VIVID Sydney!

For the last 2 days of Becky’s stay, we went to Sydney, primarily to check out VIVID! We stayed close by the quay – this was the view from our hotel room:

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VIVID Sydney is in it’s 10th year this year and is a 23 day festival of light (and music, and ideas), but mostly it’s about the great lighting displays.

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Our first night in Sydney, we took a Sydney harbour boat cruise to see the lights from the water.

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Our second night (in the rain), we walked around the Quay and The Rocks area.

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Doesn’t the Sydney Opera House look amazing (even in the rain)!

There were some great displays, but I particularly enjoyed the “Beautiful and Dangerous” display which projected magnified images of various infectious bacteria and viruses.

It was right up my alley (as a bacterial scientist) and connected with my artistic self as well.

Besides seeing VIVID, we shopped – of course (Becky was still looking for family gifts to take back to the US), we walked through the botanical gardens (and found a giant fly!)

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and we visited the Art Gallery of NSW. I particularly liked this oversized Captain Cook:

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I was keen to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries on display at the gallery. I didn’t know this was a series of 6 tapestries. They were fabulous and were made around the year 1500, by an unknown maker and rediscovered some 300 years later in the Château de Boussac in France.

It was a lovely weekend (even if Becky was a bit under the weather) and it was great to have her visiting me for the past 2 weeks.

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A little more of Madrid

With the ECCMID conference over I was left with a day and a bit to finish exploring Madrid.

There are many museums in Madrid, and I thought I should visit at least one. My choice was not the extremely popular and well renowned Museo National del Prado; instead I went to visit the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (also very well regarded) and solely because I wanted to see Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII.

I wasn’t disappointed; it’s actually quite a small painting.

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I also got to view many more famous paintings and works by famous artists.

For example – Rembrandt’s self portrait.

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You will also find paintings by the greats – Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Moreau- all in the one room (room 32)! It was fantastic, what a treat!

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Renoir

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van Gogh

I walked a little more of the city; there are some very nice green spaces.

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On my last morning in Madrid, I finally made it to the royal palace. But before I got inside, I was able to witness the changing of the guard.

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What a wonderful place. It is very opulent and not hard to see where the Spanish spent some of that gold brought back from the Americas. There were no photos allowed in the main apartments of the palace (Google images for Madrid Royal Palace, and you will be amazed), but the main central staircase is ok.

The gardens around the Palace are lovely too!

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I found a few more Meninas too:

Holy Toledo – a visit to the historic town in España!

Part 2 of my day trip from Madrid.

After a couple of hours in Segovia, it was back on the bus to Toledo (south of Madrid). What a view from above the city.

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A very interesting old city, located at the top of a hill (we took 6 escalators up to the main city) high above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha. Toledo is a walled city and known as the “City of three cultures” as Christians, Muslims and Jews lived here together for centuries. Toledo was also the capital of the Visigothic kingdom of Hispania following the fall of the Roman Empire. Toledo is well known for its quality steel and sword making (today there is not such a great call for quality swords, but the city has made swords for movies and TV shows such as Lord of the Rings, 300 and Game of Thrones. The city was listed as a UNESCO site in 1986.

After some lunch and a little free time, we headed up to the cathedral.

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The present cathedral dates from the 1220’s as it was rebuilt after the church preceding it burnt down. Prior to that it was a mosque, and before that the Visigothic Cathedral. Yes, it is another awesome church in Europe, and it is of course unique with many wonderful features (including paintings by El Greco who lived in Toledo for 37 years before he died in 1614),

but one thing in particular made this cathedral stand out.

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The Tesoro (or Custody of Enrique de Arfe) – is made up of 18kg of pure gold (the first gold that Christopher Columbus brought back from the Americas) and 183kg of silver, with myriad precious gemstones and some 260 statuettes. Made in the 16th-century, this processional colossus gets out once a year for the Feast of Corpus Christi, when it is paraded around the streets of Toledo.

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Toledo was an interesting town, and deserves more than 1/2 a day –

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The city’s coat of arms – the two headed eagle

Both the cities of Segovia and Toledo deserve more time, but I am so thankful I did this tour; it was great! If ever you are in Spain, don’t miss Segovia or Toledo!

 

 

España – 2 days exploring Madrid, Spain (part 2)

Day 2: A bit more exploring Madrid

Today I did a bit of training to get to various places, I found the metro very easy to use (and a tourist ticket is the way to go for a visitor). There are 12 different lines, so you can get anywhere within the city relatively easily. My line was No. 5.

On my way to visit the museum I was intending to visit, I passed the Banco de España, a beautiful example of 19th century Spanish architecture:

In the end I didn’t make it to any museum (perhaps I had my fill while I was in Italy, I just couldn’t get motivated – and it was such a beautiful day); instead I visited a park – Parque del Retiro.

Madrid-21The Parque del Retiro was originally part of the royal grounds and in 1767 the aristocracy were permitted entry. It was another hundred years before the gates were opened to the general public.

The park is huge (at 125 hectares, one of the largest in the city) and very relaxing, even if there are plenty of other people around, you can find somewhere to sit, ponder, have a picnic, snooze, play with the kids, whatever.

I found myself having lunch here, by the lake that once was used to perform mock naval battles. It dates from 1631. Today you can hire a row boat and cruise the lake.

After my late lunch (it was after 4 before I left the park), I explored a little more and did a little shopping (couldn’t resist a pair of Spanish sandals – it was so hot, I needed them! Don’t tell my husband) around Porta del Sol (“Gateway of the Sun”).

Madrid-55This square is actually oval shaped and has 10 streets radiating from it. I found some interesting things within the square: the statue of Carlos III (above), the bear climbing the arbutus tree (the symbol of the city):Madrid-16and a Spanish mariachi band performing:

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On the way home I walked part way along the Gran Via (a Parisian style boulevard 1315m long) which was begun in 1910, but not completed until 1940.

Madrid-18300 buildings were demolished and 14 streets disappeared to make it happen. There are still some architecturally fabulous buildings along this street.

At the end of the Gran Via is the impressive Metropolis building.

As I have wandered around Madrid, I have found these Spanish Ladies throughout the city. All are different and after doing some research I discovered there are 90 of these Meninas, created by artist Antonio Azzato in fibreglass. I thought they were pretty cool, so here is a selection.

ITALIA continued – Napoli (Day 16 & 17)

Leaving Roma behind, we travelled next to Napoli (Naples), again on a fast train; the journey took just over an hour.

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At almost 300kph (we were slowing down coming in to Napoli) – definitely a fast train

We arrived in to Naples and the weather was fine. We were keen to do some exploring. Once we arrived at our accommodation (very nice room):

NapoliRoomand settled in, we determined to set out and wander around. Of course, the heavens decided to open up and it rained; proper rain, not just a drizzle or light, bearable rain; this was “prepare to get wet” type of rain. It didn’t stop us though; we just rugged up and put up the brollies.

Trudging around in the rain probably is not the best was to see any city, but I don’t think it added to the appeal of Naples. My main reason for staying in Napoli was as a base to visit Pompeii (I’ll cover that in my next post).

 

Walking the streets of Naples is definitely an interesting experience – the things you see:

and the washing hanging out to dry:

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and some churches and some unexpected frescoes (you never know what you will find when you walk around a city):

Some of the things we did manage to see in Napoli included:

  • the medieval fortress, Castel Nuovo (13th century) with its 5 towers located in front of Piazza Municipio and right by the harbourside port.

Quite impressive:

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The castle’s entrance

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As we were leaving – I saw this!

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How’s this for a door? Isn’t it wonderful?

I really did want to visit catacombs whilst we were in Italy – so we did a guided tour here – and it was fascinating. San Gennaro is the patron saint of Napoli and was at one time buried here. There are no skeletal remains here any more as they were removed during the French occupation and removed outside the city walls. These catacombs date back almost 2 thousand years, exists over several levels. The graves sites were fascinating and the frescoes were in great condition considering their age. If you happen to ever visit Napoli, I would recommend a visit to the catacombs.

– we did this at the end of a very long day and I can say it was very much worth the 8euro admission price. The museum is open from 9:00am until 7:30pm – and we stayed until closing; there is a lot to see.

Like some very impressive marble statues:

and some impressive mosaics:

The Neapolitans appear to be obsessed with sex and the penis:

Some other highlights from the museum:

There are some interesting aspects to Napoli and plenty to see, but I found this city the least appealing of all the places we visited in Italia. The traffic is exceptionally crazy – worse than anywhere else in Italy; and if you know anything of Italian traffic, you will appreciate my meaning. The city is also dirty, with lots of rubbish about, rather “unclean” there is a lot of graffiti, it’s noisy and I felt just a little uncomfortable – perhaps the time of year and the weather didn’t help, but it was almost like the Napoletano took no pride in their city. I also found eating out a more difficult experience in Napoli and the waiters tend to just take what they think you should give them as a tip – so be aware. At one restaurant we were told they wouldn’t take a card (luckily we had some cash on us), but when the waiter returned with the change he just kept the 4euro in his hand and claimed it as “service”. Of course, not everywhere was like this (we got caught out twice though) and we had an exceptionally nice dinner at Pulcinella Casoria.

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great atmosphere and great food

Putting this slight inconvenience aside though, we still enjoyed our limited time in Naples.

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Ah, Roma, Italy 🇮🇹 – a visit to Vatican City

The next part of our Italian adventure saw us leave the snow behind in Florence and travel again by high speed train to Rome, then a metro train to take us to Spagna. The subway in Rome is not as good and less clean than that of what we saw in Milan, but another experience anyway!

Our accommodation in Roma was in Piazza Mignanelli just by the Spanish Steps, so the first thing we did was explore around the Piazza di Spagna.

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Me by the Spanish Steps

Rome is full of things to do, so 4 days is no where near long enough to do even all the “must sees”, so I am going to do more than 1 blog post on Roma.

You cannot go to Rome and not see Vatican City and our first full day in Roma saw an early start for a pre-opening visit.

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We booked an early morning (admission before general entry, with Viator) tour, and I highly recommend this, it’s worth the extra money. It started raining just as we got there, but that wasn’t too bad as most of what we did was inside. Our first stop was the Sistine Chapel – amazing! We had 20 minutes to admire the frescoes. There are no photographs allowed in the chapel, and there is supposed to be no talking. Our guide had provided a lot of information about this chapel, what to look for, what was noteworthy and why, and she provided a visual guide. This was great.

After the Sistine Chapel, we went back to look through the museums, very interesting.

And, it’s not just the Sistine Chapel that has an amazing ceiling – you can spend a lot of time looking up at the marvellous paintings on the ceilings throughout the Vatican.

On the way to St Peter’s Basilica we passed back through the Sistine Chapel (and you can understand why it’s good to go early).

St Peter’s Basilica is amazing! I am running out of superlatives here, but it was awesome. It is a very grand and stunning church.

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St Peter (with a very shiny right foot, where everyone touches it)

Of course, when you leave the Basilica, you are facing St. Peters Square.

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St Peter’s Square

 

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The Pope’s Balcony

Firenze, Italy

After 5 nights in Milano, we boarded a fast train to Florence in Tuscany.

These trains are fantastic, and I wish Australia had one or two of these. Very comfortable – and fast (~260km/hr fast)! You even get a drink and a snack for free on board.

Once we arrived in Florence (Firenze), we caught a taxi to our home for the next 5 nights (Stone Lion Exclusive apartment – very nice by the way and definitely recommended). After checking in, we hit the streets for a look around. Saw lots of interesting buildings and architecture and wandered across the Ponte Vecchio,

before meandering through some markets.

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Anyone who has been to Florence will tell you, there is at least one leather outlet on every block and plenty of market stalls to buy your leather goods. There is plenty of variety and prices, I believe seem very reasonable. I picked up a lambswool lined leather coat (as it was freezing), a couple of pairs of shoes and a couple of hand bags. The leather rush may have gone to my head!

Firenze was amazing, I loved it from the moment we got there, even though the weather wasn’t kind. So many little streets and great architecture.

Our first full day in Firenze, we wandered aimlessly and visited San Lorenzo (the oldest church in Firenze, consecrated in 393).

On the way back to our apartment we managed to get lost. The streets of Florence twist and turn and I found it easy to become disoriented in this city, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Day 2 we did a day trip to San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Sienna, which also included a stop at a local family run winery for some wine tasting and lunch.

Day 3 we went to see David at the galleria dell’accademia,

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Michelangelo’s David

and checked out the Duomo (which I thought was more spectacular on the outside).

Day 4 we woke to snow ❄️ it was a freezing day, with snow, sleet and rain. We managed to visit the Bargello museum and see some more impressive sculptures.

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Donatello’s David

 

Later we went through the church across from where we were staying, the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei are buried. This was an amazing church and very impressive (I personally liked it better than the Duomo).

And finally, did you know Pinocchio was born in Florence?

It would be lovely to one day return to Firenze, and spend a whole lot more time there, as there is so much more I would like to see.

Our last days in Milano, Italy

There is of course plenty to see in Milan, as in every large city. Just 5 days is not enough to discover all there is to see. I had a list of a few things that I prioritised as things I’d like to do. As I love history, and I’m a fan of old architecture, I thought a visit to Castle Sforza and a viewing of Leonardo’s Last Supper painting were worth the effort for me.

Day 4 – we really had nothing planned, so we caught the metro to Cairoli station, which is just a short walk to Castello Sforzesco. It’s free to get into the grounds and just €5 to get into the museums.

Heaps to see here, and the music museum is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, quite extraordinary.

I also particularly liked the tapestries!

Day 5 – what an interesting day for our last full day in Milan! First on the agenda was a visit to Leonardo’s Last Supper. If you want to see this famous painting, I highly recommend you book a tour. It’s a bit more expensive, but worth it; you get a good commentary on the painting, it’s history and restoration. To view the last supper, you are allowed into the room where it is displayed in groups of 30 people at a time (don’t worry – there is plenty of room and readily viewed from anywhere in the room) and for 15minutes only. Because visitor numbers are limited – this is another reason to book a group tour ticket. LastSupper-1LastSupper-2

After viewing the painting (which is housed in the refectory of theSanta Maria delle Grazie church), we took a look inside main church.

During our walk home we stumbled across some of the craziness that is fashion week in Milan.

And immediately after, we were witness to some street protest march (?political rally).

It was an event filled 5 days and we had a great time in Milano. Next stop Firenze!

A Visit to Houston

So, I am spending a couple of days in Houston with a friend.

Yesterday, after a 5 hour drive from Sherman, we took in some culture and visited the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

I was particularly taken by the Roman Vishniac photographic exhibition and his photographs of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Many poignant and candid photos giving the viewer a real glimpse into a life that many of us can only image, particularly those taken in post war Berlin. I could have spent so much longer pouring over these images; it was fabulous.

I also got to enjoy some more classic paintings from the masters – Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet & Matisse.

  

I have seen some wonderful art whilst in Texas – we miss out on so much in Australia, where we have to wait for a special traveling exhibit.

Also at the museum is the Shadow Monsters interactive display – we made scary shadows and had fun! Great for young and old! 

  
There was also a fabulous interactive LEGO building exhibit where you could indulge your inner architect or city planner. Everyone is encouraged to add to the LEGO city creation.

  
The MFAH is a very interesting museum and is spread over 2 buildings. Between the two, is an interconnecting walkway which is a piece of art in itself – a light tunnel, where the color changes every 6 minutes.

  

If you get to go, Thursday’s are a great day to visit as entry is free!

Anyway, the reason I am in Houston is that I am accompanying a friend on a business trip – so I took the opportunity to see a little more of Texas and poke around a little in Houston. My friend is a well respected quilter and author (Becky Goldsmith) and is attending the Quilt Market in Houston. Now, this ‘convention’ is a BIG deal – I didn’t realize just how big. More later!

Experiencing some classic culture

This past Tuesday, I experienced a wonderful day of culture!

I was invited by a friend to tag along on a day out with a friend (and a friend of hers) who were going to take in some of exhibitions at a couple of museums in Fort Worth. I saw things that I would not have experienced in Australia, and have to admit, I had a lovely day!

We drove down to Fort Worth, which is almost a 2 hour drive from where I live in Sherman (so, about the equivalent of driving from Newcastle to Sydney). We took in the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and then the Kimbell Art Museum, where we also enjoyed a delicious, light lunch.

I have experienced quite a few museums and art galleries during my travels, but I must admit, the art I took in on Tuesday was noteworthy; I saw quite a few paintings from artists that I have only seen once before (at a special exhibit in Canberra), or not at all.

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is not an overly large museum and we were there primarily to see the special exhibits – Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art and Audubon’s Beasts. The Amon Carter museum opened in January 1961 and was established by Amon G. Carter Sr. (1879–1955) to house his collection of paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. The museum contains only American art and artists (to the best of my knowledge) and “aims to collect, preserve, and exhibit the finest examples of American art; and to serve an educational role through exhibitions, publications, and programs devoted to the study of American art”.

The exhibit of Audubon’s beasts was a collection of maybe 20-24 (I can’t quite remember how many there were) of hand-painted prints of some of North America’s four-legged creatures; these were extremely detailed and wonderful to see. John James Audubon (1785–1851) was a famed scientist and painter, best known for his work depicting the birdlife in America in The Birds of America, a book of 435 images – portraits of every bird then known in the United States.

The Indigenous Beauty exhibit was fabulous too – there were plenty of native American Indian art and craft works, with some excellent examples of textiles, pottery, basket weaving and beadwork. It was very impressive and I am glad to have seen it – if you get the chance – go see it!

Again, the Kimbell Art Museum is not large, but it does have some quality works, all housed in a fabulous, modern, noteworthy building. The museum is especially noted for the wash of silvery natural light that enters the building through its vaulted gallery ceilings.

The reason we went to the Kimbell was to see the special exhibit: Botticelli to Braque – Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland. There was some very fine art in that display by famed artists such as Titian, Pissarro, Degas, Botticelli as well as Monet, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Rembrandt. However, before we got to this exhibit, I was very excited to have witnessed works by some of the great masters that exist as part of the Kimbell’s permanent collection where I saw works by Picasso, Matisse, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet and Cezanne . Like I mentioned, I saw paintings that you just don’t get to see the likes of in Australia, unless they are part of a special, travelling exhibit. These paintings were part of the museums regular, permanent collection – available to view in downtown Fort Worth, Texas!

If ever you find yourself in Fort Worth, Texas, I can recommend a visit to these two museums!

If you made it this far – sorry for the long post and the absence of pictures, but I did think it was worth writing about! 🙂