White Nights

Riga is an odd mixture of architectural styles. The area I’m staying in is filled with nineteenth century buildings, this and their state of dilapidation reminds me somewhat of Budapest. But walking further and one comes to the Art Nouveau district, which is rather more reminiscent of Brussels. The walls on the Eisenstein designed buildings here are encrusted with owls, dragons, peacocks and sphinx like faces. The Art Nouveau museum here is especially lovely, with a sweeping spiral staircase and Stained Glass Windows filled with Irises. There’s a slightly strange exhibition about early Twentieth Century musclemen, showing their medals.

I then got for a walk in the nearby parks, starting with the nearby Russian Orthodox cathedral. The interior is covered in gold and is full of people even outside services (something I notice repeatedly with Orthodox churches but not the Catholic or Lutheran). A sign asks for donations for the restoration of the cathedral after its time as a Planetarium in the Soviet period; it doesn’t seem to be doing too obviously bad though given the sheer weight of gold coating most of the interior. Riga’s parks are rather lovely, with a canal winding through them and follies like a lighthouse, a Chinese pagoda, a statue of Mirzo Ulugbek and a statue of Pushkin donated by Russia.  There’s also an odd series of installations, like a black metal cage releasing steam into the air and a ‘Brexit booth,’ which would probably have been funny if it hadn’t been so depressing.

When you walk into the centre of the city, the contrasts continue with the medieval gothic cathedral sitting on the same square as the Nineteenth Century terracotta bourse and the Twentieth Century Latvian Radio building. I’m  left slightly confused by the presence of an Armadillo sculpture. The medieval House of the Blackheads (actually a Frauen Kirche style hyperreal reconstruction) with its astronomical clock and sculptures of King Arthur and St George stands near to the quasi-Cubist Latvian riflemen monument. The Blackheads building has a lot of the original statues inside along with a contemporary Silver collection. The frequent representations of African men leave me somewhat ambivalent. There’s an uncomfortably cartoonish and stereotypical quality to a lot of them but it equally seems extraordinary for a medieval guild to take a black saint as their  emblem. Walking out of the centre leads to a series of Zeppelin hangers now used as a market, a Soviet skyscraper and a wooden Russian Orthodox church. It’s pretty noticeable that when you get into this ‘Moscow district’ that it gets noticeably rather more down at heel than the other city districts.

The following day I visit the Castle, which like Dublin Castle or the Tower of London was started as the seat of occupation but which now serves as a Government building.  I then visit the Cathedral, with its beautiful Stained Glass showing scenes from the city’s  history. Its cloisters offer the appearance of a  junkshop, being filled with old weathervanes, statues, bombs and the Head of a Pagan Deity. I go for a walk by the dark waters of the Daugava. The river is lovely, with very little on the other bank save a few recent skyscrapers. I then  walk to the medieval churches of Saint Peter and Saint John, both extraordinary instances of brick Gothic. St Peter’s has an exhibition of paintings and woodblocks of Saint Petersburg. Lastly that day, I visit the City History Museum, with its wooden statue of Saint Christopher, gilded medieval reredos, and a drumming automaton.

The next day, I visit the Nineteen Thirties Freedom Monument and the Laima clock from the same period (albeit intended to advertise chocolate rather than celebrate national liberation). I then visit the Art Gallery in the old Bourse. There’s a wonderful Art Nouveau exhibition (with England somewhat awkwardly represented by William Morris and Burne Jones), an oriental gallery (filled with Indian Ivory, Indonesian Shadow Puppets and Masks) a porcelain gallery (with a small version of Pompon’s Polar Bear) and a paintings gallery (I like Blomstedt’s Archer and there’s a small number of works by the likes of Ruisdael). In the afternoon, I visit the Latvia National Gallery.I discover that one the advantages of not really knowing many of the artists is that you can look at the paintings without many preconceptions. There are some beautiful Winter Landscapes by artists like Johans Valters and Vilhelms Purvītis, a series of Revolutionary era collages by Gustav Klucis, Cubist paintings by Jazeps Grosvalds and the rather fun Madonna with Machine Gun by Karlis Padegs.  There’s also an exhibition of Nicholas Roerich’s paintings, mostly showing Tibetan landscapes but also some of Russia.Later, I visit the Mentzendorff House, an 18th century Merchant’s House, which retains jolly wall murals and stained glass windows. Finally, I visit the small porcelain museum,  which is mostly noticeable for its Soviet section, with plates showing Red Square and Lenin’s speeches, alongside a vase of Stalin where one of the figures on his side has very clearly been painted over (the Commissar always vanishes).

There’s not  much time to do anything else on my final day in Riga, save for a quick visit to the rather beautiful Synagogue. After that I board a coach for Tallinn. It’s a very quiet trip, mostly on long roads through the forests and countryside. The road is very quiet, with only other coaches and lorries on its rather than cars. There are also more than a few deserted buildings (give or take a giant wooden beer tankard), with storks using them for nesting. The suburbs of Tallinn are rather pretty, filled with painted wooden houses surrounded by trees.

Tallinn is considerably less varied in its architecture than Riga. The city is essentially intact in its medieval form, with much of the original city walls still standing (and a very large cluster of skyscrapers denoting the presence of a new town outside, far more than Helsinki has). The main street in the centre runs past medieval guild houses and another Blackheads house, alongside a smattering of a few Art Nouveau houses. I get very little opportunity to explore the city centre on my first day though as the heavens open and rain descends. I decide to visit the Art Museum at Kumu. The first thing I see here is an exhibition on the work of Michael Sittow, which is essentially to write an Estonian artist back into history. Sittow mostly painted portraits, in a manner reminiscent of Holbein or Gossaert. The works exhibited range from 19th century views of Tallinn and the Baltic coast, mythological paintings of Kalev, historical paintings of war with Russia and Germany (such as a meeting of the Estonian communist party with most of them wearing Balaclavas), male nudes by Adamson Eric,  modernist paintings by Arnold Akberg and Konrad Magi and political deconstructions of Suprematist designs from Leonhard Lapin. The basement allows you to see the ‘stack’s area for the undisplayed paintings.

As  the weather clears I go to Kadriorg Palace in the afternoon. The main hall is a striking affair with ceiling frescoes and stucco angels blowing gold trumpets. As one would expect for Peter the Great’s palace, a lot of the interior has a distinctly Russian feel; Malachite surfaces, Faberge eggs, wooden marquetry scenes of Tallinn and Soviet era Porcelain. The gallery also has a permanent collection of paintings, including works by Brueghel, Strozzi, Repin, Shishkin Kauffmann and Cranach. I especially like a view of Tallinn by ,which is rather reminiscent of the subject of the temporary exhibition; Ivan Aivazovsky. Praised by Turner, a lot of his paintings do use a similar historical setting but the resemblance primarily resides with the depiction of light in his seascapes, showing ships in settings like Venice, Crimea, Constaninople, Valletta and Odessa. I then walk for a bit around the gardens, from the formal gardens near the palace to a Japanese garden, and then go to see the Rusalka monument on the nearby seashore. Lastly, I visit Peter the Great’s house, a house the Tsar lived in prior to Kadriorg’s construction, filled with paintings of the Tsars, model ships and maps of Europe.

The following day I visit the Kiek in der Kok tower, one of the remaining defensive towers along the city walls, which includes travelling down into the city bastions and into an underground museum of stone carvings. I for a walk along the old city walls and then visit the city’s Cathedral. There’s an exhibition of silver guild emblems, medieval wooden statues and the Notke Dance Macabre painting. I then visit the ruins of the Dominican Monastery and the Church of the Holy Ghost, with its painted clock and wooden pews with medieval paintings. The next day I visit the Estonian Maritime Museum. This is some way out of the city in an area that is semi-derelict near an old fortress and former prison. I go round a steam powered ice breaker, Suur Toll, used in the war of independence and the evacuation of Tallinn during WW2 as well as the Lembit submarine. That afternoon, I visit the city museum, with exhibits including the original ‘Old Toomas’ weathervane on the Town Hall and an Executioner’s sword (with no point at the end, as it was used like an axe). Lastly, I visit the Estonian History Museum. I especially like a private collection bequeathed to the museum, ranging from mummified hands, Aleut masks, Canopic jars, Polar Bears and Seals fashioned out of tusk, Japanese fans, Peter the Great’s boots and a document signed by Napoleon.

The last city I visit is Helsinki. I take the ferry over, which means sailing past a series of islands like Suomenlinna before arriving at the port. The first place I visit is the redbrick Upsenski Cathedral, which is probably the first Orthodox church on this trip not to have been packed by worshippers. I then walk past the harbour where there is a market and visit the Old Market (a brick building which is now rather reminiscent of Borough Market in terms of its gentrification).  I arrive at Senate Square; this vast and largely empty square is lined with colourful buildings in the same sort of classical style as Saint Petersburg. Along with items like a double headed eagle on an obelisk dedicated to the Tsarina, the Russian influence on the city is evident throughout but much of the city’s style seems to exist in reaction to it, preferring dark patterned brick or rusticated walls. If it looks grittier than the other two cities this equally seems expressed in the considerably larger number of beggars on the streets. The Cathedral in the centre of Senate Square must have been rather reminiscent of Berlin in its original domed design by Engels, but the addition of four cupolas at each edge makes it appear rather more Russian in style. By contrast, the austere white interior reminds me of the Cathedral in Copenhagen. I also visit the wonderful University Library opposite, with is domed ceiling.

I then walk further inland to the train station, with its clock tower and Atlantes bearing lamps on either side of the entrance. From here I go to the Chapel of Silence, which is rather typically Nordic in its minimalism and use of wood as the sole material (although the way the light enters reminds me of the Chapel at Cuddesdon). Much the same applies to the Rock Church, with the raw rock as its walls beneath a domed ceiling. I then go the Athenaeum. Pretty much the first thing I see here is Simberg’s Wounded Angel alongside paintings by Repin, Munch, Signac, Werner Holmberg, Serusier, Zorn and Albert Edelfelt. There’s also a special section on Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Kalevala paintings. The modern section has works by Vilho Lampi, Corbusier and Martti Ranttila. There’s also an exhibition of works of magical realism on modern Italian art by painters like Antonio Donghi, Chirico, Carra, Severini, Carlo Sbisa, and Ubaldo Oppi. Lastly, I have time to visit the Finnish History Museum, with exhibits like a Romanov throne, the shirt worn by the Russian Governor’s assassin (complete with blood stains after he killed himself), Moomins, wooden church pulpits and sculptures. I also particularly like Gallen-Kallela’s ceiling frescoes in the entrance hall, along with a bullet hole in the glass door from the civil war.





Dublin is often a confusing mixture of styles; the Georgian brick buildings look like parts of Bloomsbury while the bright wall paintings make it resemble Copenhagen and the number of bridges along the course of the Liffey makes it resemble Amsterdam. Upon arrival I walk down to the banks of the Liffey where the dome of the Georgian Custom House is reflected in the water. I then cross over the river and walk down towards College Green and visit Trinity College. Trinity seems very familiar; with its lodge looking out onto a quadrangle with a Henry Moore sculpture, it obviously resembles Oxford and Cambridge. Details like the campanile differ though and I visit the Old Library, looking first at the Book of Kells exhibition and then the Long Room. I then walk down to Merrion Square, with its slightly bizarre Oscar Wilde statue. I notice the green post boxes, some of them still bearing the emblem of the last British King. The relics of British imperialism recur throughout my visit, with plaques, posters and memorials of the Rising visible throughout. There’s also the awareness of British symbols that have been erased as thoroughly as Marx statues in Eastern Europe, like a statue of King George in Dublin Castle or the demolished Nelson Pillar near the General Post Office. I spend sometime in the Natural History Museum, with its Victorian collection of skeletons (an Irish elk and a whale) and taxidermy (amongst many others; a panda, a walrus, a rhino, a hippo, an elephant a giraffe and a polar bear still bearing a visible gunshot wound to its head).

In the afternoon, I visit the castle and walk around the State Apartments, decorated in a range of Regency Gothick and Victorian styles.  I then visit Christchurch; both it and St Patrick feel very familiar, with extensive Victorian design work on their interior from stained glass through to floor ceramics. Both feel a lot more like the cathedrals in Newcastle and Edinburgh more than York or Lincoln.  The crypt of Christ Church is very distinctive though, with its collection of old monuments and statues; the last Stuart Kings share the space with a cat mummified inside the cathedral organ while chasing a rat. There’s also an Armenian Khachkar outside in commemoration of the genocide. From here I pass onto St Parick’s Cathedral; sets of Tudor monuments are balanced with the flags of Victorian regiments and monuments to Victorian imperial campaigns in Burma and China. Lastly that day, I spend sometime walking around St Stephen’s Green with it statues to Joyce, Tagore and Yeats. There’s a heron on an island in the lake that doesn’t seem to get on with the crowd of rather aggressive gulls. I’m amused by some of the details about the park during the rising; a cease fire had to be declared between English and Irish forces so that the park keeper could feed the ducks.

The next day I visit the National Gallery of Ireland. The collection of European art is extensive; a set of medieval Russian icons, paintings by Perugino, Titian, Moroni, Velasquez, Poussin, Zubaran, Ruysdael, Panini, Bellotto, Goya, Monet, Sisley, Feininger, Caillebotte, Reynolds, Lawrence, Hogarth and Fra Angelico. Much of the Irish art is new to me, like the work of John and Jack Yeats. It also includes works by Douglas Hamilton,  Danby, Hone, Leech (Leech’s Breton paintings seem especially memorable) & Lavery and stained glass by Harry Clarke. Lastly, there’s an exhibition of Kathe Kollwitz engravings. In the afternoon, I visit the National Museum of Ireland. Although it does have a small Egyptian section (more mummified cats), it mostly focuses on Ireland from the neolithic period through to the Viking and Medieval periods. That includes a log boat, bog bodies, gold torcs & lunulas, medieval relquaries and crosses as well as a psalter retrieved from a bog. There’s also a small collection of objects gathered by Roger Casement in his travels in South America and Africa.

On my final day, I go for a walk along the Liffey past the Ha’penny bridge down to Four Courts. I then backtrack and walk north of the Liffey, past the General Post Office and the Parnell and O’Connell monuments to the City Gallery. The collection of Impressionist paintings is very good, with works by Pissarro, Renoir, Manet and a Rodin sculpture. There’s also more stained glass by Harry Clarke and the contents of Francis Bacon’s studio, transplanted here from London. Some paintings that catch by eye are Robert Ballagh’s pop-art Third of May – After Goya,  Brian Duggan’s Wall of Death Rider, Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities: Mist and some of Elizath Magill’s landscapes.

Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon

There are certain classes of city for whom their geography is an intrinsic part of their aesthetic; thinking of the Venetian archipelago with its canals and bridges, Prague with its castle on the hill and the lower town separated from it by the river or Manhattan island. Lisbon, with its self-conscious series of miradours as new views unfold between differing combinations of hills overlooking the Tagus, certainly also fits into this class.

The first day on my arrival is spent in the Gulbenkian. It’s a rather odd building building; a Barbican style brutalist conceit surrounded by pleasant gardens occupied by swimming ducklings and sunbathing terrapins. It looks like stumbling across an illustration of Speer’s theory of ruin value in the jungle. Some of the things that leap out to me; the Lalique jewellery, the Islamic tiles and ceramics, a Rembrandt painting of an old man, Greek coins depicting Alexander, Chinese porcelain, Majolica and Della Robbia roundels, paintings by Hubert Robert, Guardi views of Venice, a Monet winter landscape, and some unexpected Burne Jones paintings. Afterwards, we got to the modern art museum; less interesting but I like some of the paintings by Amadeo de Souza Cardoso and, a Sonia Delaunay painting and the tapestries by José de Almada Negreiros. Afterwards we go for a walk in Parque Eduardo VII to the Aqueduto das Aguas Livres.

The following day I get off the Metro at the Praca dos Restauradores and visit the Igreja de São Domingos, with its ruined interior. I then wonder down to the steampunk Elevador de Santa Justa before visiting the Convento do Carmo, the bleached bones of a church ruined in the 1755 earthquake combined with a museum in its surviving buildings, that spans medieval tombs, Peruvian mummies, English Alabaster, Incan sculptures and an Egyptian mummy. After that, I go to the Igreja de São Roque. Like a lot of Portuguese churches, it’s an especially elaborate exercise in gilded baroque, in this case with a large collection of Saint’s head reliquaries. The accompanying museum features a range of medieval painted sculptures. I then walk down past the Pessoa sculpture at the Cafe Brasileira towards the city’s riverfront at the Praça do Comércio.  It’s an especially beautiful square with the open vista of the Tagus on one side and the yellow of the Arco da Rua Augusta buildings on the other side. I then walk eastwards in the direction of the Alfama, past the Manueline remains of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, and the Casa dos Bicos up to the Sé. The cathedral is a dark Romanesque building with  a later gothic cloister in contrast to the rather colourful architecture surrounding it. After that, I head further up the hill to the Castelo de São Jorge. Little remains of the Moorish castle beyond an extensive series of walls that seem to meander endlessly. It’s hot in the late afternoon sun and I finally sit down to watch a rehearsal for a Tango concert.  A somewhat territorial part-albino peacock occasionally cries out.

The following day I travel out on a rather crowded tram to Belém and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. I’m a little surprised at how busy this is relative to anything else in Lisbon and have to queue for a rather longtime. Once inside, the detailing on the Manueline gothic is incredible, while the church of Santa Maria is rather more impressive than the cathedral in Lisbon, complete with Vasco da Gama’s tomb. Afterwards, I walk around some of the nearby park, looking at a Thai temple and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, before visiting the Torre de Belém. The queues are again rather long here, but once inside it really does feel like looking out on the edge of the world as one stares off into the infinity of the Atlantic ocean.  I spend a bit of time in the Archaeological Museum; some impressive gold torcs, Lusitanian warrior statues, Egyptian cartonnage masks, Roman mosaics, and a beautiful plate depicting Perseus and Medusa. Lastly, I go for a walk along the Tagus to get a view the Golden Gate style Ponte de 25 April.

The next day sees me to take a train out to Sintra. I make the mistake of walking to the Palácio da Pena, which proves a rather uncertain path, but it’s certainly worth it on arrival. The Palace is a blazing riot of colour and fantastical architectural styles. Elaborate gargoyles compete with ceramics to detail the exterior walls. I begin by walking round its outer walls; the view off into the distance is surprisingly hazy. I walk inside the chapel with is strikingly colourful stained glass before entering the palace; I especially like a lot of the detailed stained glass and Turkish sculptures. I then walk around the park; it’s effectively a botanical garden with valleys filled with ferns, giant Redwood trees, lily filled ponds,  all dotted with follies of Islamic domes, Swiss style chalets and Greek temples, before ending in a series of lakes. Dragon flies flit across the lake. I then walk up to the  Castelo dos Mouros. Butterflies flit about and rest in the sun on the walls.

The following day, I decide to return to Sintra, having not had enough time for everything I’d wanted to do the previous day. This time I stay closer to the centre of the town and visit the Palacio Nacional. There’s a series of centrepiece rooms revolving around their ceiling designs; the Swan room, the Magpie room, the Galley room and the Mermaid room. The Mudejar style chapel and Coat of Arms room are probably the most impressive, along with a pagoda model given to the Portuguese Queen by the Senate of Macau. The kitchens are actually also rather striking, given the massively over-sized chimneys that resemble kilns more than anything else. Finally, I walk to Quinta da Regaleira. The house here is rather small, albeit with much of the interior covered in elaborate plasterwork, frescoes and mosaics. The grounds by contrast are extensive and filled with follies, from crenellated towers through to spiralling wells and underground tunnels. As I pause for a break a small vole scurries across the path.

The next day is back in Libson and I visit the Pantheon. Loosely modelled on its Parisian equivalent, most of the building was originally an uncompleted church until the Salazar government had the dome added to complete it for this purpose. The monuments are eclectic, ranging from cenotaphs to Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator, Fado singers and football players. You can walk up to the dome gallery and from there out onto the roof of the church. After that, I go to the church of São Vicente de Fora, with its elaborate series of cloisters whose walls are lined with Azulejo tiles, many of them based on Fontaine’s fables. The monastery also contains a series of Royal tombs and you can go up onto the roof here as well. Lastly, I visit the rather steampunk Water Museum at Barbadinhos.

The next day I take the tram out to Alcantara and the Museu do Oriente. It’s rather out of the way and seems somewhat sparsely visited but it’s a really excellent museum. It covers Portugal’s colonial history, dwelling on Macau and Goa in particular, with exhibits ranging from Namban screens, porcelain, Bodhisattva sculptures, Netsuke and carved ivory; there’s a good set of paintings of early Macau and a small area dedicated to east Timor, including carvings of Westerners. The upper floor in the museum is dedicated to Chinese opera; from Mao-era glove puppets through to series of strange masks and costumes. I then walk eastwards back to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. There’s a range of paintings by Memling, Metsys, Cranach, Tiepolo, Bosch (a painting I’d seen last year in the Prado) as well as Nuno Gonçalves. There’s also a complete Della Robbia statue, something I’d not seen before. The crafts section spans Islamic tiles, Brussels tapestries, an ornate monstrance, a Benin saltcellar, Mughal cabinets and medieval Portuguese sculptures made of wood. The museum has a pleasant garden filled with statues and I pause for a bit for the view out to the Ponte de 25 April.

The next day I take the train up to Porto. The train station itself is particularly impressive, its walls covered in Azulejo depictions of scenes from Portuguese history. The first thing I do is visit the nearby cathedral; like Lisbon, it’s a dark Romanesque affair but here the gothic cloisters have been covered in Azulejo tiles. I then walk downhill to the Rraca da Ribeira and the Dom Luís I Bridge; it’s a rather more impressive waterfront than in Lisbon due to sharp incline down to the river on both sides. From where I stand, I can see over to the monastery and port cellars on the others. I then visit the Igreja de Sao Francisco, a beautifully gilded baroque church filled with elaborate painted wooden statues showing scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian to a Tree of Jesse.  The church has an extraordinary series of catacombs, filled with named niches for dead priests until it ceased to be used as an ossuary in the mid 19th century. I then visit the Lello bookshop with its Escheresque staircase.  I then visit the Clerigos tower, with its rather labyrinthine series of stairwells sitting between the outer and inner walls before visiting some of the churches and returning to the train station.

On the final day, I walk to the nearby bullring before visiting the Decorative Arts Museum and the Casa Museu Dr A Gonçalves.

While out in Lisbon, I was reading Multatulis Max Havelaar. It’s an interesting book; I can’t think of any English account of its colonial practices that was so critical, although the author does veer between a number of positions; criticism of the colonial principle as intrinsically wrong, criticism of specific aspects of colonial administration and criticism of the corrupt rule of the native aristocracy; for all of the criticisms of colonialism there is little here to advocate self-rule. Part of the reason for this diffraction lies in the Matryoshka like structure of the book. It is ostensibly the product of the editing of a set of documents written by Droogstoppel’s former’s classmate Sjaalman, with the distance in views between them being satirically foregrounded. Then within the novel itself, Havelaar’s narrative is counterpointed by the tale Saidjah and Adinda, the one point in the novel where the Javanese are allowed to speak for themselves.

I also read Interzone, a set of stores and drafts that preceded Naked Lunch, albeit mostly written in the still realistic style of Junky. Much of the content is familiar; Burroughs makes clear that he was in Tangier due to its lax attitude to gay sex, but the narratives are filled with internalised homophobia; he writes of a “silly fairy… under (whose) vacuous camping, I see pure evil… a loathsome insect.” Elsewhere he writes of “embattled queens… histrionic guestures and pathetic screams.” It also shows a lot of the fear of the feminine, as when he writes of “her cunt clicks open like a snap-knife.”As ever Burroughs’ homosexuality is partly a revulsion against femininity but which manifests itself further in fear of male effeminacy.  One of the ways this manifests itself is in the creation of the William Lee character, a version of Burroughs distanced from such things; “I include the author, Lee, in the novel and by doing so separate myself from him so that he becomes another character.” Everything in the narrative is fractured; “Tangier seems to exist on several dimensions…. fact merges into dream and dreams erupt into the real world… nobody in Tangier is what they seem to be.”





Leaving the Atocha Station

It’s a searingly hot afternoon when I arrive in Madrid, so I decide to spend my first afternoon in the Retiro Park. The Retiro is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen, filled with sculptures and monuments; stone Sphinxes look on as metal Iguanas spout water into pools where terrapins swim. I walk down a boulevard to the Alfonso Monument, with its colonnades surrounding a central sculpture; giant fish spout water into a boating lake. I walk on to the monument to Lucifer and the Crystal Palace. The Palace has a small art exhibition; at the centre a pendulum gradually creates sand patterns on the floor as it swings to and fro. I walk onward to a rose garden and a set of Japanese gardens; a raft of ducks become competitive as bread is offered.

The next day I take the Metro to the  Teatro Real and walk to the Plaze de Oriente. In contrast to the fantastical Retiro, the Plaze is a geometrically precise formal garden, lined on either side with statues of Spanish Kings and Queens and with an equestrian statue of Philip the Second at its centre. Facing it is the Palacio Real; I walk past it and visit the Catedral de la Almudena. It’s an odd building; the exterior is defined by austere neo-classicism while the interior is a form of cold gothic, but the ceilings are decorated with garish primary colours as are the stained glass in the windows. The crypt is perhaps more striking, with its illuminated arcades silhouetted against the darkness. After that, I walk down past the old Moorish city walls to the Campo Del Moro. With the Palacio Real towering above its fountains and trees, the Campo is a rather more conventional park than the Retiro, with the exception of the odd inclusion of  a Swiss cottage. In one of the rose gardens, I encounter a peacock family with two chicks.

In one of the other parks nearby, I visit the Temple of Debod. This Egyptian temple rests at summit of a hill in the middle of an ornamental pond. After this, I walk back into central Madrid and the Plaza de España; the monument to Cervantes here is only rivalled by the Scott Monument in Edinburgh for a country creating a grand memorial to its writers. The presence of the nearby wedding cake style skyscraper, the Edificio España, makes for an odd counterpoint.  I then travel onto the Plaza Mayor, a grand square surrounded by uniform buildings in a  bright scarlet on all sides with an equestrian statue of Philip the Third by Giambologna in the centre, the Plaza del Sol with its Bear and Strawberry Tree statue and down the Gran Via. The Gran Via is probably best described as a more ornate version of Oxford Street; I’m especially impressed by the Edificio Telefonica, a skyscraper that would not have looked out of place in Manhattan. Lastly, I find myself at the Plaza de Cibeles, where Madrid’s City Hall is located.

The following day, I visit the Palacio Real. I initially walk through the armoury with its collection of Moorish and Medieval weaponry. In the palace itself, a lot of the rooms have ceilings with frescoes drawn by Tiepolo and Bourbon era paintings by Goya; I especially like the porcelain and chinoiserie rooms. The golden lions in the throne room rather remind me of the Rosenborg slot in Copenhagen. As this is the centenary of the death of Cervantes, a number of tapestries showing scenes from Don Quixote are on display. At the end there’s an exhibition which includes a Bernini sculpture of the crucifixion, paintings by Caravaggio, Guido Reni and Ribera. That afternoon, I visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Some of the things I’m most struck by; Bernini’s sculpture of Saint Sebastian, The Virgin of the Dry Tree by Christus, Weyden’s Virgin and Child, Carpaccio’s Knight in a Landscape, Angelico’s Virgin, Titian’s Doge, Brueghel’s Garden of Eden,  Saenredam’s Mariakerk, Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait,  Ter Borch’s Portrait of a Man, Holbein’s Portrait of Henry the Eighth, Ruebens’ Portrait of a Young Woman with a Rosary, Friedrich’s Easter Morning, Cole’s Expulsion, Manet’s Horsewoman, Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge, Renoir’s Wheatfield, Van Gogh’s Les Vessenots, Grosz’s Metropolis, Ernst’s Solitary and Conjugal Trees, Macke’s Circus, Dali’s Dream Caused by The Flight of a Bee and O’Keeffe’s New York Street. There’s also a small exhibition of photographs taken in Wyeth’s native city of Chadd’s Ford. For the rest of the afternoon, I take a stroll to Plaza Santa Ana and the  Mercado de San Miguel.

The entirety of the following day is occupied with a rather more extensive visit to the Prado. There’s an exhibition on for the Bosch centenary; in addition to the gallery’s own collection it’s also brought together Bosh works from across Europe, many of which I’ve seen before, but the highlights are The Garden of Earthly Delights, the Haywain Triptych and the Temptations of Saint Anthony.  Items like The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins are also entirely new to me. The Prado collections proper begin with Romanesque painting, often from preserved church interiors, rather reminding me of similar frescoes I’d seen in Barcelona.  The linkages between Hispanic and Flemish art of the medieval period are new to me, if unsurprising, in paintings of still lives and Boscheque scenes of the fall. Extensive collections of renaissance art follow; El Greco, Ribera, Zurbaran, Velasquez and Murillo representing Spain. The Goya collections are especially extensive, divided between the black paintings, court portraiture and interior frescoes. I’m also new to a Spanish school of neo-classical painting similar to David and Ingres and to the 19th Spanish history paintings; Queen Isabella dictating her will and Joanna the Mad at her husband’s funeral. I’m struck by a painting of Nary Tudor I had never realised was by a Spanish artist. The international collections commence with Angelico’s Annunciation and Boticelli’s Story of Nastagio. Other things that catch my eye; a copy of the Mona Lisa, Parmigianino portraits, a series of Hapsburg portraits by Titian, a Bassano painting of God Reprimanding Adam, Weyden’s Virgin and Child, Durer’s self-portrait, a Massys portrait of Christ, Brueghel’s Triumph of Death, Durer’s Adam and Eve, a Rembrandt painting of Judith, Poussin, Robert and Lorrain paintings and a David Roberts paintings of Rome and Seville. There’s also a small set of classical sculptures, of Antinous, Orestes and Pylades and the Apotheosis of Claudius. Lastly there’s a small exhibition of Talbotype illustrations, made of them made around Reading.

The following day and I take the train out to Segovia. It arrives at a very modern station in the middle of nowhere and I have to take a bus out to the centre of the town. Much of that area consists of wasteland and empty office developments; it looks like an aborted project begun before the financial crisis. As the bus arrives, the first thing I see is the aqueduct; almost entirely intact, easily the equal of anything in Rome. I walk up through the town to the cathedral. It has a beautiful gothic interior with a pleasant set of cloisters. I then walk onto the Alcazar. Heavily restored and recreated after a fire in the 19th century, it rather reminds me of Neuschwanstein with its elegant spires balanced at the edge of a cliff face. I enter through the armoury, which then gives way to a series of gothic and mudejar rooms and climb to the top of the tower, from where I can see Storks nesting on top of the nearby pine trees.  A series of formal gardens cling onto the cliff face nearby.  I walk back through the town, loooking at a series of churches with Romanesque capitals and arches.

The next day and I instead travel out to Toledo. The 19th century train station I arrive at is an exotic 19th century confection, designed in a faux-Moorish style. I walk into the town pass over a bridge and walk through a horseshoe arch into the town. The first thing I visit is the Hospital of Santa Cruz. The museum here has a display of Roman mosaics and medieval Spanish ceramics. The gardens and cloisters are beautiful. Walking further into town I visit the cathedral; not unlike Segovia, but the interior is even darker and more cavernous; a treasury contains a large gold monstrance, the cloister walls are painted with frescoes, the transparente which illuminates parts of the nave at different points of the day through two windows, chapels with sets of medieval tombs, a giant fresco of St Christopher covering an entire wall and a Sacristy lined with El Greco and Caravaggio paintings. I then go onto visit the El Greco museum, a pleasant house filled with Moorish ceramics and a beautiful garden. The museum itself contains El Greco paintings of the apostles. I also visit some of the town’s former synagogues and look at a set of Roman baths jutting out the hillside on the edge of the city. Journeying back to Madrid, I arrive at Atocha station and walk around the old nineteenth century station whose interior is now filled with Palms and Ferns growing above ponds where Terrapins lazily swim.

The following day I visit the Museum of the Americas. Exiting a Metro station opposite Franco’s Air Ministry (designed effectively as a replica for a medieval Spanish castle) the museum is housed inside Madrid university, near a rather bizarre viewing platform (not unlike the Space Needle in Seattle).  The museum is extraordinary; enconchando panels showing the Conquest of Mexico, an Incan mummy, Mayan urns, Tlingit helmets, feather hats and Quimbaya gold figurines. The afternoon is spent in the Archaeological Museum. Starting with Stone Age Idols before proceeding to the Iberian period, with extraordinary sculptures like the Lady of Elche. The collection of Roman mosaics is especially extensive along with Roman tombs and sculptures; I’m also struck by a working Roman pump. Later exhibits include the Reccesvinth’s crown from the Guarrazar tomb, Visigothic jewellery, wooden carvings and ceilings from Al-Andalus, medieval capitals and tomb monuments. There’s also an extensive Greek and Egyptian section, filled with statues of Apollo, Canopic Jars, sarcophagi and a statue of Nectanebo.  Finally on that day, I take advantage of late opening to see Guernicaat the Reina Sofia Gallery, along with various works by Dali, Miro, Man Ray, Brassai, Cocteau, mobiles by Calder and a portrait of Tristan Tzara by Delaunay.

The next day and I travel away from Madrid once more out to the Escorial. It’s a rather convoluted route to get there by train, bus and walking but I do finally arrive. The first thing I visit there is the Basilica, which seems most notable for its dark and austere nature; the gold tomb monuments of the Hampsburgs in prayer are probably the most striking. The I walk through a set of frescoed cloisters into the palace, including Philip’s study, the Hall of Battles and the Kaisergruft style crypts. There’s a small art exhibition, including tapestry versions of Bosch paintings, the custmary El Grecos and  a striking Weyden painting of the Crucifixion. The Bourbon apartments are considerably more lively, filled with bright and colourful tapestries showing scenes of Spanish life, many of them designed by Goya. Finally, I walk around the gardens and look out across the Castilian plain to the four Madrid skyscrapers near the train station that can still be seen in the distance, before getting into yet another bus to visit the Valley of the Fallen. The bus heads off deep into the mountains and leaves me at the Valley for two hours. The grandiloquent scale of the architecture contrasts markedly with the quiet and peace of the location; a Hummingbird Moth is fluttering around some flowers while bees drone near a set of bushes. The concrete plateau in front of the Basilica is filled with weeds and inevitably reminds me of Speer’s theory of ruin value. The interior of the Basilica is in many ways nothing more than a drearily conventional Catholic church filled with ceiling mosaics and a somewhat outre choice of tapestries depicting scenes from the Book of Revelations, but the scale and darkness equally give it the atmosphere of a warehouse or tube station.

The last day in Madrid begins with a visit to the Botanical Gardens. There’s a lovely set of displays, from sunflowers and palms to Bonsai trees and Dahlias. At one point I’m distracted by a noise and initially assume it to be the customarily noisy Parrots before I realise that it’s a set of frog mating calls coming from a pond. A series of (presumably employed) cats prowl around, stalking pigeons. Lastly, I visit the Sorolla museum. Not a name I’d previously heard of, the museum reminds me of the Leighton House in Kensington or Moreau’s studio in Montmartre, with rooms filled with his own paintings, Majolica ceramics and medieval sculptures. The paintings themselves I’m less impressed by; an exhibition shows impressionist views of Spanish cities, including a beautiful Burgos snow scene.

The Angels Are Moving

The first thing that strikes me about Warsaw is that it looks far more modern than most European cities I’ve visited; the skyscraper I’m staying in overlooks a massive multi-lane freeway in a district spotted with other skyscrapers. It looks a lot like the United States. Foremost amongst the skycrapers is obviously the Palace of Culture and Science, facing off against a modern Daniel Libeskind skyscraper and a shopping centre. The detailing on the Palace includes sculptures of figures of each nation, which more leaves me rather reminded of imperial sculptures of each continent in London than its intended purpose. Graffiti I see later showing Godzilla destroying the Palace versus the Bat Signal streaming past it suggests continued ambivalence to a Soviet design that still towers over the city.

Much of the nearby area around the Palace remains rather empty with long expanses filled with nothing but grass and has the sense of still waiting for buildings to be reconstructed on it. I pass on into the Old Town. The hyperreal reconstruction of the original buildings is impressive here and it would have been hard to tell that buildings like the Royal Castle were not the originals. That’s also true of the surrounding buildings but there are signs; the styling of the sgraffito being a little too modernist or the occasional interruption of concrete structures. I have a look at the gothic cathedral with its Mitoraj door sculptures and the Barbakan.

The following day I travel out to Łazienki Park, initially looking at the Chopin monument before looking at the Orangery, with its arcade of sculpture casts (having seen the originals for the Laocoön Group and the Belvedere Apollo in Rome the year before) against a trompe-l’œil mural depicting a classical landscape. Further inside is a theatre; there’s no natural light but the frescos are visible thanks to a group of Cocteauesque sculptures holding lights. Back in the Park and the next thing I see is the  Little White House with its Golden House style decoration and Chinoiserie frescos, before visitingŁazienki Palace. The interior here ranges from rooms filled with Delft tiles, stuccoed ceilings, classical frescos and statues (ranging from Hercules to Cerberus), while the park around it centres on a lake with a classical style ampitheatre facing a stage filled with fake classical ruins on an island. A terrapin sits on a ramp down to the water while peacocks strut about. Classical statues like the Dying Gaul are dotted around the park; I also particularly like a group of Chinese pavilions built near a stream, over which a small moon bridge has been built. Later that day, I journey back to the centre of town and visit the Royal Castle, walking round apartments like the Throne Room an the Sejm. Again, the reconstruction is immaculate although the glittering of the gilding looks a little too bright and untarnished when compared to somewhere like Versailles. I especially like the Bellotto paintings of Warsaw. Lastly, I visit the Tin Roofed Palace and spend some time looking round its collection of rugs, drawn from Persia, Turkey, Armenia and the Caucuses.

The following day, I visit the National Museum. I start off with the medieval section, with various polychromatic altar sculptures before looking at a range of paintings from Ruisdael, Alma-Tadema, Matejko, Lempicka and Signac. There’s a Japanese section I especially like with a range of Netsuke, sculptures of Heavenly Kings and porcelain as well as some classical pieces like red figure pottery and sculptures of Zeus and Mithras. Lastly, there’s the Faras gallery, a series of medieval Nubian frescos taken from the cathedral in Faras before the Aswan dam swept it away. Later on, I have a look at the Polin Museum; a more modern Yorvikesque museum that’s not really to my tastes in spite of interesting subjects and exhibits. Some things that do stand out are the reconstruction of the synagogue in Gwoździec and the model showing the Great Synagogue that used to stand in the centre of Warsaw.

The following day I travel out to Wilanów, the Polish Versailles. I start by looking at St Anne’s church, with it slightly bizarre Mammoth bone, and the adjacent Potocki tomb before entering the Palace grounds. The Palace is brightly coloured and the exterior walls painted in yellows and reds, with reliefs showing classical scenes like Zeus and Ganymede or Perseus rescuing Andromeda. The initial rooms inside are all heavily decorated with Chinoiserie, before later apartments with more conventional frescoed ceilings and classical sculptures. The gardens start with a series of formal gardens that lead up to wilder areas surrounding a lake, where a Chinese pagoda stands by the shore. Lastly that day, I travel back into Central Warsaw and visit the Jewish cemetery. As is often the case, it takes a while to work out who to get in through the large wall and once inside much of it proves to be overgrown and essentially reverting to nature. Images of owls and angels consort with conventional Jewish imagery and Hebrew script on broken tombstones.

The day after, I visit the Nożyk Synagogue, the last remaining pre-war synagogue in central Warsaw, before walking round the Saxon Gardens, Krasiński Palace and the Garrison church before visiting the church where Chopin’s heart is held. After that, it’s off to the train station to set off for Gdansk. The first day in Gdansk is actually taken up with backtracking out of the city, out to Malbork. This is a particular highlight to the trip; a brick gothic fortress whose walls stand at the centre of a large lily-covered lake. The interior of the castle is filled with gothic vaults, some frescoed with images of vines while roof bosses showing centaurs, green men, bears, demons and lions while the tiled floors show images of owls and bats. The castle’s museums include exhibitions around amber, armour, medieval altar sculptures, reliquaries and stained glass. The nearby church of St John, with its wooden tower includes an odd deer skull suspended from the ceiling with the Virgin Mary between the antlers; this sort of imagery is something I see several times in the area in both Gdansk and Oliwa.

In Gdansk itself, I’m staying near the Post Office featured in the Tin Drum, which now has a commemorative scupture outside; made of metal, it’s not especially nice to look at during the day but does look like beautiful when lit up at night. I have a walk around by the Motlawa, looking at the crane and the medieval city gates before walking down Długa to the Neptune fountain and the Town Hall down to the old prison tower. Looking around in a bit more detail, I visit the covered market and old great mill (the canals near to it rather remind me of Bruges) before looking at some of the churches; St Nicholas with its elaborate side altars, limewood sculptures and rood screen, St Catherine where fire damage has stripped the interior down to bare brick and the former church of St John, with its hellmouth fresco, misericords and wooden monuments. Now an art centre, there’s an exhibition of African sculpture when I visit. Confusingly, the sound system appears to be playing the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. I also visit the Cathedral; dark brick on the outside and bright white on the inside, it features Lithuanian stained glass, limewood angels, an astronomical clock and elaborate marble monuments. I then visit the Artus Court, with its wall frescos, ships hanging from the ceiling, huge tiled furnace  decorated with tiles of medieval kings, stags heads and an image of Acteon (more hunting imagery) and sculptures of George and the Dragon. I then visit the Town Hall, with its extraordinary allegorical ceiling frescos; some of the paintings are being conserved and are shown at ground level with scenes like Noah’s ark. I also notice another female figure shown suspended, with deer’s antler’s growing out of her back in the manner of wings. I then walk out of the town centre to the National Museum (yes, another National Museum). The highlight here is clearly Memling’s Last Judgement, but there are several good 19th century townscapes of Gdansk and Flemish paintings. As the day draws to a close, I go for a walk on Olowianka Island, with its ferris wheel and derelict granaries.

The next day and I take the train out to Oliwa, to the cathedral. It’s raining and as I take shelter inside I realise that a organ recital is in progress, playing Bach’s Toccata. I sit down and listen as it plays Peer Gynt and Schubert’s Ave Maria. At one point I hear the sound of chimes and percussion and turn round to see what’s playing it; looking at the organ I realise that the wooden angel that adorn it are moving. Some of them are playing percussion while others appear to be blowing trumpets. The cathedral itself is a mixture of gothic and elaborate baroque detail around the altar. It also has a set of cloisters and a refectory. Back in Gdansk, I visit the Unhagen House on Długa, with its rooms painted with images of birds and insects and stuccoed ceilings. Next, I visit the archaeological museum, with its collection of Amber (the doll’s house furniture made of Amber is especially striking), Sudanese spell board for a witch doctor (when I can see it after a power cut) and ancient face urns. The museum is near Mariacka Street, with its pretty painted houses, strange drain covers in the image of Stag Beetles, Frogs and Elephants where the pipes lead down to spouts embedded in stone dragons and dolphins. Lastly that day, I get a ticket for the maritime museum and start of by visiting the interior of the medieval crane, the Sołdek on the other side of the river and the museum itself with its range of maritime painting. That evening I go to another organ recital; this time in the cathedral at Gdansk, featuring an unusual choice of Canteloube alongside Bach and Muschel’s Toccata. I only have a few hours the next morning and have a look at the area around the Solidarity Museum, with its scaled replica of Tatlin’s tower.

Back in Berlin

It’s misty when I arrive back in Berlin, with the summit of the Fernsehturm shrouded in the fog. As I walk in the Tiergarten though, a hazy light gradually filters down through the autumnal tree branches. I start by walking near the Bundestag, I spot a rabbit nibbling at the grass and note that it’s difficult to imagine anything similar in London. I walk past Siegessäule and the Soviet War Memorial before backtracking down Unter Den Linden. There are a few things I haven’t seen before, like Holocaust Memorial and the Ampelmann store (I’m somewhat amused at the combination of Ampelmann pasta shapes and cookie cutters). I have a look at places like St Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Neue Wache; much of the centre remains as much a building site as I remember it. Finally, I take the S-Bahn from Alexanderplatz to my hotel near the Oberbaumbrücke, which I arrive in time to see silhouetted against the sky.

The following day, I make my way to the Museuminsel. I begin by walking round the Neues Museum, looking at the bust of Nefertiti, statues of Sekhmet and Egyptian sarcophagi before looking at the German section; colourful clusters made from stained glass melted in the firestorm, a sacrificial tree stump and a conical golden hat. I then visit the Altes Museum; statues of Athena, Meleager, Antinous, Dionysus, Cleopatra, Caracalla, Marcus Aurelius, Apollo, the Medea sarcophagus, Augustus Etruscan funerary sculptures and Roman mosaics. Next is the Pergamon Museum, with the Ishtar Gate, Lamassu from Nimrud, the market gate from Miletus and Islamic tapestries and ceramics. Next is the Bodes Museum, with its Della Robbia altar ceramics, mosaic apse from Ravenna and medieval sculptures. Finally, I visit the Altes Nationalgalerie; sculptures by Canova and paintings by Schinkel, Friedrich, Cezanne, and Monet.

The next day I finally get to visit the Berliner Dom (after failed attempts on both of my previous visits to Berlin). The interior has been beautifully restored, with is walls limed with monumental tombs to the Hohenzollern family while the crypt is lined with their large lead caskets, reminding me of the Kaisergruft in Vienna. I then travel out to Treptow to visit the Soviet memorial. I walk through an austere stone gate that looks a piece with much of Berlin’s neo-classicism except for the hammers and sickles adorning it. This leads to a long avenue filled with large stone slabs with reliefs carved on them and leading to a giant sculpture mounted on an artificial mound. I realise that the base of the sculpture has an interior; its gated off but it’s possible to peer through at a set of Soviet mosaics. The layout of the monument is not so different to those I’ve seen in Washington but the imagery used throughout veers from Tom of Finland style cults of masculinity to sentimental images of women and children.

I then head off to West Berlin and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche; something else I had failed to enter on any of my previous trips. The interior is filled with wonderful mosaics, glittering with gold but depicting 19th century figures with impeccable realism. Lastly, I take the S-Bahn out to its furthest extremity in West Berlin and exit at the green woods. I walk through them for a few miles before I finally see my destination in the distance; the ruined cold war listening station built atop the Teufelsberg, an artificial hill built atop the rubble of Third Reich Berlin. I lose sight of the station as I climb the hill but begin to realise how high up I am; I can easily see for miles in every direction. One way lies Berlin and the Fernsehturm, the other unveils miles of forests with only a single 19th century brick tower in their midst (interestingly, I can see that it’s decorated with the Prussian eagle). Finally, I arrive at the station and am more or less left t explore it myself. It mostly seems to be something of a hippy squat now and Berlin’s graffiti artists have been hard at work on the interior. Ivy covers much of the metal struts. At the top floor the wind whips around me and the noise inside the golfball domes is incredibly loud as it tugs at their frayed fabric.


La Dolce Vita

It’s a beautiful sunny day when I arrive at the centre of ancient Rome. It’s an odd experience seeing so many ancient buildings that remain largely intact; I begin by walking round the Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine before walking round the Palatine Hill; the Severian Palace, and the Circus Maximus. Finally, I walk around the Forum; the Curia, the Arches of Titus and Septimus Severus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina the House of the Vestals, the Temple of Saturn and the Basilica of Maxentius. The sub burns fiercely but I can stop at the Farnese Gardens with its Papyrus grasses and Bougainvillea where there is a fountain from which cold water gushes out. The Coliseum has a small exhibition with sculptures of Jupiter and Ganymede, Ptolemy and Sappho; I’m amused by a cat sneaking into the shadows. I’m more surprised by the Kestrel I see resting on the Palatine ruins. I then go for a walk into the Capital, past modern sculptures of Augustus, Nerva and Trajan that overlook the forum of Augustus, the Torre delle Milizie and Trajan’s markets. I then come to Trajan’s column and the Victor Emmanuel monument. Augustus said that he left Rome clad in marble; the ruins I saw that day were mostly bereft of their marble cladding leaving burnt red brick beneath. But the Victor Emmanuel monument perhaps gives a good idea of what the original buildings might have looked like; in truth, the building is rather brusquely grandiose, mostly reminding me of the works of Stalin or Ceaucescu. Lastly that day, I walk round to the church of Santa Maria in Aracaoeli and the Piazza del Campidoglio with its statues of the Dioscuri. I walk down the Aracoeli staircase past the Theatre of Marcellus to the church of Santa Maria Cosmedin and the nearby temples of Heracles and Portunus.

The following day, I travel away from the centre of Rome out to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. There’s a military ceremony commemorating the liberation of Italy after WW2 in a nearby park and I go to have a look at the nearby Protestant cemetery. This is also a cat sanctuary so the place is filled with cats snoozing in the shade. It feels more like a garden than a cemetery; Pomegranate trees grow throughout and flowers bloom in the midst of weeping angels and the graves of Keats and Shelley. I walk on to the church of San Saba with its frescos, and the church of Santa Maria in Dominica with its mosaics, before arriving at the Baths of Caracalla. Though not as intact as the Coliseum, the baths are on a larger scale and much of the mosaic flooring remains in situ. I then walk past the Lateran obelisk to the cathedral of San Giovanni with its coffered ceiling; I especially like the cloisters with its sculptures of lions and sphinxes. I then walk onwards to San Maria Maggiore with its mosaics before going to St Paul Within the Walls; it’s rather odd to see a Burne Jones design fitting in so neatly in a Roman surround, especially when the church otherwise has so many of the hallmarks of GE Street. Nearby is another highlight from my visit; the church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane; here, Borromini’s designs put me in mind of an Italian Hawksmoor. The interior is austere with a pure white predominating in much the same way as in English Baroque. From here, I walk to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. This is perhaps only notable for two things; the fact that it is constructed out of the Baths of Diocletian and the Mitoraj sculptures. The Mitoraj sculptures on the door are a golden bronze that shines in the afternoon sunlight, while one of them on the interior is a brilliant white in the light that floods down in the gloom of one of the side chapels. Lastly, I visit Santa Prassede with its frescoed naves and mosaic ceiling in its side chapels, the church of San Martino ai Monti and San Clemente with the Mithraeum deep beneath the church.

The following day I visit St Peters and walk around for a while outside alongside its colonnades and Egytpian obelisk. After a rather long queue through airport style security to get in, I get inside to see Michaelangelo’s Pieta and the statue of St Peter. The cavernous interior is rather dark, lit by flashes of lit beaming through the windows of Michaelangelo’s dome. I proceed down to the Necropolis and the tomb of St Peter and re-emerge blinking into the sunlight. After that, I walk down towards the Tiber and the Castel San Angelo. The interior of the mausoleum is less like a castle and more like a labyrinth; I find that I frequently have to reverse course and retrace my steps. The interior encompasses a beautiful hall filled with wall frescoes of Hadrian and various mythological figures, a strange modern exhibition with pocket watches suspended from the ceiling and, of course, the chamber where Hadrian’s ashes were probably interred. I then walk over the bridge filled with Bernini’s angels and walk for a bit along the Tiber. Eventually, I come to the Ara Pacis. The gleaming modern pavilion seems somewhat at odds with the overgrown wilderness of the Augustus mausoleum next to it, but on the inside it does showcase the marble reliefs and bucrania freezes. I then decide to go for a walk through the centre of modern Rome, beginning at the Piazza del Popolo with its Sphinxes and Egyptian obelisk, before visiting the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Sant Agnese, Sant Agostino the column of Marcus Aurelius and the Pantheon. The Pantheon is a particularly striking experience; although adapted to serve as a church, the interior remains much the same as it was during the Empire. I also look seeing Sant Ivo alla Sapienza; again, this Borromini design reminds me of Hawksmoor, particularly the way All Soul’s College is framed by its cloisters. Other highlights include the gothic church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva; the whimsical Egyptian obelisk balanced on the back of an elephant is counterpointed by a gloomy dark gothic interior filled with tombs and monuments. Lastly that day I visit Trajan’s markets. Once again, the interior is surprisingly well preserved with a central vaulted arcade and long passageways, which lead out into a garden at the base of the Torre delle Milizie and down to the forum.

The next day, I visit the capitol. I’m amuse by the presence of the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus recreated as topiary and have a look around the Mamertine prison before going into Capitoline Museum. There’s an exhibition about the work of Michaelangelo on; including his busts of Brutus (compared to a rather more vulpine Roman version) and his (somewhat excessively muscular) statue of christ. Other highlights of my visit are the original Roman wolf, a bust of Medusa, statues of Tritons alongside a golden Hercules, the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, frescos of Hannibal and his elephants, the giant bust of Constantine, the Capitoline Venus, a bust of an Amazon warrior, the flayed statued of Marysas, Egyptian Sphinxes & Scarabs, the dying Gaul, the famous fountain statue of Mars, mosaics of tigers devouring antelopes. Upstairs, I also enjoy paintings by Reni, Caravaggio, Veronese and Pietro di Cortona. Afterwards, I visit the Arch of Janus before walking across the Tiber and visiting San Bartolomeo on the Isola Tiberina before visiting the Trastevere area of Rome. I start by visiting Santa Cecilia in Trastevere with its Bernini statue of the saint (I later see a copy in the saint’s tomb in the catacombs) before visiting Santa Maria in Trastevere with its wonderful mosaics. Walking back into the centre of Rome I walk past the Cat Sanctuary (not a great of energetic activity going on here) and the church of San Marco.

The following day is forecast to be rainy and I decide to visit the Vatican Musuem. After a rather tedious hour long wait, I finally get into the Egyptian section (possibly not the best idea; the crowds make it feel more like a visit to Oxford street than anything else). The highlights here are several Egyptian sarcophagi and statues of Anubis, Ptolemy and Antinous, before I proceed through the Assyrian and Palmyran sections to the sculpture gallery. This has sculptures and statues of most ancient mythological and historical figures; Ganymede, Paris, Athena, Augustus and Dionysus catchy my eye. I pause outside to look at the courtyard of the pines with the ancient lions of Nectanebo counterpointed by the modern scupture by Pomidoro in the centre of the courtyard before I walk onto the octagonal court with the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon. Returning inside, I walk through the room of the Muses to the Rotunda with its statues of Antinous, Hercules, Augustus, Claudius and the Roman mosaic at its centre. I leave this section by walking past the sarcophagi of Helena & Constance before visiting the Etruscan section. I find myself lingering for a while here, mostly as the relative peace and quiet makes it much easier to enjoy the exhibits. Amongst the works I like here are a bronze statue of Mars, funerary sculptures, bronze bosses and lion sculptures. I then walk through the galleries of tapestries and maps into the apartments with their frescos by Raphael and Pinturicchio. Eventually, this leads to the gallery of contemporary art, virtually all of which has few obvious connections to catholicism; paintings by Bacon, Van Gogh, Sutherland, Dali and Matisse. Finally, this leads to the Sistine chapel. Lastly, I come to the Pinacoteca; paintings by Lippi, Gozzoli, Vivarini, Raphael, da Vinci, Reni and Caravaggio.

The following day and I complete my visits to the main museums of Rome with Palazzo Massimo. The undoubted highlight is the frescos from the House of Livia, with their detailed depictions of trees, flowers and birds. Running close to this is the Discobulus statue, the veiled statue of Augustus, the Niobid, the bronze sculptures of the boxer and Hellenistic prince, a bust of Sappho, bronzes from the Nemi ships, a relief of Antinous, the sleeping hermaphrodite, frescos from the Farensina villa and the vast marble sarcophagus. I briefly visit the church of Santa Maria Della Victoria before walking out of the city along the Aurelian wall and the Via Appia Antica towards the catacombs. Firstly, I visit the catacombs of San Callisto with the crypt of the Popes and of Saint Cecilia before visiting the catacombs of Saint Sebastiano, with its frescoed pagan tombs. The sculpture of Sebastian in the church above is quite extraordinary, being far more openly sexual than the similar sculpture of Cecilia. Lastly, I visit the tomb of Cecilia Metella.

The next day, I visit the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano, with its mosaics, ceiling frescos before heading out to Rome’s botanical gardens. Black and green lizards near ponds and a turtle basks on a stone in the middle of a lake in the Japanese garden. Koi carp swim lazily below. The lily flowers are about to seed while the date palms above are filled with fruit. After this, I visit the Palazzo Barberini, stopping to visit the Gesu church on the way. The Palazzo’s twinned staircases by Bernini and Borromini buttress an interior filled with frescos by Pietro da Cortona. I particularly note paintings by Lippi, Sodoma, Holbein (oddly, a painting of Henry the Eighth), Bronzino, Tintoretto,El Greco, Titian, Reni, Caravaggio and Salvator Rosa. Finally, I take the metro out to EUR. It’s an odd place; long boulevards lined with austere monumental architecture but with no pedestrians. The traffic is incredibly busy though, so crossing a road takes quite a while. On my final day in Rome, I visit the Borghese gardens and the Etruscan museum at the Villa Giulia. This is particularly notable for a preserved tomb interior complete with frescos, funerary sculptures, bronze bosses and sculptures from preserved temples. I particularly like a plate with an elephant leading its young on it.

Eastern Promise

Arriving in Cluj Napoca I walk alongside a rather dilapidated street into the centre of town, past several Baroque churches such as the Calvin Reformed Church, Evangelical church and Unitarian church. The first thing I come across in the centre is the modern Orthodox cathedral and its surrounding sets of modern status designed to ground a historical context for Cluj as a Romanian town, thereby serving as a counterpoint to the adjacent square with the medieval catholic cathedral, whose exterior is blazoned with the arms of the King of Hungary. The surrounding square is dominated by a statue of Matthias Corvinus and other Hungarian nobles, in opposition to the Romanian statue of Romulus, Remus and the Wolf. While I’m there I’m somewhat surprised at the extent of campaigning for the European elections that’s underway; there are several stalls and the Christian Democrats are holding a rally. Some of the buildings in the area are beautifully exuberant, ranging from art nouveau, the colourful cubism of the Vila Astoria to the neo-baroque of the National Theatre, Mirror Street and the Justice Palace. I also rather like the medieval city walls and tailor’s bastion. I visit the art gallery in the Banffy Palace. The medieval works show a distinctive iconographic style that’s quite distinct from either Western Europe or the Byzantine tradition, although the majority of the collection is given up to perhaps rather less original neo-impressionist works. I rather like paintings by Stefan Luchian and Nicolae Grigorescu. I also rather admire Elena Popea’s cubist paintings of Dutch settings (somewhat odd to see modernist renditions of Castle Bran). The only artist I recognise is the Hungarian Nagy Istvan. I also go to visit the ethnographic museum and admire the collections of Romanian ceramics, regional costumes and textiles along with gruesome items like a hunting bag made from Badger hide where the head and snout form the clasp. It has an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings during my visit; I especially like the drawing of Faust that Goethe was later to use as a cover and a self-portrait with most of the drawing in darkness save a little light from a small window. I then walk out of the centre a bit and look at the old synagogue, the elaborate town hall and the Carolina” Obelisk dedicated to the visit of a Hapsburg Emperor.


It’s been several years since I was last in Budapest and in many respects the city has changed little, with much of its Austro-Hungarian splendour remaining in a state of decay and dilapitude, but at the same time there are far more homeless people on the streets than I remember while much of the city’s streets and buildings are alive with building work. It’s blazingly hot on the day I get back and I walk towards the Danube, past the University church with its Indian door carving. The river is lined with stalls selling freshly made lemonade and I cross over the Margaret Bridge and look back at Pest from the base of Castle Hill. Crossing back over the chain bridge, I walk down Andrassy Avenue, with its ornately decorated corbels and grotesques. The Hungarian state opera house is a particularly beautiful example of this, with its rather strange Sphinx sculptures at its corners and statues of Franz Liszt; many of the capital’s theatres are nearby making this the equivalent of the West End with sculptures of composers like Imre Kalman exhibited outside. I’m particularly interested in the Mai Mano house with its Majolica tiled interior. The photography exhibitions inside are in truth rather underwhelming, with the possible exception of one that dwells on the post-communist aspects of Hungarian life.

The following day, I decide to visit the Jewish quarter. I’d passed through here before but hadn’t had time to go inside any of the buildings; I’m pleased to discover than with some renovations, all of them are now open to varying extents. The Dohany synagogue is easily the most ornate and impressive, with the interior matching the Moorish exterior, decorated with geometrical stained glass. The basement has an exhibition about the history of the synagogue from its froundation through to the holocaust while the memorial park at the back has a monument to the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Nearby, I’m pleased to see that Otto Wagner’s Rumbach synagogue is now open; although the building remains unused and dilapidated the interior remains striking with its central dome and rich wall decorations. Last is the Orthodox synagogue, which has been completely renovated since my last visit, and whose relatively unassuming exterior gives way to an interior with vividly coloured stained glass and ceramic tiling of Jewish symbols; a clock remains set at the point where the Nazis had closed it down. Lastly, I decide to revisit St Istvan’s Basilika; last time I went to the roof of the building while this time I’m take down to the crypt, complete with the giant sculpture of St Leopold that previously hung above the door and which had killed a workman when it fell off. The crypt is otherwise a bit lacklustre; Hunagarian footballers seem to be as prominent as it gets.

The following day I visit Kerepesi cemetery. My initial impressions are that although it occupies a similar area of land to Pere Lachaise or Highgate it nonetheless seems rather empty; initially more of a park than a cemetery. Eventually, as I walk deeper in aspects of the place emerge that more closely resemble its Western European counterparts, like the monumental tombs for figures like Kossuth or the Bromptonesque central avenue lined with elaborate monuments on either side (albeit rather sensual and sinister monuments that you would look in vain for in Kensington and Chelsea). The frescos on the four domes at each end and side of the avenue are particularly extraordinary. Some traditional wooden gravestones can be found at the monument to victims of 1956. Moving further outside central Budapest, I find myself at Memento Park. Stranded in a backwater, the monumental aspects of the sculptures now acquire a certain kitsch quality; Cubist sculptures of Marx and Engels now stand near to an old Trabant while the gift shop sells a range of humorous communist merchandise. The Cubist piece is certainly one of the more adventurous present, with most of them being grandiloquent works dedicated either to Soviet militarism, Hungarian party technocrats or the cult of the worker. Figures like artists and scientists are absent, as, for the most part, is any sense of miniaturism. Returning to Budapest, I walk up Castle Hill where I revisit the Matthias church and the Fisherman’s Bastion before walking back to Gul Baba’s tomb with its recently added Iznik tiling.

I return to Castle Hill the following day to visit the Hungarian National Gallery. The initital sections on medieval stonework dwell on tomb-slabs and tympanums, one decorated with a rather strange mer-cat, before the displays move onto medieval altar paintings; there’s a particularly good painted wooden ceiling from Romania. I note that a lot of the baroque works come from the Esterhazy collection. The 19th century collection is unfamiliar to me but shares a lot of the pre-occupations of Western European art, whether Orientalism showing in pictures of the Emir of Lebanon or romanticism of landscape scenes near Tivoli through to a very extensive collection of historical painting. One of the highlights is an exhibition comparing French impressionist art with its Hungarian counterparts. Paintings by Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Gauguin, Monet and Cezanne are placed alongside artists like Merse (whose paintings of poppy meadows and apple orchards in blossom compare well to Monet, not to mention a rather fun air balloon painting), Mednyanszky Laszlo (a painter of rather crepusclular and romantic landscapes) or Grunwald Bela (a painter rather reminiscent of Gauguin’s Brittany period). Cezanne emerges as a particularly powerful influence with figures like Czigany Deszo, Kernstok Karoly and Bereny Robert following in his footsteps. One of the most striking paintings is Before the Storm by Koszta Jozsef, showing a figure silhouetted against the fields at twilight. Next door is the city museum, with exhibitions on the history of the city from prehistoric times through to the communist period, including statues of Stalin, paintings of the attempt to destroy the chain bridge during the 1848 uprising, exhibitions on the ties between Armenia and Hungary, medieval and Islamic ceramics through to a copy of a communist era living room (looking much like how I recall living rooms of that time). The interior of the structure includes a baroque courtyard through to the old chapel and gardens of the royal palace. Walking down the the hill I visit the Soviet era liberation monument and the rock cave.

The following day I travel outside Budapest to Esztergom, visiting some of the rather extraordinary Victorian ticket halls of Budapest train stations. I walk from the centre of Esztergom up to the basilica. This is the largest church in Hungary, although as the baroque interior is filled with light it seem smaller than the rather dark interior of St Istvan. The crypt is perhaps rather more impressive; a cavernous affair filled with tombs and monuments to previous archbishops. Although the rather squat exterior of the church is perhaps rather less impressive, the view from the top of the hill over the Danube to Slovakia is particular beautiful. I have a look around the castle ruins with its exhibitions of stonework remains and Islamic armour before walking up to a hill chapel, with sculptural scenes of the crucifixion lining the way up the hill. I then walk back to the train station past the old synagogue. Arriving back in Budapest, I visit Hero’s Square before looking at City Park. I particularly the architectural gallimaufry that is Vajdahunyad Castle, with its combination of French and Romanian styles, accompanied by the sculptures of Anonymous and Bela Lugosi as well as the Cheshire cat sculptures on the chapel. While I visit there’s a fair on, with Hungarian cattle grazing alongside craft stalls selling items like cow horns and boar rugs. I also really like the art nouveau zoo buildings. The following day starts with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. It has a wonderful collection of paintings by David, Holbein, Veronese, Gallen-Kallela, Ruisdael, El Greco, Velasquez, Brueghel, Ghirlandaio, Saenraedam, Bellotto, Goya, Stuck, Raphael, Bellini, Durer and Cranach. I also like some of the op-art in the basement. That afternoon I go on a tour of the Hungarian Parliament, which is indeed reminiscent of its gothic revival counterpart in Westminster; I particularly like the cigar rack outside one of the chambers. For all of its opulence, much of the building remains an empty signifier with one of its chambers now unused and the other having its number of members dramatically cut down from its zenith during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Walking back, I discover that the Parisian arcade is open, albeit plunged into stygian darkness. I also visit St Mary’s church with its surviving Ottoman Mihrab and the Serbian Orthodox church before finally visiting the central Market Hall; the idea that even brandy has to come with paprika seems to be a bit over the top.

I’m up early the following day for a lengthy train ride to Bratislava. Unfortunately, it proves to be a miserable grey day with incessant rain. I arrive at a rather dilapidated train station and walk into the centre of the city, stopping off to visit Lechner’s Blue Church. I’d seen several of his Gaudiesque buildings in Budapest, like the design museum and the savings bank; interesting that both Spain and Hungary found themselves looking backwards towards Islamic architectural ideas. The Blue Church itself seems more like something out of a fairy tale and, if anything, reminds me of the church of St John in Shobdon. The centre of the city is perhaps rather disappointing with much of it having been gutted by the communist to build a motorway; a large modern bridge surmounted by a war of the worlds style observation deck straddles the Danube, while the other side of Petržalka is crowded with paneláks and factories. The medieval cathedral in Bratislava does make a welcome change from Budapest’s nineteenth century glamour, with a set of elaborate wooden choir carvings, a bronze equestrian sculpture and a labyrinthine crypt. After that, I walk upwards to the Hrad. Rather more spartan than its equivalents in Prague or Budapest, the interior is modern rennovation after the building was gutted by fire. It now houses the collection of the National Museum, ranging from portraiture, phalasterics and clocks.

I begin my final day in Budapest, I visit the Jewish cemetery in Kerepesi; as the gates are firmly locked and with a less than welcoming Alsatian behind them, I conclude that I can’t get in. However, a gatekeeper appears and safely guides us in. The cemetery is in truth in a bad way, with many monuments appearing unstable and decayed as nature takes back the ground. I then visit the Applied Arts Museum, another of Lechner’s wonderful buildings. While the exterior is colourful, the roof decorated with green and yellow ceramic tiles while the Alhambraesque interior is a pure white, rather like an especially ornate wedding cake. Much of the exhibitions are dedicated to ceramics, with wonderful displays including Minton vases, works by Tiffany, Lalique and Hungarian artists like Rippl-Ronai working with the Zsolnay factory as well as Boulle furniture, Brussels lace and Meissen porcelain. There’s also a good exhibition of Islamic art, including rugs, helmets, clothing, weaponry and ceramics. And with that, my visit comes to a close and I find myself back at Budapest airport (and a rather odd stall for Hungarian delicacies featuring a stuffed Mangalica pig).

Parisian Scenes

Paris is a city of appearances. The things I remember most are simply impressions; the glitter from the lamps onto the white tiling in the Metro, the red roses pinned to buildings in memory of the resistance, the water trickling down the side of the streets, the smell of chicken roasted in street markets or the fallen plane tree leaves on the pavement. Where London is constructed from Portland stone that grows grey and dirty over time, Paris is built from the same honey coloured stone as Oxford, Bristol and Bath, which grows warm in the late afternoon sun. Where London is a cacophony of styles from Wren churches to the Gherkin, Paris has the same sense of coherence as those other English cities; it’s noteworthy that where central London has become home to the city’s largest skyscrapers rather than the Isle of Dogs, Parisian skyscrapers remain confined to La Defense. The Eiffel Tower remains the largest building in the centre, with only one solitary competitor in Montparnasse. The long orderly boulevards contrast to London’s warren like streets and instead resemble Unter Den Linden in Berlin, but places like Montmartre instead resemble Camden or Hampstead; villages swallowed by the metropolis. On the other hand, if anything the city is more multicultural than I expected, although for all the black and Asian faces on the streets there seem to be large numbers of Japanese restaurants but hardly any North African.

My first day sees me taking the Metro to the Ile de la Cite, with its Guimard station. Sainte Chapelle is an odd experience, given that so many Victorian college chapels in Oxford are modelled on it. Under artificial light, the decoration and colour on every surface gleam, from the painted fleur-de-lys on the ceiling to the medallions on the wall, while the canoped ceiling seems to float above the walls of glass. The nearby Conciergerie grand hall is equally impressive, with it underground chamber being ablaze with light. Some of its exhibitions are somewhat tacky, although the solemn expiatory chapel dedicated to Louis and Antionette stands out. I then go for a walk through the Place de la Chatelet with its fountain sphinxes, the park with Tour St Jacques, the Fontaine St Michel along the Seine before crossing the Pont Neuf to the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, the Tuileries and the Place de la Concorde with its fountain and Egyptian obelisk. I decide to visit the Orangerie. Obviously, the most striking thing here are the Monet paintings round the circular white walls of the gallery; I realise that the abstraction in his lily paintings is rather reminiscent of Rothko. For the rest of the gallery, seeing yet more Renoir’s sentimental society paintings does little to endear me to him; rather better are the paintings from Cezanne, Picasso and Rousseau. There’s a particularly large collection of Derain paintings, ranging from landscapes to an odd painting of Harlequin and Pierrot. I briefly look in at La Madeleine, beforewalking onwards down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Having compared this to counterparts in other European cities, I hadn’t realised the scale of the building; from its summit, I look out to La Defense, to Sacre Coeur perched on top of the hill at Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower.

The following day is entirely devoted to the Louvre. I start off on the ground floor with the ancient exhibits; Assyrian Sphinxes, Persian archers, the code of Hammurabi, Palmyran deities and tomb monuments, Egyptian sarcophagi, the winged victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, a Roman sculpture of a Hermaphrodite and Etruscan funerary monuments. The ground floor of ancient exhibits is relatively quiet but as I proceed upwards to the paintings the rooms become more and more crowded. The Italian wing commences with Florentine art; Botticelli, Lippi, Vinci, Ghirlandaio as well as Leonardo, whose Mona Lisa is barely viewable in the midst of a scrum. By contrast, Veronese’s Marriage at Cana filling the entirety of the wall opposite is barely looked at. The Venetian section is particularly good, with a lot of Titian’s portraits. After this, the interest declines save for a few highlights; Tiepolo, Caravaggio, Arcimboldo, Reni, Panini. The adjoining Spanish section has some spectacularly desaturated El Greco paintings accompanied by a selection of Goya and Murillo paintings. The German section is particularly wonderful, with a set of paintings from Holbein, Cranach and Durer through to David Friedrich. The Danish and Dutch sections are equally good (provided one can avoid Rubens) with paintings by van Eyck, Memling, Weyden, David, Hals, Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Vermeer, Hammershoi and Eckersberg. The British section is somewhat embarrassing with a large amount of Gainsborough, Reynolds and Constable on display, although there are some good paintings by Turner, Dadd and a particularly good Martin. Out of a desire to avoid as much Fragonard and Watteau as possible, I don’t get to see as much French painting as I would have liked, but I do see most of the more impressive paintings by David, Gericault, Ingres and Delacroix. I’m somewhat surprised to see quite a lot of Delaroche in one of the rooms; I had thought he was rather more popular in England than in his native country.

The following day starts with a visit to Notre Dame. The exterior alone is marvellous, with its three richly ornamented arches covered with images of the saints and Biblical scenes, while the interior allows the rose windows to be seen in all their glory. Nearby, there’s also the archaeological crypt, with a view of the original street plan of the Ile de la Cite. While I visit, there’s an exhibition of the evolution of the city from the original Lutetia. I then walk southwards, past the Sorbonne to the Pantheon. Occupying a space between a secular temple and a church, the interior is rather stark and austere, save for the rich frescos to Saint Genevieve. The crypt, with its monuments to Voltaire and Rousseau is equally stark. I go for a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg before visiting St Sulpice and St Germain-des-Prés; the latter has a rather dark and decayed interior, while light filters through the former’s stern neo-classicism, throwing the Delacroix frescos into relief. I then walk onto the Jardin Des Plantes, pausing to visit the St Louis Chapel at the Salpetriere. The Jarden is guarded by a stegosaur and a mammoth from the palaeontology museum at its entrance, before I go round the glasshouses with their sections dedicated to ferns and cacti.

I then walk back to the Museum of the Middle Ages. A former set of Roman baths, turned into a medieval town house for the Cluniac order, the building makes a perfect setting to a collection of stone sculptures from Notre Dame, ivory and Limoges enamel reliquaries, stained glass from Sainte Chapelle, encaustic tiles, Moorish lustreware, paintings, misericords, illuminated manuscripts and, above all, tapestries. Red is usually the colour most prone to fading from tapestries of this age, but the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn are vibrant in all their colours. The chapel is perhaps the most impressive part of the building, with an elaborate gothic ceiling. I also take the opportunity to visit the nearby St Severin, with its unusual Solomonic column in a gothic church.

The following day begins with a walk around Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower before visiting Les Invalides. In many respects, this rather reminds me of a landlocked version of Greenwich; the architectural principles at work are rather more grandiloquent than those at the Royal Naval Hospital, but not vastly different in principle. I begin with Napoleon’s tomb; a grandiose affair underneath a frescoed dome and surrounded by mourning caryatids. It does seem somewhat odd to me, analagous to the tomb of Lenin in preserving the memory of a decidedly dubious figurehead, particularly given the diminished prominence given to someone like Foch. The adjacent Soldier’s Church is rather more restrained and perhaps the better for it. Following this, I visit the sewere museum; expectations of underground cathedrals are somewhat disappointed here. I then spend the afternoon in the Musee d’Orsay, which may well be the most impressive setting for an art gallery that I’ve come across, with the old train station forming a perfect showcase for the art of Belle Epoque Paris. The sculpture ranges for a cast of Rodin’s Gates of Hell and The Bronze Age, Pompon’s Polar Bear to Degas’s Small Dancer, but most of the collection consists of more obscure pieces like Carpeaux’s The Four Parts of the World Holding the Celestial Sphere, Guillame’s Cenotaph of the Gracchi, Marcie’s David and Pradier’s Sappho. The decorative arts section forms an impressive survey of the Second Empire crafts through to Art Nouveau, exemplified by Gaudi, Guimard, Horta, Mackintosh, Baillie Scott, Tiffany and Lalique. The painting section picks up where the Louvre left off, with the likes of Delacroix and Daumier. This leads onwards to naturalism and paintings by Millet before leading onto the Barbizon school, exemplified by Courbet and Corot. The ground floor also has some diverting sections; an orientalist room featuring Lewis and a symbolist section, with pieces by Moreau and Redon (as well as Burne Jones; presumably the only space the French had available to classify him in). From here on the pieces grow more famous, such as Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe, The Balcony, Olympia and his portrait of Zola. The impressionists, followed Monet’s lily paintings and studies of Rouen Cathedral, Renoir’s Dance an Le Moulin de la Galette (where by coincidence I’d eaten on one of the preceding evenings), works by Sisley and Pissarro, Degas’s Absinthe Drinkers and works by Cezanne. The highlight comes with the room dedicated to Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose Self Portrait and Starry Night overshadow everything else. The gallery continues with works by Signac (pointillist seascapes of Venice), Seurat (whose circus paintings were rather different from what I had expected of him) and Toulouse Lautrec before ending with Munch and Derain.

The following day I find walk through Montmartre to get a train connection to St Denis. I walk past the church of St Jean with its redbrick and ceramic art nouveau exterior (not to mention the lurid apocalypse themed stained glass) and Sacre Coeur, whose austere white exterior seems out of place in Paris, before getting the train connection. St Denis is the only time I go into one of the banlieue that periodically hit the headlines; certainly its grim concrete shopping centre does little to dispel any stereotypes one might have. The basilica at St Denis is a rather poor thing from the outside, with one if its spires having collapsed. On the inside, its rose windows equal Notre Dame. The main item of interest is the Royal Necropolis, with its stone monuments to French monarches from Clovis to Catherine de Medici, as well as the crypt where lie the remains of Marie Antoinette. Returning to Paris, I visit the Arts and Crafts museum. Somewhat misnamed, this is more of an analogue for the science museum, with exhibits ranging from Cray computers to steam-powered aircraft; the interior of the old prior contains another instance of Foucault’s pendulumn (matching the one in the Pantheon), a copy of the statue of Liberty (to match the one in the Musee d’Orsay and immediately outside the building) and a number of old biplanes and cars. The nearby Metro station is designed by Francois Schuiten; its wall are burnished in red bronze with portholes at regular intervals and steampunk cogs protuding from the ceiling. Later, I walk to les Halles and the church of St Eustache before visiting the copy Brancusi’s atelier near the centre Pompidou.

The day after and I find myself on a train bound for Versailles. My overall impression of the palace is that it compares unfavourably to Pottsdam, whose interior is filled with quirkky rococo touches, like the ballroom whose walls are covered in shells. The most impressive rooms are undeniably the hall of mirrors and the chapel. Conversely, the grounds at Versailles are vastly larger than those at Pottsdam or Schoenbrunn and are lined with copies of classical statuary and elaborate fountains in the lakes. The most impressive part are the follies near the Grand Trianon, with its idealised pastoral (what aristocrats imagined peasant life must be like) and classical temples.

The next day I visit the peaceful square at the Place Des Vosges before visiting the Musee Carnavalet. This something of a cross between the Museum of London and the Geffrye Museum, telling the history of Paris through paintings and exhibits as well as various period rooms, like the Mucha designed Fouquet boutique, Proust’s cork lined room or the ballroom from the Hotel de Wendel. I then go and have lunch in the Parc Monceau, with its fake ruins and statues of poets and painters before visiting the Musee Cernuschi, a museum dedicated to Oriental arts, including Chinese bronzes, Terracotta horses, Ceramic camels, gilded funerary masks, a Japanese statue of the Amida Buddha and a dragon incense burner. I also briefly visit the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, much of whose ground floor strikes me as exemplifying rather pedestrian taste but whose upper floor with its Tiepolo frescos, Uccello’s painting of St George and the dragon and other paintings by Botticelli, Bellini, Carpaccio and Canaletto is rather more interesting.

The Parisian cemeteries were somethining I particularly wanted to see. The first one I go to is the Cimetiere Du Montmartre. Finding the entrance proves difficult, particularly as it proves to be tucked away in an area of the cemetery that is now beneath a railway line. Montmartre seems to be a necropolis in the true sense of the term, with monumental houses lined up in orderly avenues rather than the higgledy piggledy layouts of London cemeteries. Equally, I note that the sentimental Victorian angels favoured in London are missing here; hourglasses and owls seem preferred instead. The cemetery seems a popular venue for cats; it’s difficult to walk round without being kept under surveillance by feline eyes. After sometime trying to find the Goncourt grave I give up looking for notable graves, although I do find Stendhal, Dalida and Zola without too much trouble. The most odd grave is one cast in the shape of a cactus. Further to the south, the Cimeterie du Montparnasse offers a similar experience; Sartre’s grave is by the entrance while the grave of Serge Gainsbourg continues to resemble a shrine laden with votive offerings (including a teddy bear disturbingly covered in moss). The oddest grave here is one cast in the shape of a fish, although this is possibly rivalled by the copper statues of the inventor of the gas lamp in a stone bed, reading by the light of his creation. Montparnasse is also noteworthy for a large Jewish section and for the remains of a windmill that must have preceded the cemetery. The last place I visit is the one that most resembles London; Pere Lachaise. The vast size of the cemetery here makes it relatively easy to get lost and it rather resembles a ruined city overtaken by the jungle than its more orderly counterparts. I walk down the central avanue, past the monuments to Rossini, Colette and Musset and go in search of Wilde’s grave. When I find, it seems out of place; Epstein’s ceremonial sculture sits oddly near the copper statues of the deceased that was the nineteenth century wont. The amount of graffit it had received means that it is now protected behind a plastic shield. I walk around the cemetery, past the Constantinople themed crematorium, the grandiose military graves, copper statues (like those of Rodenbach and Gericault) and hooded weepers until my feet begin to tire and I’m forced to give up.

On my last day, I go for a walk around Montmartre, past the Moulin Rouge, Place Dalida with its disturbingly polished bust, the statue of the man who could walk through walls, before I finish my visit at the Musee Moreau. Moreau belongs to the same sort of branch of art as Martin or Dadd; most of his works show mythological subjects depicted with all the obsession with sexual decadence that onlu the sexually repressed can muster. Some rather crowded ground floor rooms lead up to two studio floors, hung with pictures of subjects like Prometheus, Saint Sebastian, Semele, Pasiphae, Europa and Salome. After that, I wend my way back to the Gare du Nord.