Tapestries from Hampton Court

After a few more busy days working to pull together more plans for the planned wanderings, I found time today to edit some more pictures for the wall coverings theme of the last few posts.  Today is a collection of tapestries from Hampton Court, dating from both Tudor and later baroque periods.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to see an exhibition which used light projection to recreate the colour of the tapestries on display as they would have looked to the original owners.  It was fascinating to see just how bright and bold the colours were, rather than the faded, muted tapestries we see today.  In editing the pictures I have taken a few liberties to highlight the pictures, but make no claim that the colours are anything other than my own preference.  Any textile historians reading this, forgive me!

All of the pictures were taken in a recent trip to Hampton Court and are a selection of larger sections of tapestry right down to details.  It is worth noting the scale of the tapestries – one of the pictures shows me against the wall – and understanding the sheer size of the things.  Also, the detailing and skill of the weaving is phenomenal – these were royal tapestries after all.  The quality and texture of details can be seen in the detail of a head in one of the pics.  Texture and shapes are brought to life with cross-hatching and shading in the colours and design.

As always, enjoy the pictures and am always happy for feedback.

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Posted in Architecture, Decorative Arts, Heritage, London, Photography

How great is the Great Wall

Whilst this blog has been quiet over the last couple of weeks, things here certainly have been anything but.  I am not going to say too much about what has been happening as I don’t want to put the chickens before the cart horse carrying the eggs we aren’t counting yet and all that, but hopefully a wandering Brit will be a-wandering again sometime soon.  Fingers and toes crossed…

To remedy this today we are sharing some pictures of The Great Wall of China.  This is one of the rare places in the world where the name really doesn’t do the place justice.  Yes, it is a wall.  Yes, it is pretty great.  And yes, it is in China.  But it is so much more than the sum of it’s parts.  If you do get the chance to go, please, please avoid the tourist trap that is Badaling – it may be quicker and cheaper to get to, but sharing a once-in-a-lifetime moment with sixty thousand other people really isn’t worth it.

A good compromise between trekking out to the wilds and going somewhere that still allows you to get back to Beijing in time for beef noodles for dinner is Mutianyu.  If possible with time, patience and money, try to arrange to go with a private driver or small number of people, rather than a tour group.  That way you will avoid the inevitable stop in a factory making “traditional Chinese goods” and the pressure to buy that goes with it.  It should also mean an earlier start, a quicker arrival and more time alone, or almost alone on the wall itself.

On the three trips that I have made there, travelling with friends or colleagues, we always arrived early and stayed until dusk or as late as we were allowed.  The moments of peace that you get are amazing.  Being able to walk along the wall for several hours, without rushing or being on a timed trip is fantastic.  You really do get a feel for the beauty of the landscape and the reasoning behind why the wall is where it is in the first place.  The subtlety and craftsmanship of the wall is worth lingering over – even if it was only done last week in one of the interminable restorations that have taken place over the years.

Every trip has been made in a different season and the light and colours have changed with each trip.  From the starkness of winter light, creating sharp, hard shadows to the softness and richness of the autumn colours in the late afternoon every corner brought a new scene into view.  Personally I thought that winter was a great time to visit as the wall was almost deserted, but the winds and the sub-zero temperatures may put some people off.

At the end of it all, do visit if you have the chance.  You won’t regret the time of the effort if you do.

As always click through and enjoy the pictures in the gallery below.

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Posted in Architecture, China, Heritage, Photography

Surface: Decorated 2

As mentioned in the previous post about wall and surface decoration, I have literally hundreds of pictures of this kind.  The same rules have been applied to the selection as last time, but I have also created a few “sets” of pictures.  So there is a series of wall painting from the White Pagoda in Beihai Park in Beijing.  This is a particular favourite of mine and I have the three pictures at home in a single (very large) frame.

There are also two carvings from the doors of San Augustin church in Manila, which is an amazing survival from the Spanish colonial period in the walled city of Intramuros.  I used to live about 20 minutes walk away from Intramuros so the cloisters in the church complex were always a place of quiet and calm from the craziness of urban life if needed.  The interior of the church is a wonderful riot of colour and baroque charm in the tropics, and probably not at all what most people expect to find in the heat and humidity of the city.

The picture from the summer palace in Beijing has a sad tale to tell – during the Second Opium War the British and the French armies looted and burned the Summer Palaces just outside of Beijing.  Part of this wanton destruction involved the hacking off of the heads of the Buddha images on this building – when you see the whole thing you clearly see that above a certain height (out of arm’s reach) the heads remain, but all the lower heads are gone.  War is never good for culture, it seems.

As always, enjoy the galleries please feel free to comment.

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Posted in Angkor, Architecture, Cambodia, China, Decorative Arts, Heritage, Italy, London, Photography, Rome, The Philippines, Travel

Christmas in July

For anyone who lives in the southern hemisphere, celebrating Christmas is done in the warm embrace of high summer.  lt conjures up the image of the barbie on the beach with shrimps, snags and steaks sizzling away.

As it is now July and warm here in the northern hemisphere, I thought I would share my one and only YouTube posting – part of the Lights of Christmas display done in Sydney in 2011.  I was taking a friend around who was thinking of making the move to the city and we were enjoying the sultry weather and the fine lighting displays that the city puts on at that time of year.  I was also testing out a new camera, and managed to take a video in HD that came to over 9GB in size.

With a bit of editing, adjustment of the settings and a judicial placement of the tripod this was the end result.  Posting it to YouTube ended with it being a little lower on the file size and therefore the resolution but please enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed – in the warmth with a good glass of chilled wine!  Aussie style barbie optional.

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Posted in Christmas, Expat, Friends, Sydney, Travel

Surface: Decorated 1

No matter where you are in the world, someone will have covered a flat surface with some form of decoration, carving or graffiti.  From the grandest palace to the humblest corner on the street we seem to have an innate desire to fill a void – a horror vacui.

I seem to have a desire to photograph as much of these surfaces as possible if my photograph collection is anything to go by.  Whilst sorting through the pictures, which has been a pretty mammoth task to date, I was saving to a new folder all kinds of pictures of decorative schemes, with the view to posting a few here.

As it turned out, there are enough to do a couple of posts so today is the first selection.  I have been fairly strict in the criteria.  In essence the decorative scheme has to be an integral part of the place or designed specifically for the location.  It can be any surface medium, so paint, fresco, carving, stone work or as you can see from the picture in Sydney, a light show specifically designed for the cathedral.  I also “applied” the rule that if the work was to be removed and there would be no material damage or loss to the surface, then it didn’t get through – so sculpture placed in front of a wall, for example, didn’t make the cut.

Why so restrictive.  Firstly because of the number of pictures which had ended up in the folder – I needed to put some structure to it to make the selection manageable!  Secondly, because there are also other selections, such as detached sculpture and tapestries that I decided to save for another post.

The locations are varied – this really is a global style of artwork.  The mediums used are varied too, but each one adds something to the surface far more than detracts.

Enjoy the gallery and as always, comments welcome.

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Posted in Architecture, Decorative Arts, Heritage, Photography, Travel

Seeing the heights in Bangkok

Today we are in Bangkok (mostly, one picture from Ayutthaya has been included just because I like it).  It is a city that I spent a huge amount of time in over the last 14 years, for work, friends and leisure.  The last word is chosen carefully – for many people Bangkok has more of a reputation for pleasure than leisure, but that wasn’t something that particularly enticed or interested me.

It was a pretty easy trip to make from Singapore and every couple of months or so I would book tickets online on a Friday afternoon, get a mid-evening flight and a hotel and head there after work.  I was able to swing by the house on the way to the airport, pack a small weekend suitcase and be on the plane in under two hours.  Apart from the one time I arrived at check-in to realise that my passport was in the hallway at the house – that time it took a bit longer to get onto the plane and I nearly missed the flight…

There are lots of things said about Bangkok, but if you are a city person, it is a must-visit destination.  It is a real assault on all of the senses and well worth the effort and time to get under the skin of the place.  I was lucky because I had friends living there (and still do) so I was able to avoid many of the tourist traps and get to see a little more of the real Bangkok in local places and venues that the locals went to in their own spare time.

Of course, you do have to do have to do some of the big stuff and there is plenty to see and experience.  I have tried to avoid the stereotypical pictures today and focus on some of the smaller details of Bangkok which give just as much pleasure and interest as the grand palaces and temples.

On one trip with a friend we decided to head to Sirocco, one of the most famous bars in town and possibly in Asia.  It is on the roof of the State Tower, on level 63 and is the the highest rooftop bar in the world (according to their website).  We were staying at the hotel so had been able to get reservations easily.  We dressed for the occasion and headed up in the elevator to experience the view and the cooling breezes of the night and enjoy a cocktail or two.

You enter from the dome at the top of the building and walk down the staircase to the bar, feeling like a couple of million baht or so.  That is the theory.

Enter vertigo stage left, right and straight ahead.

We both walked out, took one look at the height, the steps and to top it all off the glass wall that edges the staircase presumably to keep the view clear, but in my opinion is to scare the crap out of people when the emerge outside, and we froze.

I am fairly sure that the staff have seen it before, but there must have been a level of amusement for the people watching as we both went as far from the edge of the staircase as possible and slowly, deliberately made our way to the bar area.  We stayed firmly in the middle section, as far as is physically possible from anything that looked like an edge.  Two drinks later when LM announced that her knees had locked and she really wanted to leave, we made our way back up the stairs with all the grace of a stunned ox and sat at the bar inside.

If vertigo isn’t your thing, then by all means head there, get your picture taken at the edge of the bar with nothing but the night air (and pollution) behind you to impress your friends.  If however you have even the slightest hint of vertigo, think twice or go with a large group and hide in the middle of them.  I would share pictures, but I wasn’t able to let go of the railings for long enough to get to the camera.  There are plenty of pics on the link above, so do check it out.

My own pictures are all taken from a height of no more than four or five inches off the ground and I remain thankful for that still.  Enjoy!

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Posted in Architecture, Bangkok, Friends, Heritage, Photography, Thailand, Travel

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I have had the privilege to make a number of trips to Cambodia, and specifically to Siem Reap, the closest town to the temples of Angkor.  Without hesitation I would advise anybody to visit if they possibly can.  Nothing really prepares you for the scale, sophistication and sheer beauty of the area.

But remember too what happened here in many of our lifetimes.  A short story will suffice.  On my first trip, two friends from New Zealand were also visiting, so one one day we arranged to hire a truck and driver to take us a little off the beaten track to a temple called Beng Mealea.  This is in an area about one and a half to two hours away from the main temples, depending on roads, traffic and weather.  The temple is still in a part of the country where they are clearing the mines, so it was imperative that we had guides and did not wander off any of the paths or routes we were being taken onto.

On the way back, we asked the driver, who was chatting away with us happily at the time, if he knew of any traditional Cambodian music that we could listen to.  He told us a couple of places to try out in the town and then told us that he had a CD of some of his favourite singers from his childhood.  He put on the CD and to our surprise Cambodian cover versions of 60s and 70s pop music and disco started to play.  We talked about how popular this had been and how his parents had loved to dance to this, joking and enjoying the familiar, but slightly surreal sounds of the arrangements.

The driver then simply said “Of course, all dead now.  Killed”

The terrors that took place here are never far away, but the resilience of the people is astounding.  This is a country that has the potential of a bright future should things all go well


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Posted in Angkor, Architecture, Cambodia, Heritage, Photography, Travel

Travel hiccoughs: Red Fort, New Delhi

Anyone who travels frequently will know that not every trip goes smoothly.  The pictures today are from a trip that I made to New Delhi in late 2006 and it did not get off to a particularly good start.

I was due to be presenting at a conference and then running a two day training course for our office there.  I had spend the previous five days in Shanghai and was transiting through Singapore to catch the late flight to India, due to arrive at around 10pm.  A good night’s sleep in the hotel and then off to the venue for the conference early the following morning.

The travel gods did not, unfortunately, read the agenda.  I arrived about an hour later than scheduled because of a late departure.  In the arrivals lounge was a hotel driver, holding a card with my name on it.  Almost.  One letter difference in 11 letters.

I checked and confirmed – yes, it was a passenger on my flight and yes it could have been misspelling.  We got into the car and set off.  This wasn’t my first trip to India and I had always stayed at the same hotel so switched off a little as we were driving along.  After about 20 minutes things did not look at all familiar.  I asked the driver to confirm where we were heading and again, he confirmed that we were indeed heading to the correct hotel.

Becoming less and less convinced as we continued to drive along I eventually decided to call the hotel myself to check on the details – something deep down was telling me that things were not right.  It was a slight surprise to discover, upon talking to the hotel, that I had apparently already been checked in to my room and presumably was happily asleep.  By now, alarm bells were ringing.

I asked the driver to talk directly to the hotel just to be absolutely sure about the situation.  Much hilarity ensued, then the driver informed me that he didn’t work for that hotel, but in fact for another hotel almost the whole way across the city.  Yes indeed, there had been a mix up.  And no, he couldn’t drive me to the correct hotel, but would have to take me to the hotel he had on his documents because they needed the car back.

Standing by the side of the road, shortly before midnight having traveled pretty much the whole way across Asia, this was not what I wanted to hear.  But he would not be swayed.  We had to drive to the other hotel and then wait until a driver could be found to take me all the way back across the city to the correct hotel.

In the meantime, a gentleman who had been on the same flight as me, with a name that was, as you have by now guessed, one letter different to my own, was woken up and informed that he was in the wrong hotel and would have to get ready, get packed and then be taken to the correct hotel.  I am fairly sure that he was as happy about it as I was.

I finally got to sleep at about 2am.  After four hours I was awake and ready to head off for work.  A fun time was had by all.

The saving grace of the trip was that I added an extra few hours on the saturday morning and was able to get to the Red Fort – a place that I had been hoping to visit for some time.  We arrived just at dawn, before the Red Fort opened to the public.  It was hot, dusty and still.  The light was dull and flat and the colours of the fort washed out and grey.  I only had a few hours in total to visit, but it was one of the most beautiful and yet sad places that I have seen.

It is clear that the fort was once a wonderful place, full of water, light and shadows.  But when I was there the waterways were empty, the ground parched and the buildings many years from their prime.  It was eerily quiet in the early morning light which added to the melancholy of the place.  As the dawn turned into day more people arrived and the colours began to emerge.  Reds of the sandstone, the whites of the marbles and the faded yellows, blues and greens in the halls and pavilions.  I could have stayed for hours more but the visit had to end and I had to head to the airport.

It was, as it turned out, the last trip that I have made to India to date.  If I believed in bucket lists, a return visit would be on mine.

Enjoy the pictures and experience just a hint of the beauty that is the Red Fort.


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Posted in Architecture, Heritage, India, Photography, Travel

Beijing Water

When I was looking for a theme for today’s post, it was supposed to be a general “water” theme.  After opening up the folder for China and beginning to browse through the 1,300+ pictures for Beijing alone we have narrowed down the theme to pictures involving water in Beijing only.  Even then there were over 30 pictures that made it through the initial selection process and whittling them down to the final eight was a challenge.

I have been to China many times, mostly for work.  In 2003 a friend called and suggested a trip to Beijing over the Christmas and New Year break.  He was feeling a little jaded with the tackiness of Christmas in the UK and wanted to be somewhere that didn’t really celebrate.  We decided that the city would be the ideal place to avoid everything and accordingly made plans.

What we hadn’t realised, or more correctly hadn’t researched effectively, was just how cold Beijing gets in the winter.  Wandering through the parks, gardens and palaces became a bit of a chore at times as the temperatures hovered around -10C or thereabouts.  Until I did a winter trip to Chicago and Madison a couple of years later, I don’t think I had been so consistently cold in my life.

One thing that did come out of this all was the slightly strange reddish light of the late afternoons and early evenings, which can clearly be seen in some of the pictures taken on that trip.  The other influencing factor when photographing in Beijing has to be the constant smog.  We hear a lot about it on the news now, but when you are there it does become debilitating to be constantly breathing in fumes, dust and particles of pollution.  Because of this we headed out of the city a couple of times just to get a bit of breathing space, literally!

Getting to explore the city over a couple of personal trips was a real eye-opener.  It is a huge bustling metropolis but there are some exquisite things to see and do.  And a much greater appreciation for the skill, breadth and depth of the Chinese culture can only be acquired by spending the time looking and learning when you are there to experience the spaces and locations where so much Chinese history happened.  Over the years that I went to China it was still regarded as an unusual place to visit but it is a wonderful and fascinating place to spend time in and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is so inclined.

The pictures below are taken from three trips, one made in summer, one in autumn and one in winter.  I think it should be clear from the light and the sky which is which.

Click on the pictures below to enjoy the gallery and comments welcome as always

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Posted in Architecture, China, Heritage, Photography, Travel

Stained Beauty

Stained glass has always fascinated me since I was a kid.  It was something that I always equated with trips to other places, grand spaces and stately homes.  That somebody would think to make something as utilitarian as a window so beautiful and intricate thrilled me.  I would even get excited about the leadlights – stained glass over doors – in houses or set into windows.  As a small child there was a large Victorian house that we used to pass regularly in the car which had a corner tower and stained glass that I secretly used to vow would be where I would live when I grew up.

Childhood dreams are easily changed and now the building has been divided into apartments and the stained glass (as far as I can tell) is no longer there.  My passion for stained glass still remains, however.

We tend to think of stained glass as something in a church or other religious building – gothic arches soaring and illuminating the faithful at prayer.  But it can be found all over the place – as much a status symbol as anything else in houses of the rich and powerful.

It has a long history in the west and in the UK.  The earliest known reference to a stained glass window in England dates to 675AD, for the windows that Benedict Biscop was having glazed at the monastery church of St Peter at Monkwearmouth in the north east of the country.

Over the centuries stained glass travelled and some fine examples can now be found across the world, including in Asia.  Stunning stained glass can be found in Wat Benchamabophit in Bangkok, begun in 1899 by King Chulalongkorn, one of the great kings of Thailand and a great admirer of western art and culture.

The traditions continue and there is some amazing modern work being done around the world, challenging the traditional methods but also building on the skills of centuries.  Incorporating techniques such as etching, acid burning and a range of colours unimaginable to their medieval counterparts new artists are keeping the skills alive and more importantly, relevant to the modern world.

Photographing stained glass has it’s own challenges.  Often in dark or shadowed buildings the contrast of light and bright against dark and flat requires patience to effectively capture.  You also frequently find yourself looking up or at an angle, which creates challenges of perspective with the image.  A burst of sun or a shadow from outside can change the feel, tone and texture of the glass in a fraction of a second.  A good example of this can be seen below in the two pictures of Thomas Wolsey initials from Hampton Court.  They were taken within seconds of each other, but the two images have a very different balance of light to them.

In the gallery below are a few of the pictures I have taken over the years of stained glass in Europe, Asia and Australia.  My filing system being what it is, I have tried to correctly indicate at least the city or country the picture was taken in.  Unfortunately, I can’t always identify the building, so if you recognise any of them, please let me know!

Click on the pictures and enjoy a few century’s worth of stained glass.

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Posted in Architecture, Heritage, Photography, Travel
Past Posts

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