dug out the address and went and had a look. Beautiful pianos, no doubt about it. I played a couple very, very briefly – I was really short on time – and while I would have favoured one piano over the other, I really regretted that I had not time to sit and learn to relax over one or other.

There were two main musts I wanted to achieve in London – one was new clothes for work – irritating as I am between sizes so this year’s acquisition of trousers will potentially need to be redone a second time before normal re-purchase – the other was acquisition of the Hanon piano technique book which I figured I’d find in Foyles.

I love Foyles Bookshop but because I was whistlestop touring the place, I went straight up to the sheet music section and found H.

It’s phenomenal. I could get lost in there. GIve me a ladder and I am happy. The classical stuff is kept in drawers which I could happily explore for hours. The Hanon was surprisingly unexpensive and now I have no excuse not to sort out my whole piano technique issues (later).

The last thing I did was go to L Cornelissen which is a fabulous old art supplies shop. It has lots and lots of drawer units which I really, really want.

I went to university in London but after a weekend there I’m not sure I could go back there to live. It’s stressful and crowded. My experience with Transport for London customer service in the face of lines closed for engineering works wasn’t great; the tubes are packed to sardine tin levels. I do regret that I did not get a chance to play the Platform 88 piano in Tottenham Court Road.

Holliers in the mountains

I discovered rather too late that the school holidays in Luxembourg ended two weeks’ later than every other country in Europe which means that those two weeks where I had time off work, chosen because “shur all the schools will be gone back” were extortionately expensive to get to Spain with. Plus, bad and all as it was to get to  Spain, it was profoundly bankrupting to actually get home.

So I had to go somewhere cheaper instead and I chose Switzerland. The irony is not lost on me here.

The easiest way to go to where I wanted to go in Switzerland is usually fly into Geneva, have lunch with a friend and get a train and a couple of buses. However, that was too expensive because only Luxair flew into Geneva, and only Swiss flew into Zurich which left not-terribly-obvious option three, fly into Milan with either Ryanair, EasyJet or Luxair. In the end, I flew into Bergamo with Ryanair.

 

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You can see the mountains there. In fact, since we flew over them, you could probably have seen them from the aircraft. I had an aisle seat and could see nothing.

I had to overnight in Milan with a really early morning train on a Sunday morning so I picked somewhere near Milano Centrale. Milano Centrale is a great building.

It’s massive.

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It screams delusions of grandeur and when you realise Mussolini had an interest you kind of understand why. It’s a stunning building.

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with lots of halls and massive high ceilings.

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and art.

I could spend a day in Milano Centrale and probably go bankrupt in the shops there.

Growing up in Ireland, the train network is kind of limited to Ireland, and doesn’t seem terribly exotic.

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Continental train stations on the other hand…Mine was the EC 32 at 8:23, destination Geneva.

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It was a Swiss train. It takes a fascinating and stunning route into the mountains via Lake Maggiore.

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…and then the landscape starts getting a bit pointier.

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and pointier.

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The last stop before the border with Switzerland is a place called Dommodossola. This is a good warning to switch off your data roaming because in Switzerland, there is no Roam Like Home and even the phone calls come in at 1.72 a minute.

We don’t do snow capped mountains in Ireland much, never mind in summer.

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Switzerland does.

I was staying in the Valais.

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The mountains are full of character.

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I got off the train in Sion and had an early lunch.

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Surprisingly, there were a couple of shops open, including a bakery. This was unexpected since it was Sunday.

From Sion, I had to get two buses to Ovronnaz. The next change was in Leytron.

This is vineyard country.

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So lots of vines on practically vertical terraces.

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Leytron was kind of quiet.

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But it was Sunday morning.

And the land was a bit pointier than I am used to.

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Despite McGillycuddy Reeks being a formative part of my life

I got on the second bus.

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That’s Leytron as we started winding up our way an eternal number of hairpin bends. I don’t know that we would send buses up there if it were Ireland to be frank Some of the turns were nervewracking and we frequently met enthusiastic traffic coming at us. I’ve only been more scared in a bus once and that was in Fuerteventura.

I was staying in Ovronnaz.

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Ovronnaz is at around 1200m, and it’s well known for thermal baths and skiing. During the summer it also gets a bunch of hikers. I didn’t actually take any pictures of the baths but what follows are pictures of mountains, quite a few of them.

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I think this one was the view from my apartment.

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and we were below the snowline.

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The place is stunning when the sun comes out.

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So I decided to take the skilift up to 2000m. This was still below the snowline.

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Apparently you can walk to the top of that. I didn’t.

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Yay. Snow caps.

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We don’t get a whole lot of snow in Ireland or indeed in Luxembourg so I find this joy inducing. Although I draw the line at doing those hairpins in a bus in the snow.

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This is the chairlift posts looking down. I didn’t want to take my camera out while I was hanging in midair so that’s really all you’ll get of that.

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But I loved it up there.

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Sunset one evening.

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Weather not so great another day:

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Sunset another day.

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View from my balcony.

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View from the front of the hotel.

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It rained the last night I was there.

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This was how it looked at 7.20 in the morning as I started the 12 hour journey home. The trip down the hairpins was sufficiently dizzying that I took no photos and I only had 60 seconds in Leytron to make the bus back to Sion.

The train from Sion to Milan was packed. This is what the luggage area looked like half an hour out from Milan

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Would I do this again? Yes, despite a few stupid mishaps (I lost a full swim kit including swimsuit, goggles and nose clip on day one) but I’d like to be a bit hill walking fitter. There is no actually horizontal piece of ground up there – you’re either walking up a very steep hill or down a very steep hill. During the snow season, there are buses moving people from hotels to skilifts and the countryside is dotted with skilift lines which leads me to think there’s a good few more than the one I got up to 2000m, Jorasse. Switzerland is not terribly cheap and the exchange rate is really not in the EU’s favour at the moment (but it was more than offset by the cost of flying to Spain). Ovronnaz is a hassle to get to from outside Switzerland but the buses worked out okay. The food was generally good. Plus, if you’re European, seeing the Alps really should be on your bucket list. You can also do it in winter (duh) and I did the Glacier Express in 2016.

Walking around a winter wonderland

It snowed in Luxembourg this morning.

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It was a rather lovely, peaceful snowy scene in the park near my apartment this morning so I took a walk around it before going in search of furniture. I wandered over to the lift down to Pfaffenthal but that was closed for some reason. I don’t know why.

This is what you could see from the Ville Haute near the lift anyway so you got the view even if you couldn’t get into the viewing platform.

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The bridge is called the Charlotte or the Red Bridge. I think they like the colour idea because the new bridge in the city centre is called the Blue Bridge. It was built because the main bridge, called the Adolphe Bridge, is in need of serious repair so it had to be closed. Imagine, if you will, closing O’Connell Bridge and building a temporary replacement almost right next to it. That’s what the Luxembourgers appeared to do.

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The glassy thing on the left is the elevator.

Anyway, flickr is not cooperating with me right now so I might add other photographs later.

Places you should consider visiting

Probably, if I were right and being right on and stuff, this would be illustrated with photographs (like I used to do) and drawings (oh wait, that we can manage) but…

Anyway, I was planning to go to Venice on my holidays to be all artistic and drink hot chocolate in this one café I hoped I’d be able to find having not seen it in ten years but I’m sure it’s near the university when events eventuated and I wound up not going to Venice on my holidays but going to a corner of Europe most people don’t usually holiday in, not from Ireland anyway. It’s best known for a few castles, and a lot of pan European administration. I started in Brussels and ended up in Frankfurt and went to Luxembourg on the way.

However, this allowed me to knock an item off my bucket list by visiting Trier and Heidelberg. Heidelberg has a Lamy flagship store which of course should be everyone’s number one reason for going there provided everyone has the taste to like their pens, but it also has one of the all time great castles in Europe. You should go.

Trier is, as far as I know, the northernmost Roman city on the European Mainland (I’m saying this because there’s almost certainly one further north in the UK somewhere, only that less of it remains that remains of Trier. It has quite a few Roman monuments still lying around, such as the Porta Nigra which:

 

I endeavoured to draw into my marker notebook. Later I shall try to put it in my travel notebook as well along with some words.

Trier is a lovely town. It is a university city and in addition to this, it also has a cathedral which is basically an epitome of what I feel cathedrals should look like. Worth visiting. ON the downside, I missed the Roman baths, and Considine’s Basilica although that was careless as I did pass right by it at some point, lost.

To get to Trier, you’ve a couple of options:

  1. fly into Brussels and get the train. This is likely to be your cheapest option courtesy of Ryanair.
  2. fly into Frankfurt Hahn and hire a care. This may be cheaper than (1) but I don’t know as I haven’t priced it.
  3. fly into Luxembourg and get the train. This has limited availability in that unlike Brussels, there are not six flights daily between Aer Lingus and RYanair, but one five or six times a week with Luxair.
  4. Fly into Frankfurt and get the train.

Once you’ve checked out Trier, it’s not that hard to get to Heidelberg. I recommend the castle in Heidelberg and the funicular (it’s only 12E and includes the top and the bottom and all stations in between and entry into the castle. I strongly recommend the castle in Heidelberg. I gather you can walk up (but get the funicular it’s easier).

I like holidays like this. You get to do stuff and no one is trying to ram cheap holiday cocktails down your throat.

Blavet

My mother spent years trying to get me to paint and I think she had oil paints in mind. When push came to shove, I went for water colours instead and now I have discovered that actually, art supplies are a much greater problem in my life than camera gear ever was.

Anyway. It’s pouring in Dublin today and I am feeling somewhat lethargic, so I am whiling away the time by occasionally doing some tidying and cleaning, and by reading a new drawing book (which is tempting me to buy even more drawing supplies) and doing some painting and drawing. I do not know how many sketchbooks I have on the go at the moment but I think 6 is not an over estimate.

I usually have no difficulty in identifying things I want to draw or paint when I am driving,. When confronted with a sketchbook and some of my art gear, it’s a different matter. The fear takes me.

For some reason, because I was traveling in my mind, I suppose, I decided to draw (let’s draw first anyway and see how I get on) and possibly paint one of those soul food places. Everyone has them. Mine include the point in Doolin (which was really gorgeous the last time I was down there), the Pointe du Raz at a pointy bit of Brittany and the boat graveyard on the Blavet river outside Lorient. I’d love to give you directions but I absolutely get lost every time I go looking for it. And I can’t remember the last time I was there but I have a nasty feeling it is at least five years.

Lorient is a fine big city so it comes as a surprise that you can be really near it – up the river from it more or less – and be completely immune to the feeling that you are anywhere much near civilisation. The Blavet is very wide at that point, so that probably explains why it became a place to come and scuttle boats. Most of the boats there are wooden and in varying states of decay. For me there is one iconic boat which, at high tide just has its prow sticking up out of the water. This part of the Blavet is also tidal.

Most of the time I’ve been there, I’ve been either on my own, or there has been at most 1 or 2 other persons there. I brought my mother once. There is reasonable amount of parking, and that is probably less to support the beauty spot that somehow, illogically, a dumping ground for boats who have outlived their usefulness (most of the boats if not all were working boats and the tuna fishing fleet was dumped there at the start of the 20th century). Really it should look like a scrapyard, and, somehow it doesn’t. I suspect the reason for that is that the overwhelming majority of the boats are not made from modern ship building materials like metal or fibre glass. There are a few, and yet they seem curiously out of place. The river side hosts an open air theatre and I suspect that is why there is sufficient parking there. It’s in a beautiful location.

I don’t know that we really have places like that, and where boats have been abandoned in harbours, they have often been cleaned up or taken away and broken up.

The boat I elected to draw was the sticky up prow which has a comparatively modern look about it in terms of having a reg number. But like all the others, it’s made of wood for the most part, with some metal that is gradually rusting away. Ironically, when I sketched it, I got the prow wrong (I call these learning experiences) but otherwise…I’m happy with it.

 

Somehow, the fact that it’s still raining in Dublin seems hardly relevant.

Other things I learned today – titanium white in the Sennelier half pan set is not fun to work with. I must see what WN has to offer on that front. I need something that doesn’t turn other colours into what looks like pottery clay.

Places in my time line

Most days, I listen to the radio on the way to work in the car, like most people. I don’t much like driving in Dublin but for all that, it’s ten thousand times better than getting the bus was. Out of ecological collective responsibility grounds I tried that for 4 months. It was not good.

But I have between 30 and 60 minutes in the car most mornings, depending on what time I leave home, and I listen to the radio because I can’t read, and I can’t do study, and I can’t do other things I might do with an hour free. For one thing, there are cyclists and for another there are Audi drivers. I maximise the use I get out of that time by listening to foreign language radio. I start off with NDR from Germany, and usually, around half way through the journey, or when the sports news comes on, I switch to France Info. Sometimes, on the way home I listen to RTBF. RTBF is the Belgian/French language equivalent of RTE and I listen to it because I used to live in Brussels. I don’t often care too much about the content of the news, but I value the fact that it forces me to keep a level of foreign language comprehension skills active. Switching between them is good for me too.

On Monday evening this week, I was listening to RTBF and for various reasons, in a rush, RTBF was what remained on the radio at twenty past seven on Tuesday morning. I never listen to it in the morning – my default is always NDR for the morning – so it was pure chance that I tuned in just as reports were starting to break about the explosions at the airport in Brussels. I can remember my blood running cold…I can remember the presenters frantically trying telling people not to go to the airport, that all access was closed, frantically trying to find out what had happened. They had no reporters on the ground at the airport and this was less than 30 minutes, I guess, after the first bomb had gone off. They had so little information at that point in time that they weren’t sure where in the airport the two bombs had gone off. Initially, there was a report that one might have gone off on the tarmac. I worked at an airport for more than 10 years of my life. How on earth, I wondered, in shock, could an explosion happen on the tarmac?

I drove to work not hearing the words “gas explosion” or “accident” but “people are being very careful not to identify the cause of these explosions”. I also learned that both explosions appeared to take place in the check in hall in the terminal building.

By the time I got to work, scant reports about Maalbeek were starting to come out and on that, it seemed clear that the odds of finding a benign – for want of a suitable term – cause of the incident at the airport – were growing much, much longer. Smoke pouring out of underground stations is not generally a good thing.

I’ve been over and back to Brussels a lot in the last 24 months. The last couple of times I had cause to stay overnight there, it’s been at the Thon Hotel in the EU quarter. It’s about 20 metres from Maalbeek. On Tuesday, its lobby became an A&E incident room for the casualties from the explosion below.  I lived 2 metro stops along the same line so pretty much everywhere I went by metro in Brussels when I was living there took me through Maalbeek. TBH, this felt awfully close to a person I used to be.

One of the running themes in the Vimes collection of Discworld books by Terry Pratchett talks about how, in staying alive in the face of an attractive bounty on his head for the Assassin’s Guild, he needs to be lucky every single day. The would be assassin only has to be lucky once. That’s the balance of luck between us, the public, and anyone who wants to cause chaos. And no matter how much work we do to minimise risk in the face of attacks like this, it’s still the case: terrorist only has to be lucky once, we have to be lucky all the time. No matter how much we balance the odds in our favour, they have to be lucky once.

I rail against calling them terrorists, as it happens. That gives them the status they are looking for. They are mass murdering criminals, and it is as criminals we should be treating them, not some special snowflakes.

Brussels is an extraordinary city. I loved it for the fact that pretty much anything I wanted to do, I could. I came home for family reasons in the end, but there are a lot of days – particularly sitting in the car watching yet another Audi A6 driver trying to whip off the front of my car – where I wish Dublin was more like Brussels. In the way of public transport, for example, in the way of shopping. It has a lot of the pluses of living somewhere like Paris without too many of the minuses, like scale. There are days I truly miss the smell of fresh bread from the bakery that was near my apartment.  I love that it has giant comicbook murals. I love some of its street art. I love the architecture of the buildings. And I love the shops.

I am immensely pissed off that anyone would bomb it. And I am heartbroken that the families of more than 30 people are coming to terms with a life less ordinary and that for 300 more people and their families, yesterday was a lot different to how all the tomorrows will be.

For all my friends in Belgium #brussels #bruxelles #brussel #lifeboat #friendship #birdsofaclef

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

Bucket lists and dreams

IMG_4659A while ago, I realised that my life was going by and it was about time I started doing things rather than thinking about doing them. As a result, I spent the last week in Switzerland, primarily doing the Glacier Express train trip.

There were mountains. High mountains with big lots of trees and snow on them. It was wonderful.

There was also the Caran d’Ache shops in Geneva and Zurich. I have loved and adored Caran d’Ache writing instruments since I was 15 years old. The only place that really sells them in Dublin is the Pen Corner, and while they have accommodated me with special orders once in a while, they don’t do the art side of things. Kennedy have some of the pencils, but nowhere near to all of the pencils.

As a result, the Caran d’Ache shop in Geneva was the ultimate shop in the world for someone like me. Lots of limited edition fine writing implements, the sort with near annual income salary level pricing (there must be a lot of very, very wealthy people in Geneva). I bought two Paul Smith 849s which I wanted and which have the benefit of not being expensive, but not being cheap plastic either.

I like the 849 pens – I have about half a dozen at this stage and they are a nice weight in my hand. They are, perhaps, not as nice as the Ecridors themselves (130E if you’re buying – I was not on this occasion although I have a shopping list of 3 that I want – it never ends). And of course, there were the pencils.

All those Museum Aquarelles which I can’t get in Ireland, and the Luminance pencils, which I can’t get in Ireland. I had a dozen Aquarelles, and I picked up another half dozen colours which I like a lot, plus I picked up two or three Luminance pencils just to try them.

Plus there were a few Swiss Wood pencils, and series five of the woods of the world collections. I could have spent a lot of money in the Caran d’Ache shop just on art pencils. The truth is I was somewhat limited by the whole lugging thing – my holiday consisted of five days of travelling basically – so I was able to resist full boxes of their neocolor IIs and other water solubles.

I did buy a couple of brushes because they were the equivalent of 2 euro less expensive than they are here and brushes are always handy. In theory, I’m not really needing to buy pencils as I binge bought a bunch of Faber Castell Sparkles not so long ago (they tended to be very hard to get here for a while although since I stocked up, both Easons and the Art and Hobby Store have got in copious supplies).

But I found it very hard to say no to the Caran d’Ache Swiss wood basic HBs. Basic isn’t a great word – they are probably twice the price of the sparkles and you can’t get them here. I have five of them which should keep me going for a while. They have a most beautiful smell of wood.

Outside the shopping in Caran d’Ache’s shops, I spent time in Zermatt, Saint Moritz, Lugano, and especially, I spent time in Swiss trains. The Glacier Express is a 9 hour train journey which basically goes from Zermatt to Saint Moritz or vice versa. I was hoping to see the Matterhorn: IMG_20151019_185311

But it was covered in clouds/fog/hidingtypeweather for the day I was in Zermatt. This was regrettable.

The journey across Switzerland was amazing – we don’t do scenery like it and we certainly don’t do weather like it. The Glacier Express is certainly worth doing in the winter, and they will lay on lunch for you for a consideration – it’s around thirty francs and it is definitely worth doing it.

Saint Moritz was where I bought some non-Caran d’Ache writing tools, and had a walk around. It’s a lovely town, for what I saw of it, although it could be a very expensive place to be shopping given that the shops tend to the high income level brands rather than your average high street store.

From there, I took the scenic train back down to Chur, which I was hoping would be brighter than it had been the evening before but the fog never lifted. It was very atmospheric, but not very conducive to photographs.

I then took the long way to Lugano, via Zurich, which is a lovely train journey even in one of the high speed Intercity Express trains which run all the way to Hamburg.

Zurich is a lovely town. It took has a Caran d’Ache shop. The buildings are beautiful and the train station is especially beautiful as train stations go. It’s also really well located for shopping.

Lugano is beautifully situated on hills around a lake. Again, I wasn’t there for long as I was going onto Como and Lake Como which is a gorgeous, gorgeous town in Northern Italy. From there, I finished up in Milan.

In short, I did a lot of travelling on trains in the week and saw an awful lot of Switzerland plus a bit of Italy.

 

Main Railway Station, Helsinki

It’s three years since I was last in Finland – I’d say it was far too long but there was a 14 year gap prior to that.

Anyway, for various art related reasons I wanted a picture of an icebreaker and I knew there had been one near the hotel where I stayed the last time and given I was still dragging a large camera around then, I would have been surprised if I didn’t take a picture of it. So I rooted out the relevant hard drive to find the pictures from Helsinki, and while I was scrolling through them, I found this.

 

IMG_1080Basically, this is the railway station in Helsinki. It’s a rather austere looking building – a lot of discussions online suggest it’s a bit Soviet Union. The day I got the train to Tampere, there was, however, a train to Saint Petersburg on one of the quays. Finland does share a border with Russia. I’ve always remembered the other picture I took of the train station, or made anyway as the processing was rather unique IMG_1083

So I’d forgotten about this. Whether it is the passage of time, or the mood I find myself in now, I suddenly find I love the black and white picture now, and particularly, in full screen version as my desktop image. Helsinki is a lovely city. I really do want to go back.

For what it’s worth, I did take a picture of the icebreaker too. Here it is.

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