Monday, 14 April 2014

Postcards from... Gothenburg

For this week's photo post for Travel Photo Discovery's Travel Photo Mondays project, I'm going back to summer 2010 and my three-week trip around Scandinavia. I had planned to visit just the capital cities (Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki), but somehow a few other places shoe-horned their way in. And one of these was Gothenburg.

Now the second-largest city in the country, Gothenburg, Sweden is actually a relatively new city. After several unsuccessful attempts, it was finally founded in 1621 by King Gustaf II Adolf (r. 1611-1632). The area chosen for this new city was rather marshy, and so the king commissioned Dutch planners to construct the city as they had the necessary expertise to drain the land. Consequently, Gothenburg is very Dutch in style and its layout is similar to that of Jakarta, Indonesia, which was built at the same time.

Once little more than a fishing town, Gothenburg's fortunes changed in 1731 with the founding of the Swedish East India Company. Foreign trade and profitable commercial expeditions to China meant that the city flourished. Its harbour became the country's main harbour for trade in the West, and it was also the main point of departures for Swedes emigrating to America.

By the 19th century, Gothenburg had evolved into a modern industrial city. The population increased tenfold, going from 13,000 in 1800 to 130,000 a century later in 1900. The 20th century saw further development, including the establishment of companies such as Volvo (est. 1926).

Buildings by the canal

My starting point was the city's main square. Once called Stortorget (Big Square), its name was changed to Gustaf Adolfs torg (Gustaf Adolf's Square) in 1854 when a statue of Gustaf II Adolf, king king and founding father of Gothenburg, was erected.

Gustaf Adolf's Square
Statue of Gustaf II Adolf

A stone's throw from the square is Christinae kyrka (Christinae Church). Inaugurated in 1648, it was named after Queen Christina (r. 1632-1652), the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustaf II Adolf. Though I didn't know it then, Christinae kyrka was the first of many churches I would encounter on my travels around the city.

Christinae kyrka

Next I came across Göteborgs domkyrka (Gothenburg Cathedral), which stands on the site of an earlier church and not one but TWO earlier cathedrals. The foundation stone for the first cathedral was laid in 1626, and seven years later the main building was complete. The church was consecrated that same year.

In April 1721, the cathedral, a high school and 211 residential buildings in the area burned down. The city manager, Hans von Gerdes (1637-1723) took the opportunity to have the building somewhat redesigned. For the most part the cathedral walls had remained standing so the building could be restored quickly. And in May 1722, just 13 months after the fire, the new cathedral was opened.

But once again, bad luck befell the cathedral and, in December 1802, it burned down along with 179 houses in the vicinity. This time the fire damage was so great that nothing could be reused.

The building of the third and current cathedral started in 1804 under the Swedish architect Carl Wilhelm Carlberg (1746-1814). Carlberg died before a year before the building was complete so work fell to his former pupil, Justus Frederic Weinberg (1770-1832). Designed in the Classical style, at 59.4 metres (195 feet) long and 38 metres (125 feet) wide, the current cathedral is larger than its predecessors. It also has a transept, which the earlier cathedrals did not. The church was consecrated in May 1815. However, at the time of its reopening, it still had no tower. This was added later and inaugurated in 1825.

In 1852, it became the first church in the country to be fitted with central heating. A year later gas lighting was installed. And, in 1857 (some 136 years after the first cathedral burned down), the church was insured against fire with the Skandia Insurance Company.

In the early 20th century, the tower began to lean to the southwest, and so church was closed so that reinforcement could be done. At the same time the church received new flooring, windows, doors, benches and a temperature control system. From 1954-1957 further stabilisation work was done and thirty years later, there was yet another renovation.

The classical main portal

Inside it is decorated mainly in the Classical style, as is evidenced by the Ionic pillars at the front and the red marble pilasters at the back. However, there are also elements of the Empire style, an example of which can be seen in the pulpit (on the left wall of the photo below).

Standing in the nave looking towards the altar

Dating from 1962, the organ has maintained the original white and gold façade

The back of the cathedral

The next church I came across was Feskekôrka (Fish Church). It's not actually a church at all, but rather an indoor fish market that got its name from its resemblance to a Gothic church. Opened in 1874, it has become an institution in Gothenburg and is popular among with both tourists and locals.

The church that isn't

Inside the Fish Church

Some of the delights on offer

One of the displays

I soon located Masthuggskyrkan (Masthugget Church), which is one of the most prominent examples of Swedish National Romantic style architecture in the country. Designed by architect Sigfrid Ericson, the church was constructed between 1910 and 1914. The façade of the church is built from handmade brick. Situated on a high hill and with a 62 metre (203.4 feet) high tower, the church is a striking sight and it has become one of the symbols of the city.

The 62 metre (203.4 feet) high tower

The nave

Rows of wooden benches

Standing near the altar looking towards the main entrance

Though I wasn't actively looking for churches, it wasn't long before I stumbled across another. This time it was Oscar Fredriks kyrka (Oscar Fredrik's Church). Erected in the 1890s, the church was built in the Neo-Gothic style and named after the ruling king at the time, Oscar II Fredrik (r. 1872-1907).
The stunning Oscar Fredrik's Church

Part of the façade

The clock tower

Detailing on the outside of the building
The final church I came across was Hagakyrkan (Haga Church), which was built between 1856 and 1859. As much as I like churches, I had more than had my fill of all things Christian, and so I opted to do nothing more than take a photo from a fair distance away.
The tower of Haga Church
From there, my wanderings took me into Kungsparken (King's Park), a 13 hectare canal-side park that was designed between 1839 and 1861. It was the perfect place for peaceful and picturesque stroll...
On the banks of the canal
One of the things I really wanted to do was ride on Göteborgshjulet (The Gothenburg Wheel). The wheel is 60 feet (approx. 18.3 metres) in diameter, has 42 gondolas and weighs in at 275 tonnes. When I visited the city in 2011 it was located in Kanaltorget (Canal Square) near the Göteborgsoperan (Gothenburg Opera House). I've since learned that it's been moved to the Liseberg Amusement Park some way away so all the lovely views I got across the Göta älv (Göta River) are no longer available.
Gothenburg's answer to the London Eye

Getting all artistic!

Looking across the canal

View of the harbour with the 83 metre tall (272 feet) Lilla Bommen, aka Läppstiftet (The Lipstick), to the right

Göteborgsoperan (Gothenburg Opera House)

One last look at the wheel
Situated at the mouth of the Göta River Älvsborg, a 17th century sea fortress, was built to protect the newly-founded town of Gothenburg. It also served to protect medieval Sweden's only access to the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Inside Älvsborg's fortress

Stone gateway

View across the Göta River

One final view

Friday, 11 April 2014

100 Happy Days: Week 6

Six weeks in to the 100 Happy Days project, and I had one big reason to be happy the imminent Easter holidays, which I shall be spending in Serbia and Italy. However, there were also a number of little things that made me happy in Week #6...

Day 36-42

On Saturday, I did a cover class so a colleague didn't have to. He was incredibly grateful, as was my boss and I got a delicious chocolate muffin for my troubles. On Sunday, I had a very productive day. I cleaned my bathroom, did some laundry, blitzed my room and finally, finally, finally organised my wardrobe! It's so nice to have a clean and tidy space to come home to.

Monday started well with my first class being cancelled, which gave me a lovely three-hour break before I had to start teaching. On Tuesday, I had my penultimate Pre-Delta session after which L and I went back to my house for lunch, for which I had made a delicious warm chicken salad. Wednesday brought with it the final class of the term with my horrid 12-year olds. So that probably shouldn't make me happy, but it did! With Thursday came the end of the Pre-Delta course, which means that I get my mornings back! And on Friday I survived my first ever haircut abroad! And I spoke in Spanish throughout!

On having my hair cut in Spain

I have a confession to make and it ain't gonna be pretty. I haven't had my hair cut since wait for it – August 2012. Yes, I know that makes it 20 months (!), but I had my reasons, not least a lack of confidence in my language skills...

Truth be told, I have never been that precious about my hair, testament to which is the twenty-month salon-dodge. Nonetheless, I have been reluctant to throw myself on the mercy of Spanish hairdressers whom, rightly or wrongly, I perceive to be fairly talentless. Case in point: hair in Spain comes in two styleslong or ummmm, short. For difference you can have a blunt fringe cut in. But where are the layers? Where is the styling? Suddenly my grown-out layers and split-ends aren't looking so bad! At least that was one excuse I could wear for the first few months. Now, things have gotten way out of hand. Even my trusty GHDs can't sort out the unkempt mess that is my hair. It's time to brave the scissors. The only question is whose.

Then I had a brainwave. I would look for a British hairdresser, of which there are many in Madrid. I soon discovered, however, that they fall into one of two categories: unavailable or unaffordable. Yep, either they are not taking on new clients, or they are... but at €80+ a go. Gulp. Maybe not. Somehow I found myself Skyscanning (yes, that IS a verb) flights back to the UK. What the actual f***?! Things have truly taken a turn for the ridiculous if I am considering flying back home for a haircut! After giving myself a stern talking to, I decided to at least try a Spanish hairdresser. But which one?

I did a little Googling and settled on LaPeluQueQuería (C/ San Vicente Ferrer, 11). If reviews were to be believed, the stylists possessed at least a modicum of talent and the price was relatively purse-friendly. Choosing the salon was the easy part. Next was actually making an appointment. I hate, hate, HATE phoning peopleeven in English!so I had to actually go to the salon to make an appointment for the following week. On the plus side, it gave me a chance to check the place out. The person who booked me in was super friendly and helpful, which made me feel a little better. Then, with the appointment made (yay me!), all I had to do was count down the days...

And before long, the day had come. I got to the salon a few minutes before my appointment to find that they were only just opening. This was no bad thing as it meant that I could speak bad Spanish safe in the knowledge that there would be no other customers or staff members to listen in! I showed the stylist how much I wanted cut offaround 8 inches, which would leave it sitting on my shouldersand I asked for capas cortas (short layers). I also felt the need to emphasise that Anglo-Saxon hair is much finer than that of the average Spaniard, and was somewhat reassured when he told me that he had experience with all hair types... "unlike British hairdressers". I didn't really know what to say to that so I muttered something pointless like "Vale. Bueno".

The stylist washed my hair and then led me over to the chair. After a quick and rather rough comb, he got down to the cutting. Somewhat strangely, he started cutting the top layers first, which made me a little nervous. What was I going to walk out with? But as the cut took shape, I figured it would turn out OK, albeit a couple of inches shorter than I'd asked for. Which is standard practice.

When I made the appointment I was asked if I wanted "cortar y peinar o sólo cortar". I guessed that peinar must be something to do with styling and so I opted for cortar y peinar. Which meant sitting there having my head jerked around while the stylist gave me the bouffiest blow-dry I've ever had.

The whole experience took around an hour and cost me €42 (£35/US$58), which is pretty much what I pay in the UK. I walked in with long, scraggly hair that was full of split ends and came out with a nice enough if shorter-than-asked-for bob. Even though it's not quite what I asked for, it's a HUGE improvement on what I've been walking around with (I should have taken a 'before' picture). Best of all, it should be super quick and easy to style.

The finished cut

So, for the first time since moving abroad in 2010, I have braved a haircut in another country. Is it perfect? No. But would it have been perfect at home? Probably not. The point is that having done it once, I can do it again. And I never need walk around with straggly hair again.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Postcards from... Rome

It's Monday again, which means that I get to showcase a past trip as part of Travel Photo Discovery's Travel Photo Mondays project. Today, I'm taking you to the city credited with being the birthplace of Western civilisationRome. It's Easter 2010 and I'm about to have my very own Roman holiday...

Founded in 753 BC, Rome, Italy can trace its history back more than 2,500 years. It is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe, and thus has earned the name "The Eternal City". In ancient times, Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire and, since the 1st century AD, it has been the seat of the Papacy.

In the 8th century, Rome became the capital of the Papal States, the territories on the Italian peninsula that were under the direct rule of the Pope. But the unification of Italy and the founding of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 resulted in these territories being greatly reduced. And in 1870, following the capture of Rome, the Papal States were annexed into the Kingdom of Italy and the Pope had no physical territory at all. Nonetheless, the Papacy confined itself to the Apostolic Palace on Vatican Hill, from where it continued to 'rule'. This lasted until 1929, when the fascist leader and 27th Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini (r. 1922-1943) signed the Lateran Treaty with Pope Pius XI (t. 1922-1939), which led to the founding of Vatican State. But I digress. In 1870, Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy under Vittorio Emanuele II (r. 1861-1878). Finally, in 1946, it became the capital of the new Italian Republic.

A large part of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to build the brilliant white Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Having dreamed of this moment for about 25 years, the first thing I wanted to see was the mighty Colosseum. And, as good luck would have it, my hotel was a stone's throw from it.

Considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture ever built, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre in the world and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Used for gladiatorial battles and public specatacles, it is estimated that the Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. The building was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD) in 70 AD and completed in 80 AD by his son and heir, Titus (r. 79-81 AD). Titus' brother and successor, Domitian (r. 81-96 AD), made further modifications during his reign.

First look at the mighty Colosseum

Built in 312 AD, the Arch of Constantine commemorates Constantine I's (r. 306-337) victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge

Close-up of the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

View of the interior from the upper level

Another view of the incredible amphitheatre

Having unintentionally but fortuitously timed my visit to coincide with Settimana della Cultura (Culture Week), I was given a free pass to several of the big-hitters, including the Forum. I couldn't wait to explore it, but I was left disappointed. Now just a sprawling but sad collection of architectural fragments, it's hard to believe that the Forum was once the beating heart of Ancient Rome. I wandered around, map in hand, tryingand failingto imagine the area's former greatness.

All that remains of Tempio de Dioscuri (Temple of Castor and Pollux), built in 495 BC

While the Forum may have left me a little underwhelmed, Circus Maximus did not. Measuring 621 x 118 m (2,037 x 387 ft) and with the capacity to hold 250,000 spectators, Circus Maximus was the first and largest stadium in Ancient Rome and its Empire.

Overlooking Circus Maximus

The Circus from the other end

Fontana di Trevi stands at the junction of three roads (tre vie) and marks the end point of the Acqua Vergine, formerly the Acqua Virgo, which was the 22 km-long (14 miles) aqueduct that supplied Ancient Rome with water for more than 400 years.

In 1629, Pope Urban VIII (t. 1623-1644) decided that the original fountain was not dramatic enough, and so asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) to come up with some possible renovations. The project never came to fruition though.

Years later, in 1730, Pope Clement XII (t. 1730-1740) announced a competition to design the new fountain. Architect Nicola Salvi (1697-1751) was awarded the commissionalthough he hadn't actually won the competitionand work began in 1732. Salvi died before the project was finished and the task of completion fell to sculptor Pietro Bracci (1700-1773) whose Oceanus (God of water) is the central piece of the fountain. At 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, Fontana di Trevi is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. It is also one of the most famous fountains in the world.

The stunning Fontana di Trevi

The Papal Coat of Arms, under which there is a dedication to Pope Clement XII

Pietro Bracci's Oceanus, aka Neptune

Another attempt at capturing the fountain's beauty

During my exploration of the city, I came across Ponte Sant' Angelo (Bridge of the Holy Angel). Originally known as Pons Aelius (Bridge of Hadrian), this bridge was built by Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD) around 134 AD. Spanning the River Tiber, it connected the city centre with his newly-constructed mausoleum, now known as Castel Sant' Angelo (The Castle of the Holy Angel).
Legend has it that in the 7th century an angel appeared on the roof of the castle to announce the end of the plague. To celebrate this, Pope Gregory I (t. 590-604) supposedly changed the name of the bridge from Pons Sancti Petri (Bridge of Saint Peter) to Pons Sanct' Angelo.
Ponte Sant' Angelo

During his time in office, Pope Paul III (t. 1534-1549) commissioned the Italian architect and sculptor Raffaello da Montelupo to create fourteen angels for the bridge. In 1669, Pope Clement IX (t. 1667-1669) decided to replace the now 134-year old statues with new, Baroque creations. He commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create ten angels holding instruments of the Passion (aka Weapons of Christ). I found these angels more interesting than the castle I'd come to see and consequently spent a while photographing them! I'm not sure how much I'd have liked them had the sky not been so perfectly blue!

Angel with the lance

Angel with the sudarium (a sweat cloth used for wiping the face clean)

Angel with the cross

More commonly known as Castel Sant' Angelo, the Mausoleum of Hadrian was commissioned by the emperor himself around 130 AD. His ashes, together with those of his wife Sabina, who had died around 136 AD, and his first adoptive son, Lucius Aelius, were placed in the mausoleum a year after his death. Succeeding emperors followed suit, with ashes being placed there until around 217 AD.
In 401 AD, the building was converted into a military fortress, which led to the damage and disappearance of the tomb's contents and decorations. The urns and the ashes were scattered when the Visigoths sacked the city in 410, and considerable structural damage was done when the Goths besieged Rome in 537 AD. Renamed in 590 AD, the mausoleum is still called Castel Sant' Angelo today.
With a history going back almost 2,000 years, the castle has been through a lot. It started out as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family. It then became a fortress, a castle and later a prison, before ending up as a museum following its decommission in 1901.
Castel Sant'Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel)

Approximately 44 hectares (110 acres) in size and with a population of just 840, Vatican City is the smallest internationally-recognised independent state in the world. And contained in that tiny state is a wealth of cultural sites, including St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums.

Now entering Vatican City

Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square) with a 4,000-year old Egyptian obelisk erected in 1568 in the centre

In 1505, Pope Julius II (t. 1503-1513) decided to demolish the 4th century Old St. Peter's Basilica, which had fallen into disrepair, and build a monumental structure that would house his own tomb. Work commenced the following year using the design of architect Donato Bramante (1444-1514). In 1626, some twenty Popes, thirteen architects and sculptors, among them Raphael, Michelangelo and Bernini, and 120 years later the Basilica was finally finished. Today it is one of the holiest Catholic sites in the world.

The iconic dome

Before I could get into the Basilica I had to take a tour of the Vatican Museums. Since this would allow me to see the Sistine Chapel, I figured it was a must-do. In a bid to avoid the long and winding queues for entry, I shelled out an eye-watering €50 for a guided tour that would enable me to skip the queue. Or not as it turned out. The company had failed to buy tickets and my party and I were forced to join the ridiculously long line and wait our turn, which came an hour-and-a-quarter later.

Statue of a River God

Finally inside, I was initially wowed by the elaborate detailing on the ornate ceilings and I paused to photograph each one. But over three hours later, tired and grumpy, I was suffering from sensory and information overload and keen to escape. I couldn't help but perk up when I saw the Sistine Chapel. I would have liked to spend more time there, but our guide insisted that we move on.

Detail of the ceiling in the map room

Another of the wonderful ceilings

This colourful ceiling was one of my favourites

Section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling

I can't remember how many more rooms we saw, but by the time we reached the final sightthe magnificent BasilicaI was beyond ready to call it a day. I quickly abandoned the tour group, took a couple of photos and literally fell outside. After more than four hours it was so good to see daylight again, so good to feel the gentle breeze on my face and so, so good to be free.

Feeling dwarfed by the interior

Elaborate detailing

Detail on the ceiling of St. Peter's Basilica

Now, I wish that I'd spent more time inside, wish that I'd taken even a few moments to just sit and contemplate, but at the time I was so utterly exhausted that escape was the only thing on my mind. I guess it just means that I will have to plan a return trip...

The statue of St. Peter in front of the Basilica