Monday, 28 March 2011

The Netherlands and its canals: Appingedam

"Honey, I hung the kitchen!"

(si prefieres leer este post en español, por favor, pincha aquí)

If you have never been to The Netherlands, it is very well possible that you think that you can only find canals in Amsterdam. It is true that Amsterdam is known around the world as "The Venice of the North" and that the grachtengordel (the Dutch word for "canal ring") has recenly been added to UNESCO's World Heritage list. But canals are not exclusively found in Amsterdam - there are also beautiful canals in other big cities in the country, such as Delft or Utrecht or small towns like Valkenburg or IJlst, and in some cases these canals have unique characteristics. Take a look at this photo I took in the province of Groningen:

These are the (not so) famous hanging kitchens (hangende keukens, in Dutch) of Appingedam, a city in the northern province of Groningen.

Some of the 16th century houses along the Solwerderstraat in the city of Appingedam have kitchens overlooking the canal, the Damsterdiep. They were originally warehouses that were later converted into private residences in the 17th century. Due to the lack of space, they built the kitchens "hanging" over the Damsterdiep canal - a practical solution which also allowed the housewives back then, to collect the water for cooking directly from the canal and after the washing up, to throw the water out the kitchen window back into the canal.
Many of these houses were restored in the 1980s and they are still used as private residences. From the Vrouwenbrug (Women's bridge) you can get a nice view of the hanging kitchens:

Vrouwenbrug over the Damsterdiep in Appingedam.

A nice little terrace over the canal and one of the hanging kitchens.
But the hanging kitchens are not the only places of interest in Appingedam. The town also has a marina that attracts yacht owners and where you can rent pedal boats or canoes to sail around. Through the Damsterdiep you can actually sail for 40 km pass very picturesque dorpjes or villages in Groningen.

Just walking around Appingedam you can spot charming scenes like these:

Parking your boat in front of your house - how cool is that?
I wonder if the police hand out parking tickets along the canal, too?

Neighbours having a chat - how often do you see scenes like this in your neighbourhood?

In the summer, no need to put up your plastic paddle pool in your garden; in the winter, you have a natural ice-skating ring for free!
Modern houses by the marina in Appingedam.
Nice old houses on the Solwerderstraat.
Someone was watching me!
Appingedam is a charming town to visit for a day especially during the spring/summer months, when you can enjoy the activities around the marina and, for example, rent a boat or explore the area by bike. It is also good to combine with a visit to the city of Groningen which is about 30 km southwest of Appingedam.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Córdoba - the heart of the city

Si prefieres leer este post en español, sigue este enlace)
A view of Plaza San Martín, the cathedral and the cabildo in Córdoba. Photo by Roberto Bowyer.
For quite some time now I've been wanting to show you around my hometown in Argentina: Córdoba. It has taken me this long because I couldn't really make up my mind as to where to start - there is so much to see, so many stories to tell about it! I finally decided that I would start by showing you the very heart of the city - the kilómetro 0 or starting point from where the Spanish colonists started to build the city after its foundation in 1573.

The kilómetro 0 is the very heart of a city that perfectly combines modernity with history and tradition. While walking around the historic city centre, you will discover - among noisy avenues and crowded pedestrian streets - the founders' chessboard design of perfect squares with the Plaza Mayor (today Plaza San Martín), the cathedral and the Cabildo or City Hall in the middle.
First city plan of Córdoba as designed by the Spanish founders in 1577.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Today's Plaza San Martín (dating from 1577) was first conceived as a dry square where military parades and official ceremonies (religious and secular) were held. Much later, in the XIX century, the landscaping of the plaza took place and in the centre, a statue of General José de San Martín -one of the main figures of the South American independence movement- was erected.

Another angle of Plaza San Martín.
Official ceremonies and popular festivals are still held at the plaza to this day. Every 24 May in the evening, for example, the Town Hall organises a festival with popular or folk music as a prelude to the new day, the veinticinco de mayo or 25th May when we commemorate the establishment of the first local governement back in 1810. At the strike of midnight fireworks are set off and the people gathered in the plaza welcome el veinticinco at the cry of Viva la Patria! (long live the Fatherland!)
The sculpture of General San Martin was built and donated by sculptors Fontana and Locatti in 1946. The fountain is made of Carrara marble by José Allio.
La catedral (the cathedral) was erected on the west side of the plaza.This imposing building merges different architectural styles - neoclassical vault and portico, romanesque dome, baroque towers, even some mudéjar details - since though works started back in 1580, the church was not finished until 1784.

A night view of the Cathedral as seen from the Plaza San Martín.
In my opinion, one of the most interesting details in the façade of the cathedral are the musical angels sculpted in the towers. These were built by the local indians (or should I better say, indigenous people) and on closer inspection one can see that the angel sculptures bear the faces of the people that actually built them.
A cast iron sculputre of Christ the Redeemer was erected on top of the portico at the beginning of the 20th century.

A frontal view of the cathedral. Notice the indian angels on the towers by clicking on the photo to enlarge.
Sculpture of Christ the Redeemer - Photo by Claudia Gibson.
If from the outside la catedral (the cathedral) looks imposing, its interior is lavish and dazzling. The vault of the cathedral's nave is decorated with frescos and murals painted at the beginning of the 20th century by Argentinean artists Emilio Caraffa, Carlos Camilloni and Manuel Cardeñosa. Also noteworthy is the main altar, of embossed sterling silver built in Alto Perú.
The cathedral also has a very vast and rich collection of votive offerings donated by religious parishoners or wealthy citizens along the centuries. These offerings include many gifts of gold and silver, jewels, crowns of pearls and other precious stones to "dress" the image of the Virgin Mary as well as silk and brocade garments.

The beautiful and lavish interior of the cathedral - Photo by Roberto Bowyer
Another angle of the interior of the cathedral - Photo by Gustavo Alterio

The Cabildo, that is the historical Town Hall, is also located opposite the main square or plaza. Originally, the cabildo was a rather humble construction made of adobe (sand, clay and water) and with a thatched roof, but in 1783 the then governor of Córdoba, the Marquis of Sobremonte, set to finish the job.
The Cabildo's mains features are the archway of fifteen columns  and the covered arcade on the second floor along the façade - a combination of colonial and classic architecture.
The Cabildo in Córdoba, viewed from the Plaza San Martín. Photo by Roberto Bowyer

The archway of the Cabildo - Photo by Claudia Gibson
Inside the Cabildo - Photo by Gustavo Alterio.

Inside the building, you can visit the patios, the undergroud cells and a number of rooms that exhibit archeological finds and relics from various historical periods as well as temporal arts exhibitions. You can also visit el Salón Rojo (the Red Room)where the city's mayor receives important visitors or you can attend one of the many concerts that are held in this historic building.

To the north of the Plaza San Martín, a bit lost between rather not too pleasant looking shops, you will find the Bishop Mercadillo's Chapel or oratorio. The former chapel is just a small part of the once important colonial residence that the bishop of Córdoba had built in the late 18th century after the consecration of the cathedal and the establishment of the diocese of Córdoba.
The most outstanding feature in this building is the intricate wrought-iron balcony on the second floor of the chapel. The Centro Obispo Mercadillo behind the oratorio is a modern structure with red brick steps that form a sort of pyramid. In this centre the Town Hall usually organises exhibitions and other cultural activities.

Oratorio Obispo Mercadillo in Córdoba.
The kilómetro cero is the very heart of the city, but not just because this is where the first Spanish settlers started to plan and build Córdoba and where you can find some of the most important historic buildings but also, because it is the place where locals -the cordobeses- bustle about during the week, either on the way to the many banks that are located on the east side of the plaza, to or from work and school, or the shopping pedestrian area that spreads mostly to the north. Simply take a break between visits to the catedral or the cabildo, sit down on one of the benches and watch them move around, interact and go about their daily business only then  will you be able to say that you have seen Córdoba.

Thanks to Claudia Gibson, Roberto Bowyer and Gustavo Alterio for letting me share their photos here.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Song at sunset

A glorious sunset over the winter dike looking towards Zalk (Overijssel)
A couple of Sundays ago we decided to pay a visit to an old favourite spot in our former neighbourhood in Zwolle: Westenholte. Situated in the outskirts, Westenholte is a village that became part of Zwolle in 1967, but it still keeps the charm of a typical Dutch dorpje (village) with beautiful farm houses, green fields with sheep and cows grazing and the winter dike, a haven for dozens of different bird species.
The afternoon was very cold and the sky didn't say much, being the usual dull grey that we very often see in these parts during the winter months. But as the day was coming to a close, the sky opened a tiny bit and we witnessed a glorious sunset. Hundreds of birds were flying off in groups and then settling down again on the water and the racket they were all making was almost overwhelming... At that moment I thought of a poem, Song at sunset, by Whalt Whitman:

Splendor of ended day floating and filling me,
Hour prophetic, hour resuming the past,
Inflating my throat, you divine average,
You earth and life till the last ray gleams I sing...

Another sunset, another Sunday - this time in Flevoland, near Dronte.
I didn't sing, but I felt as if I were at the opera watching the drama of the day reaching its climax to then end, and I immediately remembered something that I had read years ago about Catalonian artist Santiago Rusiñol.

Santiago Rusiñol, a Spanish painter, playwright and poet, apparently used to climb up a hill near his house every afternoon, and sit there as if at the theatre, waiting for the sunset to start. He would watch the sun begin to go down as if it were an actor  or an opera singer performing his part at the thetre. As the sun touched the horizon, Rusiñol would cheer, clap his hands and even ask for an encore if the sunset had been sublime. Instead, if he hadn't been moved at all by the spectacle of the day coming to an end, he would boo, hoot at the sun and walk away in disgust as a disappointed theatre goer who walks straight back to the box office to ask for his money back.

I glimpsed the sun setting down behind he row of houses in my neighbourhood.
With this in mind, I thought I would show you here some sunset photos taken by friends and share with you a few more verses Walt Whitman's poem, Song at Sunset. Feel free to cheer as much as you like, for they are all fantastic shots of beautiful sunsets in different places around the world:

(click on the images to see a large version of the photos)
Nighfall in Madrid (Spain) - by Artigazo (David)
Open mouth of my soul uttering gladness,
Eyes of my soul seeing perfection,
Natural life of me faithfully praising things,
Corroborating forever the triumph of things.

Taking off to a warmer place (Hoofddorp, NL) - by Agnes Lapin
Wonderful how I celebrate you and myself
How my thoughts play subtly at the spectacles around!
How the clouds pass silently overhead!
How the earth darts on and on! and how the sun, moon, stars, dart on and on!
Mirrors (Coral Gables, Fl., USA) - by Roberto Bowyer
How the water sports and sings! (surely it is alive!)
How the trees rise and stand up, with strong trunks, with branches
and leaves!
(Surely there is something more in each of the trees, some living soul.)

Alley of ghosts (Rota, Spain) - by Artigazo (David)
O amazement of things--even the least particle!
O spirituality of things!
O strain musical flowing through ages and continents, now reaching
me and America!
I take your strong chords, intersperse them, and cheerfully pass
them forward.

Flames 2 (Philadelphia, USA) - by Roberto Bowyer
I too carol the sun, usher'd or at noon, or as now, setting,
I too throb to the brain and beauty of the earth and of all the
growths of the earth,
I too have felt the resistless call of myself.

Cuando el ocaso se acaba (when the day comes to an end) Gijón, Spain - by Urugallu (José Rodríguez)
I sing to the last the equalities modern or old,
I sing the endless finales of things,
I say Nature continues, glory continues,
I praise with electric voice,
For I do not see one imperfection in the universe,
And I do not see one cause or result lamentable at last in the universe.

On fire (Conrwall, UK) - by Agnes Lapin
Oh setting sun! Though the time has come, 
I still warble under you, if no one else does, unmitigated adoration.

Ocaso en Peñas (sunset in Peñas) - Asturias, Spain - by Urugallu (José Rodríguez)

I want to thank Agnès, David (Artigazo), Roberto and José (Urugallu) for letting me show their beautiful photos here. It was hard to pick just a few to post since they all have amazing images - the real deal, as I often refer to their photos. You can see more of their work by visiting their fantastic Flickr galleries:

Agnès Lapin
Artigazo (David)
Roberto Bowyer
Urugallu (José Rodríguez)