The Romance of Travel: Biarritz

IMG_1365

On the southwest corner of France on the Bay of Biscay, not far from the Spanish border, lies the beautiful town of Biarritz.

Part of the Basque Country, the town has a rich and varied history. It began as a small fishing and whaling village, became a popular destination for European aristocracy in the 19th century and, more recently, has become known as a premier surfing destination in Europe.

IMG_1460

A leisurely stroll through the town is the best way to take in the various beaches, the lighthouse, plazas, hotels, and old harbor.

The mix of architectural styles — belle époque, art deco, and neo-medieval — add to the town’s glamour.

IMG_1421

Biarritz is studded with elegant villas and charming homes with black filigree balconies, sturdy shutters, gardens and gates — all built to withstand the rough Atlantic storms.

Its maritime origins remain an integral part of the town. The beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame de Rocher, is situated on the harbor where it provided shelter and solace for the fishermen, sailors, and their families.

IMG_1418

A mosaic depiction of a ship is situated near the altar, a large clam shell serves as one of the fonts, and a model ship hangs from the ceiling.

A walk along the old harbor leads to one of many vista points,

and down to a promontory called La Vierge de le Rochelle. A bridge built by Gustave Eiffel in 1865 leads out to the statue of the Virgin Mary.

IMG_1438

At the top of the hill, a cafe with outdoor seating offers the perfect vantage point to watch the sun sink over the Atlantic.

Another day’s walk takes you up a wooded area that leads to more breath-taking views.

October hydrangeas in soft autumn colors lined the path of the hill-climb.

IMG_1329

The steep path offers benches and various viewpoints to watch the surfers,

IMG_1357

and to take in the spectacular views of the ocean and the hazy coast of Spain in the distance.

IMG_1348

There is a quality of light in Biarritz that adds to its beauty — dramatic, dark shadowy clouds pierced with sudden sunlight over waters that can be rough and white-capped, or seemingly calm with a vast shimmer. The weather this time of year can be fair and mild one day,

IMG_1367

stormy and brisk the next.

IMG_1318 (1)

A stop at the Miremont Patisserie Salon de Thé was the ideal way to end one such brisk autumn day.

Built in 1872, the cafe exudes elegance and old-world charm, with rich ornamentation, mirrored walls, and mosaic floors. A large window overlooks the ever-changing ocean. It was the perfect place to warm up with a cup of its famous hot chocolate.

IMG_1383

I chose the Chantilly. The cocoa and whipped cream were served separately to mix to taste. The hot chocolate was thick, dark, sweet, and delicious. A welcome treat on a blustery October afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romance of Travel — Scotland (Part 2) The Highlands

Storr P image

(The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye — image from Pinterest, Anne McKinell Photography.)

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love.” –Robert Burns

Loch Ness castle

(Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness)

To the north of Edinburgh, beyond the Firth of Forth, lies the Scottish Highlands — mountains, valleys, glens, lochs, rugged coastlines, and islands: the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and farther north, Shetland. (In all, Scotland has close to 800 islands)

The Highlands is a land filled with castles, history, legend, and lore: Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the northern city of Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Iona. A two-week driving tour through Scotland was an eye-opening experience to the breathtaking beauty of the Highlands.

Tobermoy Mull

(The charming village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.)

The Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, is famous for being the location of the Monastery of Iona. A short ferry ride from Mull takes you to the small windswept island of Iona.

“In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential center for the spread of Christianity among the Picts and Scots.” (wikipedia)

Mull Iona

A seat of learning, the monastery is associated with the illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells.  “It is generally accepted that the book was begun in the monastery of Iona at some point after c. 740.” (www.historyireland.com)

We chose to stay in the town of Oban because it’s one of the main places to catch the ferry to Mull. We were pleasantly surprised by its charm and lively harbor. It proved to be an unexpected find.

The port town has a waterside promenade lit by tiny lights, perfect for strolling after dining at one of the town’s wonderful restaurants.

Oban eve

Leaving Oban and driving north to Skye, you’ll be tempted to stop and admire the glens, castles, rivers, and lochs along the way. A few hours exploring the much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle was well worth the detour.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic sites of the Highlands: the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing,

Skye Quairling 2

Neiss Lighthouse, and the Fairy Glen.

Stopping in the tiny hamlet of Dunvegan on our way to the lighthouse, we came across the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum and caught a glimpse of “Old Scotland.”  

Crossing the Highlands and driving north takes you to Inverness, “the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.” The River Ness runs through the middle of the town and is crossed by several bridges, one of which takes you from one side of the river to the other, crossing through a pretty wooded island on the way.

Inverness river walk

Day trips from Inverness include driving along Loch Ness and touring the battlefield of Culloden, site of the final Jacobite rebellion.

Continuing a few hours north takes you to the northernmost town on the British mainland — Thurso, located on the North Sea.

Thurso

It’s the perfect place for stopping over before taking the morning ferry to Orkney. A beach walk after dinner offers beautiful views of Thurso Bay.

Thurso 1

From its harbor at nearby Scrabster, you can take the ferry to the town of Stromness in Orkney. The 90-minute journey takes you past some stunning scenery.

Orkney Old Man 1

(The Old Man of Hoy seen from the ferry to Orkney)

1 Orkney

On the ferry to Stromness, I was struck by the quotes by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), which prepare the traveler for the beauty of Orkney — a beauty both subtle and rugged.

“There was a fitful gleam of cold sunlight as we climbed aboard the Hamnavoe.”

“On the salt and tar steps, herring boats, puffing red sails, the tillers of cold horizons, leaned down the gull-gaunt tide.”

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”

Though Orkney has the jagged coastlines and rocky landscape of much of the Highlands,

it has a different feel to it. In part, due to the remnants of the deep layers of history found throughout Orkney — in Neolithic archaeological sites, such as Skara Brae; in the stone rings of Brodgar and Stenness; in prehistoric mounds, and the remains of Viking settlements.

Orney ruins

Orkney ring 2

More recent history is found in other ruins throughout the islands,

and in WWII sites — reminders of the importance of this remote location during the war: Scapa Flow (home of the British Fleet during both world wars), the Italian Chapel (built by Italian POWs),

Orkney Italian chapel

(the Italian Chapel)

and the Churchill barriers (rocky man-made causeways), among others. There’s a museum in Stromness that is a trove of WWII and local history.

Stromness, the main seaport, embodies the essence of Orkney. Its buildings are solid and strong, built to stand against fierce North Sea storms. Its streets are rocky and steep and overlook the expanse of the sea. “Fitful gleam[s] of cold sunlight” cast the town in “marvelous rhythms of … darkness and light.”

1 stromness 5

1 stromness 3

An evening stroll along the harbor anchors you in its maritime presence — with bracing winds, the smell of “salt and tar,” and the sound of gulls.

1 stromness

1 stromness 2

With touches of charm and homey warmth found in its narrow streets.

1 stromness 4

As we left the Highlands and drove back south, we spotted a rainbow over a pot-of-gold mustard field — it seemed the perfect image for the close of our Highland tour.

Highlands pot of gold and rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romance of Travel – Scotland (Part 1)

 

C1

I recently spent two weeks in May touring Scotland. I was surprised to find that spring was just arriving, enabling me to enjoy early spring for a second time, especially the farther north we traveled. Daffodils, tulips, and blossoming trees added splashes of color to the landscape. Bluebells, in particular, bloomed in abundance.

Orkeny tulips 1

bluebells

In the early part of the trip, there was even a dusting of snow in the Highlands. And though rain was predicted, except for one day, we had beautiful clear weather.

Highlands snow

My trip began and ended in historical Edinburgh, a city that has been high on my to-see list for a long time. It did not disappoint.

E castle blossoms

Edinburgh is the perfect walking city with a fascinating mix of medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, all surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

E Princes Street spire

Between Old Town and New Town is the verdant stretch of Princes Street Garden, a sunken park in the heart of the city. It was “created in two phases in the 1770s and 1820s following the long draining of the Nor Loch and building of the New Town, beginning in the 1760s.” (wikipedia)

E Princes Street Park

E Princes Street Park statue

fountain

At the head of Old Town is Edinburgh Castle, built on a craggy outcropping of volcanic rock. Though it has an “1100-year-old history…few of the present buildings pre-date… the 16th century, when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment.” (wikipedia)

castle turret

castle gate

Calton Hill from castle

The fortress sits on Castle Rock, one of the seven hills that surround Edinburgh. From this vantage point, you can see two other hills that form part of the city’s identity — Calton Hill, with its Athenian Acropolis, and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that can be climbed for panoramic views of the city.

Arthur's seat from castle

Edinburgh is full of steep stairs, medieval closes, and unexpected passages, such as the Vennel with its views of the Castle,

the vennel

picturesque Circus Lane (converted mews), which was blooming with irises and fragrant wisteria and lilac,

E Circus Lane

and Dean Village, a lovely place for a morning stroll. It was “the centre of a successful grain milling area for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith.” (wikipedia) 

Dean Village 1

E Dean Village 1

In addition to Edinburgh’s charming walks and its trove of historical sites, the city has a vibrant music and literary culture, and a wide array of restaurants to sample, from traditional fare to various ethnic cuisines. I was glad to know that I would be returning to Edinburgh at the end of my trip for there was still so much more to see.

But for now, as much as I loved Edinburgh, the Highlands in the misty distance beckoned. (to be continued…)

E dusk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 3 – Pamplona

In the north of Spain lies the Basque city of Pamplona, capital of Navarra. It’s a significant point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. The streets are full of pilgrims and hikers, as well as tourists taking in the charm of the old city.

img_1219

It’s a beautiful walking town, with the Spanish Pyrenees forming a dramatic backdrop and the Arga River flowing around the hilltop location. Walking routes from the Old Town take you to the  Taconera Park, full of flowers, benches, and gravel pathways. A sunken area that used to be a moat is home for a small herd of deer and several kinds of birds, including peacocks, ducks, and geese.

img_1224

The walk around the edge of the park offers views of the mountains and valley and reminds you of just how high the city is above the valley — there’s even a tram that takes passengers from the lower part of the city up to the Old City.

A short walk further and you can visit the citadel and the surrounding park. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, massive bulwarks and stonework reveal part of the original pentagon shape. A museum there explains that the pentagon shape was once a popular design for fortification. (You can listen to the accompanying audio in several languages, including Basque, which is fascinating in itself.)

Pamplona fortress

(Photo – http://www.itinari.com)

The heart of Pamplona, and the most beautiful part, is the Old City. At its center is the Plaza del Castillo, a large square ringed with buildings, many with flowering balconies.

img_1202

img_1172

Most of the streets are cobblestone, and there are several medieval cathedrals and beautiful architecture at every turn — and lots of restaurants, many of them with seating outside, part of the famous pintxo tradition. Throughout the day, but especially beginning at around 4:00pm and lingering late into the night, small appetizers, pintxos, are served with the local wines or other beverages. This tradition makes for a lively street life, especially as the night grows and music pours out onto the narrow streets.

img_1180

img_1229

Pamplona, or Iruña as it is known in Basque, is most famous for “the Running of the Bulls” during the Festival of Saint Fermin in July. Ernest Hemingway wrote about the festival in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. And for this reason, Pamplona offers another sort of pilgrimage — a literary one. Pamplona is one of those rare locations that is specifically associated with an author. There’s a bust of Hemingway outside the bullring, and a life-size statue of him leaning against the bar at the Hotel Iruña. Photographs of him and his likeness are found throughout the city, especially in restaurants and gift shops.

H crop2

img_1258

“Pamplona certainly owes some of its fame to its adopted son, Ernest Hemingway, who spent a considerable amount of time in Navarra during the Spanish Civil War and was a big fan of the San Fermin Festival.” (www.euskoguide.com)Book cover

There was a different festival held the week I was there, with celebrations in the Plaza. The city was full of festivities, musicians and performances, and schoolchildren holding hands as they skipped to the music.

I don’t know if it was the festival or the lively pintxo culture, but Pamplona struck me as one of the happiest places I had ever visited. The streets were full of tourists and local families, couples, and friends enjoying the delightfulness of the city — sitting at crowded outdoor cafes, stopping for ice cream, enjoying the street performers and musicians, well into the night.

Copy of Pamplona night level

 

IMG_1194

Though I loved so much about Pamplona, the Iruña Hotel held a special charm for me. It was full of old-world beauty in warm shades of sepia and globes of golden lights that reflected in the carved wooden mirrors.

IMG_1162

img_1157

img_1155

IMG_1295

Sitting in the Hemingway Bar with its nooks and small balcony, it was easy to imagine an older, slower time, with people wearing different clothing and holding different conversations — and perhaps someone sitting alone at a table quietly penning a novel.

img_1170

The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 2 – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

IMG_1523

In the foothills of the French Pyrenees lies the small Basque village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The winding Nive river runs through the town and is crossed by several picturesque bridges.

bridge tower

With the town’s steep cobblestoned streets, timbered buildings, medieval stone structures, and abundance of flowers, the village must be one of the prettiest in France.

 

 

IMG_1539

IMG_1478

The village itself is very small and can be walked in a few hours.  The steep cobbled rue de la Citadelle forms the heart of the village and is lined with shops, inns, and restaurants. A stroll through the town offers a close-up view of the medieval city gate — the Porte d’Espagne — and the 14th-century Gothic cathedral. The architecture in this old section is picturesque with arched doorways, tiled roofs, shutters, and charming details —

IMG_1507

img_1537

 

St. Jean carving

all set against stunning views of the valley and mountains.

IMG_1534

There are several walking trails around the area for longer excursions, such as the one along the medieval city wall. This path eventually leads to the citadelle, high atop the village.

IMG_1548

IMG_1473

IMG_1498

IMG_1477

The citadelle was built in the 12th century to protect the river and the crossing route over the Pyrenees.

IMG_1484

 

 

The site near the chateau and fortifications offers magnificent views of the mountains and valley, and the village below.

IMG_1492

The citadelle protected the mountain pathway to Spain — the Roncevaux Pass — making Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port an important point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela — also known as the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago, or simply, the Camino.

For those departing from Paris or elsewhere in France, the route was referred to as the French Way. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was the pilgrims’ last stop before beginning the arduous trek through the Pyrenees. Pied-de-Port means “foot of the pass.”

IMG_1488

The city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain “has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as the destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century.” (wikipedia.org)

Today it is also popular with hikers and cyclists. According to caminoways.com, the French Way is the most popular of all the routes, with over 177,000 pilgrims making the journey every year. Approximately 34,000 pilgrims choose Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port as their starting point.

French_Ways_of_St._James.svg

(en.wikipedia.org)

walking staffs

Several shops along the rue de Citadelle sell gear for the trek, including walking staffs or hiking poles. A rhythmic “click, click” sound made by the pilgrims and their walking sticks can be heard in the Camino towns along the route.

Two symbols are found throughout the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port — on shops, menus, clothing, and souvenirs  — the lauburu, or Basque Cross,

basque cross

img_1550

and the clamshell, the symbol of pilgrimage.

img_1552

“Since the scallop is native to the coast of Galicia, the shell also became a memento, a physical proof of having completed the pilgrimage to Santiago….The shells also had a practical purpose: they were a handy and light replacement for a bowl so the pilgrims could use them to hold their food and drink on their long journey….Medieval pilgrims often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats during their journey” (caminoways.com), as shown on this tapestry in the village’s small museum.

pilgrim museum

The image of the scallop can be found on several inns and shops of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port,

IMG_1526

IMG_1535

IMG_1528

along with images of medieval pilgrims.

IMG_1529

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a tiny town with a long name and a long history. For centuries, it has been a crossroads for travelers and pilgrims, and still offers its charm and beauty for the tourists and pilgrims of today.

IMG_1521

The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 1 — Lourdes

cathedral bridge 3

The beautiful town of Lourdes, France is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Two structures dominate the town and its history — the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, situated on the wide, flowing Gave de Pau, and the thousand-year-old fortress, the Chateau-Fort de Lourdes, built on a high rocky bluff.

Lourdes fort 2

Lourdes has a rich and varied history.  Artifacts dating from the prehistoric times to the Roman  have been found in the area, and “the town and its fortress formed a strategic stronghold in medieval times.” (www.Britannica.com)

However, the town is best known as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics the world over, visited by millions every year.

cathedral crop

The identity of Lourdes as a market town, mountains crossroads, and fortified stronghold forever changed in 1858 when a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, experienced numerous visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the river.

bernadette photo enlarged

“The visions were declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862, and veneration of Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes was authorized. The underground spring in the grotto, revealed to Bernadette, was declared to have miraculous qualities, and Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site.” (www.britannica.com)

cathedral eve 4

Lourdes is an international destination, a place of hope for many who cannot walk or are battling sickness or a chronic condition. They line up to hear mass given in front of the grotto, and fill up bottles with the sacred grotto water from numerous taps. Behind the cathedral, alongside the river, are private bathing rooms where pilgrims line up to bathe in the waters, hoping for a cure or improvement.

 

Even in the offseason, the shops and crowds can make the place seems touristy, but the solemnity with which the pilgrims pray and believe, and the sheer beauty of the place, preserve the sense of the sacred.

cathedral way flowers

The Gothic-styled cathedral, with its soaring spires and long narrow windows, was built above the grotto in 1876. It is made of the same gray stone as the rock beneath it and seems to have risen directly from it.

L maples

cathedral river

The chateau-fort, which was never conquered, sits high above the town and is today a museum. Like the cathedral, it is made from the gray granite of the Pyrenees and appears to be a continuation of the thrust of rock on which it was built.

Lourdes fort

From the fortress top, you can see that the village itself is nestled in the strong arms of the valley mountains. The vantage point offers spectacular views of the town and valley below.

fort view 2

museum view fort

“The château fort de Lourdes is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan. The castle’s origins go back to Roman times….The oldest remains date from the 11th and 12th centuries” and were reinforced several times in later centuries. (www.wikipedia.com)

 

“Within its walls there is a botanical garden at the foot of the 14th-century keep, and the Pyrenean Museum.” (en.lourdes-infotourisme.com)

museum stone

The museum is filled with artifacts and offers a glimpse into local life of the past centuries. Several exhibits are dedicated to marriage customs, clothing, farming and husbandry, and day-to-day living.

museum baby 2

 

 

 

 

museum bedroom

As daytime draws to a close, the crowds disperse, the sounds of the day shift to the soft sounds of evening, and a tranquil beauty pervades Lourdes.

 

Cathedral eve

From one of the bridges over the river, you can look back and see the cathedral and, in the distance, the fort. These two main structures of Lourdes — perhaps representative of two opposing human impulses — today rest comfortably together in the valley town.

cathedral candles tree lit

With the church bells ringing, the grotto candles lit, and the lights coming on in the town, you realize that Lourdes is unique — a sacred site of hope and prayer, rich in layers of history — a town born of the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pyrenees.

The Romance of Travel: Carcassonne

Carcassonne distance

For many years I had longed to see the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne and recently I was able to make that dream come true. Carcassonne did not disappoint.

Pinterest 1

Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, Carcassonne is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, the largest walled city in Europe, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. Languedoc is also famous for its wines and the hilltop city sits high above the surrounding vineyards.

C26

I arrived Carcassonne in the evening under a near-full moon. The hotel I stayed at was located at the foot of the hill, and I had a magnificent view of the fairytale city from my balcony.

Every day, I crossed the footbridge over the river Aude, climbed the steep cobblestone streets to the top of the hill, and entered the citadel through the lowered drawbridge. I spent hours wandering around the labyrinthine village, climbed the ramparts and spiral stairs of the towers, walked the walls which provided magnificent views of the valley below, and then rested and recharged at its many outdoor cafes.

C14

Carcassonne was occupied by the Romans and later the Visigoths. Its strategic hilltop location was fortified over the centuries with walls, towers, drawbridge and moat, a fortress, and a cathedral — the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. Layers and layers of history pervade the stones and gargoyles, the slate roofs and worn steps.

C7

Pinterest 2

Today Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism and has several hotels, restaurants, and shops — even a small museum on the history of the French school system.

school museum crop (1)

The heraldic Occitan cross, which dates back to the 12th century, and the fleur-de-lis hearken back to its medieval history and can be seen throughout the city.

In the fall, Carcassonne has a particular beauty — pensive, tranquil, a bit wistful — and despite the tourists, a few quiet areas can always be found.

C19

It is at night when the magic of Carcassonne can most be felt — when the years of history fall away and you step into the past. The crenelated ramparts and rounded towers take on an architectural sharpness, accentuated by light and shadow.

C40

C30

Crossing the drawbridge you can imagine the creak and clang of its chains, and you notice that the sounds inside the walled village are different — quieter, sometimes hushed. The interior of La Cité is softly lit by lampposts. Gold light pours onto the stone walls and archways and illuminates the curves of the cobblestone streets. It becomes a place of shadows and textures, mystery and beauty, drawing you further up into its heart.

Even in the off-season of late October, the hilltop is surprisingly alive at night and the sound of conversation and laughter fill the outdoor cafes that ring the small square at the center. Wandering through the narrow streets, you come across several restaurants and hotels that bid a warm welcome.

Carcassonne sets one to dreaming. Its deep history and beauty inspire, shift your perceptions, and bring about a silent exchange with the past. For many, it is representative of the unattainable — something actual, yet ever elusive. In 1887 Gustave Nadaud wrote a poem called “Carcassonne,” in which an old man dreams of seeing “fair Carcassonne” before he dies. To him, the city embodies the longing for an ideal, a place of profound meaning, an experience that could be his — yet it remains beyond his reach. The final line is “each man has his Carcassonne” — a beautiful distant dream.

Carcassonne dream (1)

Carcassonne — medieval city, hilltop fortress, fairytale village, a step back in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romance of Travel – Italy

 

Country road

A friend of mine recently returned from two weeks in Europe. She took writing and drawing classes in Italy, spending most of her time on the Amalfi coast.

Amalfi

Her pictures and stories filled my head with dreams — and plans. I’m long overdue for some traveling, and Italy has been beckoning for quite some time.

Verona fall

 

 

 

 

 

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” — Anna Akhmatova

Chianti

 

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” — Giuseppe Verdi.

Bobbio

 

Travel opens the mind, fills the soul, and touches the heart. It allows you step out of your daily routine and see the world afresh.

open window and hills

 

 

Beautiful blue

blue ocean

“Blue, darkly, deeply, beautifully blue.” – Robert Southey

blue mosque

“Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.” – John Ruskin

blue cathedral rectangle

“A certain blue enters your soul.” – Henri Matisse

Ultramarine – “The most perfect of all colors,” Cennino Cennini

“Sometimes called ‘true blue,’ ultramarine is made from the semiprecious gemstone lapis lazuli, which for centuries could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan.

Lapis first appeared as a pigment in the 6th century. Around 700 years later, the pigment traveled to Venice and soon became the most sought-after color in medieval Europe. For centuries, the cost of lapis rivaled the price of gold.

lapis painting 1600

Legend has it that Michelangelo left his painting The Entombment (1500–01) unfinished because he could not generate the funds to buy ultramarine blue. Raphael used the pigment scarcely, applying it above base layers of azurite when depicting the Virgin Mary’s blue robe. The Baroque master Vermeer, on the other hand, bought the color in spades, so much so that his indulgence pushed his family into debt.” http://www.artsy.net

Indigo is a natural dye rather than a pigment for painting. It was used to color fabrics, clothing, yarns, and luxurious tapestries. Unlike lapis lazuli, whose rarity drove its high prices, the indigo crop could be grown in excess and produced across the world, from India to South Carolina.

blue thread

Commonly considered a shade of blue, indigo is not a separate color in its own right, so why does it get its own band in the rainbow?

Indigo dyeing was especially popular in England, home to physicist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton believed that the rainbow should consist of seven distinct colors to match the seven days of the week, the seven notes in the musical scale, and the seven known planets. Confronting the fact that the rainbow only displayed five unique colors, Newton pushed indigo, along with orange, much to the dismay of some contemporary scientists.” www.artsy.net

“Jean fabric was first produced in Genoa, Italy, in the 17th century; the French city of Nimes copied the technique shortly after (“de Nimes” aka “denim”). The cotton twill fabric, dyed with indigo, was sturdy and washable, making it perfect for workers.” www.artsandculture.google.com 

“Blue has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other color.

blue glasses

Dark blue: trust, dignity, intelligence, authority

Bright blue: cleanliness, strength, dependability, coolness
(The origin of these meanings arise from the qualities of the ocean and inland waters, most of which are more tangible.)

Light (sky) blue: peace, serenity, ethereal, spiritual, infinity
(The origin of these meanings is the intangible aspects of the sky.)

Most blues convey a sense of trust, loyalty, cleanliness, and understanding. On the other hand, blue evolved as symbol of depression in American culture. “Singing the blues” and feeling blue” are good examples of the complexity of color symbolism and how it has been evolved in different cultures.” http://www.colormatters.com

“Pink for girls and blue for boys is a surprisingly recent tendency. Even as late as 1927 some fashion stores recommended pink for boys.” http://www.express.co.uk

blue stucco ornament

For a fascinating book on color, read Victoria Finlay’s books.

Finlay book
Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay  Link: http://a.co/bfRUBxs

 

Images from my Pinterest board on color

Giverny — Life as a work of art

For quite some time, I’ve been dreaming about my next trip to France. Paris, of course, but I also want to see Normandy. Among other sites, Mont Saint-Michel has been beckoning for years. And high on my list is a trip to Giverny — Claude Monet’s home and gardens. I would love to see it in all seasons, but for my first visit, I want to experience it in the springtime. Giverny is what happens when you give yourself completely, and passionately, to something you love.

Giverny 6

Quotes from Monet’s letters:

“My garden is a slow work, pursued with love and I do not deny that I am proud of it. Forty years ago, when I established myself here, there was nothing but a farmhouse and a poor orchard…I bought the house and little by little I enlarged and organized it…I dug, planted, weeded myself; in the evenings the children watered.” – Claude Monet

 

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” – Claude Monet

 

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” – Claude Monet

 

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” – Claude Monet

Giverny 5

“I work at my garden all the time and with love. What I need most are flowers, always, and always.” – Claude Monet

Giverny 8

“I want to paint the way a bird sings.” – Claude Monet

Giverny 3

“My heart is forever in Giverny.” – Claude Monet