The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

We left Harrogate mid morning but our ferry to Ireland didn’t leave Liverpool until 9pm, which left us with quite a few hours to fill in between. I’d seen a few photos of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on Instagram and, as it was a nice day, we decided to take a detour.

While there are around 80 sculptures placed around the large grounds, there’s also the main gallery and a chapel that houses exhibits.

The first exhibit we looked at was by an artist called Mister Finch, a local man who made anthropomorphic sculptures of animals from found fabric and other materials. This exhibition was based on a story of his where animals who delivered wishes were allowed their own wishes granted… I think. It was quite enchanting.

The next gallery space had works from a number of artists and all the works had something to do with nature. I particularly liked this one:

At first it looked like a pile of potatoes – which it mostly was. This seemed intriguingly strange and then the nearby gallery guard/explainer told us that the artist had taken a cast of his face then buried it with the potatoes then the potatoes had grown into the shape of his eyes and ears etc. Amazing! The artist then cast those potatoes in bronze and then displayed them with regular potatoes.

You won’t recall this, I’m sure, but in my post about Rome earlier this year I included photos of an artwork that was acacia thorns on canvas. Coincidentally, there was one work by the same artist on display in Yorkshire.

We had a little wander through the grounds but it was a bit windy and so I didn’t take too many photos. Also there were a lot of Henry Moore statues, which I’m not that keen on. I did like this though :

A haha over a haha! Possibly the most elaborate pun I’ve seen all year. I don’t know how many other people would get it… or even if the artist intended it.

There was also a neat iron tree by Ai Weiwei.

This was made by making casts of a bunch of parts of other trees then roughly bolting it together.

The last thing we looked at was inside the chapel on the grounds. An elaborate and ethereal string and paper installation by an Asian artist. Lovely! As the clouds came across the windows the strings would glow or become pale.

We finished off with a very tasty lunch in the cafe then continued on to Liverpool, a city I’d expected to like but perhaps we stopped in the wrong part because it smelled rather bad. We had a few drinks at a very fancy pub then headed to the ferry, ready to start the Irish leg of our adventure.

The YSP certainly knew its way around a pie!

Next: fun times on a rocky ferry crossing then we head to Sligo and Galway.

Paris: Wine Tasting at Ô Chateau.

While doing our food tour in Nice we met Sheandra, a lawyer from Atlanta in the US who was great fun and we all got along like the proverbial chateau flambé. We ended up going out for a few glasses of wine after the food tour and then deciding to meet up again in Paris, this time for a Rick Steves-recommended wine tasting lunch at Ô Chateau.

We all arrived a little early and caught up on what we’d done since we’d last seen each other then went downstairs into the stylish cellar where the tasting would take place.

Our instructor for the day was Gerald, a man with excellent English and even better wine knowledge. His presentation not only covered how to taste wine and how to discuss it, but also the history and geography of French wine. If you are an aspiring connoisseur or just interested in wine I’d hugely recommended it. If you already know a lot about wine they have an experts course too.

Some of the things I learned were:

1. How the sediment is removed from champagne bottles without the gas being lost. The neck of the bottle (where the sediment had settled) is frozen, then the plug of ice removed before the bottle is resealed.

2. What ‘brut’ refers to. I’ve always wondered yet never bothered to look and it turns out that it means a minimum of sugar is added to flavour the champagne and sometimes none. So when a champagne is ‘brut’ it means that it is dry. Champagne that is ‘extra brut’ is in fact more sweet because extra sugar is added.

3. When a champagne is labeled ‘Blanc de blanc’ it means ‘white of whites’ which means only Chardonnay grapes have been used. The other two grapes used to make champagne are red – Although champagne is never red because the skins are discarded.

4. NVB stands for Non Vintage Brut. This means that grapes from multiple seasons have been mixed to provide a more standard flavour.

5. Champagne glasses are tall with narrow stems because until modern methods were involved, the yeast sediment used to settle in the bottom of the stem.

6. To see if a red wine is aged you can tilt the glass over a white background and note that the pinker the tint of the wine the younger it is and the redder, or browner the colour the more it has aged.

Of course we learned a great deal more but, thanks to drinking about 8 glasses of wine, I seem to have forgotten most of it. C’est la vie!

I found that we knew quite a bit about wine terminology and a bit about production. Where we always fall down is in the actual tasting, although Gerald explained so well and gave us a few hints and so we did pick some of the flavours. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we guessed successfully.

The cheeses were paired nicely and each came from the same region as the wine.

Number three was my favourite pairing and the Sancerre (a Sauvignon Blanc) was my favourite wine, but I was tickled to be trying a Chateauneuf du Pape. Partially because I had just read about there being a pope who chose Avignon as his capital (traveling around Europe is like piecing together an endless historical puzzle) but mainly because it is mentioned in a Beastie Boys song and every time I read it I start singing Body Movin’ to myself.

Anyhoo, we were properly fuzzy when we left and we said goodbye to Sheandra before heading to the Musee d’Orsay.

We had a quick look at some very elegant Art Nouveau furniture and then their impressive collection of Van Gogh works. Van Gogh is always amazing, but seeing his work surrounded by other artists of the period really impresses on you how special he was. So vibrant and expressive. I took a photo of this one for Jess, as it featured in one of my favourite Dr Who episodes.

Last night (a week later) Luke and I had a long discussion about art we liked since we’ve seen so much lately. We both agreed that we thought the very best art (fine or otherwise) was the kind that appealed to many people on many levels. Work that could be enjoyed or be controversial or in some way stimulating for everyone, whether you were trained to appreciate it or not, but which held layers of meaning so that the more you knew the more there was to appreciate. I think this is why I find some modern art so interesting – the more technically skilled but also provocative it is, the better I like it.

I’d be interested in what other people think about so leave a comment if you have thoughts!

Last Day In Paris

On our last day we didn’t do much at all. It was the hottest day of our stay and also a Sunday, which meant that half the shops weren’t open. I decided the first thing we had to do was eat chocolate eclairs. I hadn’t had one in years so we went to three different bakeries and tried one from each.

They might look identical but they were (slightly) different. All were excellent!

Then we spent half the day being real locals – we sat in a cafe eating french food and drinking. Aperol Spritz for me and beer for Luke.

Lovely! Well, except for the wasps. Wasps everywhere in Europe right now! Everywhere we’ve been the pleasure of sitting outside and inhaling other people’s cigarette smoke has been mitigated by wasps trying to get into our drinks and food.

After this exceptionally lazy day we packed our bags, ready to head for Colmar via Strasbourg.

A few last examples of Paris street art. For those who like this sort of thing I have to note that stencils seem to be hugely popular here. Maybe they’re quicker to put up?

Paris

We caught a TGV train from Nice to Paris and it was a delightfully quiet ride compared to our last train journey. We watched rain pour down the windows and arrived in Paris to a delightful 24 degrees. Such a nice change from 30+!

Our hotel (the Hotel Audran) was in Montmartre, only a few blocks from Sacre Coer.

We were offered a room on the street side or behind and erroneously took the street side. I don’t know if the back of the building would’ve been much quieter, but almost every night people seemed to want to have shouting conversations in the street and then delivery or garbage trucks woke us up early each morning. Still, the cool weather was a wonderful thing and we quickly headed out to explore the neighborhood.

Montmartre is the bohemian part of Paris, with lots of quirky shops, restaurants and street art.

Our first walk took us to Sacre Coer (sacred heart) and its mad crowds and views over Paris.

Then we found a nice little restaurant for dinner (La Mandigotte) that had the menu in English as well as French.

One day I’ll remember to take a photo of the restaurant as well as the food.

I must say that we are both getting better at reading signs and menus – Luke did many years of French in high school and is finding that it is coming back somewhat. I did an unenthusiastic six months of French but I like having a go at learning a bit of the language when I go places and after Nice and Lyon I am finally saying merci instead of grazie or danke. All this changing countries gets a bit confusing after a while. It will be a bit of a relief to get back to the UK in that sense.

On our first morning in Paris we headed straight to an art exhibition – with a difference.

It was a sound and light show in an old foundry, where reinterpretations of Viennese artists from the end of the 19th century were being projected onto the walls and floor with a musical accompaniment.

It was beautiful and interesting. There were three Viennese artists presented, with Klimt being the longest show, then at the end there was a much more modern show called ‘Poetic AI’ that wouldn’t have been out of place at a rave. We both liked the futuristic display best but the whole thing was lovely and very unusual.

Big thanks to Viv for telling me about it, I wish it had been on when you were here!

After this eye-popping brilliance we headed to the Pompidou Centre for more modern art but we both agreed, despite a few interesting pieces, that it wasn’t as much fun as the previous exhibition.

One of the works that stood out most for me was a sound-proofed room. The deadened room felt both comfy and a tiny bit claustrophobic even though it was quite large.

A fascinating sensation.

Also we were perhaps getting slightly sore feet. Nothing wears me out like shuffling around galleries.

Next: an excellent wine tasting and more Paris wandering.

France: Nice

We arrived in Nice after several hours in a train carriage that had all the sights and sounds of an unruly crèche. A family with four small children and two adults plus about a dozen bags of toys and belongings sprawled across the eight seats in front of us, with the parents allowing the kids to hang over into the aisle and block the passage of people trying to walk through. When one woman, trying to get past, tripped over a child’s leg and landed heavily on the foot of the offending mother it seemed like appropriate karma. Very satisfying to watch, it was.

Aside from that our journey was uneventful and it was nice to spend half a day in airconditioning after the 37 degree heat of Lyon.

We caught a tram from the train station to our Airbnb apartment and discovered that it was 104 steps up to the fifth floor and it was definitely the smallest apartment we’d ever had. It did have aircon though and a tiny balcony that looked over the rooftops.

The balcony was so small that we had to shuffle the table forwards and backwards to get both of us out there.

On the first night we relaxed with our usual plate of cheese, ham and some cheap wine and planned our stay. Luke booked us into a variety of activities.

1. A walking tour of the old city. We did this on our first full day. It was €14 each and the tour guide was an Australian girl who had lived in Nice for the last ten years. She was obviously very knowledgeable about the city but had a kind of clipped way of delivering the information which made it all seem very rote-learned.

My favourite thing on the tour was a baroque church that was so over the top it sort of came out of bad taste into cool kitchness. It also had chandeliers.

2. A small group evening visit to Monaco.

It ended up being a very small group – just Luke and I and our driver, Antonio. He was great and full of information about Monaco and how it runs. I didn’t really know much about Monaco before we went so it was somewhat eye-opening.

The thing we both liked most was the cars.

Antonio dropped us off at the casino after a drive around the race track and royal residences. In front of the casino normal people hang around looking at cars and hoping to see someone famous… I guess? I couldn’t think of any other reason.

Not actually terribly attractive.

We went for a walk and had a look at the opera house and then looked down from a viewpoint onto the decks of some of the super yachts that lined the harbour. How annoying to be rich enough to own a super yacht then have plebs watching you eat your dinner!

We had a drink and then dinner at Cafe de Paris, an open air restaurant next to the casino where you can watch the fancy cars and fancy people walk past. The food was actually pretty good for somewhere so busy, and very nicely presented.

After dinner we stepped into the Monte Carlo Casino foyer and there was an art installation featuring a maze of playing cards.

We met up again with Antonio and boggled at the fact that people who are rich enough to come to Monaco would actually want to go there. It’s not a particularly attractive place and the main goal seems to be to show off. Saudi princes get their sports cars flown there for their two week holidays just so they can drive them around town at 10km an hour. The whole thing seemed to represent the worst of humanity but at the same time it was certainly interesting.

3. Nice food tour!

We always like a food tour. We had a very pretty and vivacious woman named Marion as our guide for this tour through the markets and stores of Nice’s old town.

We walked through the market and some speciality shops and Marion bought samples of fruit and pastries then stopped at a restaurant to have a drink and try various things.

Then we walked on to buy wine and try socca, a local chickpea pancake, plus an onion tart, both of which are traditional street food.

We finished at a store that sold gourmet olive oils etc and tried some samples then finished with a table full of cheeses, meats and fruits.

I wish I’d taken more notes throughout as Marion was very knowledgeable about cheeses and wines. I’d definitely recommend this tour to anyone interested in French food. Google ‘the French way tours’ for more information.

4. A tour of Cannes and Provence.

Another small group minivan tour. This time, sadly, we didn’t have the van to ourselves.

Our driver was a young and bubbly woman from Hungary who had pretty good English but occasional words were a puzzle until context made them clear. For example I thought she had said that Italians had brought ladder making from Italy until eventually I realised it was leather making. Our guide also had to shout to be heard by the people in the back seat, which meant we were caught in the crossfire in the middle row and the commentary was unceasing and quite repetitive. Luke’s a pretty patient person but even he was getting sore ears by the end of the day.

First we stopped for 40 minutes in Cannes. Obviously as a film editor, it was a bit of a pilgrimage for Luke although not terribly exciting when there was nothing going on.

Next we headed to several small villages in the hills.

it is hard to believe people lived up here for centuries and had to walk hours down to the valleys and coast to buy supplies. Not to mention getting building materials up the mountain.

We visited three villages. In the first we toured the Fragonard perfume factory. It was sort of interesting but when we came out into the village for five minutes afterwards it was so pretty I wished we had time there instead.

We stopped at another tiny village for a rather rushed lunch then a final village that was where Chagall lives and is now a centre for fine arts… and tacky crap. It was very pretty though and extremely busy.

We found a quiet spot and watched a storm roll in over the hills of Provence.

There was so much lightning that Luke managed to capture some video of it on his phone and posted it to Instagram.

We made it back to Nice by 5pm and had a quiet evening on our balcony.

First Pizza in Naples!

I have never really heard anything good about Naples that wasn’t pizza-related. Perhaps a rumour about good museums, but when people talk about the city it is always as something of a cesspool of humanity and actual garbage.

To be honest, this photo could just have easily been taken in Rome or (language aside) London.

Perhaps it was to see if it was really as bad as people say that I decided I wanted to come here. I mean, could it really be more filthy than some Asian capitals like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh? And of course with Luke’s pizza obsession we were going to come here eventually.

We arrived by train and I was surprised at how new and shiny the main station was and linea 1 was entirely air conditioned too.

Also can I just show you this outfit that I took a sneaky photo of as this lady was getting off the train? Totally irrelevant but what an amazing item of clothing. Where would you even buy something like that? Not that I need to know since I’d never do it justice but… wow. Also I’d have it soaked in massive and undignified sweat patches within about five seconds of getting off the train but that’s a different matter.

When we reached our Airbnb flat the owner told us that the station is so nice because it is only a year old and it wasn’t representative of the rest of the network. Too bad!

Our Airbnb has also recently been done up and has some rather interesting lighting features – three colour-controllable LED strips in one wall and strip lighting around the ceiling. It’s more tasteful than it sounds and it’s actually a spacious apartment too, with lots of food available for breakfast and snacks. Pastries, biscuits, milk and juices. Very nice! We bought a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the Croatian duty free ($35 AUD – bargain!) that we are taking with us from place to place for our evening post prandial drinks.

Also the apartment is on the ground floor, which is always nice! Especially in Naples where there are miles of stairs everywhere anyhow.

The atrium of our apartment block.

Now I have a travel tip for you!

We have gotten into the habit, if there isn’t an ice cube tray in our freezer, of pouring water into the bottom of some glasses before we go out exploring then freezing the whole. This means a nice cold glass into which you can pour wine or whatever when you get home after a day’s hard sightseeing.

So refreshing!

Luke had done some research and made a map of pizzerias that are generally considered top-notch. One was quite a walk from the others so we decided to hit that one first. Plus it had tables so we could dine in. Quite a few Neopolitan pizzerias are just grab-and-go storefronts.

It opened at 7pm so we had time to walk around a bit. Naples street art seems to be a cut above anything we saw in Rome. Which wouldn’t be hard since all we saw in Rome was tagging. Urgh.

We tried to find a bar for a drink but they all seemed to be stand-up affairs. I found a blog that said drinking isn’t big in Naples. What? Italians not big on drinking? This didn’t really fit all my stereotypes of Italian culture. More research will be required.

We got back to Starita as they opened and had already decided what we wanted. We were having their traditional Margherita and their specialty, a deep fried pizza. For this one the crust is deep fried until it is puffy then quickly baked with topping on.

I preferred the traditional, Luke preferred the fried crust but both were excellent.

While I would not go anywhere near so far as to say we are experts, we know a reasonable amount about pizza. Luke helped kick-start a pizza documentary that we have watched several times and if you read our entry on pizza in New York you’ll know how much we love it. I also like making my own from scratch at home so I was keen to get ideas on how to improve it.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, but from Naples pizza spread via migrants to New York and Boston before being popularised in the rest of Italy. It began as a way for bakers to slightly cool the base of their ovens so that loaves of bread would not burn. To stop the pizza inflating like a balloon (as pita bread does), tomato sauce would be spread on it. This became a cheap early morning food for workers in Naples and then its popularity meant pizza was served all day. Putting cheese on pizza didn’t happen immediately – the Margherita was invented to honour a queen and the basil added to pay homage to Italy’s flag.

In Australia we think of ‘marinara’ as a seafood pizza but here it means a pizza with only tomato sauce and herbs, no cheese. Pizza here is very different to pizza in most other places. It is cooked unbelievably quickly – in as little as a minute – and the sauce is pure pulped tomatoes. The base is charred but the whole thing is a bit soupy in the middle and there isn’t as much cheese as we like to pile on at home. The joy of Neapolitan pizza is in the freshness of the ingredients. For the true traditional pizza the tomatoes must have been grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The tomatoes taste so tangy and salty-sweet that, combined with the olive oil and cheese there is a buttery-richness that is magical.

All styles of pizza are good and pizza is a dish that is reinvented over and over around the world. Experiencing it in Naples doesn’t mean you have had the world’s best, it means you have added a dimension to your appreciation of it. At least that’s my feelings on the subject!

I would love to know what other people have thought of pizza they have eaten in Naples – or anywhere around the world! Where have you most or least enjoyed it?

The Museums and Galleries Of London

I have been to so many museums in the last week or two that I hardly know where to begin. I had no idea London had so many and I didn’t even make it to all the ones I wanted to go to – I haven’t yet been to the Garden Museum and I saw a poster for a Goscinny and Uderzo (who created Astrix and Obelix) exhibition at the Jewish Museum and I didn’t make it to the Geology Museum or the Foundling Museum either.

I’ve already written about the London Museum and the Natural History Museum (both worthwhile and both free entry) so here are the others.

The Wallace Collection (fine art and armoury)

The WC (an unfortunate abbreviation) is an excellent collection in an outstanding building and, if you like design, worth a visit for the wallpaper alone. Check these rooms out!

It is home to some very famous artworks, my favourite was The Swing. When I was little we had one large book in our house on the history of art and I loved this painting most of all. To come upon it unexpectedly made me very happy.

Although the building isn’t huge it is like a jewellery box, fully of shiny and delightful things.

I could’ve posted a dozen photos but this entry is going to be long enough as is. Just trust me, if you like fine art get to this gallery!

The Wellcome Museum (medical history)

This museum is just over the road from Euston Station and free to enter so if you’re interested in medical history I’d recommend going, just be warned that despite being in a big building the displays aren’t huge, possibly because the Science Museum is about to open a big medical exhibition using items from the WM collection. Either way, the real draw of the Wellcome is the gift shop, which has a fun range of quirky things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The exhibitions that were on while I was there included one on …

It was kind of gross but interesting.

… and weird. Pretty weird.

There was also a small display about obesity and an art exhibition. I couldn’t tell you what the theme of it was, but one room had giant pictures of cows wearing artwork woven out of insemination straws. I’m not kidding.

Another room had a display on HIV and gay culture. I liked the wallpaper. The art was mainly messy paintings that didn’t really appeal to me.

If I had to pick two themes of my photography in the last fortnight I’d go with stairwells and wallpaper, which is not what I would’ve expected on arriving in London, but there you go.

The last Wellcome exhibition piece was a group of films by a woman who learned to free-dive and each film was a single dive. It was very atmospheric and doesn’t translate well to photography but if you’re reading this and in London, it might be up your alley. I liked it but it felt quite claustrophobic after a while.

Anyhow, go browse the gift shop!

The British Museum (ancient history)

I’m doing these all out of order – the BM was the second last museum I visited. Another great piece of architecture but it didn’t take me long to wander through and recall why I didn’t spend long here when I visited last time. I love ancient history but I have almost zero interest in sculpture or historical relics. I read through the displays in the Alexander room and that was about it.

Going to all these museums has really made me think about what interests me and what is worth my time. Admittedly I’ve had heaps of time in London thanks to my hay fever but if I only had a few days I’d think really hard about what I wanted to see because there is an almost endless variety.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (um… everything?)

I was a bit blurgh on the day I went to the V&A and the thing I liked best was putting my feet in the pool. The V&A is a weird museum, it has a bit of everything and I think I would’ve had a better visit if I’d researched and gone to see a specific thing. I did admire the William Morris dining room but otherwise I wasn’t terribly inspired. I’d certainly give it another go when I felt a bit more energetic.

The Science Museum

I wandered in here on the same day I did the V&A and therefore wasn’t probably in the best frame of mind. However I can see the SM would be an amazing place to take kids and there’s something there for almost anyone.

I didn’t even take many photos in the SM. it was certainly deserving of more attention than I gave it.

Tate Britain (art through history, excepting whatever goes into the Tate Modern I suppose).

This was the first place I visited on this trip and I loved it. LOVED IT. I love fine art and the TB (another bad acronym) has a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. It was like a ‘greatest hits’ parade of romantic paintings.

There were lots of people sketching artworks and it made the gallery feel very lived-in… if that makes sense.

The thing that tickled me most in the TB was the entry hall installation. The artist had covered the entry in tiles…

And scattered sculptures around but also had a person dressed as a squash lounging around, just stretching and wandering.

Watching people watching this person-vegetable was terrific. People smiled, made eye contact with strangers, wondered out loud what it could possibly mean.

The TB, while not as outrageously fabulous as the Natural History Museum, had its own architectural beauty.

The John Soane Museum (architecture and Victorian life)

The JSM is an unusual museum on several levels – literal and metaphorical. It is the collection of one man and displayed in his house. John Soane was an architect and I wish I’d learned a bit more about him before going to his house because there aren’t labels on anything, to help preserve the feel of the experience. Photography is not allowed in the building, however I did take this sneaky shot in the toilets.

First time I’d used an original!

There were a lot of staff around who were happy to explain things but I wasn’t feeling talkative that day. Plus most of the collection is sculpture so not entirely my thing. The house itself was quite interesting with much of the original furniture in place.

The Cartoon Museum

The very last museum I visited! Almost over the road from the British Museum, the Cartoon Museum is quite small and costs £7 to enter. However if you are interested in cartoons I’d recommend dropping in.

Danger Mouse! One of my childhood favourites.

Some of the displays were familiar, some new. Some were one page of a book or series, some were one-off pieces.

The Saatchi Gallery

More like an Australian art gallery than any of the others, the SG has big white rooms and big artworks. When I went there were four or five exhibitions. I particularly liked one by a collage artist who did huge works on photographed backgrounds.

So my advice, if you want to see museums and galleries in London, is to do some research and think about what you like. Don’t waste time on a big name if you don’t actually like that style or period – for example I think the Tate Modern is outstanding, but don’t go unless you like modern art or you’ll waste half a day and walk five kilometres around the gallery for nothing. I’ve learned not to bother with miles of rooms of statues.

I enjoy variety when I travel and I think I’ve had my fill of high culture for now – the next week is all about visiting family, Luke arriving (yay!) and then back to Andrew’s and a visit to Luke’s family before Lauren arrives and we’re off to sun ourselves on Croatian beaches.

But first I need to finish writing up what I’ve done in London. I hope you didn’t think this was it!