Hebridean Hop 4: Lews Castle

Tuesday 31st July 2018

Lews Castle, Stornoway

Lews Castle was built by Sir James Matheson, a Far East trader who bought the whole island of Lewis in 1844. In 1917 the island was bought by Lord Leverhulme, the soap industrialist, who set about trying to replace the culture of crofting (small-scale farming) with a fishing empire. The crofters weren’t impressed and his plans came to naught – the island was put up for sale again in 1923, and the community was at least able to buy Stornoway and the castle. Since then, the castle has had many uses – from 2016 it has housed a museum on the ground floor and holiday accommodation above.

The forecast was for rain later, but the morning was sunny so we set off for a walk around the grounds – the wooded peninsula showing behind Stornoway Harbour in the first image below – before hitting the museum.

By the time we arrived back at the castle it was raining – and definitely time for lunch. We’d had morning coffee in the small café in the grounds, but it was now packed so we headed back towards town to Kopi Java which was recommended in our guidebook. Run by a local couple (she comes from Lewis, he comes from Indonesia) it provides excellent food and illustrates how much Stornoway has changed since our last visit 29 years before. Then, we remember queuing at a counter for “coffee” which was poured from a large metal tea-pot with the enquiry “Sugar?” Had we not said no quickly, sugar would have been poured in for us. Gourmet it was not!

Back in the castle, we were extremely impressed with the museum. Centre stage were six Lewis Chessmen, part of a 12th century set which was found nearby but now belongs to the British Museum which has kindly (?) loaned some of the pieces back. In the morning, we’d passed some large wooden models in the grounds and had a bit of fun with them. Spot the difference!

The castle also has an excellent café, and after more fortification we looked at the public areas on the rest of the ground floor. I don’t know what the apartments above are like, but I suspect they will be very grand. Next visit maybe …

This was our last day in Stornoway – the following morning, we set of for Harris, an island that we didn’t need a ferry to access, or even a causeway. How could this be?

Amsterdam: museums

Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam’s most famous museum, and the only one of the major museums we visited on our most recent trip, is the Rijksmuseum. How can I review that? I’m not sure I can – it’s so huge and varied – so I shall pick out one part that has special resonance for me. The library! Isn’t it magnificent?

The library was completed in 1881, when the design was considered innovative – the cast-iron and glass roof construction made it possible to read by daylight. It hasn’t changed much since, and now holds one kilometre of books on art history over four storeys, with another five kilometres in underground storage. I’m glad I don’t have to keep them tidy!

Museum of Bags and Purses

The Museum of Bags and Purses (Tassenmuseum Hendrikje) has a collection of over 5,000 items dating from the 16th century to the present day. A bonus – it’s housed in a building constructed in 1664 as the home of the Mayor of Amsterdam, and restored for the museum in 2007. Two of the rooms still have period features.

Kattenkabinet

This museum dedicated to cats in art is also housed in a grand canal house, though not as fabulously renovated as the Tassenmusuem. It was founded by wealthy financier Bob Meijer in memory of his cat John Pierpoint Morgan III. (I wonder what name the cat answered to?)

On our last visit, I don’t remember the collection extending into the garden. Maybe it wasn’t open because the weather wasn’t suitable. This time, it was my favourite part and I amused myself finding as many black cats as I could (because our last cat, Sally, was black).

The bonus here was that we shared the museum with some real, live cats (one more alert than the other).

House of Bols

Before dinner one evening, we decided that our aperitif would be the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience. An interactive, self-guided tour takes you through the history of this Dutch spirit and gives you information about how it is blended, including the chance to test your own nose. We met again the blue and white KLM canal houses (you might recall the large models on Museumplein from a previous post) of which our own collection numbers 56!

And finally, of course, it was cocktail time. Cheers!

This was my final thematic post about Amsterdam – the others were Canals; Parks and Gardens; and Decorative Buildings. And now for something completely different …

Amsterdam Museum and Festival of Light

Lauren Ewing: Light Wave

On one of our evening strolls around Amsterdam, we came across this light sculpture which we discovered was part of an annual Light Festival. Best visited by canal boat, we booked up for a couple of nights later. We knew we were likely to get cold and wet in the evening so looked for somewhere dry and warm during the day, and decided to visit the Amsterdam Museum.

Until 1960, the building housing the museum was an orphanage. In one of the courtyards, shown above, you can see the cupboards that the children used to store their possessions, now filled with art. I wasn’t too taken with the main body of the museum which had been revamped since our last visit to provide (according to Lonely Planet) a “multi-media DNA exhibit, which breaks down Amsterdam’s 1000-year history into seven whiz-bang time periods”. Whiz-bang is not really me, and I also found the red and white timeline wall difficult to focus on.

The Civic Guard Gallery in the arcade next door was more interesting – you could both look down on it from inside the museum and enter (free of charge) from street level. On view are original group portraits, made between 1530 and 2007 by artists such as Bartholomeus van der Helst and Erwin Olaf, as well as Goliath, a 350-year-old wooden giant. From what I remember about the colourful carpet, I think each square represented a different country and we were able to find Scotland from the key.

We did, indeed, get very cold and wet on the way to the (open) boat, but fortunately the rain went off so we were “only” freezing cold during the 75 minute tour of the 35 light sculptures. Here’s a selection of my favourites – this first one is a general view of how busy the canal was, but it also shows one of the installations. Ai Weiwei’s Thinline (the red lights) ran the whole length of the route.

Ai Weiwei: Thinline

You might recognise some of the buildings in the next two images from an earlier post – the funny little roof-creatures outside the library, and NEMO Science Museum. The pyramid is Infinita by Cecil Balmond. In A necessary darkness, Rona Lee chose to invert the norm by projecting a lighthouse beaming out darkness onto NEMO’s wall.

Claudia Reh created a large projection, It was once drifting on the water, on the façade of the Hermitage Museum in collaboration with local primary school children. Myth by Ben Zamora is a grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines which light up in different combinations at different speeds.

Eye to eye by Driton Selmani represents a giant nazar amulet that protects people, animals, and objects from the evil eye. If you’ve been to Turkey, you are probably familiar with it – we have one hanging in our bathroom. Whole hole, by Wendel & de Wolf, was probably my favourite installation: it was exciting to be drawn through it into the tunnel.

Lifeline by Claes Meijer was interesting: it showed the waves of sound which a boat engine makes underwater, so changed as we passed it. Lynne Leegte’s Windows are probably self-explanatory!

Floating on a thousand memories (Lighting Design Academy) achieved its effect by reflecting small lights in the water and in mirrors on the water’s edge. The next sculpture is prettier than its title – The life of a slime mold. it’s an enlargement of the mucus fungus by Nicole Banowetz. Nice!

The final pairing is Citygazing: Amsterdam (VOUW) and Be the change that you want to see in the world by Bagus Pandega. The former is a giant light map of the city. The latter scrolls one of Gandhi’s most famous quotes – I think you can just make out see in the passing by. A good motto to live by.

My goodness, were we shivering when we got to this point! We were happy to find a cosy pizza restaurant and then head back to the warmth of our apartment.

This is my last post about Amsterdam itself – for the moment: we’ll be back again later in the year. However, we took a couple of day trips out of the city, so stay tuned for tours of Haarlem and Utrecht.

Drumheller

Royal Tyrrell Museum

From Lake Louise, we left the Rockies and drove east: destination Drumheller. The road was flat – very flat – and I was puzzled when we came to the 3km sign for Drumheller: where was it? Surely we should see it by now? Then the road suddenly plunged down into the Red Deer River Valley, and there it was at the bottom. We were in the Badlands! (Badlands are a type of dry terrain where soft sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water.) The next surprise was how small Drumheller is. We were here to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, a world leading institution, which we expected to have rather more sophisticated surroundings (sorry Drumheller).

The third surprise was unpleasant. Our hotel claimed to have no knowledge of us and was “fully booked”. Now, I spent my entire career in public service and I know that the answer to a problem is “Oh, I’m sorry that has happened – let’s see what we can do to fix it.” The two staff here had obviously missed that memo and were truculent and defensive. Apparently, it was all our fault for booking through a third party, despite the fact that we had booked most of our accommodation through the same site months in advance and had no problem anywhere else.  It became my responsibility to call the booking company to sort it out – I was grudgingly allowed to use one of the hotel phones when I pointed out that it would cost me a fortune to use a UK mobile. I have nothing but praise for the young lady I spoke to who then spent half an hour talking to one of the staff, and – surprise again! – it turned out they did have a room, although more expensive than the one we’d booked. I don’t know why they couldn’t have found this in the first place: presumably the booking company was inveigled into paying the extra amount. I shan’t name the hotel, but I definitely won’t be using that chain again.

After my blood pressure had returned to normal, we set out to explore Drumheller. They love their dinosaurs. This T Rex is the largest dinosaur in the world, apparently – the one on the right is much smaller, it’s just the perspective making them look similar.

There were also smaller dinosaurs all around town. We even met one in our (nameless) hotel lobby! He arrived every morning to entertain the children, but didn’t seem to mind being photographed with a couple of slightly older visitors.

Drumheller is a former mining area and, if we’d had time, there is a mining trail we could have followed. We did visit one historic mine (which I’ll include in a later post) and stop for reflection at the memorial in town to all those miners killed in the area. A lot of names.

As for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, which we visited on our first full day, it blew us away. It has to be one of the best museums I have ever visited. The layout was so clear that you could easily follow a logical path through it, and the signs had just the right amount of information. And if all you wanted to do was look at dinosaurs (there were many young children who were there to do just that), you could still have a ball.

Why have so many fossils, particularly dinosaurs, been found in Alberta? Apparently, it’s because of the high sedimentation rate in the Late Cretaceous Period which meant that dead animals were buried quickly before they started to decompose, preserving the skeletons intact.

The museum also has a Badlands Interpretive Trail (below) which we spent some time exploring before, mid-afternoon, returning to our hotel to freshen up for our next event at 6pm – the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.

We didn’t know until after we’d decided to visit Drumheller that this was on, but we jumped at the chance to get tickets when we found out. The epic representation of the life of Jesus has been produced every summer since 1994 and, if you live nearby or are likely to visit next July, I strongly recommend it. There are a few professional actors involved, but most are amateurs and they are simply amazing. Photography during the play is not allowed – the first picture below was taken by John beforehand and the other two were supplied to me as part of a set sent to ticket holders after the event, hence the attribution.

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play 2017
The set © Canadian Badlands Passion Play
Cast and crew © Canadian Badlands Passion Play

The site for the play was a few miles out of town and there were hundreds of cars parked, yet the volunteers directing us out were so efficient that we hardly had to queue at all before we were back out onto the main road. An excellent and well-organised event.

On our second day in Drumheller we set out to explore the Badlands further and get some hiking in. More next time!

Toronto: Bata Shoe Museum

Bata Shoe Museum
Bata Shoe Museum. Shame the ruby slippers won’t fit me.

You don’t have to be Imelda Marcus or Carrie Bradshaw to love this museum. I defy anyone not to be fascinated by the permanent display of shoes through history supplemented by several special exhibitions. When we were there in April, these included Arctic footwear, the history of men in heels, fashion victims of the 19th century and footwear of the stars. The last two were my favourites and I was excited to see a signed pair of Roger Federer’s tennis shoes and some shoes worn by Jon Hamm in Mad Men. Sorry, blurry iPhone pics taken through glass.

The museum’s atrium featured an installation by Jim Hake called Pump It Up. The glass shoes catch the light and are inspired by cathedral windows. Beautiful!

This was the last morning we spent in Toronto before flying home – but it’s not the end of my posts. I’ve saved our one venture out of the city till the end: next time – Niagara!

Toronto: ROM and AGO

Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum

We visited both the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), spending several hours in each (not on the same day – that would be too much!) Coming from a country where state and municipal museums are free, our first impression was that they were expensive. We paid $25 per person (including the special exhibition on tattoos) at ROM and $19.50 at AGO. If I lived in Toronto, I would probably pay to be a member which gives unlimited access – I could then go in and concentrate on one gallery whenever I pleased. As it was, we walked through every gallery determined to get our money’s worth, stopping at a few artefacts in each to get a flavour of the collection.

Royal Ontario Museum

ROM opened in 1914 and was extended in 2007 with Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal which bursts out of the original walls (see above). I rather like it. Below are some highlights of what we saw inside – as you can see, the dinosaurs were a particular hit.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO has also been extended, this time by Frank Gehry. The interiors were pretty smart too. Inside the glass frontage, above, was the Galleria Italia where we enjoyed a post-lunch coffee in the Espresso Bar. (In both places, we used the self-service café for lunch. Neither was a memorable culinary experience, but AGO was better than ROM.) Walker Court has a beautiful spiral staircase.

Here are some of the exhibitions we particularly enjoyed.

Song Dong’s Communal Courtyard

One hundred vintage Chinese wardrobe doors transform the gallery into a series of walkways and small rooms reminiscent of Beijing’s densely populated hutongs. Seems we both had the same selfie idea!

Manasie Akpaliapik

Sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik is originally from Baffin Island and his work reflects a concern for the vulnerability of his Arctic homeland. Beautiful or scary? I can’t decide.

Norval Morriseau

Norval Morrisseau was born in Sand Point Reserve, Ontario, in 1932 and died in Toronto in 2007. These six panels are collectively called Man changing into Thunderbird. I loved them.

Benjamin Cheverton

In the 1820s, Benjamin Cheverton perfected a sculpture-copying machine which produced exact, miniaturised copies of full-sized busts by other sculptors. There were numerous examples on display as well as a case showing how it was done based on a bust of James Watt – one of John’s heroes, so how could he not love that?

We were very impressed with both ROM and AGO, but each day we retired punch-drunk. Culture can be so tiring!

 

Irvine and the Scottish Maritime Museum

Scottish Maritime Museum
Scottish Maritime Museum
A bright, sunny day in Scotland at the moment is worthy of note. Two in a row are as rare as hens’ teeth – this lovely day was the same weekend as last week’s Monday Walk. We started our visit to Irvine with a wander round the Maritime Museum – separately as John wanted to look at the great hulking engines and boats …

… whereas I preferred the items with more human interest.

I particularly liked the “shipbuilders” working high up in the roof.

The Harbourside area around the museum is picturesque.

Across the road is the café (what do you mean, did we go in? of course we did!) and more boats.

As we walked downriver, we noticed a series (we spotted seven, there might have been more) of special paving stones with Scots words. Each stone was themed: here are two – any guesses what the themes are? Bonus points for defining any of the words.

We passed The Ship Inn and a sculpture of a carter and his horse.

Then we came upon a flock of swans and a very aggressive goose who advanced, hissing, on John when he pointed his camera at it. No wonder some distilleries use them to protect the whisky.

Next, we came to The Big Idea, a museum devoted to Scottish inventors which was opened to celebrate the millennium and closed through lack of custom in 2003. It’s rather sad looking, and its massive carpark seems to be its main legacy – although John enjoyed photographing the footbridge with the names of some of his heroes.

By now we had reached the sea – I thought this picture made me look quite sinister, as if I was standing on the edge of the world. That was the intended effect anyway.

On the jetty at Irvine
On the pier at Irvine
On a previous visit, we walked from this point along the beach to the next town, Troon – see Twixmas at Troon. There be dragons! This time, we retraced our steps to the museum and headed home to Glasgow.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Gallus Glasgow R: Religious buildings

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art was the first in the world to cover all major world religions together. It sits next to Glasgow Cathedral (1197) and superficially looks almost as old, but it dates from the late 1980s. The Scottish baronial style was deliberately chosen to emulate the Bishop’s Palace which used to sit on the same site. In the images below, the third building you can see is the Royal Infirmary.

Some details from the museum:

The Cathedral is Church of Scotland and there are, of course, many more Christian denominations represented in Glasgow as well as buildings for other world religions. For example, Glasgow Central Mosque:

Glasgow Central Mosque

Garnethill Synagogue:

By RonAlmog, (Flickr page) (Flickr) CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), via Wikimedia Commons
By RonAlmog, (Flickr page) (Flickr) CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), via Wikimedia Commons

And Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib:

Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib

Most religious buildings which have been mentioned in the Challenge so far have been converted to other uses. This is a small, and by no means comprehensive, selection of those which still fulfil their original purpose.

Tomorrow in S we’ll look at some art – but not in a gallery.

Costumes and quilts at Dalgarven Mill

Something seemed to go wrong with the weather settings over Scotland this Easter – yes, four days of sunshine. Unheard of for a holiday weekend! We made the most of it to get out and about, and on Saturday visited Dalgarven Mill in Ayrshire which had been recommended to me as a good place to go. We weren’t disappointed, although given that its title is Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume, I was expecting something larger and more “official”. What we found was much better – a little gem.

There has been a mill on this site since 1203, with the current buildings dating from the 19th century – the water wheel has been restored and still turns. Until recently Dalgarven was family owned – it has now been passed to a trust, but the family still runs it and we met three generations on our visit. The granaries have three floors of exhibits with artefacts from rural trades of the past, room settings and a magnificent costume collection (most of which is in storage – Victorian costumes are currently on display.) I liked the informality of the information, telling us how items were obtained. For example, a knife grinder was purchased at auction and then, as is often the way of things, another was donated shortly afterwards. The kitchen cabinet in the pictures below belonged to an old lady who was so wedded to it, when she moved to modern accommodation she made her family rip out the fitted kitchen and install the cabinet instead. There was also a temporary exhibition of beautiful quilts by Rosalie Furlong and, last but not least, a café. I had looked into other places to eat (there’s a hotel just down the road) because museum catering is not always great, but this was amazing; freshly cooked – and home baking to die for! You will note that didn’t last long enough to make it into the pictures.

Carrying on beyond the mill, a single track road with passing places takes you to the Blair Estate. This is private, so leave your car outside – however, walkers are welcome and it’s well worth a stroll round the grounds.

Finally, we took the long way home, dropping down to the coast for a walk on part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path at Portencross. We were just too late to get into the castle, but enjoyed the views in the late afternoon sunshine.

Summerlee

We had a friend visiting last weekend and Glasgow did its absolute worst with the weather. Where could we go that was accessible by car and under cover so that we could keep dry? Given that we’d been to Glasgow’s museums many times we thought we’d try Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life at Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire. We hadn’t visited for years and now we can’t understand why we left it so long – it was great. A large Exhibition Hall with café and enough to do outside in the brief window when it didn’t rain – a replica mine and row of miners cottages to tour and a tram to ride. Hours of fun!