Sunday, 29 November 2015

Tuning to the season

Now that we live in Turku, the Christmas capital of the country, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to witness the light-up of the nation’s premier Christmas tree. Quite a number of people, many with young children, were defying the fiercely cold weather attending the family-oriented event in front of the Cathedral on Saturday afternoon. Afterwards, many families also queued to have a look at the crib inside the Cathedral. We are saving that to a later occasion.

By the time the crowd was dispersing it was not only blowing heavily but also drizzling. Under these conditions, we are really in need of some prominent decorations to start tuning to the season. The majestic spruce tree is 22 metres high and weighs some 4000 kilos. It might just have made it for us.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Orange your world

Remember the pedestrian Library Bridge that served as the venue for an event I posted about a couple of months ago (here)? A few times a year for a special occasion, it is lit in colour. Yesterday, it shined in orange for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I had to rush to take a few photos (sadly without a tripod).

In fact, the United Nations has named the period from November 25 to the Human Rights Day on December 10, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence inviting anyone to join the UNiTE campaign by oranging the world.

Most of us probably have a table lamp of some sort on a windowsill or some other visible place. So chop-chop, go dig out that orange scarf, tablecloth or piece of fabric and wrap it around the lampshade to orange your world and raise awareness of this long overdue cause. There’s still plenty of time to join, more than a fortnight actually. I certainly will, thanks to my mother’s rather extensive fabric stock she earmarked to me. That is most appropriate as she was passionate about gender equality decades before it became even remotely mainstream.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Castle and park

Back to October and Milan (my first post here), this is the Sforza Castle or Castello Sforzesco built by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, in the 15th century on the remains of a 14th-century fortification. The castle has been extensively rebuilt over the centuries and its walls currently not only surround several great courtyards but also house many museums.

We didn’t see any of the latter I must confess. I’m afraid we are rather easy-going travellers meaning that we very seldom make any definite plans beforehand about what we absolutely have to see. We generally determine which sights to visit only on the spot depending on a number of factors such as the weather, the location, the hour, our mood, etc. This derives from the time when we spent most of our days at an office and were always very tired when travelling.

So no queueing to the Duomos for us. We tend to make believe we can always do that another time in the not too distant future. This attitude – although probably not the wisest for a 60-year-old – has saved me a lot of irritation over our occasional meagre performance in sight-seeing. This time we chose a couple of the less popular churches and the castle as we knew it would swallow a lot of people without any difficulty.

There happened to be a Water Festival going on in the great courtyard of the castle presenting different aspects of water from the construction of the historic canals of Milan and the watering systems in the rice fields on the plains to present-day water purification. In addition, a few well-known designers had been invited to create a water-related installation in the two smaller courtyards.

The above is ‘Clear Sweet Fresh Water’ by Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel. In this work water is nebulised behind a planting of grasses and roses over a pool with a portico at the back. It beautifully conveyed a feeling of relaxation and serenity.

The other of the smaller courtyards was dedicated to the theme of water in everyday life. The central area constituted a work entitled ‘Water Garden’ created by Green Italia Network. It demonstrated how domestic waste water could be utilised for and purified by a garden. The orange pipes indicated the flow of waste water to the garden and the blue ones represented the return flow of purified water suitable to be reused for any other purpose than drinking. The running showers are a detail of the ‘Waterway’ by Piero Lissoni.

The day was very nice and sunny, ideal for us non-performers in holiday-making to take a stroll in the (at least by Milanese standards) rather large Sempione Park spreading to the north of the castle. In the 14th century during the Visconti era, a vast area behind the castle was used as hunting grounds. The last of the Visconti rulers, Filippo Maria, built the first garden in the early 15th century but it was later neglected. Napoleon, of course, had a great vision for the area. History intervened destroying his plans and the present layout of the park was created only in the late 19th century.

There are many sculptures in the park of English landscape style. One in particular made me curious: two times three high walls in black and white mounted on an elevated concrete platform standing between the pond and the Arco della Pace at the far end of the park built by Napoleon. It is ‘Teatro Continuo’, the ‘Continuous Theatre’ designed by Alberto Burri. The public stage was originally erected in the park in 1973 but demolished in 1989. It was reconstructed this spring to celebrate the centenary of the artist, who is also being recognised with a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, I noticed.

When visiting Milan do not miss the Sforza Castle and the lovely Sempione Park. A most painless way to collect some sight-seeing points, too, if you happen to be into those.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

An outing for a sunset

Until very recently, our autumn has been exceptional with less rain and considerably milder temperatures than normally. In fact, last week the highest temperatures ever measured in Finland in November since records began in the 19th century reached slightly above 14 degrees centigrade!

A few days ago was one of those wonderful sunny afternoons we’ve had so many in recent weeks but because of the kitchen project haven’t been able to enjoy as much as we would have wanted to. So we finally packed some sandwiches and coffee in hubby’s backpack and drove about 10km south to the Vaarniemi nature reserve by the sea in Kaarina, one of the Turku suburbs.

First we took a walk by the glittering strait.

Then we headed to the path leading to the top of the Vaarniemi hill. You see, the plan was to admire the sunset from the observation tower there.

This time of the year, the sun sets here at about 4 pm. Our timing was perfect for both the coffee and a stroll on the rocky hilltop. Seeing the last horizontal rays of sunlight casting their golden glow on the rocks and pine trees would have been reason enough to climb the 50m.

Nevertheless, while on the spot we did climb to the top of the observation tower, too, even though we knew the sunset would not be all that spectacular with hardly any clouds in sight.

I stayed on top of the tower all through the glow until it was almost too dark to climb down the hill. You’ve just got to take it to the last ray whenever you can these days.