Discovering the Baltic

I was lucky enough to be treated to a Baltic Cruise this Summer, and I thought you might enjoy a selection of the more artistic, quirky, and crafty things I encountered. So settle down with a drink and enjoy the ride.

Ruth on board Balmoral

I was surprised how “lucky” statues are a “thing”; statues that you rub, sit on, or throw money at to gain “luck”, on the same lines as wishing wells or throwing coins into fountains.

This is the Old Town cat in Klaipeda, Lithuania, who apparently has a lucky tail!

Old Town Cat sculpture

The whole mouse sculpture, also in Klaipeda appears to be lucky:

Lucky Mouse sculpture

The mouse is quite shiny with all the rubbing he gets, maybe this “lucky statue” trend in the Baltic is the origin of why poor old Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh is losing his nose.

In St Petersburg they have a lucky camel!

Lucky Camel sculpture

And a lucky cat in St Petersburg, you have to throw coins onto his ledge to be lucky. It’s quite tricky he’s about 12 feet off the ground:

Cat Sculpture

I don’t know if it’s lucky to sit on Hans Christian Anderson’s lap in Copenhagen, but he’s getting a very shiny knee:

Hans Christian Anderson

The Iron Boy in Stockholm is also getting some attention. He’s Stockholm’s smallest public sculpture:

Iron Boy sculpture

Kind knitters keep him warm in Winter.

I saw some famous statues. The Little Mermaid mobbed by tourists, a view you don’t usually see of her:

Little Mermaid

Also in Copenhagen, by the Radhuset, Lurblæserne (The Lure Players):


The Freedom Monument in Riga:

Freedom Monument

Macabre sculptures: ghostly monks in the Danish King’s Gardens in Tallinn:

Ghost Monk sculpture

The black ghost, emerging from the harbour in Klaipeda:

A skull on the Dragon fountain by the Radhuset in Copenhagen:

Dragon fountain detail

Dragon fountain

Art and other statues in Copenhagen:

Another detail from a fountain, the Stork fountain:

Stork Fountain detail

Stork Fountain

This pretty Tivoli fountain:

Tivoli statue

Glass sculptures in the trees in Tivoli:

Tivoli tree sculpture

This amazing piece of contemporary art, Soleil Levant, by Ai Weiwei in Nyhavn in Copenhagen, looks great from a distance:


and is really poignant close up:

19Soleil Levant

Over 3500 life jackets from refugees, the sculpture was officially “opened” on World Refugee day 2017.

I’m not sure if this is art or a cycle path in Stroget, Copenhagen:

Copenhagen streets

Does anyone know? It made me think of an underground stream under the street, I like how it catches the light.

Lovely Polar bear and cubs sculpture, has bulletholes in it from WWII:

Polar bear sculpture

In Stockholm, I liked the Sea God in the harbour area, greeting us as we alighted from our tender:

Sea God sculpture

And this sweet lamb in Storkyrkan:

20Storkyrkan lamb

A frog outside a shop:

Shop sign

Tallinn has a strange boot sculpture:

Long Leg sculpture

Actually it’s a leg, and refers to one of two steep streets to Toompea hill: the Long Leg and the Short leg.

There were some lovely old painted panels in the Old Apothecary shop:

Tallinn Apothecary interior

It still operates as a Chemist shop, but has a little museum room too, and all the old shop counters and fittings.

There was a giant astronaut monkey in a park in Riga:

1Sam sculpture

He’s 12 metres tall, his names Sam and he was created by a Russian artist.

There were cats on top of the buildings – this is the Cat House:

35Cat House

36Cat House

And funky stencil graffiti in the streets:

21Art Nouveau district graffiti

At the harbour in Klaipeda, there was a statue of a boy, waving his hat at matching girl statue on the other harbour arm:

24Boy sculpture

He had his dog with him:

23Dog sculpture

Most of the statues were naked in Oslo:

In a distinctive naturalistic Scandinavian style.

Of course the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was clothed:

29Ibsen sculpture

And the trolls:

19Olso trolls

They were outside many of the souvenir shops.

There was a scary medieval carving embedded in the walls of Olso Cathedral:

18Olso Cathedral sculpture

And just over the road from the cathedral, randomly, some chickens:

20Olso Cathedral and chicken sculpture

Since I was in Olso, and the iconic painting, The Scream, by Edvard Munch, was in the National Art gallery, I popped in to see it, and found it lived up to expectation, and I enjoyed seeing his other works there. Outside the Munch room was a small sculpture by Vigeland, you can see the crowds in the room behind me drawn to The Scream:


There is a large park of his Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures in Oslo, and the statue of the man carrying a women in the selection above is also by him.

There were more paintings by Munch and other artists, in the Radhuset; the main hall is covered with murals:

The bench seats had gorgeous wool tapestry cushions on them, and were very comfortable. The whole building has amazing art incorporated into it:

I have a friend who lives in Olso, and he took me to any amazing place off the beaten track: Hausmania is a squat with a bar, nightclub, artist’s studios and is crazily and creatively decorated:

I loved this piece of graffiti, I saw too:

71Oslo graffiti

Olso’s Opera House is very impressive, photos don’t do it justice, it needs to be walked around and on, to appreciate its style and beauty:

10Oslo Opera House

It’s iceberg appearance is mirrored by the sculpture, She Lies, in the harbour, just off the Opera house. The first ship behind it is the Balmoral, the ship I sailed on.

14She Lies sculpture and Balmoral

The most revolting art I found on the trip was made from amber; there’s a lot of amber in the Baltic, and really I think they should have resisted the temptation to create these pictures:

23Amber chip picture

24Amber chip pictures


These amber bunnies are a bit of an acquired taste too:

7Amber rabbits

I loved this art jewellery amber necklace though from the Amber Museum outside Klaipeda:

8Amber necklace

I succumbed to the amber madness, and now have a more modest necklace and bracelet.

Onto the crafts! I hadn’t particularly looked out for knitting and craft shops on the trip, bu I’m naturally drawn to them. I also couldn’t spend too much time in them, as I had company. These are what I found:

Knit by Marie Victoria in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

31Knit By Marie Victoria shop

Sweden was a bit pricey for me, so I had a brief scan around, and managed not to be tempted to buy. There were a few Scandinavian brands I recognised, and I came away with an impression of an overall soft dusty pale heathered palette, it felt very refined, calm and tasteful in there:

Cute craft shop in Gamla Stan with quirky handmade dolls, toys, ceramics etc, out of my price range, but lovely:

11Stockholm craft shop

It also has a Viking gravestone embedded in the wall, and an old cannon:

12Viking gravestone

Riga has a fantastic yarn shop, Hobbywool:


A series of little rooms in an old beamed building, with all sorts of nooks and crannies to discover yarny delights and crafts, there was plenty of local breed wools, and a large range of kits to make the local Latvian mittens. There were nice little gifts decorated with stitch patterns, and a whole section of handmade crafts by local makers. I saw a gorgeous simple cobweb weight natural dark wool shawl there with a slight halo; exquisite work.

Tallinn brought the motherload of crafts! After I’d enjoyed a morning exploring the cobbled streets and defensive walls of the old town, I walked into the Town square and discovered a huge craft market taking place:

39Tallinn Market

These guys were in traditional dress, selling products made from honey:

35Tallinn Market stall

I was keeping my eye out for fine lace shawls, as Estonia is particularly known for this, from Haapsalu in Estonia, but I didn’t see any. However, there were these beautiful hand knitted traditional gloves and mittens:

36Tallinn gloves

They were pure wool, (I asked the knitter):

37Tallinn gloves

We had a little bit of a stilted sign language knitting chat, with lots of smiles.

There were women demonstrating their embroidery prowess:


Lovely work, but I was a bit too shy to talk to them, they looked quite formidable.

There were quite a few stalls with embroidery on them. Despite everything being set up to make the most of the tourist industry, I thought the crafts were authentic and good quality, and quite reasonable/cheap prices.

I was keeping an eye out for quirky items, as I had experienced some quirky illustrations in computer games from Eastern Europe, and in Polish theatre posters, and hoped I might see some of this sensibility in art/crafts etc.

I bought a cute White Rabbit wooden badge from a local illustrator, Lucky Laika:

White Rabbit badge

There was a crazy knitted window display:

12Tallinn shop window

Then I discovered the Art Doll shop and museum:

49Art Dolls shop

I didn’t go into the museum, but the shop was magical, and slightly creepy

48Art Dolls shop detail


I fell in love with a quirky grey plaid bear holding a bell, who has joined my slightly scary doll/toy collection:

Eugene Bear

I’ve named him Eugene, after Eugene Onegin.

The Art Dolls shop was at the end of St Catherine’s Passage, which is another great place for handmade items:

44St Catherines passage

The right hand building has small makers workshops and shops: quite a lot of fashion, and some ceramics. The passageway itself has a lovely atmosphere, despite the tourists:

45St Catherines passage detail

You come out of the passage to what is referred to as the Sweater Wall, this initially sounds promising, but seemed like manufactured mainstream jumpers, with some traditional styles thrown in. I wasn’t even tempted to look:

50Sweater Wall

At that point I stumbled across Domus Linum:

52Tallinn Fabric & Wool shop

Which I initially thought was just a fabric shop, but I spied the wool through the door and went in, and came away with 100g of Lithuanian Lace weight teal coloured wool, at only €5, to make my own Estonian style shawl with. There was actually quite a lot of yarn in there, but I didn’t have much time to stop and look, as my friend was waiting outside. I definitely want to return to Tallinn again!

So I’ll just round this post off with a selection of architecture shots, a lot of doors, and decorative manhole covers:


Gamla Stan, Stockholm:

Tallinn Old Town:

Art Nouveau in Riga:



I’ll be back with a post about what I discovered in St Petersburg soon.











Is Venice the most beautiful city in the world?

It’s certainly the most beautiful city I’ve visited! I was there for a week with my friend from Newcastle to celebrate my 50th birthday.

It was really a big deal for me to be there, I haven’t been abroad for 9 years, as I felt it was a bit of a waste of money while I was struggling with M.E./CFS, and I would inevitably spend at least half of the days tired out in a hotel room. Thankfully, I can put that behind me – I walked the length and breadth of Venice every day I was there, and my friend was as tired as I was at the end of the day, but still ready to explore Venice again the next morning.

Just why is it so beautiful? Is it the famous sights?

St Marks Basilica

St Marks Basilica

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

St Mark's Square Lion

St Mark’s Square

St Mark's Square and Me

I’ve never seen St Marks Square so deserted, this was at 10.00 on a Thursday in February.

St Mark's Clocktower

St Mark’s Clocktower

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

View to St Mark's Square

Is it that the roads are canals?

Gondola – Grand Canal

CannaregioThis looks like a Caneletto painting to me; and this:

Grand Canal


Gondolas passing

Just look at the incredible colour of the water here:

Water colour
Is it because it is a series of islands surrounded by water?

The Lagoon at dusk

View from San Giorgio

Gondolas at St Marks Square

This is San Michele, the cemetery island:

View to San Michele


Main canal - Murano

Glass Shrine - Murano



Or is it the lovely buildings?

Doge's Palace

Doge’s Palace

Giant’s steps

Giant’s steps, Doge’s Palace


Venice buildings - Castello

And the wonky buildings?

Campanile and Canal

Campanile and Campo

Wonky Campanile

And a picturesque scene at every turn…?

Venice buildings

Venice buildings
Or the intricate detail?

Carved canal arch

Carving - Doge's Palace

Giant's staircase steps

And the carved sculpture?

Carved letterbox

Carving fish market

Venice Lion

Angel - Cemetery Island

Or the incredible interiors?

Ceiling in Doge’s palace

Ceiling in the Doge’s palace

Golden Staircase - Doge's palace

Golden Staircase – Doge’s palace


I think it must be a combination of everything that makes it so magical:

Rialto Bridge at night

San Simone Piccolo at Dusk

Sunset at San Salute

I had an amazing time, it was everything I hoped it would be.

More in my next post – Everyday Venice – about how life goes on in this extraordinary city.

Thanks to S. Miller for use of his photos.

Kelpie head

Pineapples, Water Horses and the Lady of the North

I’ve been braving the Wintery weather to visit some sculptural landmarks with my friend from Newcastle, and I thought I’d share the photos with you.

I had seen crazy pictures before of a Pineapple sculpture in West Lothian. It turns out it is a National Trust for Scotland property: a folly attached to hothouses that were used to grow pineapples:

The Pineapple

It was built by the Earl of Dunmore in 18th Century. Pineapples were a very popular exotic fruit then, which only the rich could obtain at that time. Wikipedia has a lovely long entry about it. It is amazingly carved, and looks to still be in great condition:

The Pineapple

It was near Falkirk, so it was an ideal opportunity to go and see the new Kelpie sculptures in Helix park.  There had been a BBC programme about the making of them, and I was keen to see them in person. Here they are:

The Kelpies

The were sculpted by Glaswegian artist Andy Scott, and are two 30 metre high steel horses heads.

The Kelpies

They are built next to locks at the Forth and Clyde canal. A Kelpie is a mythological water horse, which had the strength of 100 horses.

Kelpie head

The sculptures were modeled on Clydesdale horses which would have pulled the boats along these canals.

Kelpie Mane

I think it’s incredible that the artist has created such character and movement at such a size and in such an unyielding material.

Kelpie head

We signed up to go on a tour, which took us inside one of the Kelpies. Here is the entrance:

Kelpie entrance

This is looking up inside the sculpture:

Kelpie inside

These are the walls:

Kelpie inside

Every single metal sheet is different, constructing it, must have been like doing a very large jigsaw puzzle . It was appalling weather the day we visited, it was even raining inside:

Ruth in Kelpie

A really successful piece of public art, I think, and popular, it was quite busy there, even on a cold wet day.

Another sculpture we had been meaning to visit is Northumberlandia. It is near Cramlington, just North of Newcastle, and is designed by the landform artist Charles Jencks. He also created the sculpture, Landform Ueda, outside the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, and I wrote a blog post featuring his sculptures, Life Mounds, at Jupiter Artland.

We had attempted to visit before, but were thwarted by weather the first time; we drove all the way there and decided it was too wet and windy to be an enjoyable experience. We couldn’t believe that it started raining just before we got to the car park this time too. We were determined though, and in the hope the rain would clear up, we went for a cuppa in the Visitor Centre, and were rewarded by the sun coming out!

Northumberlandia reclining

Although it was bitterly cold, and exposed as we walked around.

This sculpture is in the shape of a reclining woman. Here is her face:

Northumberlandia Face

We were amused by this sign:

Northumberlandia keep off face

I can’t think of many other places this would appear.

Of course we had to walk up one of her breasts! This is the view from one to the other:

Northumberlandia Breast to Breast

Those hummocks are her knees:

Northumberlandia Knees

The highest point is the forehead, and from here you can look down her body:

Northumberlandia face and body

And over the other side of her nose you can see her hand in one of the lakes:

Northumberlandia Eye and Hand

Of course the best way to see her is by air:

I think she looks a little bit squished into the space, maybe figure drawing is not the artist’s forte, and it must be limited by the logistics of sculpting the land and making the curves work on the vertical and horizontal planes. I feel his sculptures at Jupiter Artland are more successful aesthetically. However, it has been another popular piece of public art which can only enhance its industrial location.

Northumberlandia silhouette

It’s marvellous that I now have the energy to visit and walk around these sculptures, and there is more to come: I am going to Venice, which I could not have managed while I was ill. There are knitting pattern designs brewing, which should be available in March, and I will be volunteering at the 2nd Edinburgh Yarn Festival then too.

Thanks to S. Miller for the use his photos for some of The Pineapple and The Kelpies.

Cuillins from Elgol - Isle of Skye

Return to Skye

I reached a personal milestone in my recovery from M.E. and managed to drive for 6.5 hours up to the Isle of Skye!

I used to live in Skye from 2000-2002 and I visited a couple of times after I’d moved further South, but I didn’t have the energy to travel that far, and drive around Skye once I had M.E.  I’ve been feeling a lot better, so I planned a trip up in September, and thought I’d share my photos and experiences.

It’s a lovely drive up there, and the scenery just gets better and better as you travel through Glencoe, Invergary, Shiel Bridge, past the iconic Eilean Donan Castle and over the bridge to Skye.  It’s been about 9 years since I’ve been up that way, and I think time had diminished it somehow in my mind; as I saw that wild landscape again, it was larger, more dramatic and more sublime than in my mind’s eye – it quite took my breath away. I stayed with my friend, Marion, in Portree the 1st night, and in the morning I drove over the hill to Struan, on a crazy winding single track road, to see my friends Zuleika and Beads in Caroy, on the West side of the island. There’s a great view of the entire Cuillin ridge from that road:

Cuillin ridge from Struan Road - Isle of Skye

Zuleika and Beads (real name – Mark – everyone knows him as Beads) live in a small cottage on their croft. They hand-built their cottage, and have continued to add bits to it, so it was great to see how the cottage and croft have developed. They live quite self-sufficiently growing their own veg and herbs, and keeping a few animals, generating their own power, using a natural water source and composting toilet. What always amazes me is their ingenuity at re-purposing and recycling material. A fish farm had been put out of commission near them and dragged up onto the land, so they sawed up the large circular plastic float and used it to edge their raised vegetable beds:

Raised beds, Chapel Croft, Caroy - Isle of Skye

It works really well, doesn’t rot, and holds in the heat.

Beads has really gone to town with his recycling and has made crazy animals and creatures from the flotsam washed up on the shoreline at the croft. They are so imaginative and fun:

Sheep made by Mark Francis


Rat made by Mark Francis

Mole made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Rhino and Bird made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Rhino and Bird

Creature made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Creature made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Bird made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Bird on their gatepost

Butterfly mobile made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Butterfly mobile

Angler fish made by Mark Francis, Caroy - Isle of Skye

Angler fish

They were found all over the croft and the cottage! He’s planning on selling them and will have a website up and running soon. Beads is normally a carpenter, and had to get away to a job, so after my tour around the croft, I had a good catch up with Zuleika, drinking some fresh peppermint and lemon balm tea, picked from the croft.

I headed up to Waternish in the North of the island for the afternoon. I lived in Waternish most of the time I was in Skye, and it was great to get back to my old stamping ground:

View from Stein - Isle of Skye

View from Stein

I drove as far North as I could go on the Waternish peninsula, which took me to Trumpan, and the old church and graveyard there:

View to Dunvegan from Trumpan, Waternish - Isle of Skye

Dunvegan from Trumpan

I popped in to see Neal and Maddy at Halistra Pottery and bought a mug, and bought some lovely autumnal 4 ply yarn from Shilasdair:

Bought in Skye - Shilasdair Yarn & Halistra Pottery mug

Heading back out of Waternish, I went down to the bay at Camuslusta to see some friends. Initially, no-one was home, and a collie dog accompanied me on a walk along the beach:

Camuslusta, Waternish - Isle of Skye

Although he was more interested in chasing the chickens really:

Chicken, Camuslusta, Waternish - Isle of Skye

I finally managed to find Judith at home (it was her dog) and had a quick cuppa with her, before heading back to spend a quiet evening in Portree with Marion, and headed down the South part of the island, to the Cuillins and my friends Ray and Antje, and to a wedding ceilidh in the evening.

I wanted to have a walk in the scenery in the morning, so I drove to Elgol for a walk on the cliffs. It was quite windy and threatening rain when I got there, which made it look very dramatic:

Cuillins from Elgol - Isle of Skye

Gars-bheinn in the Cuillins - Isle of Skye

Elgol cliffs - Isle of Skye

I walked along the cliffs to where they broke up into limestone pavements nearer the water, had a good explore, and the sun came out. I found a baby waterfall:

Baby waterfall at Elgol cliffs - Isle of Skye

and wild flowers: the Devil’s Bit Scabious was irridescent against the grey limestone:

Devil's Bit Scabious

and had a rest on the rocks in the sun, peacefully gazing out at the Cuillins. As I headed back to Elgol harbour, the midges rose up from the heather in the sunshine, and gave me a few bites! I was unprotected, without any midge repellant, as there was no sign of them when I left the car about an hour before. It shows how fast the weather can change in the Highlands.

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with my friends in Torrin under the glowering Blaven:

Blaven from the road to Torrin - Isle of Skye

The wedding ceilidh was fun in the evening, and I had enough energy to have a couple of dances. My best wishes go to Abigail and Tibor on their married life together.

I stayed with Antje and Ray overnight, and after a bit of a false start found my favorite beach in Skye the next morning:

Shoreline at Torrin - Isle of Skye

It was absolutely deserted, and the water was crystal clear and it has the most beautiful rounded egg-like pebbles and amazing white marble cliffs.

I helped Antje with her sock knitting when I got back, funny, neither of us knitted when I lived in Skye, but now we’ve both taken it up… I headed back home the next day. It was so marvellous to be in such a beautiful part of the world for a few days, and to catch up with old friends. We just carried on together as if I had never moved away; for all my friends there it was just as if I still lived in Skye and had just popped around for a cuppa. Thanks to them all for looking after me.