Thursday, 30 January 2014

Windows Downunder

I don't know why it is that the design of our homes and in particular our windows rarely take into consideration this hot and arid country.

My flat tin roof, no overhang and north-facing windows (and a parking sign!!)
I live in an architect designed 15 year old house which I love but which should never have been designed as it is! Well not in this country. And I know this house is not a 'one-off'. They are sprouting like mushrooms all over the place. Not only does the house have a flat tin roof with no eaves for shading my biggest beef is the windows! Now everyone knows that once the sun hits glass it doesn't matter how you try to foil the heat it is pretty much too late. My double casement windows firstly have no protection on the outside but they also open outwards so there is absolutely no chance of putting charming 'European shutters' on the outside to protect the glass. 
The entrance to my home - shutters on the INSIDE!
I've invested inordinate amounts of time trying to find a way to rectify the problem and I've invested a large amount of money on a mildly successful window coating treatment and inner shutters. Both of these have certainly made a difference but oh how I dream of windows opening inwards so that a Middle Eastern or European window treatment could be applied! Here are some of the windows I would love to have had the option to choose and those I considered. Enjoy the ride!

Build an 'outside' Mashrabbya - wouldn't the Council love that application!
Yemeni children peeping through their 'blind protectors'

Matching outside shutters (widows open IN) and baby blue Citroen - France - surprise surprise!
Outside shutters in St Paul de Vence - so typical and so suitable for the Australian climate!

I even considered this 'addition' seen at the wonderful Alhambra Palace in Granada

A temporary addition in Cordoba - impossible to put on the outside when the window is open!! Great (!!) colour

Pretty rush blinds in Cordoba (impossible with out-opening windows!)

Flowers covering the windows in Cordoba (heaven but....)

Roll-down blinds with windows opening - IN - Cordoba

Blinds in Seville

I even considered something along these lines - built out to take the windows opening OUT - Sitges, Spain

And finally the slide-across option in Sitges
As you will see I did a lot of homework! I did a lot of thinking! I did a lot of discussing! I took a lot of advice! All to no avail. I even looked at replacing all the windows (well reversing them..... ha ha - so that they opened IN - I am still recovering from the shock of the quote!) And I'm only talking about my casement windows. I haven't even broached the subject of sheets of glass - facing north and west particularly - with no double-glazing, no overhangs, no verandahs. No wonder people fled their hot-boxes for hotel-living during the recent hot spell. The only winners - the electricity supply companies!

Does anyone know why our windows are made to open out? Is this a hangover from British Colonial Design!?!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Oh Oh Mr Palladio

The Veneto region of Italy includes the World Heritage listed city of Vicenza - renowned for Palladian villas. Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was the architect for the Republic of Venice and is widely acclaimed as the most influential architect of western architecture. The region is peppered with his buildings. Born in Padua (where Galileo Galili was once a lecturer at the 800 year old University and where Shakespeare based his Taming of the Shrew) Palladio moved to Vicenza when he was 16.  As you will see below he was profoundly influenced by his study of the surviving monuments of classical Rome.
Andrea Palladio in the main Vicenza square - admiring his designs
The Palladian style can be seen throughout the city. No wonder it's a World Heritage site. Many of us would perhaps be more familiar with his style of buildings in Britain as both Indigo Jones and Christophen Wren amongst others were influenced by his work. And what work.
The view from our hotel window - old Vicenza is a walking city
He was prodigious. In Vicenza alone there are 26 buildings attributed to him. And here are just a few to wet your appetite.
The main square - the Loggia del Capitaniato
Vicenza from the room of the Loggia

More Palladio from the Loggia

We loved the 'formality' of the designs
The Palladio Museum gives a wonderful overview as many of his designs are exact minature models of his buildings. There was a hush in the 'model room' - everyone was in awe of his work . 
A room of models - just imagine a dolls house in this design!
The old town is wonderfully 'Palladio' signposted making it easy just to wander and enjoy. 
Here a Palladio
There a Palladio
Everywhere a Palladio Palladio!
You should have the 'picture' now!
So if you haven't been to the Veneto region which includes the World Heritage sites of Venice (naturally!) Verona (Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet) and of course Palladio's Vicenza then you may want to consider it on your next trip to Italy. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gluten Free in Italee

Well there I was off to pasta/pizza-loving Italee only to be diagnosed as a Coeliac just before I left. Anything containing flour was a no no. So there was to be no pasta, pizza, cakes and divine biscuit treats on this trip - unless they were 'gluten free'. Knowing the symptoms of the disease 'intimately' I knew I couldn't risk either ignoring or cheating on the diagnosis. The consequences in an unknown city did not bear thinking about. 

As we were leaving just after this 'wonderful news' I hadn't really come to grips with what I could and couldn't have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Suffice to say I did what turned out to be the most sensible thing I have ever done - I carried 4 packets of Corn Thins - just in case. Well 'just in case' turned out to be my saviour. I would have starved to death without them! Still I headed off confident that an egg and perhaps some ham and cheese for breakfast would suffice, a salad with ham, proscuitto, chicken, tuna and perhaps a minestrone for lunch (sans the crunchy bread) - the choices would be limited but available. And of course for dinner there would be vegetables, meat, fish etc - all would be well. Well, well it wasn't!
Corn thins, corn thins, corn thins I love you!
On arrival in Venice I asked the the manager of our hotel where we could eat as I couldn't eat pasta - unless it was gluten free. He looked at me as if I had three heads and said "But this is Italy!" Yes I knew we were in Italy - I'd just flown for nearly 30 hours to get there! I just hoped for a different response. And that set the pattern for our two weeks in Italee. 

We struggled through breakfast at the hotel - with me gazing longingly at the pastries. At least in Venice we were provided with a selection of (one) cheese, perhaps some ham and rubbery overcooked scrambled egg. Not a boiled egg in sight. After our Venice sojourn the hotel breakfasts were a disaster. Not an egg, slice of ham or a slice of cheese was sighted. 

Lunch proved just as challenging. Now I must admit that we didn't work hard on long lunches due to the fact that it was dark at 4.30 - 5.00 each evening (in summer a long lunch wouldn't be a problem). We didn't want to waste the day when there was so much to see. Now a 'normal' tourist would stop for a slice of pizza, perhaps a quick pasta, or a panini on the go. No such luck for me. A panini lunch for my friend had me scrambling for a soup (never found one!) or a salad (forget it!). It was really bizarre. Thank heavens for the corn thins. They were diminishing at an alarming rate!

Dinner was another problem. After a day traipsing the sights we were in need of an early dinner. No such luck. On many a night two Aussies could be seen noses pressed to a restaurant window pleading with those inside to let us in before 7.30 - 8.00 pm. We were always greeted with 'ignore those tourists' (I thought we were their bread - well corn thins - and butter!) and never acknowledged. It was extraordinary. So many a night found us having a 'picnic' on our beds. Corn thins and cheese and ham if we happened upon it in our travels.

There's only so much drinking that can be done between sunset at 5.00 and dinner at 7.30. If we'd partaken of a drink or three or four to fill in the hours then dinner would have been a 'write-off'. I felt so sorry for my friend who would loved to have enjoyed a pizza or a pasta and a wine. Instead she gallantly joined in the search for a restaurant serving anything else. Now I'm a risotto fan and had - as it turned out - foolishly thought that it would be my savior. No such luck. Risotto was never served for one - even when I pleaded - it was always a dish for two.
A Venetian bed-picnic - my friend enjoying her slice of pizza while I drool! (sorry Pammy!)
In Bologna we struck gold. But it was gold through good luck and not planned management. We had rented an apartment. On our first night we walked the streets, pressing our noses to closed restaurants (open at 7.30!) until in desperation I espied a mini supermarket. We fell in the door and almost cleared the shelves. Fish, chicken, eggs, wonderful sliced meats, vegetatbles, salad mixes - we thought we were in paradise! (I can assure you this was not a paradise location but who cared). And so we trundled back to our apartment and 'cooked up a storm'. We ate our supplies for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Bologna. 
The Vicenza 'farmers market' - but no sliced salami here - just obscenely large salamis (!) to take away
On our final night in Italy we returned to our favourite Venice restaurant. And there on the menu was risotto - for one - but my heart sank - it was black ink risotto and if there is one thing I can't abide it's black ink! But one of the reasons we loved this restaurant was the owner (yes he was charmingly Italian!) He produced - just for me - gluten free pasta with pippis - a Venetian staple (well not the gluten free bit). I could have kissed him (well I could have anyway - but you know what I mean!) And so our farewell dinner in Italy was just as I had imagined so many Italian meals that I would have savoured in the past. 

Gluten free Pippi Paradise in Venice
So if you need to eat gluten free then be prepared in Italee. Travel in summer when you can enjoy a leisurely restaurant lunch or stop for a salad or alternatively rent an apartment where you can cook up a storm (or even a boiled egg!). 

And so my new gluten free motto is 
"Have corn thins will travel"

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Ravenna oh Ravenna

Around 20 years ago I passed briefly through Ravenna en route to Venice and promised myself I would return one day. Well that day came on my recent Italian sojourn and I didn't regret one minute of my self-made promise. Historic Ravenna is often called the city of art and is particularly known for its truly magnificent mosaics - you can even take a course there to learn the techniques. And what techniques. I felt my friend was doubtful about going to see a city of mosaics - after all if you have an image of a mosaic table top in your mind (even a beautiful one) the thought of a visit to a tabletop city (!!) would seem a little hard to imagine.
The Basilica Di San Vitale - set in lovely simple gardens
To watch her as she gazed in awe at the magnificent mosaics inside the buildings was a wonder to behold and my heart sang. There is nothing like sharing something special and this city is remarkable. Although modern Ravenna is a thriving city it was the 'old city' we had come to explore. 
Above and below - not a mosaic tabletop in sight!
Our first port of call was the Basilica Di San Vitale - consecrated in 548 and considered the most glorious example of Byzantine art in the west. Set in peaceful grounds with little ornamentation on the outside its simplicity is what I love. But it was the inside we had come to see. And we had the Basilica to ourselves. What luck. No tour groups to spoil our time.
Soft light and no flash make it hard to show - but everywhere you looked above were the stories of the Bible entirely in mosaics
From the Basilica we crossed the garden to my most favourite building. Small and unassuming on the outside and overwhelmingly beautiful on the inside. The Galla Placidia Mausoleum didn't fail to live up to my 20 year old memories. On my last visit I had a 'spontaneous cry' when I stepped inside. It took my breath away. No crying this time but it brought a tear to the eye of my friend. It was World Heritage listed with seven other structures in Ravenna in 1996. 

Galla Placidia Mausoleum - small, intimate and weepingly beautiful
The intimacy of the space seems to make it almost etherial. It was built by Galla Placidia (386-452) the sister of Honorius, the Roman Emperor who transferred the Capital of the Western Empire from Milan to Ravenna. The mausoleum was never used for that purpose as the empress died and was buried in Rome.
No picture can capture the feel or the detail

Every square inch covered in mosaics
Bible stories
Gold and blue mosaics twinkling in the sky
Once we had recovered from mosaic heaven we headed off for more! Next we visited the Sant Appollinare Nuovo - another Byzantine mosaic wonder to behold.
The colonades and ceiling - I could go on - and on - and on
Every panel tells another story - the detail is extraordinary
We staggered on to visit more magnificent buildings and their extraordinary mosaics - and when I looked down there were more in the road!
Here a mosaic, there a mosaic, everywhere a mosaic!
Back in the hotel recovering from mosaicitis we chatted with the the owner of our hotel who told us that during World War 11 both the Germans and Allies agreed to fight their battles outside Ravenna in order to ensure the mosaics and their 'homes' were saved from bombing. This had been agreed between both 'sides' as the German leader - an art historian - knew the value of treasures in the city. Once the owner discovered we were Australian (not American) he wanted to say how grateful the city is/was for the many Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in those battles. Sadly many of their headstones can be found in the Ravenna War Cemetery. Neither of us had ever heard this history - we only seem to hear about Gallipoli and the Western Front. Did you know this?