Tag Archives: art

Anne Interesting Tour

Tuesday 20 September 2022 – The weather forecast for the day was gloomy, and the reality out of our hotel window

didn’t give huge cause for elation.  So, by an accident of fate, our plan to be on a bus for most of the day looked pretty sound.  There was a little uncertainty about precisely where the bus would stop, as a result of which we failed to be first on it and therefore to get the prime seats at the front of the upper deck.  This was a little bit of a shame, as the front windows actually boasted windscreen wipers, and so would have been clear for taking photos.

The driver, Dan, gave an interesting and folksy commentary as we went along and we tried to grab photos of the things he was talking about – never easy on a reasonably swift-moving bus on a rainy day, but one or two are worth sharing.

The route went north-east from Québec City, along the north coast of the St. Lawrence river.  This is the area where original settlers, erm, settled, and it seems that it took a few years for them to find the best area: at first they made homes on the banks of the St. Lawrence, but these got washed away by the unexpectedly high tides; so the next attempt was on top of the cliffs that bordered the river, but these were subject to the  bitterly cold north-easterly winds; finally, the best location turned out to be at the foot of the cliffs, out of the reach of the tides and sheltered from the winds.

By this stage, the settlers had learned about the potentially 12 feet of snow that could be expected during the winter, and so the houses tended to have steps up to the entrances.  We tried to catch some pictures of these houses as we went by.


On thing that we noticed was the colour of the roofs, many of which were (like that church spire I mentioned in my last post) silver in colour.  It turns out that these are tin, chosen because it is reasonably long-lasting and also fire-resistant.  Many have brightly-coloured roofs.

The reason for this is historical, as there’s no real need for the colour now.  But in the days of the original settlers, with houses relatively few and far between and 12 feet of snow on the ground in winter, the coloured roof was perhaps the only landmark a person could see.  The house in the photo immediately above features a “spring kitchen” – a place where folk could gather as the weather broke after winter, to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Houses that were farms tended to a strip of land that stretched back to the banks of the river – that way it was easy to understand land ownership.  Some of the farm houses are very handsome

and some of the older buildings show , from the reduced height of the door, that people weren’t as tall then (late 16h and 17th century) as they are today – perhaps as much as a foot shorter on average.

The tour made its first stop in St-Anne-deBeaupré, a small town of perhaps 3,000 souls, but home to an astonishing Basilica.  The first church was built by sailors, seeking protection against shipwrecks off Ile-Oeuf on their way upriver to Quebec City (Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, is the patron saint of sailors).  But the church has grown and grown, and has a reputation similar to that of Lourdes as a place for the sick to come on a pilgrimage and be cured.

It is huge

and ornate, both outside

and inside.

The doors are covered in beautiful copper, both outside

and in.

and there are extraordinary stacks of crutches and other mobility aids

which have been left here by people who have been cured of their illnesses.

There are no fewer than three other religious establishments immediately around the Basilica,

a couple of churches and, above, a commemorative chapel  of the third church.   On the gentle slopes of the hillside behind the chapel and beside the Santa Scala pictured above it are twelve bronze statues of the Stations of the Cross.

All in all, it is clear that Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a very significant religious centre.  There’s something excitingly called a Cyclorama

which is not, after all, a wall of death for daredevil motorbikers to whizz round, but actually a 365-ft representation in the round of Christ’s crucifixion – sadly closed since the pandemic and not yet re-opened.

After this stop, we retraced our journey back towards Quebec City. Driver Dan described the next stop as a “Copper Shop” and I wondered why we would visit a police station.  At first, it seemed merely the sort of retail opportunity that is often an unwelcome intrusion into a tour, as we were ushered into the lobby lined with works of art made from copper.  I was wrong to misjudge it, though.  We were at Cuivres d’Art Albert Gilles Boutique et Musée. Our group was given a short demonstration of how sheet copper can be transformed into a work of art.

although what we saw was a mere illustration using thin sheet metal; the real material is five times as thick and takes real skill, dedication and time to make into a final sculpture.

The studio, which was started by Albert Gilles who has passed the flame to daughter and grand-daughter, also hosted an exhibition, including Albert’s work to create silver representations of the life of Christ,

a project which took him 15 years, as well as some other lovely items.

The key thing that prevented this from being an unwelcome attempt to sell us stuff came with the knowledge, imparted by Madame, that Albert Gilles had created the copper doors for the Basilica at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré (along with work at some 60 other churches).  We left with a great, erm, impression of the man, his work and his art.

We next stopped at the Montmorency Falls.   These are 83 metres high, thus higher than Niagara, although not as powerful.

The falls are impressive enough from ground level, but one can reach the top for a different viewpoint.  You have a choice: walk up steps to the right of the falls as you look at them – 487 steps, we’re told, since we didn’t take this option (not enough time) – or a cable car to the left, which is quicker, less work but costs more.

The cable car is unique in my experience in two ways: the cars are clamped to the cable and it’s the cable that moves; and each car is clamped to two cables, which (obviously) both move. From the top of the cable car, you go past Montmorency Pavilion

and can take a couple of viewpoints, the better of which is ruined, in my photography-solipsistic world, by zipwire cables spoiling the view.  There’s a suspension bridge across the falls, which is quite exciting.  On the left from this viewpoint you can see the steps which hardy souls can climb and which would probably give the most satisfying viewpoint.

In the distance, in the upper of these two pictures, you can see a much larger suspension bridge. This leads to – indeed is the only road access to – the Île-d’Orléans, which is where we headed next.

This island is home mainly to farms, as building regulations forbid the creation of any other kind of industrial construction.  It produces mainly fruit and vegetables – strawberries, apricots, potatoes and apples. There’s a 9-hole golf course, a couple of churches and a decent selection of very handsome (and expensive, obvs) homes.  There’s a Nougaterie, and a blackcurrant farm, Cassis Monna & Filles, which Ian Burley recommends for its gin, but rather than go there, we ended up at a chocolate shop, right at the western point of the island, where you can actually see back over to Québec.

If you look carefully, you can even see the central tower of our hotel, just above the left-hand cruise ship.

The chocolate shop is very obviously a popular place for tours

but we resisted the urge to dash in and stuff our faces.  Instead, since this was the last stop of the tour and we were back at the hotel shortly afterwards, we headed to a hotel restaurant called Sam (for reasons we discovered the next day) where, by virtue of force of personality, or perhaps just plain luck, we just managed to squeeze in for a late, and very good, lunch and a couple of cold, and very welcome, drinks.

Was this a “Fabulous Country Tour”?  Well, not really – and of course the dull weather didn’t help – but it was interesting and we learned quite a lot about early settlers; and the Basilica was a truly remarkable place.  We enjoyed the day and could now look forward to our second and final day in Québec.  The weather outlook was rather better, so we could expect to have a good chance to explore this fascinating city in more detail.  Do come back and find out, won’t you?


Day 3 – We hit peak Mosaic

Tuesday 17 May 2022 – We had an early start today; once again, the only times we have to get up early is when we’re “relaxing” on holiday.  Anyway, come 8am, we were on the road that would lead us eventually to Petra, but which had several stops on the way.  Almost all of these stops seemed to involve mosaics, so I hope you like mosaics.

The first stop was in the town of Madaba, the “City of Mosaics”, to visit St. George’s, a Greek Orthodox church. The reason that so many people visit it is that it is the home of a very famous mosaic, the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land, dating from the 6th century AD. The mosaic was rediscovered in 1884, during the construction of a new Greek Orthodox church, St. George’s, on the site of its ancient predecessor. Outside (and replicated on cards in the on-site retail opportunity) is a large display explaining what the remaining areas of the mosaic are.

The map mosaic itself is very difficult to convey photographically, because it is so large.  I took a couple of snaps, of course I did, but I also tried to give an idea via video.

It is amazing that there are still areas of the mosaic that are still hiding under tiling work that has been laid on top of it, for some bizarre reason.

As well as this historic ancient mosaic, the church has an incredible array of modern mosaics, made in the Madaba School of Mosaics (these days called the Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration), which can be found on every available display surface.

They are very intricate and beautifully made.

On searching for the etymology of the word “mosaic”, I learned that it has its roots in the Latin for the Muses.  It’s also true that Mosaic (capital M) means “pertaining to Moses”, which is relevant for our next stop, which was at Mount Nebo, the site from which Moses was allowed to see the Promised Land, and where he then died. It is obviously a site of great historical and religious significance, but the Moses Memorial church there (originally built in the 4th century AD and restored by the Franciscans in 1932 to working monastery status) is quite a plain building, and not ornate at all.

Since this is where Moses could see the Holy Land, you might expect there to be a decent view.  You’d be right.

It’s a popular spot for people to look from, and marked by a representation of Moses’ staff.

On display outside the church are a couple of the mosaics from the original building

but it’s inside the church where the real action is, mosaic-wise.  The most impressive is a 6th Century mosaic in the Diakonikon Baptistry in the church, pictured as captured on a non-Diako Nikon camera.

There are many, many, wonderful and intricate mosaics there.  Some have the shapes often found in stained glass, and there is also some real stained glass cunningly shaped to look like a mosaic.

I’d love to go into more detail, but honestly there is so much there it would become dull if I were to share all the photos I took.

We went back into Madaba and visited the Madaba Arts and Handicraft Centre.  We got a very interesting insight from a chap there who explained about how both old and modern mosaics were made.  There were several people at work creating mosaics – the centre is a co-operative which provides training to budding mosaicists, many of whom have special needs.

As well as what anyone would understand to be mosaic work (with pieces of stone down to about 2mm in size), the centre also has work that is “micromosaic” – creating art with pieces of stone so tiny that they can only be worked through a magnifying glass; or indeed with dots of powdered stone “paint” – pointillisme in stone.  The resultant work is remarkable.

Ostrich eggs are common bases for this kind of artwork, and the chap was such a good salesman that Jane failed to escape without buying an example.  The co-operative does good work in supporting disadvantaged people, mainly women, and has the financial support of Queen Noor of Jordan, so we’re pleased that the money is going to support a good cause.  No, really.

So that was peak mosaic, and we left to continue our journey towards Petra.  En route, we passed an unusual roundabout decoration.

We have been unable to understand why this choice of decor has been made but we’ve seen more than one example.

Saeed drove us along the King’s Highway*, a scenic and historic route so-called because it once linked the realms of three kings – Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite.  It’s preferable to the Desert Highway, which is straighter, faster and has fewer speed bumps, but is dull.

By contrast, the route that Saeed took us had some wonderful scenery,

an unusual new marketing look to a fast-rising supermarket chain,

some more fantastic views,

a remarkable, if ramshackle, tea stop-cum-retail-opportunity run by yet another welcoming Jordanian (pictured below with Saeed),

and stopping for a visit to Kerak (or Karak) Castle, a 12th-century Crusader castle which also had a significant strategic role up to the Ottoman period in the 19th century.  It was badly damaged in a siege and has really only partially been restored.  It has a looming presence over the surrounding countryside.

It looks impressive from the outside and is huge and rambling on the inside, but lacks information boards and other things to help understand its story.  You can understand its strategic importance, given that rule 1 of such a place is to have a commanding view over the countryside so you can spot any unwanted marauding going on by your enemies.

but the site itself, while it has several impressively castle-y lumps of masonry

didn’t have a story to tell, or at least not one that came over to us.

The town of Kerak would actually be a wonderful photo site – all tiny narrow streets, chaotic traffic and colourful shops.  We didn’t get a chance to see it beyond one rather optimistic piece of marketing.

Shortly after this we stopped for lunch at an unusual restaurant-cum-retail-opportunity called Midway Castle

where we had a taste of the National Dish of Jordan – mansaf (slow-cooked lamb with rice, flatbread and a special yoghurt sauce).  Yes, I have a picture of it.  No, I’m not going to share it with you.  Then we pressed on, again largely avoiding the Desert Highway, which meant we saw camels

sheep and goats,

more impressive scenery

and the “Smallest Hotel in the World”.

We also passed by Shobak Castle

but didn’t go in, as we didn’t need a loo break.  Our final stop, as we hit the outskirts of Wadi Musa (the “Valley of Moses”, where Petra can be found) was at the spring that is the source of the water running through the valley, and may be the place where Moses struck the rock with his staff and water came forth for his thirsty Israelites:

It’s remarkably low key for something that bears the name of Moses.  People can stop by and fill their containers with water

underneath the writing taken from the Koran that says  something along the lines of “From water, all life begins.”

And so our journey ended at the Mövenpick, Petra. We immediately had a meeting with Ali, a representative of the organisation that provides tourist guides for Petra, because we had decisions to make.  Unfortunately, The Powers That Be have decided to close a hiking route that we had planned to take (from Little Petra to Petra Monastery) in a couple of days’ time, so we had to work out what our alternative was going to be.  Oddly enough, “sitting in the bar and drinking gin” didn’t seem to be the right thing for me to suggest, so we’ve got two hikes set up for tomorrow and Thursday, both of which involve quite a lot of walking and climbing of stuff.  And because we want to beat (a) the tourist hordes and (b) the heat of the day, we have to get under way at 0630 tomorrow.  O, the joys of being a tourist!

But, assuming we survive, the coming days should be absolutely wonderful, despite a 5am alarm call.  So do please stay tuned to see how things turned out.



*  “Along the King’s Great Highway, he drives his merry load /  at 90 miles per hour in the middle of the road.”  With thanks to Flanders and Swann

Day 4 – Crossing the mountains with a Fjord Escort

Friday 2nd July 2021. At last! A chance for me to foist upon you my joke about travels among Nordic mountains. Sorry, though – Long Read Alert Again!

The weather forecast according to the Met. Office app was for unbroken sunshine all day. No, really:

This was the reality as we headed for breakfast.

In the event, we had little direct sunshine, but no rain and almost no wind, so a good day for relentless tourism, which we proceeded to embark upon.

The first stop was Tálknafjörður, which Dagur described as “a bit of a sad town”, but which looked pleasant enough.  I guess that, like many Icelandic towns, it’s struggling to survive and thrive in modern times, with Reykjavik and parts foreign proving attractive to young people. Anyway, that aside, its USP is a very unusual church.  Not the bonkers architecture seen in Stykkishólmur (go and look at the blog post for Day 2) or Reykjavik (arrival day), but nonetheless striking.

It overlooked a pleasant view, too. Lots of lupins, of course.

Our onward journey took us up into the mountains as we crossed the knuckle of the peninsula towards Bíldudalur and thence from paved to unpaved road for a bumpy, 25 km, half-hour ride, which, according to Google Maps, took us out to sea.

This was a map-reality disconnect, luckily…  Anyway, we bumped along, heading for the outdoor art museum of Samuel Jonsson, who, it seemed to us, Wanted To Be Alone whilst he made his art from driftwood and anything else to hand, as he lived a great distance from what we might regard as civilisation.  The museum is charming.

To the left is a church he built, which has a lovely interior, today used as part of exhibiting pictures and other information about him and his art.

The most striking thing in here is his model of the St. Peter’s Church in Vatican City.

The building to the right of the church is a gallery (not currently in use) and dead ahead is the (rebuilt) house he lived in.  There are various artworks gathered outside.

The statue is a recreation of that of Leifur Erikson, which is outside the  Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik; the circle of lions is his recreation of an original from the Alhambra. It’s a working statue, after a fashion, in that it needs manual charging with water.

The place seemed awfully remote to us, and we wondered how on earth one could sustain a life so far from the nearest town.  But the lady in charge of the exhibition pointed out that things have changed in the nearly 100 years since Jonsson first lived there.  For a start, Bíldudalur was a much larger town then, and had a variety of shops; also Jonsson lived among a community of some 200 souls, with another one of 100 people not far away; and, of course, there was much more reliance upon supplies being brought in by boat. So life wasn’t as tough as we might have thought when viewing it through 21st-century eyes.

After bumping our way back to today’s version of civilisation, we headed again into the mountains. En route, we did stop to see something quite uniquely Icelandic – an outdoor, public, hot spring bathing pool.

One can just change in the little hut and bathe in the hot water – it’s a public facility.

The paved road then gave way to another ungraded surface which took us up into the mountains where we actually saw some residual snow. This remains even during the summer, in those shady parts where the sun can’t reach.

The next stop was a treat, as it was a visit to the biggest waterfall in the Westfjords – the Dynjandi waterfalls.

There are seven waterfalls, each of which has an individual name, and there’s a path one can climb to pass them all on the way to the big one – Dynjandi itself.

It really is a great place to visit, a very impressive sight and well-organised.

We lunched there on sandwiches bought earlier and then headed round to the next peninsula in the Westfjords, to a place called Hrafnseyri, where there’s a museum which features a replica of a turf-roofed house

and a rebuilt version of an old church.

After this visit, we headed – again across the knuckle of a peninsula finger – towards Þingeyri. As ever, this mountain road gave us some impressive views. We were lucky enough to witness a phenomenon which is not uncommon in Iceland, but is not the sort of thing you often stumble across in the UK – valley fog.  Clouds appear to be spilling out of the fjords into the sea, and it’s a striking sight.

There were, of course, other impressive views over the fjords.

and, as we neared Þingeyri, Dagur suggested we could try an interesting track across a hill (the one in the centre in the above picture, actually) which offered some fine views.  So, off we went. But only so far, as it turned out to be such an arduous climb that Dagur wasn’t sure that even a modern Land Rover Defender could handle it without risk. So it ended up with Dagur and me scrambling up the rest of the path to the top. I just thought you might be interested in a the vital signs of a photographer as he ascends a climb taking photos on the way, wanders about taking photos at the top and them comes down again:

But it was worth the climb for some fantastic views.

(Note the vast extent of the lupins in the last of these photos.)

After a very careful descent, we visited Þingeyri and then travelled around to the next finger of the peninsula towards Flateyri.  En route was a uniquely Icelandic scene.

A perfectly pointy mountain above some houses and swathes of lupins.  I’m so glad we came whilst these were in flower.

The final stop of the day was to marvel at the size of the earthworks they’ve built above Flateyri to protect against avalanche. Here are pictures of the right-hand wall and the overall sight from the harbour, but it’s difficult to convey how huge the endeavour is to build this.

We then headed to our final stop for the night, Ísafjörður. We checked in to the eponymous hotel, had a very fine dinner, which featured wolffish, and took a brief stroll around the town…

and thence to bed.

I’m promised that tomorrow will be spent mainly driving and so there really, really should be fewer photographs and drivel from me.  Thank you for reading this far, and I hope you’ll check in on tomorrow’s exploits.