December 30, 2006


This post celebrates a FANTASTIC Christmas spent on Lake Garda at Bardolino. Thanks to the boys and girls who joined the "Just You" tour to the Park Hotel Gritti in Bardolino for Christmas 2006.

PRESEPIO: A nativity scene, also called a crib or crèche (meaning "crib" or "manger" in French) generally refers to any depiction of the birth or birthplace of Jesus. In Italy is known as presepe; It has been introduced by Saint Francis of Assisi.

This first picture shows the Presepio for Bardolino which was mounted on a yacht in the little harbour, and here it is lit at night. The shot below shows some detail of this presepio as the sun sets behind the yacht.

The little lakeside town of Garda had a much bigger Presepio; about a dozen scenes on the lakeside using lifesize mannequins.

In Venice I came across this Presepio of the much more conventional kind displayed in Piazza San Marco next door to Basilica di San Marco in Venezia. For a whole album of Venice shots click here.

And finally, one of the grandest Presepios I came across was this star of Bethlehem bursting out of Verona's Arena; sheer Opera !

Click here >> For more pictures of Verona

PRESEPIO: Christian Nativity scenes, in two dimensions (drawings, paintings, icons, etc.) or three (sculpture or other three-dimensional crafts), usually show Jesus in a manger, Joseph and Mary in a barn (or cave) intended to accommodate farm animals. A donkey and an ox accompany them; besides the necessity of animals for a manger, this is an allusion to Isaiah: "the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider" (Is. 1:3). The scene sometimes includes the Magi or Three Wise Men, shepherds, angels and the Star of Bethlehem. The traditional scenes that show the shepherds and Magi together are of course not true to the Bible story, since the Magi arrived much later (Matthew 2:1-12) than the shepherds(Luke 2:7-16).

Although St Francis of Assisi is credited with the invention of three-dimensional Nativity Scenes, drawings and paintings existed earlier. The tradition was brought into Spain from Naples during the reign of Charles III of Spain. (see Wikipedia )

For some more beautiful views of Venice and Verona, click below:


December 20, 2006


Last Christmas I wrote of spending a lot of time with a newly found Latvian friend who then returned to study in Riga in autumn 2005. Well I didn't honestly know whether we would meet again, but 2006 has provided us with many chances to meet up. My family time has been limited during 2006 because I needed to make the best of another kind of relationship that hasn't been available to me before.

Easter, as you may already know from previous correspondence, was spent with Juris in Latvia, Lithuania, and St Petersburg.
(see for Blog) This trip has had a major impact on me, and I really want to explore Eastern Europe more in the coming years.

St Petersburg was quite amazing, and we packed a lot of visits into our six days there. The highlights for me were not the Grand Palaces and Churches but much more down to earth things. Such architecture was mainly "non-Russian" and I am not a great fan of Baroque and prefer Neo-Classical to be ACTUAL classical such as I am familiar with in Italy.

Very impressive, nonetheless, but what was viewed was usually only about a decade old after having been restored or even rebuilt to right the ravages of Nazi occupation and post war austere Communism.

I enjoyed walking on my own into an internet Cafe where nobody spoke English and using equipment that didn't even have the same alphabet as mine, and which only had unlicensed pirated software on it. People of all nationalities were around me cruising porno and chat up sites whilst I innocently passed on the day's thoughts and pictures to family and friends back home. I say "innocently" with caution, because I actually got fined - and almost arrested - for photographing the nameplate on a Metro station; yet another highlight.

And finally SPB allowed us to celebrate the SECOND Easter of our holiday when we attended the Saturday Night service for Orthodox Easter Sunday, and joined in a midnight candlelit procession outside and around the Vladimiri church whilst traffic on a main thoroughfare was halted and thousands stood to watch.

We arrived in SPB on the night train from Riga and what a treat this was; Orient Express and all that but in a charmingly tired and rather run down version. We travelled First Class, but that didn't give us any more sleep than the second class travellers - just more privacy.

We chugged through the Baltic night at about 40mph sometimes adding - or shedding - engines and carriages and stopping for unknown reasons.
The border stop just before midnight meant we had to present our documentation to exit EU, and about half an hour later we had to get permission to enter the "USSR", but they don't call it that anymore. Russian formalities demanded four people check us out, most of them being retired Olympic female shot putters, 2 pieces of paper had to be signed, and the cabin had to be searched. Sleep was really rather pointless after that.

My view of Russia was a little shaped by the extraordinary sights I had already enjoyed in the Baltic states, so SPB had an uphill battle to compete.

Oh I didn’t see any Grand Palaces (Well actually, there was Pilsrundale near Bauska), but I did see very moving evidence of the turbulent history of these States. The open air museum at Brivdabas contained dismantled and reconstructed farmsteads from the 4 regions of Latvia that showed how human life was lived in the rural. Salaspils showed how human life was lived in the raw; man's inhumanity to fellow man.

Here a concentration camp where almost 100,000 died, but forget "Schindler's List" for Salaspils scarcely has a mention in the Jewish Holocaust record. This concentration camp killed gentiles from Riga and neighbouring states who showed opposition to the Nazi occupation; they worked themselves to death in the camp or died because they would not work.

And when the Nazis retreated from the Baltic States the advancing Russian army dealt brutally with anyone who had saved themselves from German attrition by collaborating. It seems that whichever side you were on in the Baltic States, you were bound to lose; quite a contrast to the British experience.

In Riga town there is evidence of the awful struggles that occupied this land during WW1 where Germans and Russians battled over the Daugava River, and then the Russians split into Bolsheviks and carried on pushing the Germans back. But since 1989 the Baltic countries have been pushing the Russians back; trying to reduce evidence of Russian occupation and recover evidence of their own nationality and national culture.

In Lithuania we went to our first Easter, attending the evening service at a grand 1930s Cathedral that had only been opened after years of restoration to get it back from being a Russian radio factory and warehouse and consecrate it.

In Kaunas too we saw replacement monuments to Lithuanian freedom fighters and other figures destroyed by Russian Rule.

In the Lithuanian countryside we came across the Hill of Crosses at Siauliai; a place where Lithuanians had marked their Christianity and kept alive their cultural identity for 800 years by erecting crucifixes on a little hill to create their own Calvary. We gave a lift to a hitch hiker who told how Russians had kept destroying the crosses but people simply returned and erected more; he told too how these state-sponsored vandals often died soon after their dastardly deeds.

Whilst driving towards Kaunas we entered a small country town and towering over all the wooden Baltic bungalows and the Russian-built 5storey apartment blocks was a blooming great Basilica. Church and Monastery of the Lord Revelation for St. Mary the Virgin (Dotnuvos Viešpaties apreiškimo Švè. Mergelei Marijai bažnyèios ir vienuolyno ansamblis). We found ourselves being 'collected' by an old lady washing the floor. We followed her nervously across the church yard and into a large building which turned out to be the Monastery.

A small boy was despatched and returned with a jolly rounded Priest who spoke good English and invited us to tour his humble place of worship. However, he had to attend a meeting and asked us whether we would let his father guide us, and this he did communicating to us - well to Juris at least - in Russian. We had an extraordinary tour of the church, the empty monastery and an attic room containing hundreds of church vestments which take religious dress back many centuries.

A unique experience and only made possible by my Russian-speaking companion. Oh I could go on for ever. Latvia and Lithuania changed me, and I really must return.

Here is Europe as I didn’t know it. Here is heritage and culture that we actually share - Latvian wood was used in Henry 8th's Britain - here is Christianity and common ideas that we have cast aside to embrace other cultures that are quite literally foreign to us.

Click these links below for Photo Albums:

The Baltic States
Latvia and Riga
Russian Cars

St Petersburg
Churches of St Petersburg
St Petersburg Palaces

Latvia, Lithuania, Lenigrad, Loves, Lives - one "L" of a year was 2006 for me. I am looking forward to "Heaven" in 2007 !!!

October 07, 2006


Bradford Town Hall has a distinctive clock tower based on the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. This feature helps to link the wool towns of Bradford and Florence, and the counties of Yorkshire and Tuscany ("Chiantishire"). Incidentally, the Wool Market in Bradford (now Waterstones Book Store) is modelled on the Doges Palace in Venice.

The large Grade I listed building, designed by local architects Lockwood and Mawson, opened as Bradford Town Hall in 1873.

Join us in Bradford city centre for Light Night, the grand finale of ‘illuminate’ - Yorkshire’s year long celebration of culture.
Bradford will link to Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York in a series of events that spotlight their rich cultural life.

A special programme of free events will run late into the night around Bradford city centre….

Bradford City Hall Illumination
A stunning light projection by acclaimed French artist Patrice Warrener is the centrepiece of the evening. Warrener, who lit up York Minster to spectacular effect last year, will transform City Hall with intense colour and incredible detail.

click here for more details

September 03, 2006


The meaning of this title should steadily become clear, but it involves a Sunny September Sunday visit to Bedale in North Yorkshire.

The house you can see is called "Thorp Perrow" and has a fine garden and Arboretum within its extensive grounds. Very pleasant to walk around and to explore, and we enjoyed the Gazebo (below)
However, the "Bird" used in my title refers to a Bird of Prey and you will see below a partial answer. This is a 1938 Riley Kestrel which we saw at Thorp Perrow. This Kestrel was one of about 200 Classic Cars which Juris and I went to see - these will appear on my online photo albums soon (see below)

Ah now it becomes clear, or Cleo !!

This 'bird' is indeed a lady; named "Cleo" she is an Eagle Owl from the Afghanistan region and I got to hold her for a few miunutes. Juris also got to hold her later.

The whole visit, the gardens, house, trees, birds and cars made a very pleasant Sunday outing.

British Cars 1940-1980Car Heads and TailsBritish Cars - Sides

August 14, 2006

DUTCH DOUBLE: Doing Dam City

On the Glorious Twelfth, Juris and Simon landed in Amsterdam for a quick weekend visit.

Saturday was almost rained out, but Sunday was a much better day. You see here some views to capture the Canal experience (and the rain on Saturday).

On Sunday the Sun returned and treated us to some glorious views.

We were also treated to glorious views in the Rijks Museum where Rembrandt's finest were on display, including of course the Night Watch.

Even more moving for me were the late Van Gogh works in the Van Gogh musuem. I was very moved by these extraordinary works, seeming to me to have been painted almost in a frenzy - as though his coming death was almost apparent to the artist.

At night the glorious views of Amsterdam are altogether different. This shop sign shows that 'Magic Mushrooms' may be purchased here. There are also countless "Coffee Shops" where Cannabis is dispensed for on or off premises use, and you can sit in the window with one of those cooled pipes to enjoy it.

And of course there is the Red Light District where consumption quite definitely ON the premises is available and the "smokin" depends on your own prowess. I tried NEITHER of these premises myself !

A much bigger Album is available online ... click below

Aug 14, 2006 - 50 Photos

May 04, 2006


Kaunas is the third of the Capitals of Lithuania (coming after Trakai and before Vilnius).

We visited both of the others, but our evening and morning in Kaunas impressed me more.

To start our explore of Kaunas we climbed to the top of the hill to the Upper Town. Not a very rewarding trek this except for the chance to view and to inspect the extraordinary white CHRIST'S RESURECTION CHURCH

I don't have pictures of this church (click the link to see some photos), but I will long remember the experience joining in the lighting of candles here at the Easter Saturday service. Click the link also to learn about the extraordinary on - off - on construction of this church and about how the 'Resurrection' is also the rebirth of Lithuania as a country.

On Easter Sunday morning, we wandered around the delightful old town of Kaunas, busy with Easter worshippers milling around the many churches and the stalls of the Easter market bathed in seasonal sunshine (see link).

The history of Lithuania is quite interesting, because it has often been controlled by foriegn invaders. Teutonic Knights, Russians and Polish interests (see link). Lithuanians have a tradition of resistance to such control, and this is shown in the three photographs below.

The picture above shows the Military Museum. This was built as a Museum, but during the years of Russian control (1944-1989) it was emptied of all its exhibits and used as a warehouse. It has only been restored in the last few years.

The monument above was erected in memory of those who died for the liberation of Lithuania in 1919 and before. It may not be a surprise to learn that the Russians destroyed this monument along with many other statues and commerative items. All has been rebuilt in the last few years and the eternal flame (just visible) burns again.

The final photo shows the Book Carrier. Under the long years of Russian control, Lithuanian culture and learning was suppressed - or at least forced underground. But Lithuanian texts continued to be published and they were famously carried around the countryside by figures such as depicted on this statue. This man distributed Lithuanian texts around his country and thus carried Lithuanian culture into the future.

May 02, 2006


Easter week in Latvia.
Many such straw figures as this rabbit could be found in public places. This one is in a central park in Riga.

And here in the same Riga Park an Easter nest with two Cranes (or maybe Herons) standing in the distance.

This jolly rabbit was found in the Latvian town of Sigulda.

Here is a market in the square of the old town of Kaunas (Lithuania) on Easter Sunday morning.

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Juris and I attended a delightful Easter Saturday service in the modern (1930s) chuch in the Upper town of Kaunas where the lighting of candles was made. One week later we attended a similar service for Orthodox Easter at the Vladimir Church in St Petersburg.

Numerous other Easter services were 'popped into' during our Double Easter visit.

April 29, 2006


The town of Siauliai was founded about 1230, and in the following century was occupied by Teutonic knights. Lithuanians started showing their resistance to these occupiers by planting crucifixes on this hill at Kryži Kalnas just outside the town and a tradition was started.

Later invaded by Russia and then divided up under a Poland partition the Hill of Crosses became an enduring place for Lithuanians to show their faith and their resistance.

From 1944 to 1991 Lituania was officially part of the USSR and local objections to such 'management' manifested themselves in the placing of more and more crucifixes at this site.

For 40years the Soviets tried to stop this practice. They broke stone crosses, burnt wooden ones, and melted down metal ones. But they could not break, burn or melt the people.

I am told by a local resident that people who removed crucifixes often died within a few months - almost as though their actions cursed them.

Today the hill has become filled with crucifixes, and several places around have had to be colonised with crucifixes. Every visitor can buy a crucifix and afix it to another to add to the millions that already stand against religious oppression.

Lithuanians also have a distinctive design of crucifix which often has a little figure below the cross beams who stands on each of the four sides of the cross - he is looking out for and keeping the owner of the cross safe from bad times.

April 28, 2006


I was a bit disappointed in Vilnius itself because it was undergoing a massive poshing-up programme with the aid of EU funding.

Around the outskirts of the Old City were several brand new 30storey glass towers of the kind you will see in Hong Kong, Bahrain, Shanghai etc - not very 'Baltic'

Parts of the Old City were quite pretty, but many of these were being 'renovated' which involved blowing up the middle of the buildings and just keeping the external walls on the outside of new structures. The original buildings had contained dwellings for ordinary people, or little family-run shops and businesses, the newly renovated contain offices for foreign companies, hotel space for foreign businessmen, or outlets for Gucci, Armani, Chanel. Nothing very Baltic here.

Juris wanted to visit a Russian period Power station on the banks of the river, and we found this but it was closed and being renovated.

Better, in my view, was the older capital of Lithuania, Kaunas. Lots of interest here, a lovely Old Town, a fabulous 1930s Cathedral and not much sign of EU poshing up. Also visited the even older capital of Trakai - a castle on a lake. We didnt have time to visit the Bronze Age capital.

Yes Lithuania is worth a visit - especially before the EU funds get spread too thickly.