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.

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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!

 

Day of the Dead

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Honouring lives lost and risked for Mexican freedom of Expression is the Mitchell Library Day of the Dead event.

Hosted by The Scottish Writers’ Centre in partnership with Scottish PEN, the event will take place on November 2 -from 5.30pm- in the Glasgow Room.

The free, un-ticketed event will see readings both about the country and from its writers.

Host and writer Jean Rafferty explained: “We’re celebrating the Day of the Dead to honour ‘Absent Friends’ and commemorate the courage of writers, poets, and journalists living and working in Mexico; one of the most dangerous countries in the world for freedom of expression.”

Rafferty has organised the event as part of her role within Scottish PEN.

She explained: “PEN is an international writer’s organisation whose Scottish branch has been gathering for nearly 90 years.

“Scottish PEN supports freedom of expression in every form. For instance, I am chairman at the Writers at Risk society, which supports people who have been threatened for speaking out against their government.”

While the society has paid tribute to Mexican writers before; Rafferty explained that this event has particular significance.

She said: “This year’s Day of the Dead event will be particularly poignant, as we have Mexican writer Lydia Cacho as an honorary Scottish PEN member.”

Rafferty added: “As well as being a great writer, Lydia runs rescue centres for women that have suffered sexual and physical abuse. Lydia’s work will be read at the event.”

The event will also feature readings from Anabel Hernandez, whose novel Narcoland exposes Mexican drug cartel, an exposure which has seen threats on her life.

Rafferty said: “As well as established writers, we will also hear from Mexican student, Bernardo Otaola Valdes, who has written a very moving piece about his plan to go back home and study journalism. Studying journalism in a country like Mexico is dangerous; and shows that Bernardo fits the night’s theme of Courageous Writers”.

She added: “As well as Bernardo’s reading there will be a reading from a Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia’s work. Javier lost his son to the violence, and wishes to share his own final verses.”

Following this there will be an ‘open mic’ section of the night. Here writers can take the stand and respond to the theme: ‘Mexico or Courage in Speaking Out.’

Writers wishing to participate in the open mic section can contact Rafferty via email.

The organiser explained: “The open mic section has seen applications from various people, including Portuguese film writer; Carla Novi, who has made a documentary Desaparecidos, about the disappeared Mexican students.”

Rafferty concluded: “Scottish PEN not only cares about the writers whose lives are endangered in Mexico, but the people all over the country, whose experiences are expressed in the writing.

“Freedom of expression is a basic human right. It is important to support writers because they represent everyone’s struggle.”

Lisbon

L cover

With our hearts set on a music festival, seven friends and I booked a week in July to Lisbon. Liberdade was our area of choice for its proximity to the venue; but there was a catch, it was ‘save- a- year-ahead’ expensive.

Being Portugal-virgins we had unwittingly booked accommodation in its premier shopping district. So bedraggled from the plane, we did the walk of shame past Gucci to reach our hotel foyer.

Staying

Since none of the group was shopaholics, our motive for choosing NH Lisboa Liberdade was simple, it had a pool. The thought of a city break in 30 degrees heat was too much for my Scottish soul so, like a prima donna, I pushed for a pool.

Having assessed the competition, we decided that Lisboa Liberdade had not only the best pool (for our budget) but best balconies. However, we soon realised not all balconies were created equal (two of our crew hit jackpot with room 803’s huge terrace).

Contending with balcony envy, the hotel staff consoled us with travel advice and charm in excellent English.

This charm extended to the rooms, which had spacious interiors, comfy beds, decent bathrooms and mini bars.

Mini bar prices were enough to make us shudder, but the hotel’s surrounding shops had surprisingly cheap fare to substitute.

L dining

Dining

Cheap prices continued in Lisbon’s pubs and bistros. With a beer around three euros, bottles of wine for ten, and cocktails for five; Lisbon’s bars were a joy.

To digest both drinks and cityscape we headed to Bairro Alto (an alfresco area). On Bairro Alto’s plaza we chose the further of two open-air bars, to enjoy sugar cane cocktails while listening to buskers. The music perfectly complimented the plaza’s fountain and vantage point.

Across the road from the plaza we found The Decadent a bistro that, despite its name, was a reasonably priced. Its earthy interior provided respite, along with tasty cornbread, cocktails and seafood.

Seafood also stole the show at Pinóquio, a restaurant across the road from Restauradores Metro station. With packed tables, Portuguese dialogue, and tanks full of crabs it provided perfect taste of local life.

Another local treat surfaced near Cais do Sodré Metro, where we tracked down Mercado da Ribeira: Lisbon’s fab food fete. Here deli, drinks and dining units offer visitors a choice of global cuisine at cafeteria tables.

With a huge range of stalls as well as desert, wine and chocolate shops, we enjoyed post- dinner shopping.

L Music

Music

High spirits continued at Nos Alive music festival, which filled three of our seven nights in Lisbon. Situated in Passeio Marítimo de Algés (a 15 minute drive from Liberdade) the festival had four stages, indoor toilets, food, bars and walking beer tenders.

With headline acts including: The Prodigy, Muse and Mumford and Sons, Nos Alive 15 tickets were surprisingly cheap (costing £90 for all three nights). Each night ran until 3am, providing miles better value than a UK festival.

L Traveling

Travel

The only disadvantages of the festival closing at 3am was fighting competition for a taxi home; and suffering a post- midnight fare hike.

Aside from post-festival fares, Lisbon’s taxis were by large cheaper than those of the UK. As were its trams, buses and trains. While only the taxi’s had working air conditioning, each mode of transport had its appeal.

Aero-buses acted as punctual transfers from Lisbon Airport to the districts, while trams offered a vintage view of Lisbon’s ‘seven hills’. For travel outside of Lisbon centre, the trains offered quick and spacious speed.

L Art appreciating

Art appreciating

To escape the city, my boyfriend and I boarded a train to Sintra, Lisbon’s neighboring old town.

With regal buildings, museums and cliffs, the area had plenty to see. But we bee-lined to the Quinta da Regaleira, a World Heritage Site complete with chapel, underground tunnels, grotto and Gothic mansion. It really was the stuff of dreams.

The mansion house offered Portuguese history briefs, as well as drawings from the architect’s restoration. With multi-coloured tiles, intricate wooden paneling and fresco painting, signs explained that António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (Monteiro the Millionaire) bolstered the manor’s splendor, as testament  to Portugal’s golden age.

After two hours of exploring my boyfriend and I resigned ourselves to the journey home, but not before scouring Sintra village’s crafts and wine shops.

As the trip drew to an end the group reflected on all we had done and all that we would have done, had we booked more time. Turns out a week isn’t long enough to see all Lisbon has to offer.

Galoshans Festival

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There’s a new UK arts festival and it’s called the Galoshans. With the Scots name for ‘guising’ it’s unsurprisingly scheduled North of the border. The exact location is however, more surprising. Unlike most Scottish festivals, it isn’t going to Glasgow or Edinburgh, rather Inverclyde.

Bringing the festival to Inverclyde is Scottish charity UZ Arts. The group works to commission, produce and distribute art in all its forms.

UZ Arts Executive producer, Jo McLean, said: “The Community Trust had been organising events as part of the Inverclyde Space programme and, in 2014, they spoke to UZ Arts about growing a festival.

“The Galoshans was an idea that the Community Trust had introduced to us. They told us it was a traditional folk play about George and the dragon. The original custom was to perform the play in spring;  but Inverclyde adapted it to take place around Halloween [alongside guising]. ”

Now UZ Arts are expanding the custom into an arts festival. The festival will still nclude the Galoshans play, as well as music, performances, and installations throughout Inverclyde.

Galoshans will run from 30 October to 1 November, with a complimentary fringe programme that ends in  Inverclyde’s firework display (November 7).

As well as this, the festival will launch with a symposium entitled Moving Out, which pushes artists and audiences outside of their comfort zones.

Using the European network IN SITU, UZ Arts will bring artists across seas to engage with the people of Inverclyde. The artists will create work outside conventional venues, reimagining iconic landmarks.

McLean said: “UZ Arts are part of IN SITU, a 19 country network, which funds international arts projects, and enables collaberations. IN SITU artists will be coming to the Galoshans festival to showcase their work.”

As well as artists, the public can get involved with the Galoshans.

McLean explained: “UZ Arts will be looking for volunteers to assist at the festival. We will also be running internships and opportunities, especially aimed at young jobseekers.

“Whenever UZ Arts run a festival we always try to make it benefit the local community.”

All visitors will benefit from the Galoshan’s reasonably priced and free events (ticket details to be confirmed).

McLean concluded: “We hope the festival will celebrate the international community, while reflecting the Inverclyde’s local pride.”

Galoshans may continue to be an annual source of pride, as UZ Arts have provisionally planned to roll it out in future years.

To get involved with the 2015 festival, visit the UZ Arts Website or email the team.

Travelogue

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If you enjoy Nordic fiction, then why not explore the landscape through visual art? This voyage can be taken in Glasgow’s Briggait (studio) through Clive A Brandon’s Travelogue exhibition (running April 27 to June 5).

Travelogue showcases Brandon’s work from residencies in Norway, Scotland, Sweden and Iceland.

He explained: “I had visited Scandinavia several times before Travelogue and had a yearning to explore these countries more deeply. I loved the atmosphere and wanted to experience what it was like to live and work there, even if only for short time.”

In April 2013 Brandon left for a 20 month journey through Northern Europe, completing residencies that examined natural and manufactured elements of remote places.

He said: “I wanted to see how my work, which had become very ‘urban’, would develop in natural landscapes.”

Brandon explored these landscapes through excursions; making photos, sketches and watercolours that he combined with recycled materials and local information. These became a bricolage of material.

Brandon recalled: “When travelling I couldn’t carry very much, so I worked out a basic art kit with a watercolour travel set, acrylic paint, brushes, canvas, watercolour pads, moleskin sketchbooks, scissors, pens/pencils and graph paper. I made a rule that this all had to fit into an A3 folder and pencil case.”

On arrival at each residency, Brandon scoured the area for base materials such as cardboard. This often involved rummaging through recycling bins or asking strangers for shoe boxes.

He said: “I did get some strange looks, but if anyone asked what I was doing I just told them I was an artist, which normally excuses all sorts of behaviour.”

At the end of each residency Brandon would package most of his work and post it back home.

He added: “I left different things at each place; sometimes pieces just wouldn’t fit in postage, other times I donated paintings or sketches to my hosts.”

Meeting interesting people was – Brandon said – one of the highlights of his trip. He listed other highlights as: challenging his work patterns, having to be resourceful, seeing amazing countries and living like a local.

However living like a local was not always easy.

Brandon explained: “Before Travelogue I had never done any residencies; so arriving in another country without familiar studios, friends or materials was hard.

“The first day of each residency was a bit strange; I would arrive to an empty room and wonder how I was going to make something from nothing.

“My first actions were normally to get some ideas up on the walls, rearrange the space and make it feel like mine.”

After setting up, Brandon absorbed his environments by collecting materials and making sketches, this – he said – helped him to relax and built towards his final projects.

He added: “I’m really happy with the body of work I produced, which is why I was keen to collectively show it when I returned.”

Before his travels Brandon lived and worked in England, having studied an MA at Wimbledon and BA at Leicester De Montfort.

Upon returning to the UK Brandon started touring his exhibition.

He said: “I found that travelling can be a brilliant experience that can change your work forever.

“To any artist considering working abroad I would say: plan ahead, set goals (but have an open mind and avoid being too prescribed) then get to know the local people and arts scenes.”

International residency opportunities can be found at Res artists’, Transartists’ and WASPS studios’ websites.

WASPS studios hold special resonance with Brandon, as they are hosting his Travelogue exhibition.

Brandon said: “This is my first Scottish show and first solo show in the UK, so it’s a very exciting time.

“I hope people will get a lot out of Travelogue; it is a large body of work that allows viewers to immerse themselves in the sense of place. It shows how palettes change with the seasons, and landscapes shift from rolling hills, to forests to volcanic areas.”

Travelogue dates and locations can be found on Brandon’s website.

Gdańsk

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One of Europe’s best kept secrets is Gdańsk, Poland’s principle sea port. Bursting with culture and not stag-do in sight; it is literally a breath of fresh air.

On a frozen February 2014 my mum and I visited my Dad (a marine engineer) as he worked in Gdańsk. We stayed in an apartment with views of the river and echoes of clock chimes.

These chimes led us to beautiful buildings, eclectic art and cheap cuisine.

So here’s my recommendation for finding the best of the city.

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Art appreciating

To cast your eye over Gdańsk’s heritage there is no better place than the Main Town Hall (Ratusz Głównego Miasta). This public building (restored from WWII bombing) is part art gallery, part domestic museum.

After crossing its threshold a multi lingual guidebook explains its Gothic Renaissance paintings, sculptures and  wooden replica ships.

This mix of high and low brow art continues as you move upstairs, into an antiquated household, complete with vintage clothes and kitchen items.

Finally a photo exhibition of Gdańsk, pre and post WWII leads you to the exit.

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Old and new meet again in the Amber Museum (Muzeum Bursztynu) as contemporary jewellery showcases with historical. Here visitors can see amber finely carved into items, from around the globe.

Muzeum Bursztynu documents Gdańsk’s connection to the material, sourced in Baltic countries and circulated through its hub of merchants. This attraction is a must see for anyone who appreciates sculpture.

 

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Traveling

Aesthetic treats are not confined to galleries; Gdańsk’s streets are awash art and architecture that deserves a walking tour. Moving through them, visitors can’t miss Neptune’s Fountain (Fontanna Neptuna) an icon of the Greek sea god, holding his trident poised.

Neptune is situated in the heart of the ‘Long Market’ a bustling street of cafes and stalls, flanked by the Golden Gate on one end and the Green Gate at the other. Like most of Gdańsk architecture these Gates have Mannerist and Dutch influence that transports you back to a grander time.

Alternativly, for a working class tour, take the ferry across the river to The Crane. One of Gdańsk’s iconic symbols, the Crane was once used to transfer cargoes, erect ship masts and defend the city gates.

Defending the city from ideological attack was the Solidarity (socialist) movement. This movement, which saw shipyard workers fight for better living conditions, is recalled in the Maritime Museum (just next to the Crane).

While these attractions are a wandering distance from the town centre, further ones can be reached via the town’s metro. With cheap tickets, regular trains and colour co-ordinated maps, the lines are easy to navigate.

gdansk pyrabar

Dining

Just as easy to navigate are Gdańsk’s eateries; with cafes and bars on every street, all cheaper than their UK counterparts.

The best bargain my mum and I had was at the service of the Pyra Bar, on Garbary Road. This Ikea chic diner transformed potatoes into masterpieces. Its portions were big and included saucy casseroles, potato pancakes and stews. We ordered two casseroles and three pints of beer, getting change from 56 złotych (a tenner).

Then, for fancier fare, we headed to Goldwasser, a bistro overlooking the river. With outdoor seating, lanterns and a gothic interior, it was the perfect place to fine dine. Named after the famous liqueur (containing gold flakes) the aperitif was the perfect end to a seafood chowder starter and steak main. And if all the rich food is too much, you can walk it off – as we did – along the promenade.

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Staying

Directly across the river from Goldwasser was my Dad’s working accommodation, where my mum and I stayed during our trip. However, if you stay on the Goldwasser side of town, and walk into its centre, there is a horde of accommodation to choose from, ranging from hostels to hotels.

With so much to see, eat and drink, Gdańsk really does spoil its visitors.