View of the River Avon from Halfpenny Bridge in Bath, England
The Avon. In Celtic, the word “avon” meant “river,” and as a result, there are quite a few “River Avons” in the UK. As this particular Avon (known as the “Bristol Avon” to differentiate) snakes southward through the English countryside, it finally arrives in Bath. Bath is famous not only for its Roman baths (hence the name), but also for once being home to Jane Austen (Bath must have made an impression on her as it appears in more than one of her much-loved novels). Bath is—how to put it?—posh. It is a city built on elegance, propriety, and beauty. Every one of its cobblestone streets are worn smooth and sparkling. The rows of houses that line the road—all made of Bath limestone—are stylish and elegant. The centre, with its magnificent abbey, Roman baths, and meandering High Street, is breath taking. And then of course, there’s the fine, classy buildings comprising of the Circus (two semi-circular buildings surrounding a roundabout that sports a small collection of magnificent oaks), and just next door, the famed Royal Crescent, which is—if possible!—an even grander affair. Even when you leave the center—let’s say you decide to follow the river, or better yet, you take to the beautiful Kennet and Avon Canal—you cannot escape the majesty of the rolling hills, thatched cottages, arching bridges, and stone houses that make up the English countryside. Small though the Avon may be, it will be difficult to find a more grand, more picturesque or more beautiful English river.
For many of us, the beginning of fall means chillier weather, falling leaves and pumpkins. However, for those who happen to live in or near the Beaujolais, this season means the Beaujolais Nouveau (the new wine created by the September grape harvest!). Beaujolais is known for its famous vineyards and the bottles of red wine that they produce. Rolling green hills and medieval villages greet visitors amongst labyrinths of vineyards that continue as far the eye can see. Although less well known than other French regions, the production of Beaujolais wine actually beats that of Burgundy’s wine production! Those who want to discover the beating heart of French culture, spending time on a French vineyard is arguably the best way – especially spending 1-2 weeks working as a grape-picker during the great grape harvest. The three-course meals you will eat will be rich, hearty, delicious and never-ending, levelling out with a staggering cheese-plate and pints of coffee. The fantastic, to-die-for wine comes in unmarked bottles filled up from the vineyard’s personal barrels created by last year’s grape harvesters. Evenings end in a chorus of classically French songs sung by the whole family and accompanied by accordions and saxophones, giving one the impression that you have stepped back in time to another era. So what are you waiting for? Grape-picking might not be the easiest work…but the experience will stay with you for a lifetime.
Jeff Koons’ puppy outside the Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain
After a few weeks of absence (no internet while working out on the French vineyards!), I return with a photo of Bilbao, one of Spain’s best-kept secrets (no worries ; French vineyards are soon to come). Outside the infamous, space-age museum sits a…well, a special sort of art. Made completely of flowers, Jeff Koons’ amazing sculpture, ‘Puppy’ stands guard outside Bilbao’s famous museum. Koons is known for his stainless steel balloon animals as well as other slightly eccentric types of art. Puppy is a 43 ft/13m tall sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy created from petunias, begonias, marigolds and other such flowers. He currently sits quietly outside Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum–itself a work of art!–where he has been since 1997. Today, an intricate and permanent part of the museum, Puppy almost became the victim of attack by an Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque) gang who planted explosives in flowerpots around his feet–though of course, our favorite terrier was saved by a Basque policeman who later died from gunshot wouds (and no, I am not making this up, as crazy as it may sound…). Ever since I studied Koons’ artwork in university, I’d always wanted to go, so finally getting the chance to visit Bilbao was an opportunity of a lifetime!
Leaves turn vibrant shades of red, gold, and orange as the air becomes crisp and cool. And slowly, like leaves do all over the world, they begin their annul downward spiral towards earth. As summer disappears, so do the party boats that line the Wisła (or Vistula in English) River in Warsaw. During summer nights, the left bank of Warsaw’s river is the place to be to find a great party. Students, tourists, locals of all ages and walks of life–it feels like the whole of Warsaw congregates on the banks of the river. Boats moored to the shore provide music, cheap drinks, and dancing. But as the leaves fall and the air grows cooler, the Poles return to indoor bars in the centre of town. The Vistula suddenly becomes quiet once more, entertaining only the occasional jogger, fisherman or happy couple as the breeze works to create a red-gold carpet of leaves on the now-abandoned pathways. It is hard to imagine a more peaceful or quiet place in centre of Poland’s bustling capital city than the banks of the beautiful Vistula River.
Imagine walking through a city such as Kiev. It is months before war is thought of, and there is an element of peace still wafting through the air. Despite this–despite its magnificent cathedrals and fine buildings on its main street, there is still an air of desperation, a slight tugging at one’s side. Square, concrete buildings remind one of the war, which like many other cities in Eastern Europe–destroyed large chunks of the city and had to be rebuilt quickly and cheaply. Imagine grey skies overhead, as you hurry through the rain. Imagine you turn a corner and stumble upon the President of Ukraine’s office. Imagine turning around just as the rain relents–and coming face to face with this. This dramatic house, which for the past ten years has been used for diplomatic ceremonies, looks as if it popped up from a (rather dark) storybook. It is the House with Chimaeras. The name does not relate to the mythical animal, but rather the architectural style in which a building is adorned with animal sculptures. Look closely–and you will see nothing but animals! Whales, frogs, elephants, rhinos, deer, eagles, fish, serpents–you name it, it’s probably there. Italian architect Emilio Sala redesigned the house after original architect Vladislav Gorodetsky, who was an avid hunter, was forced to sell it. I suppose this is one way to pay homage to one’s hobbies–albeit an excessive one! Despite–or perhaps a result of–its prestigious address, important guests and strange decor, the house remains one of the strangest, creepiest, most bizarre yet most important buildings in all of Kiev and beyond.