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!

Here Comes The Planet 73 – Rome (2018)

As we’ve both been to Rome before, this time we opted to check out some of the spots we’ve skipped during past trips. We sought out the Quartiere Coppedèo neighbourhood for its unique architecture, the modern art museum and finally the Castel Sant’Angelo, which along with some great views over Rome has some very cool old weaponry on display.

Also, we muse on the timing of church bells over Rome!

Read Amanda’s entry about this part of our trip!

Lyon

On our way to Lyon from Geneva we found ourselves asking… why are we going to Lyon? We’d had the impulse to add it to our itinerary so long ago that we’d forgotten why.

Lyon is the second biggest city in France and we knew almost nothing about it. Food seemed to be the main notable thing, according to the blogs posts I’d read and the YouTube clips we’d watched, although we were a bit hesitant about the bouchons, restaurants that served the local traditional fare – fare that used every part of the animal. Tripe, liver and all that sort of thing featured heavily but fortunately there were other things to choose from.

First we checked into our hotel, a Best Western that gave us a tiny room but it was air conditioned (thank god – Lyon was our hottest destination yet at 37 degrees each day) and the location was perfect. Just across the river from the old town and around the corner from many galleries and restaurants. Although, to be fair, if you’re in Lyon you’re near restaurants. The city has more per capital than any other city in France… maybe in Europe.

Our first impression of Lyon was very good. It is a vibrant city where things are in good repair and, despite the heat, we were keen to get out and see it so we took a walk to Les Halles for a look around the food counters then lunch – a croque monsieur (the best we were to have during our stay) and some French wine. A very nice waiter gave us some advice on what to see in the city.

On our first full day we used a Lyon Pass. €25 for 24 hours and it included all museums, galleries and public transport. Here’s what we chose to do.

1. A ride on a city explorer train-car thing.

Like a bunch of little carriages towed along by a little train thing. To be honest, I think they look stupid and probably annoy the locals but it was included in the pass so we took it. The commentary wasn’t great, the volume was too low but it wasn’t a bad way to spend 40 minutes while we waited for the fine art gallery to open. Also we got to see the largest mural in Lyon.

The city of Lyon commissions huge trompe-l’œil murals and they are fantastic. Unfortunately they’re pretty spread out so we only saw a few but they’re really worth seeing. I couldn’t find a map online so here’s a photo of one if you happen to go to Lyon and want to find them.

Here’s my favourite – the theme was books!

2. The fine art museum.

It’s on a plaza that has a terrific fountain. There are many terrific fountains in Lyon but in this one fine mist comes out of the horses’ noses and they look very fierce.

The museum has a pretty impressive collection that spans over 2000 years. My favourite of all was this one. A painting of a photography session is a pretty unusual subject and even though photography had a huge effect on realism, this painter captures a lively and detailed scene, which the photographer probably did not.

We didn’t look at everything because I can’t handle looking at a thousand paintings in one day plus we didn’t have time.

3. Confluence Museum.

Next we headed down to the southern end of the central peninsula to see the new Museum of Confluences. We didn’t really know what to expect, we had just read that it was an interesting building.

Which it was. Turns out it’s a science and natural history museum. Good displays and a surprising number of Australian Aboriginal artifacts. They were part of every single room and probably second in number only to French artifacts. If anyone knows why this is please leave a comment because we found it a bit odd.

4. Next we took a bus then a metro train to the Old Town to visit the Miniature and Cinema Museum. It was a bit of a strange one. Everything in it had been collected by a man who made miniature scenes but the majority of the collection was Hollywood memorabilia and every item was original and had been used in films.

Lighting from The Fifth Element, probably my favourite item.

There were whole scenes from Perfume in the basement, then costumes, models, puppets and animatronic creations. Some very old and some very new.

5. One of the last things we did was catch a funicular up to the church at the top of the hill behind the city. The funicular ran through a tunnel, which was a bit of a disappointment but the view over the city from the church was very good.

By this point I wasn’t feeling great and I’d also noticed a few people with dogs in the Old Town and they’d had tight muzzles on their dog’s mouths in the extreme heat. Dogs can’t cool themselves if they can’t pant and some looked quite distressed. I couldn’t say anything to these people because I didn’t speak French and this, combined with being tired and hot, really upset me. I’d had enough and even though Luke could’ve done more we ended up going back to the hotel for a rest.

In the evening we tried to fit in a river cruise but the boat wouldn’t go with less than 20 passengers and so we missed out. We took a walk through the old town and had dinner at a charming restaurant that was totally over the top in terms of decor but did lovely food and had a great waitress who spoke excellent English.

We didn’t end up going out for dinner until about nine pm and didn’t finish until eleven. Finally we are getting used to these late dining hours!

At many places in France a two or three course meal is offered for a set price so we had an entree, main and dessert but none were too big or heavy and it was very nice to sit over dinner for a couple of hours, especially in an air conditioned room.

Next: more Lyon and then we arrive in Nice.

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!

St Louis

So the reason we’ve trekked from New Orleans to St Louis wasn’t just to see a whole lot of American farmland that looked remarkably like farmland in Australia. The main reason was to meet up with Shannon, a lovely lady I’ve been friends with online since about 2001? Maybe 2002? A long, long time, anyhow. We met via other online friends and … well, it’s a long story, but essentially we’ve been in touch via the internet for a long time and I was very excited about catching up.

Luke and I arrived in St Louis on Friday evening and realised it was cold. Seriously cold. Literally freezing in fact. After dropping off the hire car and deciding that yes, taking a taxi four blocks was a worthwhile investment, we hid in our hotel room until the following morning.

Shannon arrived just before 11am with her husband, William, and son, Will. They live a couple of hours away in a very small town that Shannon assured me was nowhere near interesting enough for us to spend much time, so she offered to come to St Louis, where she’d lived for some time. We jumped in their car and made straight for the pride of St Louis, The Arch.

It’s a massive structure, built a long time ago … for… a reason I can’t remember. But it is known as the gateway to the west – St Louis was the mustering point for many expeditions by pioneers in the early stages of settlement. Within the arch is a lift system of tiny pods that take you up to the top – over 1000 steps in height.

Like the professional I am, I completely neglected to take a photo of The Arch itself.

The view from the top is great, even if the whole experience is a little cramped. Even the room at the top has quite a low roof and tiny windows. Well worth doing if you’re in the city though. Underground, where you enter the lift system, there’s a free museum as well. After the Arch we visited an interactive science centre that was also free and very hands-on. Will is a big animal fan and enjoyed all the exhibits. Luke and I stayed on to watch a movie about the international space station in the omnimax while Shannon and co went to check into their hotel and let Will have a rest.

Oh, I forgot to mention that during the day we went to White Castle, a take-away chain that sells the smallest hamburgers I’ve ever seen. They were a little like the ‘squishy burgers’ Luke and Lucas loved in Turkey. We ordered multiple burgers each… it was really odd!

Sorry about the mid-chew photo, Shannon;). Tiny burgers are called ‘sliders’ here.

In the afternoon Shannon came back to get us then kindly took us shopping to buy proper coats. We only had the coats that we’d had made in Vietnam, which were wool but nowhere near warm enough. I bought a thigh-length coat that had a layer of stuff that reflects body heat. It seemed quite thin but has worked pretty well. Luke got a smaller jacket without a hood but it’s puffy like a quilt and he says it’s warm. With our new clothing causing us to whine about the weather 50% less than before, we were prepared for spending a little time outdoors. So after dinner (we tried deep fried ravioli!) we drove to the Budweiser Brewery.

Budweiser puts on a huge display of lights over Christmas. I completely failed to capture this with my camera, but I do have a photo of Shannon, William and Will huddling under blankets in the back of the little train that drove us around.

They’ll tell you Will has one of those monster hats too but it’s just an excuse.

By this stage the temperature was about -10 celcius. Which is waaaaaay colder than Melbourne ever gets. The new coat helped, but only having lycra leggings on did not. My gloves also failed to keep out the cold. Inconceivable!

Shannon and William dropped us back at our hotel at about 9pm. I do like hanging out with families – I get to have an early bed time without having to make excuses ;-).

The next day we went to an amaaaaaazing place. Not that you’d guess from the name – the city museum. Sounds boring, huh? Well it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Built into (and out of) a big warehouse building, it had a very plain exterior from most sides, but it was incredible – you walk into a child’s wonderland.

Very reminiscent of Gaudi works in Barcelona. All those metal cages and swirls can be climbed through.

Caves to crawl through, trees to climb, animals to wiggle through and all kinds of metal tunnels and ladders. Adults are allowed too but some of the passages are definitely child-sized. There’s plenty of slides – one of them is 10 stories high!

So pretty! And nearly everything seemed to be made of repurposed materials.

All the detail!

The adventure playground section is two stories. Then there’s an archeological section, a hands-on art section (my favourite), a pinball arcade inside a room full of really weird stuff – including the world’s largest underpants (allegedly).

The art room. I bought two books of snowflake patterns – animals and dinosaurs.

One of my favourites.

There’s huge ball pits outside, a school bus lurching over the roof and a plane. They look like they’re in the middle of building a castle in the grounds too.

The pylons and floors are covered with mosaics and interesting objects.. the place is full of art and very hard to describe. There’s a model train village with a bigger train you can sit in that takes you through a UV landscape. And a circus with children performing acrobatics and juggling. There’s lots of little spots to eat and even a bar for adults. Shannon said that at night teenagers come in and hang out and climb all over everything too.

Colour everywhere.

I am completely jealous of St Louis – every town should have a place like this, where exploration and discovery and imagination are promoted.

The whole gang!

Thanks Shannon, William and Will, we had a brilliant time :-).

New York: The Metropolitan Art Museum

If you pay the entry fee for your visit to The Cloisters (you can choose not to donate, but if you do I think it’s about $27) then you get free entry to the Met on the same day. So after catching the slow, slow bus from the stop outside The Cloisters (if you are reading this and thinking of doing the same thing I urge you to take the slightly longer walk back to the subway as the train is about 3 times faster) to Central Park, where the gallery is located. If you catch the train you get more time to see the gallery and also leave it before the closing time of 5:30, which is when twenty million people hit the streets of New York trying to get home. I recommend not trying to use the subway during peak hour unless you like being rammed up against strangers. Which probably does appeal to some people but they’re the ones making it even less appealing for the rest of us.

On arrival, the facade of the building is extremely impressive and imposing – very similar in some respects to the British National Gallery. Unlike the BNG though, there is a solid line of hot dog vendors right out the front.

The Met houses a huge and diverse collection of art. After looking at the map we (Sean, Luke and myself) agreed on a meeting time out the front and then wandered around, heading for the things that most interested us.

My strategy with galleries is generally to walk into each room, pick one or two works in each that catch my eye and spend a bit of time studying those, rather than trying to see every work in detail. If it coincides with the placement of a bench, all the better;).

Our first stop was the armoury. There were suits of armour, both dress and field, for people and several suits of horse armour. There were a few Japanese suits and even one Indian. Lots of swords, guns and other pieces made it a very interesting display.

My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father – prepare to die!

Next Luke and I wandered to the Japanese section. There we found my favourite single piece of the day, a taxidermied deer encased in clear glass spheres. It looked a little like a giant Christmas tree decoration, very light and ethereal. I don’t generally find Asian art very interesting (old art, I mean – new is a whole different story) and there were many examples of calligraphy, which are hard to appreciate without some sort of background knowledge. It was a shame there were no textiles displayed because I really love Asian fabric designs.

Don’t ask me what it means.

Next we moved onto the modern American artists and they were brilliant. I don’t remember the names of any of the artists but there were many stunning paintings in realist and impressionistic styles. The names of art periods in the US seem to vary from Europe so I’m not entirely sure what to call them but there were incredible portraits and landscapes that Luke and I both admired greatly. We had a bit of a chat with one of the guards about how the gallery moves paintings that are bigger than any of the doorways. I didn’t realise oil paintings rolled up so easily.

We walked quickly through the post modern and ancient art sections and the only other art that really sticks in my mind was a very large Tiffany window that was a rainbow of colours and depicted a fantasy landscape scene. The gallery had it mounted so it was back lit and very impressive… almost gaudy in fact.

By the end of the day my feet were absolutely killing me. There’s something about shuffling around galleries that makes my feet more tired than walking many more kilometres at a fast pace. In fact I’m finding New York has been harder on my feet that anywhere else we’ve been. My ankles, for the first time in my life, are starting to ache every day and I think it’s from rushing up and down all the concrete subway stairs. Then last night we were one of the last groups into a comedy show and had to stand for the whole thing – after being on our feet since lunch time. I think I spent about 10 hours on my feet that day. I used to do that at work nearly every day (I’m a teacher) but not having any carpet to soften the blow makes a huge difference. Anyway, we’ve lain in bed half the morning today. Hopefully that will help!