A Last Look at Lovely Lucca

Ciao Readers!  Happy Monday!

So, here we are at the end of my trip to Lucca (boo hoo)….  I still have so many nifty photos I haven’t posted as well as some random stories, so thought I’d do a final photo-centric wrap-up with some  sights and info from my adventure.  Enjoy:

Photos from the “Verdemura” (green walls) flower and growers festival:

Check out  the facade of the Cathedral of San Martino (building began in the 1100’s!). Notice how each column is different from the others?  Legend has it that there was a competition to design the columns for the church (these artistic competitions were common in Italy during the Renaissance) – but instead of picking a winner, the town stole and used all the designs and didn’t award a prize or pay anyone!:

This is the “famous” Torre Guingi (the one in the background with the trees growing on top of it – pretty unique feature, no?), which has 227 step to the top that I did not climb:


Remember the handmade pumpkin torteloni I bought back in the “shopping” post?  This is me turning it into a scrumptious dinner – just add butter, sage and parmesan:

One day I just wandered all over town, including down empty alleyways (always so picturesque); I happened upon this large (about 12 feet tall) piece of art made entirely from recycled cardboard, literally in the middle of nowhere….

And, finally, a peak-a-boo farewell to the sea (though technnically not in Lucca):

Thank you, Dear Readers for coming with me to New York and Italy.  Hopefully I will have more blog fodder (i.e. ADVENTURES) soon!

 

Have You Met Hieronymus Bosch?

Ciao Readers!

Today I introduce my latest artist obsession – Hieronymus Bosch. Now, I admittedly know very little about Bosch (apparently no one does)*, but what I’ve seen of his works, he deserves much more attention than he gets (plus, how great is his name?). He lived and painted during the Renaissance period (1450 – 1516), and while others were painting lovely Madonnas or venturing as far as “Venus” and “Spring,” Hieronymus was painting fish-headed-demon creatures and cave houses growing from people’s rear-ends (in all fairness, he did also paint some “normal” looking religious scenes).  His art seems to be closer to the surreal genre of Salvador Dalí, who painted almost 500 years later, than to his contemporaries. Where did this guy’s imagination come from?!?!?! You can literally spend hours looking at all the weird creatures in any one of his triptychs (3-paneled paintings) – they are mind-blowing!

I discovered Hieronymus a few years ago and was looking forward with great anticipation to seeing one of his more famous works at the museum in Brugge (The Last Judgment) when we were there in January.  Alas, after we were already in the museum, we learned that The Last Judgement, and almost all of his paintings, are currently on loan to a museum in the Netherlands for the single largest showing of his work ever. (Though the Prado in Madrid was not willing to part with the most famous work – The Garden of Earthly Delights (links to interactive tour!)). I was sooooo disappointed! To help sate my new-found obsession with Bosch, Steve got me a GIANT (11 pounds) book of his complete works for my birthday – so when I learn more I will certainly share, but for now check out a few of his creations (as photographed out of my book, photo 1):

* “Very little is known about the artist Hieronymus Bosch. His date of birth, thoughts, writings, personality, and the meaning of his art have all been lost to time. What is left, though, is a series of paintings that defy the imagination as well as any set art form before him.”  Wikiart.

Eating and Art in Amsterdam

Ciao Readers!

Today we go back to one of my favorite topics – the art of Van Gogh, with some yummy food thrown in for good measure. Despite catching colds and being rained on for several days, we ate well and overloaded on art while in Amsterdam. Being from land-locked, non-cosmopolitan New Mexico, any opportunity to eat interesting foods (and any from the sea) is a welcome opportunity. And any chance to see great works of art, another score. Instead of going on about everything we saw and did, I wanted to focus on two highlights – our “Rijsttafel” (rice table) dinner and the Munch/Van Gogh comparative exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum.

Rijsttafel – Since Indonesia was a Dutch colony for about 300 years, it’s no surprise that the Dutch gained an affinity for Indonesian food.  However, while the “rice table” is made up of a grand sampling of Indonesian dishes, this way of presenting them is uniquely Dutch.  It was created as a way for Dutch folks to sample dishes from islands all around Indonesia at the same time. And lucky for us! I lost track of how many dishes came out (you can count for yourself, below), but they were each unique and yummy (or at least interesting) in their own way. Some dishes reminded us more of Thai food (chicken in peanut sauce), while others had more of an Indian flare (curried goat).  They all had some level of heat (an added bonus for us chile-loving New Mexicans) and next to the meal in Rouen, it was the second-grandest feast of our trip – Yum!!!

Munch/Van Gogh Exhibit –  Man, I really have a hard time wrapping my brain around how I went from being someone without a passport to someone who has been to the Van Gogh Museum 4 times in the past 8 years!!!  Since I’ve gone on about Van Gogh in several posts, I’ll stick to the unique exhibit we just happened to catch during its final week in Amsterdam –  “Munch: Van Gogh.”  The exhibit focussed on the parallels between the two artists, who, while painting about the same time and some of the same subject matter, never actually met. One really cool thing was there was a TON of paintings on loan from the Munch Museum in Oslo, including one of the iconic “The Scream“-s (though since it’s done in crayon, I guess it’s not technically a “painting”).  The other cool things was, in addition to the hundreds of Van Gogh’s usually at the museum, they had many more on loan from around the world (including one from the Kröller-Müller Museum we’d been to the day before).  It was such an overload of amazing art that they actually had Stendhal syndrome boxes you could close yourself in to calm down!  All in all, between the Kröller-Müller Museum, the usual Van Gogh’s on exhibit and the on-loan Van Gogh’s, I think we saw almost 300 Van Gogh’s on this trip!!!

Pictures of Amsterdam, the rice table, a Munch/Van Gogh self portrait comparison (the one picture Steve was able to take before being reprimanded – unlike the Kröller-Müller, no photos allowed), and some seafood thrown in for good measure….enjoy:

 

Quaint, quirky and oh sooooooo yummy! An introduction to Rouen, France.

Bonjour Readers!  And Happy Birthday Selma!

Today we hit another of the highlights from our recent trip – Rouen, France.  If you’re anything like me, before we decided to go there, I am not even sure I had heard of Rouen and I definitely couldn’t point to it on a map.  Now I can tell you it is in Northwest France – in Normandy; it was where Joan of Arc was held captive and then burned at the stake; and its “Notre Dame” is the one featured in all the famous paintings by Monet, not Paris’s.

On the less momentous side, it is filled with skinny, quirky, leaning half-timbered buildings, a result of the local limestone being of poor quality, oak being plentiful, and property taxes being based on ground floor square footage only –  how quaint are these buildings?!?   And, depending on your point of view regarding what is and is not “momentous,” it’s home to some of the best food we have ever eaten!  Since Rouen is by the sea, it has the freshest seafood you could hope for; since it’s old-school France, food is cooked with exquisite care in the old-school French tradition (yes, that means COPIOUS amounts of butter); and, since it is nowhere near the tourist destination that is Paris, all of this scrumptiousness can be had for a most reasonable sum.

While both Joan of Arc and Monet spent considerable time in Rouen, there really isn’t too much to see on those fronts.  The place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake is marked by a non-descript (though too tall to fit in frame, so no photo) cross and there is a single Notre Dame painting of Monet’s in the local museum.  Overall, the biggest pleasures of Rouen are walking around admiring the buildings, eating, and for those of you who enjoy a good shopping promenade, there are several.

Since I have already written reviews of both the remaining tower from the prison where Joan of Arc was held (lame), and the AMAZING lunch we had at La Petite Auberge (AMAZING), I will not repeat myself here.  (If you’d like a blow-by-blow of the 2 3/4 hour-long pleasure-fest that was our lunch at La Petite Auberge, check out my Tripadvisor review.)  Suffice it to say, the meal was so good I thought I’d never be able to eat again as all other food would pale in comparison….

Some photos of the places/food/painting described:

 

 

In Search of Van Gogh (or “A Visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum”)

Ciao Readers (or for this post “Hallo”)!   Happy 2016!  I hope this post finds you and yours well and keeping warm this new year.

As you may recall, we were headed out in December to visit France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  While I have many more tales to tell (mostly involving food), I thought I’d start with our strangest adventure of the trip – a trek to the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. (As you may also recall, I love the art of Van Gogh and will go to great lengths to see it.)

To make a long story short, there once was a rich art patron, Helene Müller, who married another rich person, Anton Kröller, and between 1907 and 1922 she bought over 11,000 works of art (including numerous Van Goghs, Monets, Seurats, Picassos and countless others)!  Her collection of Van Goghs is second in number only to the actual Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (more on that museum later).  She wanted to share her collection with the world, so she opened this museum in 1938, shortly before her death.  As you will see, while her intentions were good, she may not have thought out the practicalities of this whole “sharing” concept….

The museum is located in Hoge Veluwe Park, which is located in the middle of nowhere, about an hour train ride (then a bus ride, then a van ride) from Amsterdam.  While I understand the route may be a little easier on weekends, here’s what it took for us to get there during the week:

Step One – buy a round-trip train ticket from Amsterdam to Ede-Wageningen for about 27 euros each (we did this the day before with the help of a ticket agent as this is not a common train trip/stop).  The train takes you to a train and bus station in a very small town:

otterlobusstation2

Step 2: From this bus station you take the 108 to Otterlo (and the helpful driver sells you a roundtrip ticket for both this bus and the next for about 9 euros each), a trip taking about 20+ minutes and leaving you off literally in the middle of nowhere:

Otterlobus.vanstop

Step 3: At this point there should be a van arriving shortly or already waiting (we had read it was the “106 bus”, but it was literally this van with a piece of paper in the window with “106” written on it):

Otterlobus

Step 4: This van then takes you to the entrance of Hoge Veluwe Park, where it lets you out to pay the entrance fee to the park (9.15 euros each);  you apparently can also buy your ticket to the museum here, but we didn’t know and the lady selling the tickets didn’t volunteer that information.  After proceeding through the entrance, the van drops you off at this bus stop (and the driver assures you he returns once an hour to pick you back up across the street):

krollermullerbusstop

Step 5:  You walk about 5 minutes down this road to the museum (sorry, no photo of the museum, but fairly non-descript from the outside), where you then buy your ticket to the museum (another 9.15 euros each).  (There are free loaner bicycles throughout the park, so in nicer weather you could take advantage of those and spend part of the day bicycling as well).

Step 6: You stand there (mostly alone) with your mouth agape as you view MANY Van Goghs, including iconic famous ones, along with many other amazing works of art (all the while thinking how surreal and bizarre it is that these masterpieces are out here in the middle of nowhere):

Step 7: You remember what time the van driver said he comes back and you do the whole thing in reverse, feeling a certain sense of triumph, as if you have just succeeded in some medieval quest which has rewarded you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see many great works of art.*

Thank you, dear readers, for coming on the quest!!!

*According to Wikepedia’s numbers, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam gets about 5 times as many visitors per year (1.5 million) as this museum (300K+), but I have a hard time believing the numbers are even that close, as the Van Gogh Museum is ALWAYS packed and this one was almost empty.

 

A “Secret” Garden!

Ciao Readers!

Today I am taking you on a outing to the most peaceful place in Florence (which ironically enough is mere yards away from one of the more touristy) – The Rose Garden!

Now a friend of mine who I met here last summer told me about this wonderful place and I am sorry that I waited this long to follow her recommendation.  I guess part of me wondered how great can a garden right below the famous Piazzale Michelangelo lookout point be?  I mean the view from the piazza is great, but it’s also covered in tourists and hawkers (boxers depicting the bottom half of David anyone?).  Well, was I wrong!  Just by walking down some stairs off the piazza, you make your way into a beautiful and peaceful (and free!) garden.  It seems that from the lack of tourists and tranquil atmosphere that this garden must not be touted in/by many tour guides…

The garden was created in 1865 by Giuseppe Poggi, who also designed the piazzale.  In 1998 a small Japanese garden was added through a gift from Florence’s sister-city, Kyoto.  I’ve read that there are about 350 varieties of roses in the garden!  Unfortunately, the roses at this time are mere buds, so I’ll have to return in a month or so to see/photograph those (all of the green flowerless bushes you see in the photos are full of buds).  However, there were plenty of other wonderful plants in full bloom, including the pictured wisteria, as well as many varieties of fruit trees and more.  There are also 11 modern art statues by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.  And, maybe the best part of all is all of the benches scattered throughout so that you can sit and relax and take in the beautiful scenery and quiet from a variety of vantage points (or, as the man pictured, read a book).   Even the neighbors seem to be in the spirit – notice the house literally bathed in flowers you can see from the garden (below).  Overall, this garden is a wonderful oasis in a usually chaotic city!  Enjoy…  (sorry, I always seem to take photos when it’s overcast, and this past week it was actually mostly sunny for a change!)

New Clet Street Signs!

Ciao Readers!  And Happy Passover!

As you may recall, there is a “guerrilla” artist here – Clet Abraham – a French dude who has been living in Florence for years and creates street sign art by applying adhesives to the signs (you can really see the adhesive on the blue arrow sign, below).   Since I already wrote an entire post about him, I won’t repeat myself here.  (I included photos of many of his ubiquitous signs in that post if you want to check them out.)

Well, it seems like after many months of the seeing the same signs all over town, new signs have started to appear.  Now, I can’t swear all of these are new, and not just ones I missed somehow, but I know the policeman in love with a big check (I think) is, as I pass that sign every day and this just appeared.  I am pretty sure the “walk like an Egyptian” sign is new as well; and while I have never seen the “Pieta,”  the fact that other stickers are on the sign makes me think that maybe it is not as new.  In any case, they are always a fun treat:

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