Wednesday, 13 June 2018

13th June Leopold Museum and Tosca

Jill took off to watch the horses training and I headed to find a friend’s family home from which they were lucky to depart before the Nazis took it from them and took them too. I found it. 

Then made my way via many byways to the Leopold Mueum where we were to meet to see a celebration of Egon Shiele and Klimt . My feeling about Shiele is that I liked some of his little drawings like this little one but his more tortured paintings are less easy to appreciate though I think Lucian Freud may well have been influenced by them.

There was also a large exhibition by a man I had never heard of called Rogan sort fantasy shepherdesses and girls surrounded by flowers - and this turkey with a real glint in his eye

almost pre-raphaelite - and three Klimt so we felt a bit done odour by this especially as two were like the one here.

So after a peaceful lunch we visited the butterfly house where we had morpho blues flitting round us. All the orchids you see are in fact plastic - there are feeding stations around and some real flowers.

A quick ministrone and off to the opera house for a splendid production of Tosca. Thanks to a boxed set from Robert years ago sung by Maria Callas I did know the music if not the story which was kind of typical love and death scenario. As we left a man heard us talking and stopped to tell us what a wonderfully authentic production it had been.
And so to bed after a great way to finish.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

12th June

Walked up the pedestrianised main shopping street to St Stephens cathedral which is a vast vaulted space with many statues - all huge and rather intimidating.

From there we took a boat trip up and down the canal where the most startling thing is the amount of street art on the dmbankments. I don’t understand the symbolism or the messages that rhe artists are sending but there was one that I did.

Unlike some cities built along the river most of those along this part of the Danube are uninteresting apart from this Hadid tower with its gold and mosaics.

After lunch we or indeed really me,  found it all too hot and oppressive as we await the thunder storm and so are having a lie down before supper.
At last the rains came. It is not easy to find restaurants strangely as most places are coffee and cake cafes. Eventually we did and spent a most enjoyable few hours at a table that ‘wasn’t truly out of doors but yet it got the air’ talking of all manner of topics until around 10 pm as the rain eased off we retired to our respective rooms. I have a shower and Jill a bath just as we asked for. But this an odd city quiet and restrained or perhaps a bit repressed? We have seen no one sleeping rough, only one beggar who might have been from a country from further East, no policemen and plenty of crocodiles of children of all ages being urged around the sights. 
Every city is different and has its own character which is why we keep doing this I guess.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

June - off to Vienna

Where the weather forecast is not good!!
Two hour delay at Luton which is an airport to avoid though we then flew on time to get here hot and sticky and no rain yet. We are staying righ bear the opera so again perfect location which has always been the top priority. 
Visited the opera house and managed to get tickets to Tosca for 55euris which seems a bargain - 

Then a marvellous art gallery the Albertina with an exhibition of paintings from the impressionists to the avant garde - quite lovely - especially those that I had just been studying with Robin last week - Derain and Vlaminck and the Fauves with a couple of Monet and Cezannes thrown in.

And you can go right up to the pics and almost touch them . Kokoshka too were beautiful full of colour and vibrancy

Then after a nap we had supper in a famous cafe called the Central on Heerengasse but the food was rather too meaty and the clientele probably very different from its glory days. 
The buildings and whole streets of them were of course undamaged by the war so retain a grandeur of past times with amazing sculptures adorning the walls and rooves.

June - Painting in Budleigh Salterton

This year's subject was Trees - in oils which is my favourite medium and takes me back to my first course with Robin Child about 8 years ago where we learnt to mix a palette.

So here is one of the ones we mixed this year. The base colour was yellow then we added blue to the three colours - Cadmium yellow, umber, sap green
We started with charcoal drawings searching for the essence of a tree - remembering that nature is not art, nor a style or in fact a genre. That a painting is a flat rectangle that will be hung on a wall. Yet it is also an expression of one's self. Make of that what you will.

The yellow tree

Drawing for a blue tree.

Blue palette.

Alizaren and Cadmium red added to the palette.

We tried a bit of Fauvism - my last picture.

May - quick weekend to North Devon

Merinda and I and her dog Lola and Tom's dog Busta all nipped down to Appledore. Here we had taken a self-catering cottage on the estuary. Unfortunately immediately in front of it was a large shed though slightly to the right if you best round you could see the water when it was high tide. The tidal range is huge so much that they are building a warship right next door - so part of the time it seems to be in a dry dock but of course will be able to float out when needed.
We walked along the coast which has massive embankments of rocks between the sand and the dunes and the golf course which lies behind them at Westward Ho.

And here are exhausted dogs and a picture of the sofa - no comment as to taste!

This was the day of the royal wedding which we only glimpsed on someone's phone while we were having a pizza lunch at the seaside cafe.

We had supper in a local restaurant where we ate local fish - but were told that almost all the fish at the local fish market is bought up by just one man and then sold on mainly to London.
Looking across to Instow at high tide in the evening - we then went across in the morning and looked back.

Good weekend.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

20th April - back home again

Leaving this nice city after being woken at 4,40 by the mosque caller - I thought there was a certain time for prayers - we have seen all the prayer clocks but perhaps not. Another thing I don’t know - I looked it up and it is all to do with the position of the sun not the actual hour so before sunrise, etc.
We did an audit and apart from hiring the car, parking and the flight we have spent E268 each - all our accommodation and food and petrol.

19th April- Ferry down the river Drim then Shkoder

Left Valbona in glorious sunshine with the towering snowy peaks looking magnificent but which in gloom are rather oppressive.

Then down to the ferry - we saw this old hulk and a larger new one but ours was smaller and arrived at a different dock. 

These were the only two seats - I’m sitting on an old computer chair. Then I saw this tiny orange butterfly.

We have seen almost no wildlife though there are bears and wolves, snakes and lynx. There is lots of wild thyme though.
The trip down the river to the dam takes 2 hours through spectacular gorges - it is a drowned valley and the water is pale green being constantly fed by snow melt. The rock formations tell of cataclysmic movements millions of years ago.

This picture is really weird with the rocks forced up on either side forming a U .

Diana hung her feet over the side and we both got a bit sunburnt. There was a party of Malaysians on board too.

All along the route there are odd tiny settlements which are only reached by boat. One we heard about has 10 families but boasts a school and clinic - they are all catholic and indeed we saw crosses from time to time along the way - perhaps the history was that they were seeking refuge from persecution. 

The road from the end of the ride was horrendous and seemed to go on forever along the lake to Shkoder where we did see this fish farm. 

Now at Kaduku hotel I talked to Oti for his 4th birthday - I think I have been away for all of them . Helen did ask if I would recommend Kosovo as a holiday destination I’m afraid I said no - it is an acquired taste but I’m very pleased we came.
Shkodër is a very pleasant university town with a charming pedestrianised boulevard with cafes and little quality shops and people walking about not on phones or eating in the street. All most civilised and a much more relaxed and confident place than some of the rather sad towns in neighbouring Kosovo. It was also fun to be greeted my a whole lot of other passengers from the ferry as if we were long list friends. Well we do look different, Diana is taller than most and I’m fatter. However, the helpfulness is everywhere which is much appreciated.
So last night ambling along in the warmth was a fine end to our holiday.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

18th April - Back to Albania

Weather is cloudy but not cold and the odd spot of rain. My mattress here at the Stonebridge guesthouse felt like it had a plank of wood inside it so up early. 
We had a good meal at a well- known restaurant in a kulla - this is a square stone structure like a small fortress built in the 19th c often by wealthy persons - but this one was also burnt during the war and the owners converted it. For E19 we had the following 1 lemon juice, one gin and tonic, flatbread with tomato etc on it and extra plain, bruschetta, mixed salad, trout, risotto, one espresso - too cheap really. The locals earn on average around E300 a month and depend on gifts from the diaspora. 

We had breakfast at the smartest hotel in town the Dukagjini,  passed a couple of enormous statues to various resistant fighters with weapons at the ready in Tony Blair Street. Sadly there were many out of work men waiting for what looked like casual work and every now and then they would rush to a truck or car and perhaps one or two would get in.

An easy ride to the border shere we were waved through the exit but waited a bit at the entrance to Albania.

Still travelling along the valley we came to Barjam Curri where there is an even bigger statue. He was instrumental in the establishment of an independent Albania after WWI but was assassinated in 1972. It seems to be a dangerous thing to get involved in politics in the Balkans. 
Along this sparkling river which runs through high peaks the scenery is dramatic and the water turquoise over white pebbles.

We came to the hotel Margajika at the end of the road in Valbona National Park. 
I find the food uninspiring except for salads which are fresh with delicious tomatoes. Peach juice is good and so is the honey.
After a walk along the fluvioglacial deposits - ie lots of white pebbles that have been brought down by the river!  We came back to a lively family party of Kosovars. This is one country that they can visit visa free. Do them I joined in their traditional dance to great laughter and happiness.
I’ll try to put the video up later -?
The picture below is our hotel - note the snow.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Heading further North to Peje

There are elaborate crocheted whirls attached to some trees.

The road followed a wide valley with the so- called Accursed mountains to our west. Our first stop was Gjakova  where after getting nearly parked into a full car park we found the wooden market. This is a vast market place of cobbled streets and wooden stalls much of which was burnt down and has since been rebuilt. Like Hoi An in Vietnam, another UNESCO or heritage site, there seems to a lack of money to maintain the place like we saw in the church yesterday. So one wonders about the money , does it end up in someone’s pocket??

Anyway we had a nice encounter with a man who was a third generation carpenter who makes traditional cradles.

We were amused by these - but most of the little shops just sold the usual cheap tat.

On the way we took a quick detour when we noticed this monument on a hill. It turned out to have been erected to an Albanian soldier but it has since been abandoned. The politics of the area is more complex than you can get your head around and makes Northern Ireland a piece of cake.

The Serbian names in the road signs are usually blacked out and many houses and churches were burnt and desecrated in 2004.
Then we went to the exquisite monastery at Desani which is heavily guarded by the KFOR the Kosovo peacekeeping arm of NATO in case the Albanians attack it. It is an unbelievable place where we could not photograph inside. It was started in the 13th c and we had a charming guide who as a Serb - they are Orthodox Christians- lives in a small enclave we later visited. He told us how in 2004 his family had to flee to Serbia for safety. You can read the complicated history of Gorazdevac on the web.

These young girls had all come on a sort of pilgrimage to the church and to the relics of Saint Stephan. See later about young people. The bottom photo shows the chicanes to stop any maurading  hordes. During the civil war the Italian army had protected this unique building complex.
The monks produce honey, various alcoholic drinks, cheese and other produce.
Because our guide had told us his sad story we decided to try to find his village where there is the oldest wooden church built without nails. The village has no signpost but we found it and this little church was extraordinary. The village has been inhabited for 700 years, has mud brick buildings and looks quite different from the titled roofed houses in other places.

This little church is only about 6 feet high in the middle with a tiny door. It seems like we just go from religious building to another - not really but they tend to be the most impressive.

A huge barn built of mud bricks.

Now we are in Peje at the Stonebridge guesthouse.- E25 a night. At first we were rather dismayed at the state of this town but since talking to our waiter who is also the PE teacher at the local high school we have looked af it in a different light. 85% of the town was burnt in the war of 1999 and is still being rebuilt. There is high unemployment as most of the factories have not been replaced, Kosovars are not allowed visa free travel until some political changes are made to various boundaries which has a stifling effect on the population. Young people in particular who cannot travel even to their nearest neighbouring countries cannot expand their view of the world and even if they go to university there are few jobs for them. He told us that it was like a prison for them all and the rise in drugs, alcohol etc was inevitable. Tourism however is on the rise especially on the mountains. 
We can only hope that the EU will bring some pressure to bear to hasten normalisation if this situation.
We have made a point of talking to young people and everyone you say hullo too is only to happy to chat.

Some new buildings.