Category Archives: Museums

plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly – in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

 

Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in – Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.

landscape-inspired design at canadian museum of civilization tells a story

Just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario, a visit to the Canadian Museum of  Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec – if only to experience its exterior and Grand Hall architecture and design – is well worth it.

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The museum’s limestone exterior curving forms represent the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, opened in 1989 and overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings, was designed by landscape-inspired architect Douglas Cardinal. Without a single word, it tells, or rather shows, visitors stories of Canada’s history, its native people and culture.

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

In his Design Statement, Cardinal wrote that the building would “speak of the emergence of this continent, its forms sculptured by the winds, the rivers, the  glaciers.” Four natural features are  abstractly represented in the Museum’s form: the Canadian  Shield, the Glaciers, the streams formed by the melting  glaciers, and the Great Plains that stretched before the  receding glaciers.

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The outdoor water pools represent receding and melting glaciers

Inside the Grand Hall with views of the outside water elements, look up at the ceiling and you find yourself at the bottom of an enormous canoe. The oars become part of the walls (It took me to two visits to distinguish this).

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A dozen towering totem poles are placed around the perimeter of the room. It is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

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Looking up finds you at the bottom of an enormous canoe

A wonderful sculpture located in the Grand Hall , the Spirit of Haida Gwaii by British Columbia artist Bill Reid, represents the Aboriginal heritage of the Haida Gwaii regions in Canada.

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Per wikipedia, it features Haida mythological figures in the canoe that represent the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival – the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, but depend on one another to live.

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While the museum’s main collections – particularly the First Peoples Hall – are vast and satisfying and revealing of Canada’s history , an interesting hands-on Children’s Museum is also housed here where young ones can receive a “passport” and experience different world cultures (a ride on the Pakistani Bus was a favorite). To learn more, you can visit an architectural tour slideshow  featured here on the museum’s web site.

48 hours in montreal

The only place I know offering francophone culture so strongly this side of the Atlantic is in Montreal, Quebec – an island city in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Montreal is a lively, international destination which offers much in history and architecture, arts and culture, festivals and dining.  We recently visited the city for a few days and found enough time to explore some of its best spots.

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Old Montreal

old Montreal

City Hall

 

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

A Great Night Sleep

Positive reviews from the NY Times Travel section prompted me to book a medium room at the hip and classy, no-snob boutique hotel, Le Petit Hotel,  in Old Montreal.

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

Comprised of only 24 rooms and a lobby café, the hotel is housed in a beautiful 19th Century building on the quieter, more residential side of Rue Saint-Paul Ouest. Its helpful staff provide you with excellent services, and gave us good suggestions during our stay. Tips: Request the well laid-out top floor/street view room and indulge in the (included) delicious breakfast offerings, especially the pain au chocolat and perfectly-brewed cappuccino. Online promotions are available and business travelers can receive room discounts.

Eats and Drinks

Hands down, our favorite dinner experienced in Montreal was at the fashionable Restaurant Holder on Rue McGill (order the veal or salmon), thanks to a tip by our hotel staff.  I’m told you also can’t go wrong with lunch at the busy but delicious Olive and Gourmando if you can handle the crowds (we couldn’t wait). You can’t leave Old Montreal without experiencing an evening drink on a rooftop terrace.

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The rooftop terrace at Hotel Nelligan on Rue St Paul is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset with views of Notre Dame. Get there by 9 pm if you want to snag a table. Just look out for the characteristic Eastern Canadian summer thunderstorms, as we experienced a downpour minutes after this picture was taken.

Getting Around by Foot, Bike and Metro

If you stay in Old Montreal, there is no better place to walk the streets – or get lost –  and soak in its history and architecture. Make sure you look up. Like in Europe, some of the best architectural details of a building are found in the direction of the sky.

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One of my favorite buildings is the Royal Bank of Canada building, where my mother worked in the early 1960s. In fact, I can proudly thank the influence of Montreal on my mother – and her bank teller friend – for my French name. Banking ceased only about a year ago. The inside of the building and the ceilings are breathtaking.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

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Notre Dame is a centerpiece of the old city.

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame

To get further out to fashionable neighborhoods like the Plateau, grab a metro map and a day pass (9 Canadian dollars).

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Or you can rent a Bixi Bike – the public bike share system – to ride  along the old Port and a grab a view of architectural landmark Habitat 67, a model community and housing complex  designed by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for the World Fair in 1967.

Habitat 67

Habitat 67

If you are ambitious, you can get a closer look at Habitat 67 and other architectural icons like Biosphere by riding your bikes from Old Port to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Don’t repeat our mistake by aborting an attempt to reach the island via the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which looked shorter in distance from Old Port than it was.  Instead ride the opposite direction on the bicycle parkway.  This would be done best with a day bike rental, as opposed to a Bixi Bike, which charges you if you exceed a 30-minute time usage period.

Hike up Mont Royal

A hike up Mont Royal is lovely and a good way to walk off those morning pain au chocolats and rooftop terrace drinks,  and the view at the top is a nice reward. You can grab the #11 city bus back down to deliver you to Avenue Mont Royal, where you can find a metro station back to Old Montreal or wherever else you’d like to go.

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View from Mont Royal

View from the top of Mont Royal.

View from Mont Royal.

The Arts for Free (imagine!)

The permanent collection at Montreal’s Musee des Beaux Arts is always free. Please note special exhibitions are not, but on Wednesday nights tickets are half off. We visited the Museum’s current exhibit, “Utterly Breathtaking”  featuring Dale Chihuly’s large-scale, nature-inspired blown glass.

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While below the city surface, Francophone/Anglophone tensions are nothing to laugh at (unless you are Sugar Sammy, see my past post here), visiting Montreal offers travelers a uniquely bilingual, culture-rich experience in a place well-deserving of its lively reputation. Its residents seem to have a less- North American, more-European sense of enjoyment of life and leisure and we’re glad  we caught some of it there too.

(Please note Bringing Travel Home is not sponsored by any person or organization.  Both my travel and writing are independent.)

Chihuly at the Musee des Beaux-Arts Montreal

Blown glass fan or not, visiting American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s large-scale nature-inspired installation at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts – or Musee des Beaux-Arts – is a visual sensory experience.

Turquoise Reeds

Turquoise Reeds spring from trunks of old growth western cedar.

71 years old, blinded in one eye from a head-on car accident and having suffered a shoulder injury, Chihuly now serves as what he calls choreographer and visionary of his art, and employs others to do the actual muscle work of making his glass creations. Other than the color and beauty, I was struck by the size of the glass pieces. They are really big. To transport, it must take a lot of packing (miles of bubble wrap?) to keep his art safe from breaking.

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Persian Ceiling

The extent of my experience with blown glass is collecting the small figurines in Venice, and I was blown – pardon the play on words – away by the effect this exhibit, called “Utterly Breathtaking”, had on all those present, this writer included. Visitors can sit leisurely on cushions placed on the floors in the corners of the Chandelier room and take it in.

Chandeliers and Towers.

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Gardens – Mille Fiori.

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Glass Neon Forest.

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Boats. (I read he purposely dumped pieces of his glass art in the water to be retrieved onto a boat and liked the effect).

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Macchia Forest. (Macchia means “marks or spots” in Italian and he worked with spots of color in these pieces illuminated by light shining down into the bowls).

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If you are in Montreal, take advantage of the half-off tickets ($10 Canadian) on Wednesdays from 5 – 9 pm. “Utterly Breathtaking” runs until 20 October, 2013.

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fine art photography for europhiles

Our home is a collection of old and new. When returning to the states after living in Europe, we shipped many of our favorite things that held sentimental value from our time spent there. Our yellow modern Italian couches and other furniture pieces, dishes, artwork such as framed antique maps, books, and, naturally, our Alessi favorites, as I describe in this past post.

But what had become a challenge was an update to our artwork. Over our modern Italian couches and near several framed black and white photographs, hung a fresco-like painting of Siena on canvas purchased in Italy. It held sentimental value but felt old-fashioned. In fact, much of today’s European and Italian design is more modern than those Americans promoting Tuscan kitchens would like to believe. Our Northern Italian friends have the latest in glass tile, and favor clean lines, modern art and appliances over a traditional look. While we have many traditional items in our home such as a large french-style kitchen pine table, it became clear it was time to update this piece of art on the wall. But how? How does a Europhile – lover of history and things old – accomplish this?

I found my solution last month, while perusing the shelves at our local bookstore downtown for Christmas presents. Above the books, I discovered artistic photographs displayed around the room. The art show was featuring the work of Northern California photographer Dee Conway.

"Room in the Louvre", Dee Conway

“Room in the Louvre” Dee Conway

Several sepia-colored prints from photographs featuring European  architecture that appeared to be near or around Paris caught my attention. (The photos are archival prints on watercolor paper from a film negative).

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Dee Conway

Dee Conway

Dee Conway

One photograph in particular, shot wide angle by Conway from a circular window looking out onto the Louvre’s back courtyard produces a peaceful effect with its shadows, texture and clouds.  Quite large and framed in light wood, the photograph – for me – feels so familiar and represents why views like these in Europe never fail to catch my eye and keep me gazing; they fill my soul and spirit when I’m there. I never tire of it.

"The Louvre", Dee Conway

“The Louvre”, Dee Conway

One of her framed photographs has taken the place of the Siena fresco and, with the addition of a few Missoni-style, brightly-striped couch pillows, our room has been updated with the most perfect effect.

All photos by permission of Dee Conway photography at http://deeconway.com/

top 3 new experiences this spring in Italy

On our trip back to Italy last month, we walked a lot down memory lane – visiting our old apartments, old jobs, old friends, favorite beaches, buildings, bars and restaurants. The children were gracious, my oldest posing in front of the hospital she was born and standing on the lungolago for a picture where I strolled her endlessly years ago.

But what was equally enjoyable was the creation of new memories with our children through new experiences in an old country with endless things to discover.

Three of our favorite new Italian finds this Spring include:

Visiting the Madame Fisscher exhibit at Palazzo Grassi, Venice (through July 15, 2012)

Even if you are not a contemporary art fan or have had enough of Venice (but is that possible in the city that never gets old?), it may be worth visiting this exhibit if only to  enter the breathtaking Palazzo Grassi for the first time.

From the brochure, “The exhibit offers a journey through Urs Fischer’s artistic career from the nineties to today.  His work, characterized by humor, penchant for paradox and virtuosity of execution, employes simultaneously an extraordinary diversity of media and materials.  It calls into question the history of art and sculpture, our relationship to the body, the notion of time and the status of the object.”  Our favorites include “Untitled”,  two men in candle wax allowing visitors to witness the transformation as the flame burns (the head representing Fischer himself had fallen into his hands when we were there) and the idea of the importance of all processes of transformation, the body’s endurance and duration of artwork; Jeff Koons monumental pink “Balloon Dog” (which is used to contrast a nearby Fischer work);  “A Light Sigh is the Sound of my Life”,  an enormous sphere, slowly rotating on itself made of different materials (what looked like skin and hair). My daughter also gave a thumbs up to the “floating” cigarette box  hung by a thin wire from the ceiling while the naked professional model/woman in the “Necrophonia” room was a surprise.

Eating at GustaPizza, Florence

Near Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence I ate some of the best pizza I’ve had in central and northern Italy. Our friend who lives in the area introduced it to us. Delicious and affordable,  my pizza came with rucola and grana (above) while the kids had Margherita. If you are traveling in the area this summer, this casual restaurant is not to miss.

Renting a motorboat, Lago di Garda

All the years we lived on the lake, while we enjoyed its stunning water by ferry-boat and swimming, it’s hard to believe we never rented a boat. On the lungolago in our old village of Toscolano Maderno, you can rent a motor boat for an hour for 75 euros. While a splurge for us, the kids agree it was one of the best activities we chose to do on the trip. The views of the villas and castles and mountains lining the coast are best experienced by boat. The boats go fast enough to feel the thrill of bumping over small waves and wind through the hair.

a journey with edgar payne

Just in time, we visited today an excellent exhibition of a collection of paintings by California landscape artist Edgar Payne (1883 – 1947) at a nearby jewel,  The Crocker Art Museum.

The Crocker recently finished a renovation that includes this building addition that houses early California and modern art, including glass, ceramic and sculptures. There is a separate floor dedicated to Oceanic and African art.

On the 3rd floor past this glass sculpture (I believe it is called Ruby Spirits), you will find the exhibit, Edward Payne: The Scenic Journey” (Feb. 11 – May 6, 2012) and this is precisely what I came for. It includes paintings featuring Payne’s favorite subjects in nature like the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, the desert Southwest, and Europe including the Alps, Swiss lakes and villages, and boat and harbors in Brittany and Venice.

Sunset, Canyon de Chelly, oil on canvas

Payne is called “one of the most gifted of California’s early plein-air artists”. Drifting in and out of the galleries, it’s undeniable that his free and visible brushstrokes in the impressionist style stand out but the subject is not what one considers  “impressionist.” Rather than a lady’s delicate bonnet or a Monet waterlily, his subjects are rugged, grand scenes, like Southwest Canyons, Sierra mountains, the Alps including Mont Blanc, Swiss villages and pristine lakes which he painted with a perfect balance of color, shadow and natural light. Interestingly, I read that he preferred painting the Sierra Nevada mountains because they offered more colors such as red and green as opposed to the  characteristic uniform slate gray of the Alps.

Naturally, I lingered the longest in the gallery featuring paintings of traditional boats and harbors in France and Italy.  I read that he only visited Europe twice but that he brought back with him photos to finish many of his works.

Breton Tuna Boats, Concarneau, France (1924) is one of my favorite paintings from the exhibit. The longer you view it, the bigger the sensation of waves and boats bringing you in and out of the painting. You can almost hear the water. The chalk-like colors he used are soothing, beautiful and vibrant – turquoise blue, terracotta orange and whites.

Edgar Payne traveled the world – the Southern and Central California coast, the Sierra, the Swiss Alps, the harbors and waterways of France and Italy, and the desert Southwest – to find magnificent landscapes to paint. For anyone who loves to travel and is drawn to natural beauty, these paintings by Edgar Payne will take you there and make you appreciate all that cameras still cannot do.

The Crocker Art Museum’s new addition of modern and California art couldn’t be a better place to enjoy it.

Payne Image credits: Traditional Fine Arts Organization