SPAIN: Mad for Madrid

SPAIN: Mad for Madrid

It seems that travellers are mad for Spain at the moment, and why not, cities brimming with history, aromatic with the scents of flowers and amazing food and the time-honoured hospitality of this grand old country that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

DSC01019

Following is a short trip down memory lane from a couple of years back and a short but sweet 48 hours in Madrid.

DSC00956 (2)

Platea Madrid.

Arriving in Madrid on a pleasant end of a summer day, we drove along tree-lined streets and were delivered to the hotel Villa Magna in the elegant Salamanca barrio (precinct). This is the time when jet-lag kicks in but it’s too exciting being in a new city and it’s afternoon – lunch time, yay.

DSC01024

The fabulous Mercado de San Miguel where all sorts of divine food is at your disposal.

And this is how the eating frenzy began. First stop was a five-minute walk from the hotel to the beautifully restored and beloved Platea Madrid. The old art deco theatre has had new life breathed into it and has become a fragrant complex of tapas bars, Michelin starred restaurants and snack bars with rustic market-style décor. A cooling ale and a plate of potatas bravas (fried chunks of potato with spicy, paprika ridden tomato sauce), small bites of battered cod and some succulant slices of jamon iberico – I was hooked.

IMG_1743

Jamon Iberica.

And an early dinner eschewed. This was the funny part of the trip – our timing was not always conducive to being ‘hungry’. Breakfast isn’t a big deal here. Coffee and a little pastry maybe or two coffees. Lunch is from anywhere between 2pm and 4pm and if you are on a schedule, you’ll find yourself having dinner within a couple of hours after a banquet of a lunch.

DSC01032

Normally, a little tapas bar has one or two specialties – this one featured grilled or stuffed mushrooms and fried chillies – and of course slices of jamon . . .

So after a quick change in my room and a serious count of the threads in the cotton sheets, we were off to  nearby Tatal, a fancy restaurant owned by Rafael Nadal and Julios Ingelsias (both of then stood us up for a shared plate). The restaurant started filling up and by the time we left at 10pm (early by local standards) the place was packed with well-dressed patrons – and a week night too.

DSC01030

The following day was a series of long walks through the beautiful Buen retro Park, a visit the famous Museo Nacional Del Prado to view extraordinary paintings and sculptures by Spanish artists (Goya, Picasso, Velasquez for starters, shopping for espadrilles, finding just the right cake for afternoon tea and a final jaunt around town on a Tapas Tour – a definite must for food lovers.
Ah, Madrid, it was short, it was sweet but oh, so fine!

DSC01010With more espadrilles than you can tip toe around, they are the authentic design and made here in Madrid. Writer Bev Malzard struck it lucky when her sandals broke and she just HAD to buy three pair of espadrilles – as you do!

Advertisements

Where the art is – try a country town

Where the art is – try a country town

What was guerilla art is now great art. Walls become artworks and sleepy lanes and behind the scene walls and silos the grand canvasses of rural towns. Once was graffiti, is now urban engagement and licence to paint the town red.

It probably began 45,000 years ago in Australia; community minded fellas worked their magic art on to the walls of caves to let passing nomads see what food was available, attractions in the region and objects to be found or maybe just to show off their talent. Rock art galleries started it all.

DSC02162

For thousands of years, human beings have made their mark upon plain surfaces, from stick men to tag-style graffiti.

And when someone criticized the wall vandals of the 80s with the sentence “Punks can’t spell Cappuccino”, that phrase became official graffiti and the wall expression medium had arrived, evolved and gained acceptance by the less-than-art-critical-public.

Melbourne art works.

Pre ‘acceptable’ wall art in New York City, of the 70s gave birth to excessive public graffiti – think subway trains. In one of his essays back in the day, Norman Mailer said New York subway graffiti is “the great art of the 70s”. And it burned brightly until Mayor Ed Koch. elected on a clean-up-the-city every which way platform, scrubbed clean the city. By the mid-80s NYC graffiti had faded quietly and what was left or came later became the acceptable norm.

Melbourne outdoor art.

Across the Atlantic, enigmatic artist Banksy launched his wall art career in his home town, Bristol. Stencils became his medium as his art gained notoriety on a big scale in the late 1990s.

Banksy’s work sneaks up on you. Characteristic of the works are the obvious digs at hypocrisy, violence, greed and authoritarianism but pathos and whimsy are in the creative makeup too.

And at home, wall art has changed the urban ‘artscape’ and rural regions. Australia is engaged with a stunning variety of wall/outdoor art that crept in stealthily during the late 90s too. Melbourne had the wall art advantage first up because of the surviving laneways in the inner city. And some of the most creative artists have emerged from the southern capital.

DSC02169

Sydney was a slow starter but every week another piece of excellent art appears on the walls in and around the inner west and on the edge of the CBD. Without a lot of laneways remaining due to concentrated development, the older suburbs snatched the prize.

The big winners for wall art are the small cities and rural towns of Australia with their untouched walls.

In previous blogs I have attended the amazing First Coat Festival in the Queensland tidy town of Toowoomba. I’ve followed wall art festivals to Wollongong south of Sydney, wandered the lanes of Melbourne and followed the fabulous Silo Art Trail in Victoria.

And once you get an interest in wall art/outdoor art there’s no turning back – you see it everywhere and become fans of certain artists. And when you see them at work and converse with them, you’ll find a group of young people who are modest, amiable and happy to share the love of this medium.

My last excursion into the rural artistic enclaves of Australia was to Benalla in Victoria for the /Wall to Wall’ Festival last March, the second one held there.

IMG_3572

Benalla is a small city located on the Broken River in the High Country north-eastern region of Victoria, Australia, about 212km north-east of the state capital Melbourne. At the 2016 census the population was 9,298.

DSC02173

We drove from Sydney and overnighted at the pretty town of Rutherglen just over the border after driving through Albury.

Benalla is a town of character with great coffee shops a bakery that boasts numerous wards for having the best Vanilla Slice in Australia, good restaurants, beautiful Botanic Gardens and a splendid regional art galley.

We hit the street running to take in as many artworks as possible. Best view was watching the artists at work. They seem so small against the large canvasses they work on.

IMG_3581

Benalla Art Gallery.

Outside of Benalla is a slip of a siding town called Goorambat where there a silo has been painted and in a wee Uniting church Matt Adnate has created the portrait Sophia’ which has become a local attraction.

‘Sophia’ by Matt Adnate.

I would encourage anyone to take the time out to get outta your city and explore our wonderful country towns as they are leading the way to colour in the bland residue of the dusty past. The towns are coming back to life and with the extraordinary support of the locals and visitors, they are more than an Aussie country town – they are performing on the world stage where art trails and maps are exposing the talent of the new breed of artists painting the town red!

IMG_3669

Writer Bev Malzard nearly expired in the heat of the Benalla Wall to Wall weekend and hopes it might be a little later than March next year. BUT find out for yourself and keep in touch with what’s going on throughout the year in the town of the great vanilla slice – and yes, of course she ate one.

Visit: http://www.enjoybenalla.com.au Wall to Wall

 

Sydney: gets its glamp on!

Sydney: gets its glamp on!

Mmmm, damn traffic first thing in the morning. It’s only 7am. I open my eyes, crawl out of bed and check what is outside my accommodation. It’s a hydrofoil gliding past me on Sydney Harbour.
Waking up on an island in the harbour is a world away from one of the great cities of the planet. I’m on Cockatoo Island a mere ferry ride from the ‘mainland’ and the gateway city to Australia, Sydney, and sitting in a tent on an island that is chock full of history, a multi-layered past, a modern invitation and the odd ghost or two.
It is the largest island in the harbour (UNESCO World-Heritage- listed) that is up for a visit, a stay and the past and present to explore.
I’m in a cool little two-person tent on stretch bed, covered in a fluffy Donna, windows / flaps up to let the sunshine and the moonlight in. I’m ‘glamping’.

Cockatoo Island glamping sunset
With winter almost upon Sydney, it’s the perfect time to come glamping on Cockatoo Island. Cool nights and sunny, blue sky days lend themselves to walks around the island to see each site where the history is on display. Nights are spent around the fire pit meeting new friends before zipping up for the night.


There are lovely apartments to stay in too up on the top of the island and a home for families to fill.
Cockatoo Island was called Wareamah by the original people, of the Eora Nation.
The Eora people would paddle canoes from the mainland to the island to perform sacred ceremony. After colonisation the indigenous people were relegated to remote parts of the mainland.

Cockatoo Island campground
During the years of early colonisation the island was a convict precinct with an horrendous prison history and you can see the amazing work done on the huge sandstone cuts done by hand by prisoners living on water and one meal a day between 1839-1869. Explore the sad, solitary cells and be grateful you weren’t around then – especially as a villain.


The precinct also housed some unfortunate girls in the reform school. The Biloela site is where you might meet your first ghosts.
The island was a productive and important as a major shipbuilding centre. There are fascinating tales to be read here of the dockyard workers.
The industrial, colonial and maritime history are part and parcel of the wonderful Cockatoo Island experience.

Enjoy Lunch at Societe Overboard
It’s also a fab venue for special events and festivals ( check out the website).
Visit the Dog Leg Tunnel Cinema and see historical videos of Cockatoo Island; activities for hire include tennis, basketball, quoits and croquet; you can watch volunteers bring the island’s machinery back to life at the Restoration Workshop; get your camera or your phone out to capture the gritty and grunty industrial buildings and the beautiful vistas of the surrounding harbour – share the images #cockatooisland; enjoy cafe life in one of the cafes and there are free electric barbecues near the Visitors Centre.


It’s free to enter the island and the ferry is caught at Circular Quay.
So what do you fancy? Cosy glamping or perhaps luxury accommodation in a heritage house or apartment. Maybe a night in each . . . . for a million dollar view.

Writer Bev Malzard was a guest of the Harbour Trust’s Cockatoo Island. She walked the island during the day but was a scaredy cat and didn’t do the ghost walk.
FACT There are no cockatoos on Cockatoo Island.

Visit: Cockatoo Island

NSW transport

Inside the glamping tent, Cockatoo Island Credit - Geoff Magee

How to explore Umbria, Italy

How to explore Umbria, Italy

If it wasn’t for the Etruscans, there might not be olive oil or wine in this region of Italy. Let’s head to the hilltop fortress towns of Umbria and enjoy the legacy of the ancient invaders.

It had been a carb-overload lunch hosted by chef and pastamaking teacher Lorenzo Polegri, a showman and a man of smiles and passion as he demonstrated how to perfect the art of pasta making. None of us in our group were very talented but who cares? We enjoyed our repast in Ristorante Zeppelin in the quiet midday ambience of the mediaeval Umbrian town of Orvieto.

_IGP1501

This town, a natural fortress, is one of the many glorious fortified towns and cities of the Umbrian region, which includes the spiritually robust Assisi, the glorious mystery of Perugia and this elegant site of Orvieto, all founded by the very late, lamented Etruscans who disappeared into the emerging Roman empire in the third century BC.

After eating food fit for Etruscan epicureans, we scattered to waddle into the narrow curved streets of this city bathed in autumnal afternoon light.

_IGP1514

Curving past small shops, drifting along, I lifted my eyes and saw the most confoundingly beautiful structure – a green and white striped cathedral – a bold statement against the stark blue sky – with intricate, delicate relief carvings on the capitals with sumptuous cornerstones. The bold marble panels adorn the façade and are respected as one of the masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It may not be the biggest and the best in the world – but this striped beauty captured my heart.

_IGP1523

Orvieto Cathedral is one of Italy’s most celebrated cathedrals. The 14th century edifice was built between 1290 and 1500 and she shines as brightly as ever. Built under papal direction, the building is famous for its mosaic inlay facade.

Duomo di Orvieto is widely considered the most glorious example of Italian Gothic. A miracle is said to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a travelling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.

_IGP1530

 

Next stop along the way on our escourted journey is the jewel of Umbria, Perugia. Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria and covers a high hilltop around the area. Another Etruscan beauty, Perugia is known for its universities (the first founded in 1308) and is celebrated for its culture and artistic pursuits.

The city has centuries of tumultuous religious and political (same thing then) history and all of it immersed in the stone here.

_IGP1594

The Rocca Paolina was the ‘underground’ city, built in 1373 at the then highest part of the town. The richest merchants of 16th century Perugia lived here but it was destroyed by local citizens in an uprising provoked by the Pope. The town disappeared but the streets have been uncovered and the mediaeval homes that were a platform for the new fortress are now on show.

The stone houses with Gothic doorways and tunnels look as if they are waiting for people to go about their daily business. The atmospheric route through the fortress by escalators take you through Rocca Paolina under the portico of Palazzo del Governo.

We headed out into the night and into the strange and curious labyrinthine streets underground. After ascending to ‘uptown Perugia’ to the historic centre, in a state of wonderment we found ourselves in the vigorous city of Perugia, with its night lights on and aromas enticing us into a 21st century pizza house.

Next stop across the Umbrian Valley is the mother ship of holy hilltop fortress cities: Assisi. Birthplace (in 1182) of Italy’s favourite saint, Francis, the city is always buzzing with pilgrims.

_IGP1542

Saint Francis and female favourite Saint Clare are the drawcards for the fans. The bodies of both saints were discovered in 1818 and luckily they hadn’t been tampered with by grave robbers. For centuries, holy relics had done great business across Europe.

So what is left (bones of Saint Francis) and preserved remains of Saint Clare is on show as the faithful and curious pass by in snaking queues through Basilica di Santa Chiara (where Clare is) and the Basilica di San Francesco.

_IGP1557

There are fine examples of Giotto’s frescoes and Cimabue’s painting to be viewed and other cultural attractions includes many little pottery statues of chubby monks and waving popes. And for fans of Norberto, the famous Umbrian painter, there’s a small gallery with an excellent variety of fine prints to aquire.

_IGP1555

It feels like we’ve ticked off the holy trinity of hill towns in Umbria and look forward to the next stop in Tuscany. More and more I appreciate the fact that we enjoy these splendid visits, and afterwards hop back on to a comfy coach which takes us to our next stop. So far we have been transported from Rome, taken to ‘secret places’, had intimate meals with welcoming local folk, and been invited into authentic experiences. Each night we have been put to bed, well fed and happy, in lovely hotels.

As we anticipate lunch and tastings of the local olive oil, and a meal of regional cooking in another handsome hill town – this time Spello, with its historic centre still enveloped by Roman walls. We stretch our legs in the coach, chat about the marvellous day we have had and agree that those Etruscans knew a thing or two about leaving an amazing legacy in Umbria.

Writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Insight Vaations insightvacations.com.au and found the itinerary exciting and edifying. She recommends sampling gelato at every stop along the way. You will not be disappointed.

Scandinavia: Great Danes

Scandinavia: Great Danes
‘Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town’ . . . continues to enchant visitors with tradition and its easygoing personality. But there’s more to explore as its varied and eclectic architecture ­– old and new – stirs ‘for’ and ‘against’ controversy, eventually melding into the visual fabric of the city, just as it always has. 

If you’re not walking, boat or bicycle is the way to discover Copenhagen. Denmark’s capital city is a true, natural beauty that has, over the centuries, been designed, primped and polished to within an inch of its life. Always on show, and stepping up to the mark as a pretty, chocolate-box-toy-soldier presentation, the city on the water has burst out of its uniform ambience and over the past decade presented a collection of new buildings which have changed the face of the harbour shoreline, canals and through some of the quiet streets.

jake-north-262532
When you think of Denmark, what comes to mind? Hamlet, pastries, a little mermaid, fine china, a certain princess, Vikings, beech forests, Hans Christian Andersen, herrings and very down-to-earth sensible people? All of the above, but what shines the light on modern Denmark, the ancient centre of Scandinavia, is design. Everything in the country, and especially the city of Copenhagen is about excellent design. Whether it’s mediaeval churches, Renaissance castles and country homes, ordered streets and canals, or pretty, colourful harbour-side storied houses of the cities’ that flourished in the ‘golden age’ from 1588-1648, the element of design surprise continues to grow and be embellished to mellow into the 21st century.

A leader in industrial design for the last century or so, Danish design conjures names such as Bang and Olufsen (audio and stereo brand), Bodum (coffee chic), Royal Copenhagen (fine china) and Geog Jensen (the famous Danish silverware brand).

The essence of the country’s individual design is to be found in its timeless simplicity, quality materials and functionality.

dmitri-popov-107884
Danish architecture, in Denmark and abroad is a standout on the international architectural scene. And it is often at the centre of public scrutiny and controversy. For example, take one of the world’s most famous buildings, the Sydney Opera House designed by Jorn Utzon. This universally admired building was bankrolled by a public lottery, caused so much dissention within the ranks of the state government in the 1960s that the design was drastically modified, much to the architect’s disappointment at the time.

Utzon designed beautiful buildings all over the world and in his own country. In the dock area of Copenhagen, the Paustian furniture store, also Utzon’s brainchild is a place of inspiration. Contained in the stunning building is Denmark’s largest collection of quality furniture and carpets, lighting and accessories and basically the best interior design from Scandinavia and the rest of the world. Perhaps not the best place to pick up some souvenirs but fine for picking up design and decorating ideas.

Two newish buildings that have had Copenhagen residents atwitter over the past few years are the amazing Copenhagen Opera House (designed by Henning Larsen), completed and opened in 2004 and the Royal Danish Library (known as the Black Diamond), a looming construction pressing the shoreline and designed by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen. It is named for its outside cover of black marble and glass.

The Black Diamond has a host of detractors and as many admirers. It leans dramatically over the waterfront and reflects the water and light, constantly changing its hue. This extraordinary building is an extension to the 19th century red brick Royal Library. It certainly catches the eye and the imagination as you glide by in the harbour.

Best view of these beauties before actually heading indoors to experience Opera and books is to take a canal boat trip and get your bearings of the harbour and all it offers. In fact it’s a lovely way to start your discovery of Copenhagen.

In and around town by foot or bicycle you’ll find beautiful old buildings from various eras that undoubtedly caused a stir in their time too.

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a fine art museum is an imposing grand period design standing on Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard. This museum is full of wonderful items including Etruscan art, 19th-century paintings from Denmark and France and many sculptures than span 5000 years. There are a few starts on show here – but two favourites are the work of Paul Gaugain and more than 30 pieces by Rodin. Take a rest from art here and you’ll be having coffee and cake or maybe a meal at a beautiful tropical plant filled winter garden restaurant.

Also one of the oldies but goodies is the famous Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park that has charmed adults and thrilled children for more than 160 years. It’s not Luna Park or Disneyland, but an area with old-fashioned gardens, a host of food pavilions and rides galore from the innocent, romantic rides of the past to the modern Demon – a corkscrewing roller coaster and the dead drop Golden Tower. The Tivoli is at its best at night when the magic of lights turn the park into a fairytale enclosure. Kitsch and schmaltz rule the day and from the behaviour of the visitors this is just the atmosphere desired.

Along the waterfront the Amalienborg Palace is an austere standout as there are four ‘mansions’ in the square making up the one home for the royal family. The buildings surround the centre square and the royal precinct is guarded by sentries. There is a ceremonial changing of the guard at noon daily. Amalienborg is one of Copenhagen best examples of Baroque architecture ­that didn’t run riot with the curls and swirls.

Head inland to view the splendid Frederikskirken, the marble church with its glorious dome that can be seen from all over the city.

You can’t visit Copenhagen without a thought for Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. It’s odd that she sits patiently looking toward the shore and not the harbour, which could take her away from all the attention and fuss. Nostalgia aside it feels disrespectful to see tourists putting their arms around her and invading her tiny space on a rock.

If you still have a hankering for unusual architecture there’s Holmen’s red brick warehouses, barracks and foundries that were built on reclaimed land in the 17th century for the Danish military. Holmen is home to schools specialising in drama, film, architecture and music. For architecture fans the Royal Danish School of Architecture holds regular exhibitions in Meldahis Smedie in Holmen.

But brilliant design isn’t just about buildings. Copenhagen’s restaurant and café scene underwent an amazing transformation in the mid nineties. This modern Scandinavian revolution has produced, to mention the tip of the eatery iceberg, Café Victor, Dan Turells, Café Sommersko, Ultimo and Quote. These new and very fabulous eateries and wine bars made their name for their interpretation of Danish cooking as well as their good looks.

Window shopping shows the sophisticated design side of fashion, from men’s and women’s clothing to cutting edge shoes and accessories. Homeware shops have so many innovative kitchen implements and interior design items that the best advice you can get before travelling to Copenhagen is to pack your suitcase to half full, then take half out ­ – there’s serious shopping to be done here.

 

arek-adeoye-221899

There’s good food, great accommodation, excellent transport and activities to keep you going for a week or so, but spare a thought and perhaps your appetite for what is considered by many to be Denmark’s crowning design glory ­– the open-face sandwich. Forget wraps, baps, filled croissants, bagels and foccacia – this is the real Danish deal, cheap and more than cheerful.

There are 13 one-Michelin stared restaurants in Copenhagen (Google them) and if you want an amazing, three-starred Miclein meal – book (well before you visit) Geranium or AOC – mad if you don’t!
(The featured image at the top of the page was taken by Pierre Chatel-Innocenti.)

‘Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town’ song written by Frank Loesser for the film Hans Christian Andersen (1952) starring Danny Kaye.