Stockholm

 

Moaritisk Absorbent 2

Reeling from Russia’s awesome attractions, we cruised into our next stop, Stockholm, Sweden.  Since we’d delved heavily into history in our Russian tours, we decided to start our Swedish sojourn with some modern art.

Swedish Subway Station Tour

Buried beneath Stockholm’s streets are stunning subway stations, cavernous and colourful.  Desperate to see them for ourselves, we followed the tour. Our guide Marie got round trip tickets to show us some of the most sensational stops. With 100 stations to choose from, it was no mean feat.

Kungsträdgården

Kungsträdgården

Among the most memorable was Kungsträdgården station, underneath Stockholm’s public park. The station’s rough walls are forest green, with water trickling down them into pools, complete with marooned- marble statues, looking like sunken Greek gods.

While obviously engineered, the water features have allowed nature to flourish, as the station hosts a fungus with a unique DNA structure, the first of its kind discovered there in 2016.

T-Centralen

T-Centralen

Travelling back in time, to the first of Stockholm’s art subways, we visited the T-Centralen. Decorated in blue and white motifs of wheat and industrial scenes; it is a surprisingly static station design created by Scandinavia’s prima kinetic artist, Per Olof Ultvedt.

Citybanan

Citybanan

From the old to the new, we moved to the recently completed Citybanan railway tunnel, complete with celestial cloud ceiling and dazzling domes. Designed by Ahlqvist and Almqvist Architects, with illumination from WSP Sweden, the station is intended to shift its visitors from warm to cool light as they ascend the escalator.

Also on the city line was the Moaritisk Absorbent disco light feature wall and ceiling, by artist Mikael Paulin. With gorgeous glows, it makes the perfect selfie stop!

Solna Centrum

Solna Centrum

Next we saw Solna Centrum subway station, designed by Karl-Olov Björk and Anders Åberg to be a sunset of red huges, with political murals marking poignant points of Swedish sociology, such as rural flight, deforestation and environmentalism.

Stadion subway

Stadion subway

Ideology continued in the Stadion subway, which welcomes visitors with its rainbow colours and blue sky walls. Although perfect for Pride – which is celebrated in the nearby Östermalms IP grounds  –  the colours were chosen by Enno Hallek and Åke Pallarp to represent the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Changing Guard

Changing of the Guard

Heading back to the city centre, we finished our subway station tour in time to witness the daily Changing of the Guard. Around noon, we followed crowds through the streets, up to the palace Outer Courtyard to see The Royal Guard and Music Corps complete their procession. Although it was busy, we squeezed to the front capture photos of the gold and blue bonanza.

Bee Shop

Breaking off from the crowds, we walked down the pretty street of 111 29 Stockholm, catching a break at a Texas grill. Sampling the local lager – and not so local food– we speculated about souvenir shops nearby.

It was then I spotted the bee produce shop, Sverkstan (door number 10 on the street). Venturing in, I was delighted with its beeswax candles, soaps and Manuka honey. With friendly staff and a wide range of goods, I would have spent more time and Kronor there, but with cruise departure impending we made a beeline for the port.

Pushkin and Beyond

Raring to go, we jumped on bus for the second day of our St Petersburg tour. This time we left the city, driving 40 minutes south, to Tsarskoye Selo or Pushkin.

The Imperial Lyceum

Our guide, Yevgenia, explained Tsarskoye Selo was renamed after the Russian poet, who was educated in its Imperial Lyceum.

Founded in 1811, by Alexander I (Grandson to Catherine the Great) the Lyceum primed aristocratic youths for roles within Imperial service.

This is reflected both in the school’s location, minutes from Catherine’s Palace, and its neoclassical design – by Vasily Stasov – which echoes the facades of the imperial estate.

From the street we admired the school, which used to host accommodation, kitchens, a hospital and admin staff residence.

Yevgenia explained the school even had anniversary fetes, in which its star student, Pushkin, would read verses he had composed for the occasions.

In adult life Pushkin had a rockier relationship with royalty, as his left-wing poems, such as Ode to Liberty, led to his exile by Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Eventually reconciled, the poet was recognised for his innovative iambic tetrameter, as well as his colloquial language, favoured by the masses.

Now Pushkin is immortalised by his statue, sitting on a bench, which we passed as we headed to Catherine’s Palace.

Screenshot 2021-04-13 at 17.31.44

Catherine’s Palace

Greeted by gold-gilded gates, we entered Catherine’s Palace grounds, where our eyes travelled up the marble staircase and across its baby blue façade.

As we waited in the entrance queue, we heard a tale of two Catherines. Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great, was gifted the palace in 1710. Following Peter’s death, Catherine ruled for two further years. Later their daughter, Elizabeth, became Empress and used the palace as her summer residence. In 1751 Elizabeth employed Bartolomeo Rastrelli to demolish the original building and build a Baroque styled estate.

Five tsars later, in 1762, Catherine The Great led a coup with her lover Grigory Orlov, to overthrow her husband, Peter III. They forced him to abdicate and Catherine became Empress of Russia until 1796.

In the 1770s, Catherine hired Yuri Velten to convert the Palace’s south facade from one-storey into four-storey Zubov and Chapel Annexes. Velten’s designs were later complemented by Scots/German architect Charles Cameron, who brought further Neo Classical influence to the Palace.

Starting in the Baroque era, we climbed the State Staircase, complete with red carpet, marble cupids and gold embellishments.

Following the decedent design, we entered the beautiful ballroom of the Great Hall. Built to resonate light, the Hall’s feature windows, mirrors and crystal chandeliers highlighted its fabulous fresco, entitled The Triumph of Russia.

Moving from dancing to dinner, we entered the White Dining Room, with golden accents and sumptuous stuccos. The room features a surprisingly traditional blue-and-white tiled stove in the corner, which Yevgenia explained was for heating.

Then our palates were refreshed with the Amber Room, featuring fiery precious stones, gilded carving and mirrors. Originally comprising of 450kg of amber, our guide said the room was dismantled for safe-keeping during WWII, before being recreated in 1982, taking 20 years over $12 million to complete.

Colour themes continued as we visited the private apartments of the Green Dining Room, and Blue Drawing Room, both designed by Charles Cameron, Catherine the Great’s favourite architect.

Cameron’s Gallery

Once outside, the Scot’s work reappeared in the form of Cameron’s Gallery and Cold Bathhouse.

Obsessed with Neoclassical design, and discovering Cameron’s Roman research, in 1779 Catherine invited Cameron to build a bathhouse adjacent to the Palace.

The Cold Bathhouse was based on the ruins of Rome’s Constantine Baths, and today its remains can be seen in the Park, with temporary exhibits still showing in its Agate Rooms.

In better repair is Cameron’s Gallery, which sits to the east wing of the Catherine Palace, with 44 classical columns and bronze busts.

Designed for ‘strolling and philosophical discussion’, the building offers unrivalled views of the Great Pond and park. Nowadays the Gallery is used to house temporary art exhibitions.

Art can also be found at the exit’s gift stalls, where Matryoshka nestling dolls join eastern shawls and tourist trinkets. I managed to secure a scarf before we hustled back to the bus.

Peterhof Palace

Travelling 50 minutes North West of Pushkin, we passed motorways, high-rise flats and dachas– before arriving at Peter the Great’s summer retreat, Peterhof Palace.

The Palace was first built modestly, with two storeys, until Peter was inspired by a trip to Versailles Palace and decided to emulate its grandeur.

Between 1714 and 1725 he employed architects J.F. Braunstein, as well as garden landscapers J. B. Le Blond, and N. Michetti to transform the estate.

Years later, Empress Elizabeth continued the expansion, from 1747 to 1756, again using Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the architect who had renovated Catherine’s Palace.

Now Peterhof Palace stretches almost 300 meters and its grounds are recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, famed for its fantastic fountains.

Keen to see it ourselves, we skirted the palace to reach the Grand Cascade, a stairway of 64 fountains, complete with golden statues, which border the Morskoy Kanal out to the Gulf of Finland.

Seafarers were intended to spy the Kanal and follow its source to the magnificent fountain of Peterhof Palace, making their first impression of Russia a lasting one.

Closer inspection of the fountain again reinforced the power of Peter’s Russia, with The Samson feature showing the biblical hero tearing apart the jaws of a lion. Here Samsung represents Peter the Great, the Lion symbolises Sweden’s sovereign Charles XII, and their struggle represents the Great Northern War.

Our guide, Yevgenia, explained that Russia’s wars and rulers were heavily linked those of Europe; so Russian children learn European history from primary school.

Many Russians children are also bilingual, Yevgenia said, due to family connections in ex-USSR countries. She explained that she could speak Ukrainian, as well as being fluent in English and Russian.

Back on the bus we quizzed Yevgenia about Russian life, discovering that high-rise flats were the most common accommodation, accompanied by a dacha – if you were wealthy enough.

Other surprising revelations were that Russians passionately oppose pension reform, and have only recently accepted beer as alcohol, before 2011 it was deemed foodstuff. 

Lunch on our minds, we stopped at a restaurant for soup, stew and side of vodka; before I purchased yet more vodka at a near-by gift-shop.

Swag in tow, we journeyed back to St Petersburg for our final stop.

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

Hopping off the bus at Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, we admired its ravishing Russian Med Evil domes. Spring green, sky blue and sunny yellow enamel led to the golden cross spires of the cool cathedral.

Contrasting with St Petersburg’s majority Baroque and Neoclassical churches, The Spilt Blood Cathedral was designed to reinforce traditional Russian values.

The Cathedral’s commissioner Alexander III revised some of the liberal reforms of his father Alexander II.  Ironically, Alexander II was assassinated by the left wing People’s Will group – who felt his democratic reform had not gone far enough.

In 1881, a member of the People’s Will group had thrown an explosive at the tsar, leading to his fatal injury on the spot in which the cathedral now stands.

Yevgenia explained that, despite opposition by the People’s Will group, Alexander II was a great reformer, having brought about one of the biggest changes in Russian history – the abolition of serfdom. This change came in 1861, four years before America’s abolition of slavery – demonstrating Alexander II’s pioneering nature.

Testimony to the great deeds of Alexander II can be been found inside the Cathedral, where 7500 square meters of mosaic relate the tsar’s murder to the crucifixion.

The interior also contains a shrine to the tsar with jasper columns, as well as brightly coloured icons, showcasing the cathedral’s 4.6 million Ruble renovation, complete in 1997.

Bedazzled, we headed back to the bus to share top tips on visiting Russia…Bring an umbrella and comfy footwear, pay extra for a thorough tour, and charge your camera and wallet, because you’ll want momentos of these milestone moments.

 

 

St Petersburg


The Hermitage 1

Rushing into our Russian adventure, my family and I grabbed a taxi to chase the tour bus. We were on a group visa, so it’s a miracle they let us through the port. But, after passport and ticket checks, they sped us to The Hermitage, to join our fellow cruisers.

The Hermitage

We found our group, just one of many, queued round the block to witness the world’s second largest museum. With pillars and a mint façade stretching 233, 345 square meters, The Hermitage stole the breath we’d just caught.

Once inside, our tour guide Yevgenia directed us past classical statues, up marble stairs and to Winter Palace Small Throne Room. Here we saw the stunning silver guild throne built for Tsar Nicholas I, in 1833.

Travelling back in time, we walked through The Military Gallery, marvelling at the 332 portraits of generals who thwarted the 1812 French invasion of Russia. These included a large depiction of the Duke of Wellington.

Then passing another throne, we reached the most magical room, the Pavilion Hall. Here architect Andrei Stakenschneider had combined pale marble, gilded mouldings and crystal chandeliers to awesome effect.

Centre stage in Pavilion Hall was the Peacock Clock, a feat of engineering art. Its shining silver and gilded bronze animated a peacock, cockerel and owl, which moved as it chimed. Created by James Cox in the 1770s; the clock was procured for Catherine the Great, by her lover and ally Grigory Potemkin.

Tearing ourselves away we moved out the Hall, past Italian masters and gazed up to the Raphael Loggias – replicated ceilings of those in Vatican City’s Papal Palace.

The Italian theme continued as then we met Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy, a marble statue, bent over as if with foot pain. Intended for the Medici family tomb, the statue was created when Medicis regained rule of Florence, following the failing of the Republic.

Next we basked in the Small Italian Skylight Room, with 16 and 17 Century artists such as Veronese, and Carracci.

Finally, we reached the Rembrandt Room, where we discovered the dramatic Danae painting, depicting the mother of Demi God (Perseus) as she awaited Zeus. Remarkable from the first, Danae was styled on Rembrandt’s wife, before being altered after her death, to reflect the features of his mistress.

In 1985 Soviet Lithuanian Bronius Maigys slashed and chemically burned the painting’s canvas, in an act of madness. Restoration started on the day of vandalism and now the painting is faithfully repaired.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Imaginations ignited, we headed back to the bus – to our next stop – The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.  Safeguarded in the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Cathedral contains the tombs of the tsars including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the Romanov family.

Each Russian ruler brings sensational stories, including Peter I, who built the capital from swamp; Catherine II– who overthrew her husband to gain the throne- and the Romanovs who were killed by Communist revolutionaries.

As we heard their history, we paid homage to the Cathedral’s characters, as well as its icons, wood- carvings and canopies.


Heading back outside, we heard one final fable of The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, that of its roofer. In 1829, the spire’s angel was damaged by lightening and could only be repaired by expert Petr Telushkin. Petr climbed the spire without any scaffolding to complete the job. As a reward, Peter the Great gave him a flagon for free alcohol in any Russian Empire tavern.  Rather than carry the tankard, Petr got it tattooed on his neck – so he just had to tap it to get free alcohol. In today’s Russia flicking your neck with your fingers still remarks upon drunkenness or desire to drink.

Thirst awakened – we headed for lunch. After driving over the Dvortsovyy Most and Birzhevoy bridges, we circled back round the Winter Palace – for vodka shots at a barn conversion. Being the youngest of the group – and a fan of liquid lunches – all unwanted nips were passed to me. Thankfully potato salad and stroganoff soon arrived to soak up the booze.

Yusupov Palace

Spirits high we headed to our next stop, Yusupov Palace. Named after its once residents the Yusupov family, the Palace includes over 40,000 works of art and its own ravishing Rococo theatre.

The Palace started life as a gift to Peter the Great’s niece, before being bought in the mid-18 Century, by Count Shuvalov – whose heir commissioned Vallin de la Mothe to renovate it – in a similar style to the Small Hermitage. Then, in 1830, Prince Yusupov bought the palace, and it remained in his family until seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

A year before, the palace was the sight of a dark drama, the murder of Rasputin. We relived the mad monk’s final night, as we we walked through the Arab living room and down to the Garrison, where wax figures recreated the scene.

In 1916, in a bid to save the Romanovs from ruin, Prince Yusupov and nobleman Purishkevich invited Rasputin (advisor to the tsars) to Moika Palace, before poisoning him, shooting him and drowning him in the river outside.

 

The Moika River Tour

Retracing the murders’ steps, we went from the Palace to The Moika River. Here we piled onto a tour boat, with blankets on knees, to experience the capital’s lighter delights.

From the Moika we sailed along the Kryukov Canal, with views of St Nicholas Cathedral, Mariinsky Theatre, the Stroganov and Mariinsky Palaces, St Isaac’s Cathedral and the General Staff Building on Palace Square.

While soaking in our surroundings, we noticed a teen wave from the blue bridge, so we waived back. Then, the next bridge we came to, he was there too. He was racing the boat to greet us from every crossing. Our mascot’s marathon stretched over an hour, so when the trip finished we rewarded him with rubles.

Charmed by our first day in St Petersburg, we headed back to the ship to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures…

Tallinn

Tallinn Town Hall Square

 

Sailing two days East from Copenhagen, our Capital Cities of the Baltic Cruise closed in on Estonia’s historical haven, Tallinn. 

 

Tallinn Freedom Square

Freedom Square

Gangway cleared, we hopped in a taxi to the World-Heritage Site of Tallinn’s Old Town.  Detouring, we passed the colossal concrete Freedom Square, featuring a 23.5m high glass Cross of Liberty (Victory Colum) honouring those lost during the Estonian War of Independence.

Running from 1918–1920, the War of Independence saw Estonia fight for freedom first from Russian, then German occupation, before the Tartu Peace Treaty recognised its sovereignty.

Now a selfie hotspot, the square is bordered to the East by St. John’s Church, to the South by an underground shopping center and to the West by the Victory Column.

Keen to see more, we headed North inside the walls of the Old Town.

St. Mary's Cathedral Tallinn

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Starting at the top, we entered St. Mary’s Cathedral, a sublime structure complete with many Med Evil coats of arms and a 69-metre Baroque bell tower.  After an awesome ascent we reached the best view in town, which showed Tallinn’s hidden gems shining in the sun; none more so than the golden tops of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. 

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Lured by its striking sight, our next stop was to the Eastern Orthodox build. Here stately steps lead to chequered floors, fabulous frescos, chandeliers, and inspiring iconostases. Such splendor made it difficult to focus on any one feature, but soon all heads rose to the sound of the Cathedral’s bells.  With 11 bells in its ensemble, Alexander Nevsky’s tower boasts Tallinn’s largest bell, which weighs an impressive 15 tonne.


Tallinn Town Walls

Tallinn Town Walls

Seeking a quieter spot we headed away from the Cathedral, to trace the Town Walls. Giving the UNESCO site its fairy-tale façade, the Town Walls feature terracotta turrets, arches and walkways sublime for snaps. 

As well as being beautiful, these features allow Tallinn to claim status as one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval fortifications, with its structure dating back to the 14th century and 1.9 km of original wall remaining.  To further examine the walls visitors can climb up Nunna tower, but we chose to admire them from afar at the Patkuli viewing platform.

The Raeapteek

The Raeapteek

Down the steps, 10 minute’s walk from the platform, is the Town Hall Square, where modern market stalls are edged by ancient architecture, such as the Raeapteek (Old Pharmacy).

The Raeapteek’s unassuming threshold leads visitors upstairs, before revealing two rooms, a working chemist and a museum of Apothecary. The latter room holds ornate wooden cabinets and glass displays of herbs and medicine books from the Middle -Ages.

Dating back to 1422, the building is the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe. Its early days saw it function not just a place of healing, but of socialising, where town folk would meet for a gossip and goblet of wine.

Restaurant Troika

Thirsty for our own refreshments, we headed to the nearby haunt Restaurant Troika.  With tables overlooking the plaza, this Eastern eatery was perfect for people watching.  Once set with tankards of beer, we pondered passers-by and the delectable dishes being served around us.

Then, as musicians struck up from the restaurant doorway, our attention was drawn to the décor within.  As we entered, a stuffed grizzly bear stood arms outstretched, ready to greet us. Then, next to it, a life-sized Matryoshka doll stood, begging to be cuddled. The old eastern décor was complete with the waiting staff’s sarafan costumes and hearty hospitality.

Mercado De Flores

Reinvigorated we headed back to the ship, making one last stop at Mercado De Flores.  Just three minutes walk from the plaza, the Flower Market was well worth the detour. Bright botanical bunches assaulted our senses, with posies for every price range. Tulips, carnations and wildflowers were just some of the delights on offer. In the end I opted for a bouquet of velvet red roses, accented with cornflowers – the symbol of Estonia.

Once back on the ship we swapped tips for Tallinn travellers: bring walking shoes, a tourist map and spending money for the beautiful boutiques. 

A Day in Copenhagen

Coasting into our Capital Cities of the Baltic cruise, my Mum, Aunt, Cousin and I docked at Copenhagen on 13 July 2019.

Unlucky for some!

No sooner had we joined the Red Sightseeing Bus than it inexplicably and prematurely stopped in the city centre, to offload all passengers. After some mapping and muttering, we decided to divide and conquer our six hours in the city. My Aunt and Cousin opted for historical site seeing and Mum and I made for the galleries.

 

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

 

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Heading across the road, we reached the highly recommended Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Showcasing the art collection of Carlsberg Breweries’ Carl Jacobsen, it was a refreshing mix of national and international taste.

Admiring its marble steps, high ceilings and gorgeous glass solarium, we explored the gallery’s Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Etruscan, Danish and French art.

French art of the 19th Century was the highlight of the stop, with superstars such as Van Gogh, Monet and Degas, all within footsteps of each other.

An entire room was dedicated to the painting, sketches and sculpture of Edgar Degas, which focused on racehorses and ballet dancers. A bronze cast of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen took centre stage; with notes explaining the original was made of wax, textiles and human hair, causing then audiences to label it ‘repulsive’.

Less controversial was the Danish art, with pastoral scenes from scriptures, legends and fishing villages. Here bright colours brought life to the canvases of Danish Golden Age artists such as Abildgaard, Eckersberg and Købke.

 

The National Museum in Copenhagen

 

The National Museum in Copenhagen

Moving from Danish Golden Age to Danish gold, Mum and I were bedazzled by Viking jewellery and artifacts in The National Museum.  Featuring one of Denmark’s largest collections of antique gold and silver, its highlights included the Tissø ring and the Fæsted hoard.

The Meet the Vikings exhibition signs told how designer Jim Lyngvild worked with museum experts to depict lifelike Viking statues that epitomised the housewife, warrior, berserker, völva and peasant, complete with authentic tattoos and togs.

Switching from ancient to recent history, we entered The Children’s Museum part of The National. Here we found toys through time, including Lego, mechanical structures and a stunning collection of antique dolls’ houses. With dimmed back lighting and illuminated interiors, we admired a world of magic miniature mansions.
 

Tivoli, Copenhagen

 

Tivoli Gardens

Childish delights continued as we headed over to Tivoli Gardens, to discover the 19 Century legacy park that inspired Walt Disney.  With wooden roller coasters, modern rides, manicured gardens, water features, and an Youth Guard (of parading children) there was plenty to see.

Soaking up the ambience, we enjoyed a pint in one of its alfresco cafes, relaying our adventures to my Aunt and Cousin. Refreshed, but with ship curfew calling we choose to try just one ride, the Star Flyer.

Climbing 80 metres high, the Star Flyer swing-carousel provided a visceral view of Copenhagen, perfect for people watching! My Cousin who was scared of heights was not so thrilled, however even she enjoyed the view once coaxed.


Hans Christian Andersen, by Henry Luckow-Nielsen

 

Hot-footing it back to port, we stopped only twice to admire statues. The first was at Copenhagen City Hall Square, where we dodged tourists to pap the statue of author Hans Christian Andersen, by Henry Luckow-Nielsen.

The second stop featured similar jostling as we snapped The Little Mermaid bronze by Edvard Eriksen, at the Langelinie promenade.

Back on board we listed top tips for visiting Copenhagen again: arrive early to beat tourist congestion, be prepared to check bags into lockers at museums, also to pay at museums, to utilise concession discounts, and to never trust a Red Sightseeing Bus!

 

Scottish Dark Sky Observatory

Dropping jaws and blowing minds is the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, one of the nation’s best -kept secrets.

SDSO resident astronomer, David Warrington, said: “The observatory is located within the Galloway Forrest Dark Sky Park, it has minimum street lighting, so less light pollution, and it is an optimum place to see more stars on a clear night.”

Nestled within the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, the observatory features a 20-inch Corrected Dall Kirkham telescope, in a 5-metre dome, and a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

 Warrington said: “Telescopes of this size are something that people don’t often get to look through. People are often in awe of what they are seeing; such as craters on the surface of the moon, or the rings of Saturn, both of which have real wow factor!”  

He added:“People get contemplative looking at the Milky Way, they talk about the massive distances of space, and it tends to get more philosophical than scientific.”

It’s no wonder then that the observatory has become a real romantic retreat.

Warrington recalled: “SDSO has lots of people come to it on date nights, a couple of times a year around valentine’s day we even hold events themed on the season, taking about astronomical phenomenon’s like the Heart Nebula.”

He added: “In fact we have had a few proposals and even a few weddings held at the observatory. It’s understandable, lots of people like to get engaged under the starry sky or to share their wedding with their friends and family here.”

Love has also been poured into developing the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory.

Warrington explained: “The SDSO started as a building to host telescopes, but now it’s taken a different direction; we now have the building with the planetarium and the gift shop, so people can take home memories and mementos even on cloudy nights.

“SDSO has also been able to turn a room into an exhibition space and we have had exhibitions around subjects such as Meteorites and Moon Memorabilia.”

The Moon Memorabilia exhibition featured artefacts such as signed posters from Apollo astronauts and Saturn 5 rockets, bringing its history to life.

Warrington said: “Astronomy used to be thought of as something only old men did in fields at night-time, but over the past ten years it has become more mainstream. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is working to make astronomy as accessible as possible.”

No matter a person’s age or ability, the observatory welcomes them to use their telescopes and explore the universe. The observatory also uses astero photography, to take pictures of the night sky and showcase astronomical objects.

Warrington said: “A large proportion of the work that we do is about education, getting school groups looking at the night sky in the planetarium, using the telescopes and linking it to the national curriculum.”

SDSO is open throughout the year; it has special star gazing sessions in the weekend and through the week. It also has special events, based on astronomical occurrences, which people can book online, through the SDSO website.

Warrington said: “November has the anniversary of Apollo 12 landing on the moon, so we will have anniversary events. In November there will be the Leonid Meteor shower.”

 He added:  “The Observatory has a winter solstice in December, with festive star gazing events, such as the Geminids Meteor shower.”

 “As we get into the winter months the sky gets much darker and we get the chance of seeing that lovely Milky Way, with lots of bright skies; we switch over to winter sky gazing.”

In the autumn and winter months, the sun gets lower in the sky and star- gazers have longer periods of time to see the sights.

From the observatory people can see the moon in detail, the planet Venus, and the planet Saturn across the southern sky; as well as bright patterned constellations of stars, like Obrien, Taurus and Gemini.

Warrington concluded: “If anyone has ever looked up at the night sky in wonder and wanted to take it to the next step, to use a telescope to see it in more detail, then it is well worth coming to the observatory. If you want to learn more about space and astronomy then we can help.”

Summerlee Suffragette Stories 

 

CELEBRATING a century since the first UK women gained the vote, Summerlee Museum is hosting Hard Fought Victory – a play on the suffrage movement – with school matinees from 5-8 March and a public performance on 9 March from 12pm.

Performances are free, thanks to grant funding from the Scottish Government’s Centenary Fund, as the play tells the story of the campaign for women’s suffrage in Scotland.

Writer and Director, Sarah Jane Quinn said: “Everybody knows about Emmeline Pankhurst, but there are a lot of Scottish women who got involved that people know less about.”

“The Scottish suffrage movement was partly distinguished for its work in the Scottish Women’s hospitals – which were created during the war, by Elsie Maud Inglis, showing how women could work together to achieve social change.”

The play uses real life events told through fictionalised characters; two of whom – Doctor Green and Mary Richardson- are played by actor Betty Valencia.

She said: “Doctor Green is taking part in the Suffrage movement, but from a place of privilege; she is part of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society. Her way of petitioning is writing letters and she has a certain level of contempt for the women who have been using violent forms.”

Her second character, Mary Richardson, does not share these views.

She explained: “Mary is an English suffragette in prison, and she has been talking about how the women have been force-fed, when they were on hunger strike; this is one of the darker parts of the performance, because you hear her explain how she would rather die than let her protest go unheard.”

Bringing light relief to the drama is the character Nosey Jane, played by Jamie Lee Aitken.

She said: “Nosey Jane is quite gossipy, she has her fingers in all the pies and knows everything about what is happening in Coatbridge in this moment in time.”

Also capturing the suffrage movement zeitgeist is Jamie Lee Aitken’s character Violette.

Jamie Lee Aitken explained: “Violette is trying to juggle being a housewife and being a working woman, she is finding it quite exciting, but also it unfair that they are not getting paid as much, or getting the recognition that they deserve, so that is why she gets involved in the suffragette movement.

Getting everyone involved in the drama was key to Sarah Jane Quinn’s plans, as she wrote the interactive play.

She said: “Weather permitting the play will start with the audience on the tram, stopping off at a certain area where we will perform the first scene, and from then on in its going to be a walking tour up until the last scene when it will be back on the tram to the museum entrance.”

“At one point the tour will split in two, at the cottages, and one group will go one way and another will go the other, as two actors will be in separate cottages, doing different scenes at one time; then the groups will switch.” 

Hard Fought Victory is presented en promenade, using the displays, buildings and trams of Summerlee as a backdrop to the performance.

Jamie Lee Aitken said:  “You get the excitement of coming in and seeing the actors in the space that they would have naturally lived in, like Summerlee’s period cottages. Kids and the public will get to come in and interact.”

Betty Valencia added: “The play is very unique, I don’t know where you can find something as immersive as this, and it’s a mix of history, facts, and dramatic performance on a live set.”

“Here you have the experience in the period clothes, working with period props, so it is very exciting!”

For more information on Hard Fought Victory visit the CultureNL website.

Visaurihelix

 

Reimagining the Glasgow of Charles Rennie Mackintosh is the audio-visual installation Visaurihelix, showcasing in The Lighthouse, Glasgow, until 2 January 2019.

Visaurihelix Artist, Dr Louise Harris explained the exhibition title, saying: “It is a made up word, used to summarise the installation, its first part represents visuals, auri is related to sound and helix is related to the helical staircase of The Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse had commissioned the piece, by sending out a brief for a work that would both fit its unique space and celebrate the 150-year legacy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Harris said:“I have been obsessed with Mackintosh design and architecture since I was a child, and I am also obsessed with spiral staircases, so it was a pretty perfect combination for me; so I applied to the brief, and there you go!”

Harris used her expertise in audio-visual art to compile soundscapes from Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings, before combining and presenting them in a new way. This included using speakers, on The Lighthouse staircase, to vertically play sound recorded from five Rennie Mackintosh sites.

Harris explained: “The majority of the pitched material in the work is mapped from those sites; I built algorithmic software patches that took the site designs and translated them to changes in pitch over time, and that made the electronic backbone of the work.”

She added: “The other audio material is sound that has been recorded in those five spaces and has been combined into the work.”

The work was then made interactive by entwining The Lighthouse staircase in a giant glockenspiel construction, the angles of which mimicked patterns of Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, allowing visitors to create their own sounds.

Harris said:“When I was working in the studio I had to make guesses as to how noises would sound when travelling vertically, not horizontally, so that was quite challenging, but it was a good challenge, it made me think more about how to work with multi-speaker formats in more detail.”

She added:“I was quite surprised how well the speakers worked together, but also how the glockenspiel element turned out.”

 

While Harris knew the exhibition space would be a challenging part of the project, an unexpected challenge arose when the Glasgow School of Art suffered a fire.

Harris said:“I was planning to record sounds from the Art School and include them as one of the building soundscapes in the installation; but the fire happened literally a couple of days before I was due to go in and collect the material, so it was quite poignant.”

Despite being unable to capture soundscapes from the Art School, Harris hopes that Visaurihelix will allow people to reflect on all of Rennie Mackintosh’s work.

She said: “I hope this exhibition’s visitors have enjoyed engaging with different Mackintosh spaces, from different places in the city, and so it acts as a tribute to the Art School as well.”

When first arrived in Glasgow, Harris couldn’t wait to see Mackintosh’s buildings up close.

She explained: “I am a relative new comer to Glasgow, I have only lived here for around four or five years, but the Lighthouse and the Mackintosh buildings and galleries were some of the first things that I explored when I got here.”

Harris moved to Glasgow to take up a position at Glasgow University.

She said: “When I got my job in Glasgow, my title was Lecturer in Sound and Audio Visual Practices, and that type of role was unheard of at the time, but these days it is much more common.

“The audio-visual art scene has changed hugely in the last 10 years or so, audio-visual work has become more prominent in festivals and galleries.”

Harris added:‘I think Glasgow’s audio-visual art scene will continue to develop in coming years. Festivals like Sonica are really good foregrounds for audio-visual art work, so I think Glasgow is quite ahead of the game in that sense.”

Despite this, Harris accepts that the definition of audio-visual art can still be confusing.

She said: “My audio-visual art is about creating pieces that engage your sonic and visual senses simultaneously, and give equal weight to both. If you think about a music video its is about marketing the sound, and if you think about a narrative film that is primarily about the visual; but audio-visual work is about the equality of the relationship between the two mediums.”

To explore Harris’ audio-visual art in other venues, you can see her exhibition, Alocas, in the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, in Greenwich London, from November 2018 until January 2019.

Harris summarised: “Alocas involves a dual screen speaker and audio-visual work. The audience is situated in the middle of two large screens, so it is a very immersive, physical and participatory experience.”

Repair Cafe Glasgow


Restoring locals’ belongings and sense of belonging is the Repair Cafe Glasgow. The Kinning Park branch has been providing free repair workshops and services since 2017, as part of the wider Repair Cafe International movement.

Repair Cafe Glasgow Communications and Events Officer, Lauren Crilly, said: Repair Cafe International started in the Netherlands in 2009, and the idea was to open a repair space to the community, where people could come and get their things fixed for free, as well as up-skilling themselves.”

She added: “In 2017-18 we ran a little Repair Cafe in Kinning Park, as part of Social Sundays, which we started as part of a Climate Change Project. It was quite busy, but there was quite a lot of other things going on in the space, so John, our Project Manager, decided the Repair Cafe needed its own space and organisation to flourish.”

The team then applied for the Climate Challenge Fund, in Feburary 2018, and started the Repair Café Glasgow in April.

Crilly said: “The challenges of bringing Repair Cafe to Glasgow has been the same challenges that any small business faces; just getting the word out about your organisation.

“We maintain a presence on social media, so that has been a great way of getting younger people involved. A lot of our volunteers are under the age of 30, and that is not the same as other Repair Cafes across the UK, which tend to have a lot of older, retired volunteers.”

Volunteers of all ages, genders and backgrounds are welcome at Repair Cafe Glasgow, with the current team including Scottish, Irish, German and Spanish repairers.

Crilly said: “We have increased the amount of events that we are doing and increased the amount of people involved as volunteers, but at the moment we are continuing to build our network, get people interested, and build diversity in our team. Just now we have a team dominated by men, so it would be really good to get more women on board!”

As well as a mix of demographics Glasgow Repair Cafe has a mix of skills.

Crilly explained: “Our volunteers are amazing, they are able to tackle electronics, textiles and other materials, but we also get people bringing in things that aren’t any of those, for instance someone recently brought in a broken suitcase.

“When someone brings in something for repair that we don’t specialise in fixing everyone is just willing to have a go; within the Repair Cafe everyone has to have that mentality, because there is only a short amount of time to get things fixed. Sometimes the instinct to repair and have a go just kicks in.”

Crilly added: “At the moment we could definitely use more sewing and textile repair specialists; I think that is the backbone of the Repair events, people tend to have broken clothes, and at the moment we only have two textile volunteers.”

While textile repairs are the most sought after, the Repair Café has had niche requests.

Crilly said: “At our last event we had someone come in with a salad spinner that we weren’t able to fix! It was funny because we had four engineers standing around that broken salad spinner trying to figure out what was wrong with it – turns out it was just a piece of plastic that needed replaced, and we just didn’t have the right part. That woman was quite attached to her salad spinner, so it was sad that we were unable to fix it.”

The sentimental aspect of repairing peoples’ belongings came as a surprise to Crilly.

She said: “People have come in and said things like, ‘this lamp belonged to my mum and my mum’s passed away; I’d really like it if you could fix it’, and then when we’ve fixed it, it has totally put a smile on their face.”

However, Crilly acknowledges not everything is as easy to fix.

She added:  “If someone brought a broken heart in for repair, I would have a cup of tea and chat with him or her, maybe offer them some cake.  There are no professional councillors in Repair Cafe Glasgow, but I do consider myself a slight agony aunt!”

Goodwill is also fostered through Repair Café Glasgow’s community outreach efforts.

Crilly explained: “We are based in Kinning Park Complex, which has a big refugee and Asylum seeker community, so we informally work with organisations that help these groups. The Team that leads Repair Café Glasgow has worked in the community sector for a number of years, so we have a built up a number of community contacts.”

She added: “We go through all avenues and connect with other community organisations; we had an event with Locavore community food shop, on Victoria Road, last month; and now we are having an event at the Rig Art Centre in Greenock, and one at the Broomhill Community Hall, on 24 November, so we are connecting as many existing organisations together as we can.”

Repair Café Glasgow is as much about bringing people together for sustainable living discussions, as it is for reducing waste through repairs.

Crilly said: “When you think about waste reduction, Repair Café Glasgow is quite small scale, but it is about creating a community of people and discussions about environmental issues on a greater scale.”

To join the discussion, come to Glasgow Repair Café’s next event, on Saturday, 20 October at Kinning Park Complex, featuring a ceramics repair workshop and drop in repairs sessions.

Crilly added: “We are doing an event in Greenock in November; we’ll be doing some workshops with the swap market in Govanhill in the New Year, and we’ll be doing another event in Locavore; so we are really wanting to get involved with as many organisations as possible.”

To volunteer with Repair Café Glasgow email hello@repaircafeglasgow.org, follow the café on social media, or join an event to have a chat about volunteering.

 

Local Dancers take to the Stage with Pasha

Sharing the stage with Strictly star Pasha Kovalev is no mean feat, but it’s what one dance troupe is preparing to do, as his Motherwell Concert Hall show approaches on May 12.

20 students from local school, DanceFuzion, will perform a routine with the star, during his live Magic of Hollywood show, with Anya Garnis. These dancers include: Amy Cox, Ben Ferguson, Carol Ann McRandle, Eden Hardie, Eilidh Smith, Elizabeth O’Farrell, Ellie Stewart, Emma Cumming, Ethan Forgie, Faith Davidson, Gemma Watson, Jessica Hyslop, Kasey Fagan, Leah Hynes, Rachel Dillon, Rebeka Kolbert-Wild, Rhian Cox, Sophie Ratcliffe, Sophie Wood and Teigan Collins.
All the dancers hail from Airdrie and Coatbridge and range from 9 – 17 years old, making their debut even more impressive.

DanceFuzion teacher, Ann Donnachie said: “This is the stuff dreams are made of!”

Having accompanied Pasha during his previous shows at Motherwell Concert Hall, DanceFuzion’s students were again selected to perform in this year’s show.

Donnachie said: “This is the 4th year we have been invited to dance with Pasha and we are over the moon. Now Pasha is actually going to be dancing alongside us on stage; we are super excited!”

On the night of the show, Pasha will join the dancers in a street, lyrical and jazz routine; complete with choreography by Ann Donnachie.

The teacher explained: “The music consists of two six-minute mixes, mixed by Pasha and the producer; these were sent to me and I have designed the matching choreography.”

Choreography now in place, the dancers are practicing to get it perfect.

Donnachie said: “We have just started our rehearsals and will rehearse every Sunday, but as the show gets closer we will rehearse several times a week.”

This practise will come in handy as the junior dancers prepare to join their professional counterparts.

Donnachie said: “On the night of the show Pasha watches the rehearsal and gives great feedback and encouragement.”

She added: “Pasha is so good with the kids, and even signs their t-shirts as souvenirs.”

Don’t miss your chance to see these local stars shine!

Book your tickets at culturenl.co.uk or phone 01698 403120