An elegant sufficiency

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The reason for our visit

Not exactly a concert, rather more than a rehearsal - we were here to listen to the two Piano Quartets by Raff, played by Il Trittico, who played the Piano Quintet on a memorable Sunday afternoon in Rapperswil three years ago. The performance in the Kleiner Saal at the Basel Hochschule für Musik was great - for a more comprehensive review, keep an eye open here.


Basel Münster

High above the river, in a site well suited for overseeing all the comings and goings, is the Minster, or Münster. Walking towards it through the small streets and alleys, we found it hard to imagine that we were in the city. The blue skies and sunshine made it a pleasure to linger in the tree covered courtyard and do a bit of people watching!

Unbelievably, we had driven this route on Sunday afternoon, when we were being challenged by the one-way system of the old town - and yes, we drove through streets which we really shouldn't have done!

Inside the minster, the solid architecture is plain and simple. Here and there is a tomb or memorial - one of the tombs is that of Erasmus, and though there are three lovely stained glass windows, my eyes fell on the wonderful chairs which had such a great assortment of patterns carved into the backs.

Yes, we spotted some pairs but not many, and what a distraction peering at them would prove during a boring sermon!

Outside, into the cloister, where we enjoyed walking around looking through the openings for different views and glimpses through other windows. The many memorials on the walls were fascinating too.

In the corner of the smaller cloister, we came across this great bronze market stall.

There were some pretty realistic fruit, veg and flowers there and the cool, dark, shiny surfaces were so pleasing to the eye and to the touch.

Only on wandering over to the other side, to see another, similar stall, did we note the more sinister side of the artist's concept, for here the stall was empty and a human skull was there on top of a silent drum. The surface of the table was imprinted with a lengthy poem, the language too dense and difficult for me to understand, sadly.

So, out onto the Pfalz, where instead of the usual figures there are elephants carved into the stone. Well, we think they are elephants as imagined by someone who has never actually seen an elephant!

Then, as we headed back into town in search of tea, we spotted this on the church notice board.

It seemed to sum up everything we love about Switzerland, this somewhat conventional country of tradition and good sense, which nevertheless embraces the modern technology with style and functionality. "Mit Pfiff", as they say!


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bright pink, hot yellow, orange and RED!

Once we'd enjoyed our little trip across the river, we headed for our main destination today - the Vitra Design Museum, just over the border in Germany. Staying at a Basel city centre hotel meant that we were given free travelcards, valid on the buses and trams, so we haven't used the car once in the last couple of days. What an enlightened approach!

The building itself is by Frank Gehry, clearly before the metal cladding took hold. The design resulted in an interesting layout inside, though the place was smaller than we imagined from the hype.

Though there were large groups of students gathering at half hourly intervals, we managed to time our visit to avoid them all and had the place more or less to ourselves. The subject of the special exhibition,
"Living under a Crescent moon" was more than apt for us, however, and we enjoyed seeing exhibits of places familiar to us from our recent trip.

No photographs inside, sadly, but the bright colours of the exhibit were fantastic - those hot pinks, yellows and oranges just lifted the spirit from the rather grey day outside.

By the time we came outside and walked back to the bus stop, the whole place looked more cheerful - indeed, almost storybook-like!

We headed back into the Old Town then, to explore the small streets and the Münster but on the way, we were diverted into the Ethnographic Museum by another special exhibit - Red

For obvious reasons, there's always a lot of red about in Switzerland, but there's more than ever right now, because football is high on the agenda with the European Cup starting here next month.

We stepped inside the museum, up the red carpet and totally ignoring the red stop sign, through an entrance built as a huge beating heart.

This was an amazing exhibit, the only problem being that the atmosphere inside the museum was so oppressive on the warm afternoon, we found it hard to keep going! But the exhibits were remarkable and beautifully displayed in great light.

In particular I loved the small breverl or talisman, something I've not come across before and must find out more about. I also found the textile exhibit fascinating - hardly surprising, that - not only for the red dyes, garments and cloths, but also for the more permanent display of textile constructions. I made sure I noted the title of an interesting book on the subject which I will track down sometimes soon.

Again, no photos, but the website images are better than any I could have taken!

I think the Münster is worthy of another blog post all of its own!


The Basel Ferries

We knew nothing about these little boats until we spotted one of them just outside our window and watched it as it went to and fro across the river all day. Looking at a map, we spotted four of them, small, frequent and as well-patronised as the traghetti of Venice, they are attached to an overhead cable - just as well bearing in mind the strength of the current downstream. But then we read more about these "
Basel anachronisms" and discovered there's more to them than meets the eye!

Powered across the river simply by the flow of water, the ingenuity of the system is just brilliant. We had to try it for ourselves, so this morning, we set off downstairs and along the river bank a couple of hundred metres and stepped on board. At CHF 1.60 per person, this was a bargain ride.

As we arrived at the jetty, the little boat was on the opposite bank for the river, but no sooner had the ferryman spotted us, than he was heading over in our direction. We were the only two passengers on this occasion, but except for seeing us on board safely, sliding the rudder into the opposite direction and giving the boat a push off, there was nothing for the "Faehrimaa" to do. As we crossed the river, we enjoyed the little rhyme in Schwyzertuetsch - especially with the little mention of the "Faehrifrauen" too!

(If my command of Schwyzertuetsch was rather better, I'd attempt a translation, but suffice to say, be patient and hang on tight!)

So, with the boat angled at 45 degrees to the flow of the river, we were gently pushed to the other side where the ferryman of the Vogel Griff could follow us up the wooden jetty and resume his coffee break!

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Monday, April 28, 2008

A day of culture

Have you guessed where we are yet?

A clue - the red sandstone City Hall dominates the market place and has the most wonderful painted walls in a small courtyard. We spent quite some time there this morning as we walked around the Old Town in the spring sunshine. The weather forecast was none too good for later so we tried to make the best of the day.

We pottered around one or two shops along the way, amused by the sight of this book, a German version of the one being chatted about by some friends in the last couple of days!

This statue of Helvetia will settle any doubts about this favourite of ours. We love the way she's resting her shield and spear, putting down her suitcase and making the decision to go no further!

After a morning walking around, we too were feeling a little footsore, so around lunchtime, we hopped aboard a tram and headed to the Fondation Beyeler

Reminiscent of the Burrell Collection, situated in parkland with large plate glass windows, this is a fantastic gallery of modern art. Sadly no photographs allowed inside, but you can imagine the wealth of treasures inside by Picasso, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Monet, Rothko, Kandinsky,
Giacometti...the list goes on. The special exhibition on right now is of Action Painting - with several pieces by Jackson Pollock amongst other artists of whom we'd never heard. All used some kind of energetic way of creating their art and the results were....well, "interesting"...It's worth following the link from the main Beyeler website to find out more about this fascinating show.

Back into town then, to buy sock yarn and other essentials - and of course, you've worked it out by now, haven't you? We're in Basel, Switzerland, and very nice it is too!

We are in...

...I'll let you guess.

If you have visited my 365 blog, you'll have suspected that we've hopped off to a concert, tomorrow night. But we couldn't resist an extra day in one of our favourite places and though we don't know this particular city as well as other parts of the country, it's lovely to be here.

The view from our window is of the mighty Rhine, in full flow and proving quite a challenge for the smaller boats as they struggle upstream. The huge barge that just went past had no problem!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Portrait of the Artists

Catching up with one or two favourite blogs and coming across an interesting link on the Photojojo site which ages an image to look as though it was taken sixty years ago. Of course, the artists themselves remain as young and vibrant as ever....

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A day to play

Today, two friends came to play and oh my goodness, what creativity was in the air!

Sue was working on a project for a competition, and worked on the Embellisher for much of the day. Myfanwy, we missed you!
Liz explored the bind it all machine, having watched the DVD to get the tips and hints first. Sensible lady... As she was doing this, our friend Dorothy Skyped in to see how we were getting along. Of course, it was all her fault we got into the bind-it-all in the first place - wasn't it Dorothy?

As for me, well I had a new toy to play with, thanks to Liz - and did I read the instructions first? Since they were in Japanese that wasn't really an option, but with an expert on hand, I dived right in and with her help, look what we made!

Twenty-four cards for our friends...

Such fun to get together and share ideas and enthusiasms. We'll do it again soon (I hope)

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

oooh, look....!

Still excited by stumbling upon this in Waterstones, Bristol yesterday!
Would that be Salman Rushdie's work alongside mine, by any chance?


Friday, April 18, 2008


I've been quiet since we arrived home, but things around here have been anything but.

I'd already agreed to teach on Monday, in Devon, which was fun and the Spring weather made the drive rather more enjoyable than it might have been. Even the M5 looks great in sunshine! Tuesday was set aside for a full day's commitment to work - always good to be amongst colleagues, especially in such comfortable surroundings. So it was Wednesday before I even opened my suitcase!

A charity lunch meant that the middle of the day was a sociable affair and I'd planned to spend morning and late afternoon sorting out the washing, putting things away and all of those post-holiday jobs which result in piles of stuff which need to be dealt with. A phone call soon denied me that pleasure!

To cut a (very) long story short, a TV channel wanted to do a report on the new "make do and mend" - could I gather some friends together to darn socks and so on. Sure I could - but for tomorrow morning? A challenge I could have done without but being a "say yes, wonder why later" kind of person, I agreed. Then immediately regretted, because the rest of the day was taken up by making phone calls, calling in favours and trying to rally the troops. Not easy at less than 24 hours notice.

After a restless night and panicky morning, I got a call to say they'd decided not to run the story after all. Thanks.

Why do we do it?

Somewhere in there, too, I agreed to participate in a mammoth knitting project for a TV company as well. Will I never learn?

Once I'd settled down yesterday morning, I took a walk around the garden. Though the sun was shining and it looked glorious, it was freezing cold, so my walk was a brief one. Not too brief to miss an amazing display of self seeded primulas which have been flowering since Christmas but seem to be coming to the most glorious finale right now.

It's good to be home!


Monday, April 14, 2008

Athens Out-takes

As soon as we realised we were "there", we dashed out for our last breakfast with a view - to find a chap waving his arms about and looking a little frustrated (understatement!) Perhaps this was the clue to the way the day would progress for us, too!

Having got our things together and had the call to disembark and collect our bags, we joined a morning city tour to fill in the time before our flight, which wasn't till 7pm. We began by driving around the old port of Piraeus.

Along the way, we saw plenty of evidence left behind from the 2004 Olympics, though the city was quiet on this Sunday morning.

From time to time we passed a ruin or two, but sadly we were unable to catch any details.

Most of the time, we couldn't even catch the ruin!

We didn't really get a feeling for the city at all as we seemed to go in and out and around the same parts over and again and breathed a sigh of relief when we were taken for coffee to a "room with a view".

Around 1pm, we arrived at the airport, clearly far too early for our flight but hopeful of dropping off our bags and heading for the lounge to catch up on email, snoozing and easing ourselves back into real life.

No such luck. All pleas to get through to "the other side" fell on deaf ears and we faced a three and a half hour wait in the noisy checkin hall, even though we'd checked in online the previous night. Might we be able to squeeze onto the earlier flight, leaving in just two hours, perhaps? Probably not, for it was overbooked already.

We sat and waited, grumbled and muttered to one another. Mark returned to speak to the supervisor to make one more plea if someone didn't turn up, could we have their seats? A grudging agreement was given - there were three people remaining who hadn't arrived yet.

As we sat there, one woman came up to the desk. There was one gone. But amazingly, by the 2.15pm deadline, no-one else had arrived, so we hot footed it over, smiled sweetly (through gritted teeth) and were grudgingly given boarding passes!

As we flew over Switzerland, we had a fine view of the Alps. So clear, we could pick out favourite places. We even flew directly over Mark's hero's birthplace - Lachen. We had a very entertaining pair of chaps as cabin crew and were delighted at the prospect of arriving home a little earlier, since I had teaching commitments on Monday.

But then things began to happen. People came to the front of the plane to use the loo, but then turned around and went back after having spoken to the steward. The loos were out of action. Looked like someone had forgotten to empty the tank at Athens and the Captain was unwilling to fly on to Heathrow with no functioning loo, since the weather was bad and it looked like we'd be stacked for an hour or more. Typical, we thought - why hadn't we stuck with our original flight?!

So, we had an unexpected diversion into Geneva, where the tanks were emptied, everyone on board seemingly did their best to fill them again (!) and off we set once more in surprisingly jolly mood. Drinks all round again - oh heck, get the G&T now, never mind the good intentions ("Oh good girl!" said the steward, "It's Happy Hour so have two!")

We arrived at Terminal 5 about two hours earlier than we would have done on our original flight. Guess whose luggage was first off the plane?

What a great baggage system they've got there!!

Note about the photographs: throughout our holiday, I've discarded very few "duds", even though many have been taken through bus windows and been snapped quickly in passing. The photos in todays post are typical of those taken today and believe it or not, are unedited!!


Saturday, April 12, 2008

To Ephesus

One of the highlights of this itinerary was Ephesus, only a stone's throw from Kusadasi, last stop of our trip. We'd heard of the place before - Edna and Gordon, my parents, had enjoyed a stop here and warmed to the Turkish people as a result of mooching around the town some years ago and people we'd met along the way spoke warmly of their previous experience of being here.

We arrived early this morning. In fact, as we woke and opened our curtains, we found land right outside our window and after a quick breakfast, we went ashore to meet our guide for the day - Tuba. For once, we got her name correct, for she explained that it was indeed the same as the musical instrument!

We were a small group, only 10 of us, so our sightseeing was more efficent than usual. Straight to the site, then, and before 9am there we were, gobsmacked from the off. Who wouldn't be, when such treasures were at our feet, so unspoiled and ready for us, some of the first visitors of the season.

We were so fortunate to visit in comfortable temperatures, for Tuba explained that, for much of the tourist season, the heat is overwhelming and the site is nowhere as green and lush as we saw.

By the time we reached the library, we could hear the sounds of a string quartet, a fine accompaniment to our visit, thoughtfully arranged by the cruise company for our enjoyment. Those who had been here previously had not been able to access this fantastic structure at such close quarters, so we all shared the delight in discovering the fine architectural details and marvelled at the fact that we were able to be here and appreciate it first hand.

Sadly, time was short, there was more on our schedule, and we must move on

past the advertisement for the brothel

to the Theatre and back to our vehicle for further stops on our tour.

Firstly, to the museum in Selcuk, where some of the original components of the ruins were kept, since in some cases, the reconstruction had involved the use of replicas.

Next, past the site of the Temple of Artemis, another of the Seven wonders of the ancient world, to St John's Basilica, his burial place, where we had a short lesson in some ancient Christian symbolism. Interesting.

By now, we were getting towards lunchtime but there was one more important site to visit

This small building was said to be the last house of the Mother Mary, place of pilgrimage and scene of several miracles, according to local history. Once again, we were fortunate to have the place (almost) to ourselves. What a privilege.

To lunch then, in a local garden which just happened to be alongside a carpet making school. No hard sell here, though, just a delicious "picnic" from a local hotel and then a chance to see some of the processes involved in the making of a Turkish rug of the highest quality.

We saw the double knotting, on silk and wool carpets

and then went next door where the dyeing process was under way and a few large pots bubbled. Gasps of amazement were to be heard when the yarn was pulled from the indigo vat - truly magical even when one knows what happens!

The "evil eye" was never far away as we sped back into town and were set free to roam the streets of Kusadasi in search of bargains. But the salesmen had to work hard, for their colleagues had already sold us Indian gemstones, gold in Dubai, Arabian pashminas and fine Egyptian cotton. But here there was leather...

Having spent up, we changed and went out on deck for our last sailaway, waving goodbye as the last rope was untied and we sailed off toward Pireus, from where we fly home tomorrow.