Travel

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):

43Lurblæserne

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:

01_Copenhagen_03

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:

07_Oslo_11

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

Shudder!

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:

33Hobbywool

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:

03_Tallin_04

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

03_Tallin_10

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:

Copenhagen:

Gamla Stan, Stockholm:

Tallinn Old Town:

Art Nouveau in Riga:

Oslo:

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Everyday Venice

One of the things that amazed me about Venice was how the Venetians live their lives in a City with few roads for cars, and instead, canals, bridges and alleyways. I was constantly stopping to watch Ambulance and Police boats whizzing down the canals with sirens and lights blaring, and builders, delivery men, and refuse collectors, wheeling barrows of stuff up and down bridges.

See the deliveries in the foreground in the boat moored by on the Grand Canal.

View from Fish Market

Then they have to wheel everything through narrow alleyways, which could be crowded with tourists, and over bridges to their destination. Imagine having a sofa delivered!

Or an everyday task of going to the supermarket to get a large trolley of groceries; there’s no unloading your groceries from the car if you live somewhere like this:

Venice doorstep?

I guess you might have a boat, but the supermarket I saw didn’t have moorings for boats outside it.

At least the bridges have railings now, but we found one to a private dwelling that didn’t:

No railing bridge

This was the canal just out the back of our hotel, and we saw a team of builders wheeling barrows down alleyways to dump rubble into a boat, that must be the equivalent of a skip:

Venice buildings12

How do they erect scaffolding? The more you think about it, the more it twists your head about how everyday life goes on there; but I guess the residents must be just used to it.

I loved the way the locals would cross the Grand Canal standing in a Traghetto as nonchalantly as if they were just waiting at a pelican crossing:

Traghetto

We didn’t try it!

The more picturesque examples of everyday life in Venice were the shrines, with fresh flowers by them everywhere:

Shrine - Fish Market

Shrine - Castello

We saw plenty of flowers at San Michele, the cemetery island:

Graves at San Michele

There is so much colour compared the cemetaries in Britain. I like how having the photos on the graves gives a real sense of the person buried there, I especially liked seeing photos of them when they were younger – it’s good to not think of the dead as being old, I reckon.

If you had lived in Venice in the time of the Doge’s, would have been an everyday thing to post any reports of misdeeds of your neighbours in the secret denunciations postbox at the Doge’s Palace:

Secret denunciations postbox

It says:

“Secret denunciations against anyone who will conceal favors and services or will collude to hide the true revenue from them”.

It is an everyday thing in Venice to have a job as a gondolier:

Gondolier at Rialto Bridge

If you live in Venice you get to see beautiful carvings every day:

Adam and Eve - Doge's Palace

Adam and Eve – Doge’s Palace

Can you believe that this is the hospital in Venice?

Hospital

Washing was hanging out to dry in the prettiest of places:

Burano washing day

Burano washing day

And who cares about supermarket shopping when the Rialto food markets look like this:

Vegetable market - Rialto

That’s fresh baby artichokes, unusual long radicchio, and cherry tomatoes on the vine from Sicily. I love how they sell the chillies like bouquets:

Chilli bouquets

Look at the fish!

Fish Market

And there’s amazing cakes and sweet shops. I bought some delicious Almond Nougat, sold like cake slices. I also tried some Pistachio Pane del Doge, which is a kind of rock cake crossed with biscotti, it was tasty, but a bit dry for me, they are the green ones with the almonds on:

Cakes

This looked like such a warm inviting shop:

Cake shop

Crazy shapes in marzipan, how about a squid?

Marzipan

Of course, I found a yarn shop:

Lella Bella yarn shop

It is Lellabella, they had some beautiful yarns and accessories. I treated myself to this:

Venice yarn

It is Filatura di Crosa, Gioiello,  this colourway made me think of the mask shops and beautiful art in Venice. I’m planning to make a Missoni style jumper with this as one of the repeating stripes.

And here is one of the many, many, many mask shops in Venice:

Mask shop

I bought another couple of souvenirs with my birthday money; a sweet velvet bag, and a glass millefiore tree pendant from Murano. I saw these velvet bags in different patterns and sizes in soft furnishing shops, and I don’t really know what they are for, maybe for filling with lavender to scent drawers and wardrobes, if anyone knows, please tell me?

My souvenirs

At this time of year Venice is plagued by the Acqua Alta, a high tide that floods many of the low lying streets and squares, including St. Mark’s Square:

St. Mark's Square - Acqua Alta

It recedes like a normal tide, so it’s not there all day, but can get quite deep in places. The tourist shops sell folding plastic wellies quite cheaply:

Wellies - Acqua Alta

There are also boardwalks erected in key areas:

Boardwalk - Acqua Alta

We survived without wellies, and skipped around the edges of large puddles, and enjoyed working out alternative routes to get about. Unfortunately we fell foul of it on our penultimate day, when we needed to move our luggage to a hotel closer to the bus station. We managed to keep out luggage dry, but we had cold wet feet. The tourists have a cheery “Dunkirk spirit” approach to the Acqua Alta, after all they are on holiday, but it must be a right pain for the residents, just trying to get to work.

Dry feet - Acqua Alta

I reckon the best present for a Venetian is a good pair of wellies! I didn’t see any crazy festival type wellies in the shops or worn in the streets, perhaps someone is missing a retail opportunity there? It must be hard on the properties too, many of them have clamp on flood barricades across the bottom of the front doors to keep the worst of it out.

Our penultimate day, despite the wet feet, had it’s rewards: on our way back into the centre of Venice from our new hotel, the Vaporetto (water bus) we were on was told to stay at our stop by a police boat ahead. The Vaporetto driver and his mate looked a bit fed up, they must have schedules to stick to, but all us tourists were delighted to see a parade of gondolas heading our way:

Carnival Gondolas

I hoped we would see some carnival action at the end of our stay, as it was the start of the Carnival season. This was a small event as part of the Rialto Festival, but it was marvellous to see it. It seemed like a few locals had knocked some costumes together and jumped into some boats, and it looked a lot more precarious than carnival parades in the UK.

I like that the man at the head of this boat is taking a selfie!

Carnival Selfie

The parade got more precarious as the police boat had gone, and our vaporetto launched itself back out into the Grand Canal, head on into the tail end of the parade. There was some pretty sharp paddling going on to get out of our way!

We enjoyed seeing more people in costumes for the rest of the day:

Carnival Costumes

It was all very colourful.

And so sadly we said goodbye to Venice. We left at 5.30 am from the ugliest square in Venice – Piazzale Roma, which made it a little easier to leave. Luckily we didn’t have this kind of leaving view:

Sun over San Salute

There will be more blog posts this week as I am launching 3 new knitting pattern designs ready for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

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

Gondola

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

Murano:

Main canal - Murano

Glass Shrine - Murano

Burano:

Burano

Or is it the lovely buildings?

Doge's Palace

Doge’s Palace

Giant’s steps

Giant’s steps, Doge’s Palace

Campanile

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.