Lugano

8 Feb

Italian Lakes, the name evokes romantic images of twisty roads and James Bond car chases, palatial lakeside villas owned by movie stars, a daring rowboat escape in A Farewell to Arms, and young Darth Vader in love. Luckily, you don’t have to be a Jedi or George Clooney to enjoy what the region has to offer. The Lakes are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but if you only have two days to explore the area you can still cover a lot of ground and get a good taste of both the Swiss and Italian sides of the border.

Throughout the European Union traveling across the border can be boring to the point of blink and you’ll miss it. We’ve all seen the movies, you know? When you drive up to the border of another country and there is a cranky border patrol officer insisting on your passport and papers. That panic as you rifle through your satchel bag ( by the way, real men use them ). You start sweating, where is the bloody passport, all sorts of visions go through your overdriven imagination. Oh here it is, only a glance and your through. Switzerland has that type of border control, although as luck would have it, for us not the case. Giuseppe had informed his family on the bus to have our passports at the ready, put away your cameras and phones. The border patrol through Switzerland is expensive and can be at times annoying. Normally as a rule of thumb the busses are normally not stopped for more than a few minutes and waved through, on a previous tour we were told of a tourist who silly enough to take a photograph from the bus, border security is strict. The bus was boarded and passports asked for and the offending camera had photos deleted. You can imagine the weird silence on the bus as we wind our way down to the crossing. It sounded exciting to me, although it was business as usual, we were waved through.

The city of Lugano lies on Lake Lugano, surrounded by the mountains of the Lugano Prealps. Its warm summers and the fact that in recent years it has attracted an ever growing number of celebrities, entertainers and successful athletes have given it the nickname of the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland”. The shores of Lake Lugano have been inhabited since the Stone Age. Within the modern city limits a number of ground stones or quern-stones have been found. In the area surrounding Lugano, items from the Copper Age and the Iron Age have been found. There are Etruscan monuments at Davesco-Soragno (5th to 2nd century BC), Pregassona (3rd to 2nd century BC), and Viganello (3rd to 2nd century BC). Graves with jewelry and household items have been found in Aldesago, Davesco, Pazzallo and Pregassona along with Celtic money in Viganello.
The region around Lake Lugano was settled by the Romans by the 1st century BC. There was an important Roman city north of Lugano at Bioggio.There are fewer traces of the Romans in Lugano, but several inscriptions, graves and coins indicate that some Romans lived in what would become Lugano.

Lugano is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland. The city is home to a number of historic buildings and museums, whilst the surrounding area has many natural sights. Both Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains provide a wide variety of outdoor activities. The area surrounding Lugano is home to over 300 kilometres of mountain biking trails, the largest net of trails in Switzerland. There are 17 sites in Lugano that are part of the Swiss heritage site of national significance. The city of Lugano, the villages of Barbengo, Brè, Gandria and Biogno, and the sites of Cantine di Gandria and Castagnola are all part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites. The heritage sites of national significance included two libraries, the Biblioteca Cantonale and the Biblioteca Salita dei Frati as well as the Swiss National Recording Archives (Fonoteca nazionale svizzera). There were three churches; Cathedral of S. Lorenzo, Church of S. Maria degli Angioli and the Church of S. Rocco. There were three museums; the Museo cantonale d’arte, the Museo cantonale di storia naturale and the Villa Ciani complex with the Museo civico. The cemetery complex at via Trevano is also one of the sites, as is the Radiotelevisione svizzera di lingua italiana (RTSI) Italian-language broadcast facility. The rest of the sites are notable houses throughout the city. They include; the Palazzo civico at piazza della Riforma, the Palazzo e cinema Corso at via Pioda, the Palazzo Riva at via Francesco Soave, the Palazzo Riva at via Massimiliano Magatti, the Palazzo Riva at via Pretorio 7 and Villa Favorita in Castagnola.

The Palazzo dei Congressi is the performing arts center for Lugano. It is a main hall for the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. The Lugano Festival runs during April and May, followed by the related “Progetto Martha Argerich” in June. Estival Jazz arrives in July. The Blues-to-Bop Festival in late August and early September turns the city into a hive of activity as thousands crowd the streets and piazzas for free open-air concerts.

The footpath along the waters edge or boardwalk is truly one of the highlights. The mountains are covered in snow and are close enough to touch, better yet the tulips are in flower, all the way along the water. The light for taking photos was fantastic. Some of my best photos were taken this day.

The Swiss are quite famous for their chocolate, something I have a liking for whenever put in front of me, so we trudged into the local department store to stock up on kilos and kilos of chocolate to hopefully bring home and give out as pressies. Yes, you can buy chocolate anywhere in the world but this was Swiss. The next thing to tick off was a nice mug of hot chocolate out in the town square where its freezing. So four mugs ordered and we are rubbing our hands in expectation and delight. Hmmm, what a let down, out came 4 mugs of hot milk with a sachet of that powdery chocolate you only use when on picnics. Oh well we at least had an interesting story to tell later on.

Once again back on the bus, time to travel back to Italy, it sounds bizarre, we are starting to learn just how small some of these countries are, our next place of visit will be lake Como, famous for many places whether it be celebrities living there to which movie was filmed. Looking forward to our small little cruise. This post was relatively short as we weren’t in Lugano for very long, although its another place to go back and see more of.

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Verona

8 Feb

Verona is a city straddling the Adige river in Veneto, northern Italy, with approximately 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven chef-lieus of the region. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of northeast Italy. The metropolitan area of Verona covers an area of 1,426 km2 (550.58 sq mi) and has a population of 714,274 inhabitants. It is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, owing to its artistic heritage, several annual fairs, shows, and operas, such as the lyrical season in the Arena, the ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans.

The precise details of Verona’s early history remain a mystery. The origin of the name Verona is also unknown. One theory is it was a city of the Euganei, who were obliged to give it up to the Cenomani (550 BC). With the conquest of the Vaecame Roman (about 300 BC) Verona became a Roman colonia in 89 BC, and then a municipium in 49 BC. After Verona was conquered by the Ostrogoths in 489, the Gothic domination of Italy began. Theodoric the Great was said to have built a palace there, and according to Irish legends that is what Verona was named after. It remained under the power of the Goths throughout the Gothic War (535–552), except for a single day in 541, when the Byzantine officer Artabazes made an entrance. The defections that took place among the Byzantine generals with regard to the booty made it possible for the Goths to regain possession of the city. In 552 Valerian vainly endeavored to enter it, but only when they were fully overthrown, the Goths surrendered it.

Because of the value and importance of its many historical buildings, Verona has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Verona preserved many ancient Roman monuments, no longer in use, in the early Middle Ages, but much of this and much of its early medieval edifices were destroyed or heavily damaged by the earthquake of 3 January 1117, which led to a massive Romanesque rebuilding. The Carolingian period Versus de Verona contains an important description of Verona in the early medieval era.

Verona is famous for its Roman amphitheatre, the Arena found in the city’s largest piazza, the Piazza Bra. Completed around 30 AD, it is the third largest in Italy after Rome’s Colosseum and the arena at Capua. It measures 139 metres long and 110 metres wide, and could seat some 25,000 spectators in its 44 tiers of marble seats. The ludi (shows and gladiator games) performed within its walls were so famous that they attracted spectators from far beyond the city. The current two-story façade is actually the internal support for the tiers; only a fragment of the original outer perimeter wall in white and pink limestone from Valpolicella, with three stories remains.The interior is very impressive and is virtually intact, and has remained in use even today for public events, fairs, theatre and open-aired opera during warm summer nights.

Verona was the birthplace of Catullus who was a Latin poet of the Republican period. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art. It’s also the town that Julius Caesar chose for relaxing stays. In its history many important names passed and events happened that were relevant for the European history, like Theodoric the Great, king of Ostrogoths, Alboin and Rosamund, the Lombard Dukes, Charlemagne and Pippin of Italy, Berengar I, Dante. Conclaves were held here, as were important congresses. Verona was in the travel diaries of Goethe, Stendhal and Paul Valéry.

Juliet’s House (Casa di Giulietta), Via Cappello, just off the Piazza delle Erbe. Supposedly the location of the famous balcony love scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The house is a major destination for tourist pilgrimage, as the tiny courtyard is normally packed with lovestruck teenagers photographing each other on the famous balcony. In fact, the house has no connection with Shakespeare’s fictional characters – although the house is old, the balcony was added in 1936 and declared to be “Juliet’s house” to attract tourists. You can visit the house itself (€4 entry) – it contains a sparse collection of Renaissance frescos rescued from other demolished palaces, and the bed from Zeffirelli’s 1968 movie, but not a lot more. The balcony overlooks a tiny courtyard containing a statue of Juliet. There is an unbelievable amount of graffiti and general scrawling on the walls, floor, seats, anything that will hold ink – there is a tradition of writing love messages to Juliet, and visitors leave notes, trinkets and bits of chewing gum fashioned into love hearts. Juliet’s house is a popular romantic shrine, but its popularity belies its value; compared to some of the treasures around Verona, Juliet’s house has very little to offer. So, if Juliet lived here, what about Romeo? A couple of streets away the house at 4, Via Arche Scaligere has been designated as his home. It is private, so other than a sign on the wall there is nothing much to see.

Piazza delle Erbe is the main square in Verona. Once it was the town’s forum during the time of the Roman Empire. The northern side of the square is occupied by the ancient town hall, the Torre dei Lamberti, the Casa dei Giudici (“Judges Hall”) and the Mazzanti Houses. The western side, the shortest one, features the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, decorated by statues of Greek gods. It is faced by a white marble column, on which is St. Mark’s Lion, symbol of the Republic of Venice square’s most ancient monument is the fountain, surmounted by a statue called Madonna Verona, which is however a Roman sculpture dating to 380 AD. Also historical is the capitello, dating to the 13th century, during which it was used for several ceremonies, including the oath of the city’s medieval podestà and pretors. Towards Via Cappello is another column, with a 14th century aedicula with reliefs of the Virgin and the Saints Zeno, Peter and Christopher. For us as visitors the square had many nick-nacks to buy as souvenirs, more importantly it was the first time we were able to buy good quality fresh fruit sold in little cups that was devoured quickly.

Shopping in Verona is quite easy as the main shopping area corresponds to the main tourist area. There are great shops in Via Mazzini, Corso Portoni Borsari, Via Roma, Via Cappello, Piazza Erbe and in many other streets. You can easily find clothes, shoes, music, souvenirs, perfumes, etc everywhere around the central area. If you’ve got money to spend you’ll find famous brands like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, etc walking around the main streets but you will also find more affordable shops. If you are looking for CDs, DVDs, books in Italian, English, French, Spanish, travel guides, computer games, mobile phones and cameras, you can go to the Fnac store in via Cappello, 34, not far from juliet’s balcony. One of my favorite purchases was Roma Cologne by Laura Biagiotti, launched by the design house of laura biagiotti in 1994. Roma is classified as a sharp, oriental, woody fragrance. This masculine scent possesses a blend of a crisp oriental blended with sandalwood and patchouli. It is recommended for daytime wear. It’s a great scent, to be used sparingly as I’ve yet been able to find anywhere to get more until now. Whenever I put it on I instantly think of Italy.

This post has been some time in being typed as a few would know I accidentally deleted my original post that combined Verona, Lugano and the Italian lake area, this is one has been revised several times and I’ve decided to do the three separately.

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Australia Day

27 Jan

Australia Day

What does Australia Day mean to Aussies? It can mean many things, going to the beach to soak up the sunshine and playing cricket, putting on a BBQ full of snags with an esky full of beer, giving up a date with Tom Cruise because mum’s cooked a lamb roast, becoming a citizen of this country of ours, or just enjoying plain old vegimite on a slice of toast with a cuppa.

Australia Day (previously known as Anniversary Day or Foundation Day) is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, the date commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788 and the proclamation at that time of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia (then known as New Holland). Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with the first official celebration of the formation of New South Wales held in 1818. It is marked by the presentation of the Australian of the Year Awards on Australia Day Eve, announcement of the Australia Day Honours list and addresses from the Governor-General and Prime Minister. It is an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia, unless it falls on a weekend in which case the following Monday is a public holiday instead. With community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies, the day is celebrated in large and small communities and cities around the nation. Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia.

On 13 May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships, which came to be known as the First Fleet, was sent by the British Admiralty from England to Australia. Under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, the fleet sought to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay on the coast of New South Wales, which had been explored and claimed by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. The settlement was seen as necessary because of the loss of the Thirteen Colonies in North America. The Fleet arrived between 18 and 20 January 1788, but it was immediately apparent that Botany Bay was unsuitable.

On 21 January, Phillip and a few officers travelled to Port Jackson, 12 kilometres to the north, to see if it would be a better location for a settlement. They stayed there until 23 January; Phillip named the site of their landing Sydney Cove, after the Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. They also had some contact with the local aborigines.

They returned to Botany Bay on the evening of 23 January, when Phillip gave orders to move the fleet to Sydney Cove the next morning, 24 January. That day, there was a huge gale blowing, making it impossible to leave Botany Bay, so they decided to wait till the next day, 25 January. However, during 24 January, they spotted the ships Astrolabe and Boussole, flying the French flag, at the entrance to Botany Bay; they were having as much trouble getting into the bay as the First Fleet was having getting out.

On 25 January the gale was still blowing; the fleet tried to leave Botany Bay, but only the HMS Supply made it out, carrying Arthur Phillip, Philip Gidley King, some marines and about 40 convicts; they anchored in Sydney Cove in the afternoon.

On 26 January, early in the morning, Phillip along with a few dozen marines, officers and oarsmen, rowed ashore and took possession of the land in the name of King George III. The remainder of the ship’s company and the convicts watched from on board the Supply. Note that the formal establishment of the Colony of New South Wales did not occur on 26 January, as is commonly assumed. That did not occur until 7 February 1788, when the formal proclamation of the colony and of Arthur Phillip’s governorship were read out. The vesting of all land in the reigning monarch King George III also dates from 7 February 1788.

1818 was the 30th anniversary of the founding of the colony, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie chose to acknowledge the day with the first official celebration. The Governor declared that the day would be a holiday for all government workers, granting each an extra allowance of “one pound of fresh meat”, and ordered a 30 gun salute at Dawes Point – one for each year that the colony had existed. This began a tradition that was retained by the Governors that were to follow.

In 1988, the celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet was organised on a large scale, with many significant events taking place in all major cities. Over 2.5 million people attended the event in Sydney. These included street parties, concerts, including performances on the steps and forecourt of the Sydney Opera House and at many other public venues, art and literary competitions, historic re-enactments, and the opening of the Powerhouse Museum at its new location. A re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet took place in Sydney Harbour, with ships that had sailed from Portsmouth a year earlier taking part.

Since 1988 participation in Australia Day has increased and in 1994 all States and Territories began to celebrate a unified public holiday on the actual day for the first time. Research conducted in 2007 reported that 27.6% of Australians polled attended an organised Australia Day event and a further 25.6% celebrated with family and friends making Australia Day the largest annual public event in the nation. This reflected the results of an earlier research project where 66% of respondents anticipated that they would actively celebrate Australia Day 2005.

Outdoor concerts, community barbecues, sports competitions, festivals and fireworks are some of the many events presented in communities across Australia. These official events are presented by the National Australia Day Council, an official council or committee in each state and territory, and local committees.

Citizenship ceremonies are also commonly held with Australia Day now the largest occasion for the acquisition of Australian citizenship. On 26 January 2011, more than 300 Citizenship Ceremonies took place and 13,000 people from 143 countries took Australian Citizenship. In recent years many citizenship ceremonies have included an affirmation by existing citizens. Research conducted in 2007 reported that 78.6% of respondents thought that citizenship ceremonies were an important feature of the day.

The Governor-General and Prime Minister both address to the nation. On the eve of Australia Day each year, the Prime Minister announces the winner of the Australian of the Year award, presented to an Australian citizen who has shown a “significant contribution to the Australian community and nation”, and is an “inspirational role model for the Australian community”.[30] Subcategories of the award include Young Australian of the Year and Senior Australian of the Year, and an award for Australia’s Local Hero.

Debates about the Australian of the Year award often revolve around the relative balance between sport, science and the arts. Fourteen winners have excelled in sports as diverse as cricket, swimming, athletics, sailing, tennis, boxing and motor racing. A recurring criticism that sport features too regularly peaked in 2004, when Steve Waugh was the fourth sporting winner in seven years and the third Test Cricket Captain to be honoured. Despite the perception of an over-emphasis on sport, the list of past winners reveals a strong endorsement for scientific achievement; by 2009 thirteen Australian scientists have received the honour, including a remarkable ten from the medical sciences. A long-term view also reveals that Australia’s talented artists have not been neglected; ten winners have excelled in creative pursuits, including six musicians, a dancer, a painter, a comedian and a Nobel Prize winning novelist.

Many Australians of the Year do not fit neatly into categories such as sport, science and the arts. Phillip Adams once described the past winners as ‘an eclectic collection of people who reflect the diversity of achievement in this country. Australians of the Year have also excelled in public administration, the military, social and community work, business enterprise, academia, religious leadership and philanthropy. There has been relatively little public debate about the gender balance of past winners. In 1961 several news outlets incorrectly referred to Sir Macfarlane Burnet as ‘Man of the Year’; the mistake was not allowed to continue, as Joan Sutherland took out the second award, but it is certainly true that women are under-represented. This year it was the Turn of Ita Buttrose.

Former copy girl, journalist, famous lisper, editor-extraordinaire. The woman who, as editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly, liked to catch the bus to work because bus trips were an excellent time to read and touch up nail polish.The lady – because she is a real lady – whose brains and strength of character saw her become the first female appointment to the News Ltd board (she said she ”often felt lonely”). The single working mother who rejoiced when retail trading hours were extended in 1984 because it had been such a terrible rush, cramming all that kid-ferrying and shopping into short Saturday mornings. She is both one of us and the best of us. Members of the media are not often accused of good works, but Ita Buttrose, named Australian of the Year for 2013, has used her enormous profile to commit worthy acts far nobler than her profession.

For some Australians, particularly Indigenous Australians, Australia Day has become a symbol for adverse effects of British settlement on Australia’s Indigenous people. The celebrations in 1938 were accompanied by an Aboriginal Day of Mourning. A large gathering of Aboriginal people in Sydney in 1988 led an “Invasion Day” commemoration marking the loss of Indigenous culture. The anniversary is also known as “Survival Day” and marked by events such as the Survival Day concert first held in Sydney in 1992, celebrating the fact that the Indigenous people and culture have not been completely wiped out.

In response, official celebrations have tried to include Indigenous people, holding ceremonies such as the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, which was held in Sydney in 2006 and honoured the past and celebrated the present; it involved Indigenous Australians and the Governor of New South Wales.

The Australian flag is always flown with pride, whilst there are many who would disagree there are many ways our national flag is displayed & worn, the traditional flag pole, hats, t-shirts, towels also tattoos. It’s alway interesting to see how it’s displayed.

There are many different types of food from sausages on the BBQ, meat pies, the good old lamb roast to a bucket of prawns and a dozen oysters. One of my favorite foods to consume is the old Aussie lamington, it’s a sponge cake dipped in a chocolate sauce then dipped straight away again in shredded coconut. You also can’t pass up a glass of red wine accompanied by different varieties of cheeses and dips while sitting on your mates back deck looking out over the bush listening to the bell birds sing away.

One small trivial fact a lot of Aussies don’t realize is the English beat the french fleet commander Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse into Sydney by a few hours only. Just think, we could be now putting garlic into our escargot instead.

Last but not least are the stories told about Australia through the eyes of Australians such as our famous poets to name a few, Dorothy McKellar, Banjo Paterson & Henry Lawson. One of the most famous Australian poems is ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar, which begins by contrasting the English landscape praised by English poets with that of the harsh Australian bush. The second stanza of this poem is copied here.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

Australia really is the lucky country.

Some of these photos I’ve included are courtesy of our friend Jodi & Vince which were taken this year, thanks guys.

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Heidelberg

8 Jan

Heidelberg

Heidelberg is a city in south-west Germany. The fifth-largest city in the State of Baden-Württemberg after Stuttgart, Mannheim, Karlsruhe and Freiburg im Breisgau, Heidelberg is part of the densely populated Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. In 2009, over 145,000 people lived in the city. Heidelberg lies on the River Neckar in a steep valley in the Odenwald. A former residence of the Electorate of the Palatinate, Heidelberg is the location of Heidelberg University, well known far beyond Germany’s borders. Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination due to its romantic and picturesque cityscape, including Heidelberg Castle and the baroque style Old Town.

Heidelberg is in the Rhine Rift Valley, on the left bank of the lower part of the River Neckar. The River Neckar here flows in an east-west direction. On the right bank of the river, the Heiligenberg mountain (445 m) rises. The River Neckar leads to the River Rhine approximately 22 kilometres north-west in Mannheim. Villages incorporated during the 20th century reach from the Neckar Valley along the Bergstraße, a road situated along the Odenwald hills.

Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago “Heidelberg Man” died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of worship were built on the Heiligenberg, or “Mountain of Saints”. Both places can still be identified. In 40 AD, a fort was built and occupied by the 24th Roman cohort and the 2nd Cyrenaican cohort (CCG XXIIII and CCH II CYR). The Romans built and maintained castra (permanent camps) and a signalling tower on the bank of the Neckar. They built a wooden bridge based on stone pillars across it. The camp protected the first civilian settlements that developed. The Romans remained until 260 AD, when the camp was conquered by Germanic tribes.

The Heidelberg castle is a mix of styles from Gothic to Renaissance. Prince Elector Ruprecht III (1398–1410) erected the first building in the inner courtyard as a royal residence. The building was divided into a ground floor made of stone and framework upper levels. Another royal building is located opposite the Ruprecht Building: the Fountain Hall. Prince Elector Philipp (1476–1508) is said to have arranged the transfer of the hall’s columns from a decayed palace of Charlemagne from Ingelheim to Heidelberg. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Prince Electors added two palace buildings and turned the fortress into a castle. The two dominant buildings at the eastern and northern side of the courtyard were erected during the rule of Ottheinrich (1556–1559) and Friedrich IV (1583–1610). Under Friedrich V (1613–1619), the main building of the west side was erected, the so-called “English Building”. The castle and its garden were destroyed several times during the Thirty Years’ War and the Palatine War of Succession. As Prince Elector Karl Theodor tried to restore the castle, lightning struck in 1764, and ended all attempts at rebuilding. Later on, the castle was misused as a quarry; castle stones were taken to build new houses in Heidelberg. This was stopped in 1800 by Count Charles de Graimberg, who then began the preservation of the Heidelberg Castle. Although the interior is in Gothic style, the King’s Hall was not built until 1934. Today, the hall is used for festivities, e.g. dinner banquets, balls and theatre performances. During the Heidelberg Castle Festival in the summer, the courtyard is the site of open air musicals, operas, theatre performances, and classical concerts performed by the Heidelberg Philharmonics.

There are many historical churches in Heidelberg and its environs. The Church of the Holy Spirit has been shared over the centuries since the Protestant Reformation by both Catholics and Protestants. It is one of the few buildings to survive the many wars during the past centuries. It was rebuilt after the French set fire to it in 1709 during the War of the Palatinian Succession. The church has remains of the tombs and epitaphs of the past Palatinate electors. This Church stands in the Marktplatz next to the seat of local government. In 1720, Karl III Philip, Elector Palatine came into conflict with the town’s Protestants as a result of giving the Church of the Holy Spirit exclusively to the Catholics for their use. It had previously been split by a partition and used by both congregations. Due to pressure by the mostly Protestant powers of Prussia, Holland, and Sweden, Prince Karl III Philip gave way and repartitioned the church for joint use. In 1936 the separating wall was removed. The church is now exclusively used by Protestants. Furthermore there is the Catholic Church of the Jesuits. Its construction began in 1712. It was completed with the addition of a bell tower from 1866–1872. The church is also home to the Museum für sakrale Kunst und Liturgie (Museum of Ecclesiastical Arts). The oldest church in Heidelberg is the St. Peter’s Church (now Lutheran). It was built by early Christians (Catholics) sometime during the 12th century, although there is no exact documentation of the date.

Among the most prominent museums of Heidelberg are the Carl Bosch Museum which shows life and work of chemist and Nobel Prize-winner Carl Bosch. Then there is the Documentation and Culture Centre of German Sinti and Roma describing the Nazi genocide of the Sinti and Roma peoples. The German Packing Museum (Deutsches Verpackungsmuseum) gives an overview on the history of packing and wrapping goods whereas the German Pharmacy Museum (Deutsches Apothekenmuseum) which is located in the castle illustrates the story of Pharmacy in Germany. The Kurpfälzisches Museum (Palatinate Museum) offers a great art collection and some Roman archeological artifacts from the region. In the honour of Friedrich Ebert one established the President Friedrich Ebert Memorial which remembers the life of Germany’s first democratic head of state. Besides, there are guided tours in most of the historical monuments of Heidelberg, as well as organized tourist tours through the city available in several languages.

Heidelberg is known for its institutions of higher education. The most famous of those is Heidelberg University. Founded in 1386, it is one of Europe’s oldest institutions. Heidelberg is the oldest university town of today’s Germany. Among the prominent thinkers associated with the institution are Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Jaspers, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel and Hannah Arendt. The campus is situated in two urban areas and several buildings. In numerous historical buildings in the old town there are the Faculties of the Humanities, the Social Science and the Faculty of Law. The Faculties of Medicine and Natural Science are settled on the Neuenheimer Feld Campus.

Heidelberg has a reputation as Germany’s most romantic old city. Part of this has to do with the writers of the romantic literary age who wrote of it on the grand tour, some who attended its university. Part of the romantic reputation can be laid at the door of a small café near the Heiliggeist Church and the sweet chocolate treat, the Student Kiss. In Heidelberg today you encounter vibrant young woman attending the university, but in the 19th Century, of course, the university was all male, primarily upper crust sons of nobility and the rising industrialist class (see Heidelberg Student Prison). Young women of similar class attended finishing schools in the city and in the proper society of the time, rarely were allowed to mingle without the watchful eye of chaperones.

Fridolin Knösel, a charming and witty baker and master confectioner opened his Café Knösel on Haspelgasse street in 1863, a rather novel idea spreading through Europe based on the cafes of Vienna (see Vienna’s Traditional Cafes), and quickly became a hit among the city’s university lecturers and students. Young ladies of Heidelberg were particularly partial to the sweet chocolate delights of his sweet shop. The male students of the university certainly flocked to the shop, hoping to steal a glance or notice from the girls, during the averted attention of the governesses. A master marketer as well as a chocolate maker, Knösel clasped on the idea of a delicious little delight of praline nougat on a waffle wafer covered in dark chocolate, which could be offered as a present, which he named the Student Kiss . A gallant and elegant idea which quickly caught on as a way to exchange a token of affection to which the chaperones couldn’t object and which could pass muster in the proper social order.

The custom of the Student Kiss (Studenten Kuss) of Heidelberg has continued for a century and a half, with the descendants of the Fridolin Knösel continuing the family tradition of the romantic symbol of chocolate in its distinctive package of red with 19th Century student silhouettes, still made by hand from the original 1863 recipe. This charming Heidelberg specialty souvenir as drawn the hearts of locals and visitors alike for generations. The noted and famous from Mark Twain (see Mark Twain Heidelberg Mystery) to world leaders Bill Clinton and Angela Merkel, even Michelle Obama on a recent trip have made it a point to stop in for a kiss at the little shop on Haspelgasse. You’ll also find Student Kiss coffee cups and a selction of other chocolates. A single Student Kiss with a message insert in your choice of languages is about €2, a box of 3 is about €6. Take home a kiss to give to a sweetheart who didn’t make the trip to Germany, but make sure to have an extra, because it’s easy to end up with just a wrapper left over from temptation.

The Café Knösel Konditerei, the oldest café in Heidelberg, is separate from the chocolate shop next door on the corner, and you can still sit down for a homemade cake or warm food in the historic wood décor. The Café Knösel is also a hotel with 6 rooms above. Just a door or two away from the Knösel Chocolate sweet shop is the Schnookeloch Restaurant where students carved their initials in the tables, still there today. Needless to say we brought a few home for the kids, with varying success. “Geez, that chocolate sure tasted good. What’s with the fancy wrapper?”

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Melbourne Cup

6 Nov

Melbourne Cup

It’s marketed as the race that stops a nation. This year the overall race time was 3 minutes, 20.45 seconds, it is a 3,200 metre race for three-year-olds and over. It is the richest “two-mile” handicap in the world. I have to admit we stopped what we were doing at work today, took out the iPhone and listened to it live. I had no clue who was racing this year, it’s just something I don’t really have an interest for. I did although rub my hands together when told my $2 outlay in the office sweep netted me almost a whopping $34. I didn’t even know at the time which horse had been drawn for me. Incidentally, I put the winnings straight onto tonight’s one hundred million dollar Oz Lotto draw. Gambling gets you nowhere really. A friend at work told me how she had explained to her young children what Melbourne Cup is, ” Well there is all these horses that run around the field and everyone spends lots of money to see which horse gets to the finish line first, usually you don’t win.”

And so it begins. My earliest memory of the cup would be 1981, Just a dash won ridden by Peter Cook. We never knew the riders or the horses names back then as kids, you pick by the colors that the jockey was wearing. I was always partial to blue & yellow after my favorite rugby league team.

The cup is conducted by the Victoria Racing Club on the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria, the event starts at 3pm (daylight saving time) on the first Tuesday in November. The race has been held since 1861 and was originally held over two miles (about 3,218 metres) but following preparation for Australia’s adoption of the metric system in the 1970s, the current race distance of 3,200 metres was established in 1972. This reduced the distance by 18.688 metres (61.31 ft), and Rain Lover’s 1968 race record of 3min.19.1sec was accordingly adjusted to 3min.17.9sec. The present record holder is the 1990 winner Kingston Rule with a time of 3min 16.3sec.The race is a quality handicap for horses 3 years old and over, the minimum handicap weight is 49 kg. There is no maximum weight, but the top allocated weight must not be less than 57 kg. The weight allocated to each horse is declared by the VRC Handicapper in early September.

The total prize money for the 2011 race was A$6,175,000, plus trophies valued at $125,000. The first 10 past the post receive prizemoney, with the winner being paid $3.3 million, and tenth place $115,000. Prizemoney is distributed to the connections of each horse in the ratio of 85 percent to the owner, 10 percent to the trainer and 5 percent to the jockey.The 1985 Melbourne Cup, won by “What a Nuisance”, was the first race run in Australia with prize money of $1 million.

Seventeen horses contested the first Melbourne Cup on Thursday 7 November 1861, racing for the modest prize of 710 gold sovereigns (£710) and a hand-beaten gold watch, winner takes all. The prize was not, as some have suggested, the largest purse up to that time. In order to attract a bigger crowd to the fledgling Cup, the first secretary of the Victorian Racing Club, Robert Bagot decided to issue members with two ladies tickets, calculating that “where ladies went, men would follow”. A large crowd of 4,000 men and women watched the race, although it has been suggested this was less than expected because of news reaching Melbourne of the death of explorers Burke and Wills five days earlier on 2 November. Nevertheless the attendance was the largest at Flemington on any day for the past two years, with the exception of the recently run Two Thousand Guinea Stakes. This year being 2012 there was in excess of 100,00 people attending.

The inaugural Melbourne Cup of 1861 was an eventful affair when one horse bolted before the start, and three of the seventeen starters fell during the race, two of which died. Archer, a Sydney “outsider” who drew scant favor in the betting, spread-eagled the field and defeated the favourite, and Victorian champion, Mormon by six lengths. Dismissed by the bookies, Archer took a lot of money away from Melbourne, refueling interstate rivalry and adding to the excitement of the Cup. The next day, Archer was raced in and won another 2 mile long distance race, the Melbourne Town Plate.

Phar Lap, the most famous horse in the world of his day, won the 1930 Melbourne Cup at 11/8 odds on, the shortest priced favourite in the history of the race. He had to be hidden away at Geelong before the race after an attempt was made to shoot him and only emerged an hour before the race time of the Cup. Phar Lap also competed in 1929 and 1931, but came 3rd and 8th respectively, despite heavy favouritism in both years.

In 2004, Makybe Diva became the first mare to win two cups, and also the first horse to win with different trainers, after David Hall moved to Hong Kong and transferred her to the Lee Freedman stables. The 2005 Melbourne Cup was held before a crowd of 106,479. Makybe Diva made history by becoming the only horse to win the race three times. Trainer Lee Freedman said after the race, “Go and find the youngest child on the course, because that’s the only person here who will have a chance of seeing this happen again in their lifetime.”

‘Fashions On The Field’ is a major focus of the day, with substantial prizes awarded for the best-dressed man and woman. The requirement for elegant hats. Raceday fashion has occasionally drawn almost as much attention as the race itself, The miniskirt received worldwide publicity when model Jean Shrimpton wore one on Derby Day during Melbourne Cup week in 1965.

Flowers, especially roses are an important component of the week’s racing at Flemington. The racecourse has around 12,000 roses within its large expanse. Over 200 varieties of the fragrant flower are nurtured by a team of up to 12 gardeners. Each of the major racedays at Flemington has an official flower. Victoria Derby Day has the Corn Flower, Melbourne Cup Day is for the Yellow Rose, Oaks Day highlights the Pink Rose and Stakes Day goes to the Red Rose.

In 2000, a betting agency claimed that 80 percent of the adult Australian population placed a bet on the race that year. In 2010 it was predicted that $183 million would be spent by 83,000 tourists during the Spring Racing Carnival. In New Zealand, the Melbourne Cup is the country’s single biggest betting event, with carnival race-days held at several of the country’s top tracks showing the cup live on big screens.

The Race That Stops The Nation is a poem about Australia’s fascination with the Melbourne Cup. Sydney born writer Vivienne McCredie wrote it in 1986. It was read out on an evening poetry radio program run by Kel Richards at the time and later published (2005 ISBN 978-0-9758311-0-6). Copies are in the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia.

For the record, this years winner was Green Moon.

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Monet’s Garden at Giverny

25 Sep

This post will be way out of order of the timeline of our trip through Europe, this is one of the highlights of Paris for me I’d like to share before going back to the cruise along the German canals. We had the optional extra of visiting the gardens that Claude Monet lived in during the later years of his life. It’s about an hour & half away from Paris by bus.

Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant).

After several difficult months following the death of his wife Camolle in September, 1879, a grief-stricken Monet began in earnest to create some of his best paintings of the 19th century. During the early 1880s, Monet painted several groups of landscapes and seascapes in what he considered to be campaigns to document the French countryside. His extensive campaigns evolved into his series’ paintings. In April 1883, looking out the window of the little train between Vernon and Gasny, he discovered Giverny. He moved to Vernon, then to a house in Giverny in Normandy, where he planted a large garden and where he painted for much of the rest of his life.

At the beginning of May 1883, Monet and his large family rented a house and 2 acres (8,100 m2) from a local landowner. The house was situated near the main road between the towns of Vernon and Gasny at Giverny. There was a barn that doubled as a painting studio, orchards and a small garden. The house was close enough to the local schools for the children to attend and the surrounding landscape offered many suitable motifs for Monet’s work. The family worked and built up the gardens and Monet’s fortunes began to change for the better as he had increasing success in selling his paintings. By November 1890, Monet was prosperous enough to buy the house, the surrounding buildings and the land for his gardens. During the 1890s, Monet built a greenhouse and a second studio, a spacious building well lit with skylights. Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s through the end of his life in 1926, Monet worked on “series” paintings, in which a subject was depicted in varying light and weather conditions. His first series exhibited as such was of Haystacks, painted from different points of view and at different times of the day. Fifteen of the paintings were exhibited at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1891. He later produced several series of paintings including: Rouen Cathedral, Poplars, the Parliament, Mornings on the Seine, and the Water Lilies that were painted on his property at Giverny. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine. He wrote daily instructions to his gardener, precise designs and layouts for plantings, and invoices for his floral purchases and his collection of botany books. As Monet’s wealth grew, his garden evolved. He remained its architect, even after he hired seven gardeners.

Between 1883 and 1908, Monet traveled to the Mediterranean, where he painted landmarks, landscapes, and seascapes, such as Bordighera. He painted an important series of paintings in Venice, Italy, and in London he painted two important series—views of Parliament and views of Charing Cross Bridge. His second wife, Alice, died in 1911 and his oldest son Jean, who had married Alice’s daughter Blanche, Monet’s particular favourite, died in 1914. After Alice died, Blanche looked after and cared for Monet. It was during this time that Monet began to develop the first signs of cataracts.

During World War I, in which his younger son Michel served and his friend and admirer Clemenceau led the French nation, Monet painted a series of weeping willow trees as homage to the French fallen soldiers. In 1923, he underwent two operations to remove his cataracts: the paintings done while the cataracts affected his vision have a general reddish tone, which is characteristic of the vision of cataract victims. It may also be that after surgery he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the lens of the eye; this may have had an effect on the colors he perceived. After his operations he even repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before.

Monet died of lung cancer on 5 December 1926 at the age of 86 and is buried in the Giverny church cemetery.nMonet had insisted that the occasion be simple; thus only about fifty people attended the ceremony.
His home, garden and waterlily pond were bequeathed by his son Michel, his only heir, to the French Academy of Fine Arts (part of the Institut de France) in 1966. Through the Fondation Claude Monet, the house and gardens were opened for visits in 1980, following restoration.[23] In addition to souvenirs of Monet and other objects of his life, the house contains his collection of Japanese woodcut prints. The house is one of the two main attractions of Giverny, which hosts tourists from all over the world.

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Wurzburg

2 Aug

Wurzburg

We’ve already settled into a great rhythm of eating, drinking and sightseeing. Today we are going to visit the Wurzburg residence. After another sumptuous breakfast which included Vegemite toast being consumed. The weather looks good for a change. First off there was a lecture, France meets Germany, interesting facts about 2 nations with Daniel Gurtler in the lounge. It’s not eye opening but interesting none the less.

The geographical location of this pleasant city is the centre of Germany in the heart of Europe. Culturally speaking, for centuries it has also been a centre of the arts with beautiful architecture. The magnificent Residenz, a baroque masterpiece by the 18th century architect Balthasar Neuman is on the UNESCO cultural heritage list.

One of the largest city of Franconia, Wurzburg has a history dating back to 1,000 BC when Celtic tribes sought shelter on a hill ( now known as Marienberg ) on the left bank of the main river. The biggest I have been told on good authority, is Nuremburg. During the 7th century the Franconian Duchy was established and a small settlement grew on the rivers right bank. Because of the strategic river location, Wurzburg grew and prospered as a major market city and clerical centre. Under the Hapsburgs, Wurzburg became a member of the confederation of the Rhine and was eventually incorporated into Bavaria.

In 1945, just before the surrender of Germany, Wurzburg was all but destroyed by allied bombing. It lasted only 20 minutes, but more than 87% of the city was wiped out and some 4,000 inhabitants killed. Fortunately, many of the city’s famous buildings have been restored to their former splendour.

Today Wurzburg is a major industrial city manufacturing steel, paper and publishing presses, as well as wood, leather and electronic products. Wurzburg is also an academic centre, in fact it was at the university of Wurzburg that scientist Konrad Rontegen discovered the X-ray.

Wurzburg is located in the heart of the Franconian wine country and therefore Franconian wine, in unusually shaped bottles known as Bocksbeutal, is a souvenir to be savoured. There is also a local brewery, wurzburger Hofbrau, which brews excellant Weissbier ( wheat beer ).

The fresco painting that stretches across the almost seven-hundred square meter ceiling above the imperial stairway at the Würzburg Residenz is truly a modern marvel of Baroque art. Painted in 1752 by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the ceiling really embodies the essence of the Baroque Period. After almost three-hundred years, the fresco remains in its entirety having never surrendered to the severity of time, decay or warfare.

At first glance, from the bottom of the staircase, the fresco causes a sensation of surprise. A slow walk up the stairs gradually reveals more and more of the scene, which, by the top stair, can only be described as uncommonly fantastic. Figures appear to jump out of the wall. A dog stands on a ledge sniffing Balthasar Neumann. Light cascades from wall to wall creating lifelike shadows that rival those cast by actual humans. The eyes are constantly tricked into wondering what is real, when in fact, it is all painted. It is obvious that the fresco was painted with certain axes of view in mind. When standing directly underneath the ceiling on the ground floor, the images become skewed and distorted. However, at certain points, (such as the mezzanine at the middle of the staircase), the three-dimensional illusion simply grabs one’s eyes.

The scene depicted is a work of pure genius all it’s own, embracing the spirit of the Baroque Period. Life is a feast, it is said. And all around the world, there is an overwhelming sense of festival. In America, the hunters and gatherers have their cornucopia and their barbecue. Africa has its exotic animals and traders. Asia rides atop an elephant, celebrating the birthplace of writing, science, and religion. These three sides of the earth all point toward the cultural capital of the world — Europe — and Würzburg specifically. The Würzburg musicians play as a host of angels lift a portrait of the Prince Bishop toward the heavens. All over the world, a spirit of festivity consumes the cultures. The rhythmic arrangement of the scenes adds movement to the fresco, which, in turn, adds to this festive mood. The use of chiaroscuro creates harmony and realism all across the fresco. As darker figures disappear into the background, the brightly lit figures are unified by the common light from Apollo. Courtesy of Allen Smith – July 12, 2004.

For me the next room was the one that really transfixed me, it was the white room. With an art work called stucco. I’ve had some trouble trying to find an explanation for this that sounded froody. I’ll settle for the description given to us by our local guide on the day. Basically you apply wet plaster to the wall, you have to work quickly with it before it dries. The artist will use cutting and sculpting implements that mould shapes and designs in the fresh plaster, it’s truly an amazing feat of magic as far as I’m concerned. Our guide also told us that the artist involved in the sculpting of the white room worked to a strict deadline, by the time he finished he went bonkers and had to be hospitalised, his most amazing work did his head in.

Another amazing thing about this residenz is the story about all the interior furniture, light chandeliers and many other pieces survived the war. How? Well they took everything down and boxed it into crates. What about the chandeliers I hear everyone asking? Won’t they have been damaged? No. They were essentially put into melted butter which solidified to protect the items. Then everything was shipped of to a mine and forgotten all about for quite a long time. They were in fact found decades later by accident and as a result this is one of the reasons this place has been preserved so well.