1982 – May-June Aegean cruise with Swan Hellenic on the ‘Orpheus’. For some reason I seem to have lost the itinerary for the cruise, so these are some of the places we visited.
Very handsome buildings. Very touristy. Very dull. Cleaned up and prettified to death. The church was closed, the museum was closed, the shops were cluttered with cheap tourist tripper tat. We walked around the town. Absolutely nothing to see or do, so we sat in the shade in the harbour ordered some drinks and watched the world go by. Not a good start to which was to prove to be a very memorable tour.
Marathon. The site of the battle of Marathon 490 BC. The Greeks were heavily defeated by the Persians. The burial mound at Marathon for the 192 Athenian dead was erected near the battlefield and is marked by a marble memorial stele.
Olympia. Beautiful setting in a grove of trees, quite extensive remains. Here it was at Olympia that the greatest athletic festival, that the then world had known, was held every fourth year. (left) the stadium is at the top of the picture.
The Temple of Hera, the oldest and best preserved building on the site was built in the early 7th century BC. In its heyday it was crammed full of treasures including many statues.
The temple of Hera
A huge Gymnasion, a Plaestra or wrestling school surrounded by a Doric colonnade. The famous Stadium where 40,000 spectators could be accommodated on its banks. And then there was the Temple of Zeus.
Temple of Zeus. Olympia
One of the largest in mainland Greece, with its few remaining pillars, mostly stumps. In the temple there once stood the statue of Zeus in gold and ivory by Phidias, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Apparently it was 40 feet high, and was carted off to Constantinople in AD 475 and destroyed in a fire. Behind the statue was apparently an Assyrian ‘woollen curtain’ which was formerly the veil of the Temple of Jerusalem which a King of Syria had bagged and brought to Olympia. There was an imposing row of Treasuries arranged in a terrace originally composed of small temples in which were kept sacrificial vessels, weapons and gear used in the games.
The Olympia museum contains an incredible collection of finds from the site. A veritable treasure house. There are Mycenean grave goods, a whole gallery of weapons and armour,
A colossal Head of Hera from the Temple of Hera.
In one gallery there is an extraordinary late Archaic terracotta of Zeuz carrying off Ganymede.
And then of course there is the Parian marble of Hermes by Praxiteles found in the Temple of Hera, one of the best ever preserved Classical statues to have survived.
The central hall of the museum contains two sculptured pediments and some of the metopes from the Temple of Zeus dated to mid 5th century BC. Quite breathtaking. What a survival ! The figure of Apollo from the pediment (below).
Mykonos. Very pretty place, has no classical history whatsoever and I have not a clue what we were visiting the place for. The museum did have one notable exhibit, among its collection of vases, and that was one dated 680 BC showing the Greeks emerging from the wooden horse at Troy. Very jolly with its little windows.
Knossos. The palace was discovered in 1878 by Sir Arthur Evans. The earliest settlement found there was dated c.6000 BC. but the remains of the earliest palace on the site is around 1900 BC. Knossos was probably finally destroyed by fire in about 1440-1380 BC.
The ‘Throne Room’
The cup-bearer frieze
Having seen so many illustrations of the palace it was strange to be standing in the ‘Throne Room’ in front of the Cup-bearer frieze, the store rooms of massive jars, and the bull dancers.
The originals of the wall paintings are all in the museum, which, sadly we had to miss because while we were on site it started to rain, not just rain but a massive downpour, and we were not prepared so had to take shelter for what seemed and turned out to be ages.
Watching the sun set on our way to Santorini
Santorini. Startling sight, sitting on what is left of the side of a volcano. The crater of the volcano is what we now sailed across, and in the centre was an ominous black mass which apparently grows all the time and is the growing peak of the new volcano. Very creepy. We were met with a very steep climb to the town at the top or we could go on a donkey. Without knowing quite how, we were both hustled onto donkeys which were then whipped very sharply to make them move as quickly as possible up the steep path. The donkeys took each corner by going against the wall where it was less steep and all of a sudden you found your legs being scraped across a very sharp stone wall. The only way to cope with this was to put your foot out against the wall and force the poor donkey to the centre of the path, either that or have your legs scraped to the bone. It was a nightmare. both for us and the poor donkeys.
When we returned to the ship we walked down. Again very pretty place, we were glad we visited but as the tour did not take in the excavations at Thera we had to settle for a coffee in a café with beautiful views and watch the world go by. Not, the favourite occupation of two very fidgety people who liked to be seeing things other than hordes of colourful tourists buying the most extraordinary tat. Why are so many women tourists so fat? We finally sailed for the island of Rhodes.
The Orpheus in the harbour at Rhodes.
Rhodes. We were given a lecture on the ‘Colossus’ of Rhodes and a brief history of the island, the site of the Colossus, yet another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We disembarked in the morning and visited the Old City and walked up the Street of the Knights and then on to see the Archaeological Museum which is situated in the Hospital of the Knights (15th century).
The Museum building is a delight with courtyards and gardens and displayed much memorabilia of the Knights and three rooms of sculptures. One of its treasures is the Aphrodite of Rhodes who is kneeling down and separating strands of her hair.
Outside we ascended the cobbled Street of the Knights with medieval stone buildings adorned with coats of arms to visit the imposing Palace of the Grand Masters (above) with its alabaster windows. The courtyard is decorated with Roman statuary which leads to a number of grand spacious rooms supported on columns. One of its great treasures is a vast antique Mosaic brought from Kos. We were then let loose on the streets of Rhodes full of vulgar tourist tat being bought by equally vulgar tourists in ‘Kiss me Quick’ hats which were then all the rage. We did a tour of the walls, really quite spectacular and fled black to the ship. I had no wish to ever visit Rhodes again, but sadly we were to return many times as it seemed to be a favourite stop-off point for Swans Tours.
Lindos. A small village full of quaint houses mostly geared towards the tourist industry, but a bit more upmarket than Rhodes. We walked through the village and then began to climb the acropolis.
On the wall of the citadel is a relief some 15 ft long showing a warship part of which formed the base of a statue of a priest of Poseidon. The relief dates to about 180 BC.
The Sanctuary of Athena Lindia is strewn with ruins across the top of the acropolis which is dominated by the ruins of a delightful Doric temple (300 BC) possibly dedicated to the Emperor Diocletian. The whole place is enchanting with the most incredible view over the sea. Apparently the Sun-god Helios made the Island of Rhodes rise up from the sea and Lindos was the name of one of his sons. We returned to the ship and set sail at 7pm.
Cos. A large island famous in classical times as a centre for healing and medical science. Hippocrates ‘the father of medicine’ was born here in c.460 BC. The cult of the healing art of Asklepios flourished in Cos, probably because of its medicinal springs and the fact that it is blessed with a great deal of water. The chief showpiece of the island is the Asklepieion erected on three large terraces with extensive remains. Everywhere you trod on scented herbs and as our party roamed about the site the scents wafted about on the breeze. It was the most perfect day. Near the harbour is a fortress of the Knights of St John, built in the 14th century. The town itself is charming and surrounds the so-called ‘plane tree of Hippocrates’, propped up by ancient pieces of stone.
Bodrum, Turkey. Our ship set off for Bodram then quite unspoilt and not yet ready for the present hoards of tourists. We all had to get off the ship and climb into small boats before we could land. The waves quite frolicsome so many of the party nearly fell into the water. Fortunately no one did and we found ourselves being hauled and manhandled into the boats by a group of handsome young men, everyone very cheerful and soaked through from the tossing waves. Bodrum of course once contained yet another of the seven wonders of the world, namely, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Only a trace of the base now remains. Sadly the man who held the key to the site, which was walled off, was on holiday and so we never did see it.
However, we then set off to see the Crusader Castle of St Peter, which sadly was built from much of the stone from the mausoleum which had collapsed during an earthquake.
The knights burned most of the marble statuary they found at the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus to make lime to fortify the castle. During the 19th century blocks of the Amazon frieze sculptures and later sculptures still on the site were packed off to the British Museum. Only a panel of the frieze and bits and pieces of sculpture remain in the Bodrum castle museum.
We went around the castle and climbed to the tops of the towers to get stunning views. The Orpheus in the distance.
En route to Pergamum in Turkey
Pergamum, Turkey. The magnificent ruins at Pergamum cover a vast area. It came into prominence after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. The Great Altar of Zeus is one of the most renowned ruins, not from what you can see which are some of the steps of the podium mound, but the fact that the sculptures which used to surround it and now housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin are nothing short of magnificent in fact they are some of the finest examples of Hellenistic art in existence.
The remains of the altar at Pergamum
The Altar in the Pergamum, Museum, Berlin
A small part of the Altar from Pergamum now in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, which we were to see many years later.
There are two theatres in Pergamum, one small one the Roman theatre very heavily restored and the incredible Greek theatre with seating for 1o,000. Fortunately many of the columns on site have been reinstated which makes you realise that in its heyday Pergamum must have had a forest of pillars.
The two theatres and a street of pillars.
Troy. It is just a wonder to be on the site, though almost impossible to understand anything of the many layered ruins. Troy VIIA is supposed the Troy of the Trojan war, but even this is disputed. But it was great to see the plains where all the battles took place and where the Greeks were encamped. The mountains of Samothrace and Mount Ida are visible from Troy and that is where the gods watched and bickered over the Trojan war.
The party looking bewildered in the ruins of Troy
The plains of Troy, with the sea beyond
Istanbul. The view from the Orpheus of the skyline of Istanbul as it drew nearer was one of those exciting moments in one’s life one never forgots. Where to begin with its marvels.
We first visited the Byzantine Hippodrome, set up originally by Septimus Severus but enlarged in the 4th century AD by the Emperor Constantine where chariot races and all the great civic events took place. It had an estimate capacity of 100,000. The Egyptian obelisk in the centre was originally erected by Thutmose III (1545-1503 BC) at Deir el Bahri.
Base of the Obelisk of Thutmose III showing the Emperor Theodosius offering a laurel wreath to the victor at the Hippodrome from the Imperial Stand.
The top of the obelisk was originally capped with gold. Brought to Constantinople in the 4th century, but only the upper third survived the journey. It sits on a plinth with carvings of for instance, the Emperor Theodosius supervising the erection of the obelisk, watching a chariot race with his family around him etc. At the south end is the stone pillar erected in the 4th century which was originally covered with gilt bronze sheets. And then most exciting of all in my view was the Serpentine Column.
It’s composed of three intertwined serpents which originally supported a victory trophy and originally stood in the temple of Apollo in Delphi. Sadly the heads were lopped off by some drunk in 1700. One of the heads was found and is in the museum.
The horses that bedeck San Marco in Venice came from the Hippodrome and originally stood above the Imperial Stand.
Blue Mosque. Constructed as a mosque in 1609-16. The great glory of the mosque is its 16th century decorative tiles. Frankly, when you have seen one tile design is just repeated it almost becomes like wallpaper. The arcades in the courtyard were however a delight.
Hagia Sophia, completed by 537 and consecrated in the presence of the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora. One can only imagine what magnificent mosaics once adorned the dome now replaced by crushingly dull Islamic tiles.
The church had been damaged by an earthquake and rebuilt in 563. What it must have been like in it’s Byzantine splendour can only be imagined. It was thoroughly trashed by the Crusaders and after the fall of Constantinople it was almost scraped clean of all its ‘idolatrous’ mosaics and magnificent furnishings and reduced to what it is now, which made my heart sink when I first saw it. Fortunately just a few Byzantine mosaics survived. Now the Turks want to change it from its present guise as a museum to that of a mosque at which time no doubt the few remaining mosaics will be destroyed. I understand that it is now being used as a mosque again.
The Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and the Empress Zoe presenting a purse and document to Christ
Justinian I presenting Hagia Sophia and
Constantine I presenting the city
Emperor Leo VI the Wise bowing before Christ
The Emperor John II Comnenus and the Empress Irene
presenting a purse and document to the Virgin and Child
He is described as being lazy, lecherous, drunk, and malignant and made pagan sacrifices to the golden statue of a boar in the Hippodrome in the hope of curing his impotence. Here he is dripping with pearls.
And finally this magnificent figure of Christ
Yes, the building is magnificent, majestic, awe-inspiring but I could weep for what was destroyed. The mosaics that escaped the destruction just give a hint as to what was.
The church of St Saviour in Chora – Kariye Camii, Istanbul. The only church left in Istanbul which has retained its mosaic decoration which gives some indication of what was lost to the world and what Hagia Sophia might have looked like on a modest scale. It was converted to a mosque but the mosaics instead of being destroyed were fortunately covered up. It is now a museum which has probably saved it, though one wonders for how long. The mosaics are mostly of the life of the Virgin and Christ.
St Saviour in Chora – Kariye Camii, Istanbul
The donor of the church Theodore Metochites
A rather inscrutable looking Christ – those fingers
St Saviour in Chora – Kariye Camii, Istanbul
The remnants of The Virgin and Christ with two donors below. Quite one of the most incredibly moving pieces in the church. The donor on the right is Princess Mary Palaeologus. She was sent to Karakoum in 1265 to marry the Mongol Khan.
Topkapi Palace. Extremely dull. The Treasury and the costume museum were probably the most interesting things we saw. There was a queue a mile long to look into the Hareem, we gave it a miss.
I’m always fascinated by emeralds. The Topkapi dagger. Then you come across a whole box of them.
The Archaeological Museum, Istanbul.
Its great prize is the Alexander Sarcophagus, which dates from about 311 BC and was probably intended for Abdalonumpous the last king of Sidon appointed by Alexander in 332.
The battle scene depicted is probably that of Issus, where Alexander defeated the Persian army of Darius III and the hunting scene on the back is probably an entertainment arranged for Alexander by Abdalonymous. There are many other fine sarcophagi. There was so much more to see but we had so little time and vowed to return, but never did. Impressive statue of Alexander the Great.
Thasos. The island is really quite beautiful. Very lush vegetation and pine groves. Visited the various ruins. There is a small theatre with trees springing out of the seats.
Meteora. An extraordinary landscape of a forest of tall needle like rocks sticking up from the ground on some of which are perched a series of monasteries it is indeed one of the most remarkable sites in the world. The monasteries date from the 14th century and is where monks fled to during a spate of wars. Most of the monasteries could only be reached by hinged ladders, or baskets which were raised in times of trouble.
Many now have steps carved into the rock to allow for visitors. We visited the Monastery of the Transfiguration and the Monastery of the Great Meteora with their frescoed walls. Apparently most of the monasteries have lost their treasures.
Frescoe from the Monastery of the Transfiguration
Delos. On one magical morning we sailed to the uninhabited Island of Delos, one of its former names was Ortygia – the Island of Quails. The island is the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. The shrine to Artemis is much older than that to Apollo. In fact her shrine is regarded as one of the oldest in Greece. Apollo took over in the 9th century BC.
The island thrived as an important trading post between Asia and the West. In 88 BC the Roman Mithradates sacked the city, killed all the men took all the women for slaves and the island was so thoroughly sacked that it never recovered. Everywhere you stepped on the island you sent up a cloud of scents from the herbs underfoot. The island also throbbed with the sound of croaking frogs, flowers everywhere, the sea an incredible blue and a slight breeze cooling the air. It would not be possible to describe all the memorable ruins, but here are some.
One of the blobs of stone which originally formed
a colossal statue of Apollo
The Hieron of Apollo, once contained a vast marble statue of Apollo, only the base remains the Venetians tried to remove the trunk and thighs but gave up and dumped it behind the Temple of Artemis where it now forlornly lies. The British Museum bagged a foot and a hand is in the Delos museum.
The Temple of Isis
The famed Terrace of the Lions has only five out of the original nine. One adorns the Arsenal in Venice. We had seen the avenue so many times in books and here we were, actually walking down the avenue. We sat on a stone amongst them with a lovely cool breeze blowing and the air full of scented herbs.
The theatre, 3rd century BC, much ruined, held 5,500 spectators. A row of pedestals sporting phalluses.
Many roman houses with mosaic floors and so on. We remembered this day on Delos as one of the most blissful we had ever spent.
USA. October 1982. New York. We decided to return to the States, see New York and visit the Lowenthals, visit Lucy Mitchell at Springfield and go on a short tour to see the New England fall colours then finish our journey in Boston. We flew to New York and stayed at the Howard Johnson hotel situated in what turned out to be a rather sleazy area and we were surrounded by rather colourful porn cinemas. The hotel was very comfortable and all we really needed was somewhere to put our heads down at night.
The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building
and the Twin Towers
The Rockefeller Centre with its gilded bronze statue of Prometheus by Paul Manship, which was installed in 1934.
The first day we walked around marvelling at the New York skyscrapers, went to the top of the Empire State Building, walked down 5th Avenue, did a boat trip around Manhattan with views of the United National Building, the twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, the Statue of Liberty.
Statue of Liberty by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
and Grand Central Terminal (1903-1913)
Visited the Guggenheim Museum, which was holding an exhibition of garish photo-realistic paintings.
The following day saw us at the Metropolitan Museum. What a feast, and we gorged ourselves. What to mention, the extraordinary Temple of Dendur, built by the Emperor Augustus in 15 BC surrounded by water with papyri growing in it.
The staircase taken from the grand house of Cassiobury Park, Watford, William’s local park. In Watford not a shadow is left of the house in Cassiobury Park which was once the home of the Earls of Essex. But here was the heavily carved staircase 17th century attributed to Edmund Pearce (fl.1704-22) hung with many of the paintings, Lely, Reynolds, which originally adorned the house.
The Met’s art collection stretches from Early Flemish to the Impressionists to Picasso. I defy anyone not to feel their jaw hit the ground when they come up a staircase and are faced with their blaze of Impressionist paintings.
The Lehman Pavilion with the banker Robert Lehman’s collection. And then there was the American collection of paintings and furniture, Frederick Church, Winslow Homer, Sargent, and so on and so on.
The next day we visited the Frick Collection, masterpiece after masterpiece all set out in a sumptuous mansion, Bellini, Bronzino, Piera della Francesca, Reynolds, Hogarth, Gainsborough, Vermeer, Boucher, Fragonard, Watteau, Ingres, Rembrandt, Van Eyck, Turner Van Dyck you name the artist and he had acquired a masterpiece by him.
Lodovico Capponi by Bronzino
That afternoon we called on the Lowenthals whom we had met in Italy. They lived in a three roomed flat, one room was the kitchen, the size of the toilet in our home, a toilet/shower room the size of a postage stamp and the main room, very small covered from floor to ceiling with very deep bookcases which were stacked three deep in books, making the room even smaller that it originally was. I asked how on earth do they find any book and he said he knew where each one was. It also served as a bedroom at night, though I could see no sign of a bed and Mrs Lowenthal’s small piano. Why on earth they chose to live in such a cramped place, beggar’s belief. They both spent a great deal of their time travelling the world, so who knows.
They took us to the World Trade Centre and we travelled up to the top floor in one of the towers. We little realised that many years later we would be watching on television as both towers burnt and fell to the ground.
On our final day in New York and we decided to visit the Cloisters Museum, part of the Metropolitan Museum which houses its Medieval collection, particularly its magnificent set of tapestries. In order to get there we travelled by subway. A very rum journey. The further we went the more villainous the passengers looked, but almost everyone had left the train when we finally reached our destination. We were then faced with a walk through woodland, with odd people lurking in the shrubbery. Frightened the life out of us. We finally arrived at the haven which was the Cloisters. Wonderful setting high above the river with the fall colours beginning to show. A cloister lifted from a couple of monasteries in France, magnificent medieval tapestries, whole tombs and miscellaneous sculptures. A quite unique experience.
Springfield, Massachusetts. The following day we caught the Grey Line bus to Springfield, Massachusetts for our short stay with Lucy Mitchell who we had met in France many year ago and who I had corresponded with and who absolutely insisted that we come and visit her in her home and stay a couple of nights. She met us at the bus station in a rather grand car, we had no idea what to expect, certainly it was not going to be a Lowenthal living experience. The fall colours were astounding and we finally got to her house.
William with Lucy outside her club where we dined that evening
We had been allocated rooms in the house, sumptuous bed linen, dressing room, lined with cupboards, massive bathroom, everything laid out for us including towels. There were beautiful paintings on the walls, glass and porcelain pieces everywhere. I had brought her a small 19th century drawing of a lady which I thought she might like. She instantly placed it on a small display easel, in the living room. Lucy who was an art historian, was an authority on a once obscure and due to her researches, now famous, miniaturist called James Sanford Ellsworth (1802-1874) an itinerant artist who wandered the USA from town to town, village to village, painting portraits in exchange for his keep.
James Sanford Ellsworth (self portrait?)
Unknown gentleman by James Sanford Ellsworth
They are incredibly charming and his signature piece was small clouds which appeared across the bottom of his miniatures. Lucy described Ellsworths paintings as “nebulous floating platters on which he presented and preserved our ‘air-borne’ and ‘chair-borne’ ancestors” (Art in America, Autumn 1953). I can quite see why she fell for his work. She had written about him, collected him and had arranged an exhibition devoted solely to him at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in Springfield in 1957 to which she had then donated her collection of 36 Ellsworth miniatures. After the exhibition she said she had returned to her home and looked at the blank wall on which her Ellsworth miniatures had hung and vowed that she would replace them with another collection. So she then starting searching for his works, which of course, since the exhibition had risen in price, and she said she made the owners offers they could not refuse. So we were then taken to the wall where the miniatures were displayed and there indeed was a wonderful collection of Ellsworth miniatures. One curious tale she told us was that the forthcoming exhibition had been noted in the press and one day there was a knock on her door and outside was a gentleman, dressed very smartly but in rather frayed clothes who said he wished to present her with a miniature he had by Ellsworth, and not only was it by Ellsworth but it was a self portrait, Lucy said she would be prepared to buy it but he insisted on gifting it to her, saying he knew she would give it a good home, all this, I think Lucy said, apparently on the doorstep as he refused to come in.
Lucy had an elderly lady who lived, in called Gertrude, who, we supposed, was a cook and general maid to her. Charming lady. Lucy took us to her country club for dinner that evening. A rather splendid affair where we were served a delicious meal. Before we went to bed we were warned not, under any circumstance to come out of our rooms as the alarm system would be set off. In the morning we sat down to breakfast, the table groaning with silver and fine porcelain. After a cereal we were faced with a little silver muffin dish and cover, itself covered in a napkin. Inside, when you unwrapped it and took off the cover, lay a warm blueberry muffin, quite one of William’s favourite foods. I enquired after the silver, and after a great deal of reluctance she told us that much of it was 18th century and that she and her husband had bought most of the pieces in London, I think she said on their honeymoon. William having finished his muffin, was asked whether he would like another, he said he would, and Lucy must have had an electric bell under the table at her feet because we could hear a bell ring in the kitchen and Gertrude appeared, was told Mr Castell would like another muffin and within a moment he was served with another wrapped silver muffin dish. Later in the day we visited the Springfield Art Museums, Lucy enquired whether the director was in, and we then had a personal tour with the Director of the museum.
The following day we did an excursion to see the Sterling and Francine Art Collection. A very large car appeared at the door, our chauffeur for the day was the retired Chief of Police of Springfield no less. We drove to a splendid restaurant for lunch, the Chief of Police had sandwiches seated in the car outside our window and we then visited the Gallery. It is a very personal and quite amazing collection, Piero della Francesca Crivelli, Degas, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Winslow Homer, Le Nain, Memling, a magnificent Piero della Francesca, a raft of Renoir at his most awful prettiest, Rigaud, Sargent and so on. A feast and shown in a magnificently laid out gallery.
Virgin and Child with angels by Piero della Francesca
François de Montmorency (1557) by Corneille de Lyon
Peter Pan. The following day Lucy drove us to the bus station where she had arranged that we join a bus tour to see the New England Fall colours organised by Peter Pan Tours. The coaches were apparently all named after characters in Peter Pan, our coach was memorably called ‘Slightly Soiled’. We said farewell to Lucy. We had arranged that we would stay with her on our return before we continued our journey to Boston after which we would fly home. On entering the coach, which was full, we were presented with a book, and took our allocated seats. It was then immediately announced that there were two Britishers on board. We were given a resounding round of applause from everyone. After a short talk by the guide as to what the tour was going to do, a lady, who we later found out was called LeVerne, a former vaudeville actress, stood up at the front of the coast, told everyone to open their books and go to number, let us say, 52, and everyone then burst into song, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning…’ and off we went. We travelled through a countryside throbbing with colour, it seemed unbelievable that almost every tree produced its own beautiful coloured leaves. We had a cruise in the Mount Washington on Lake Winnipesaukee. The lake one of the largest natural lakes in the US and is on the southern edge of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and covers 72 square miles, it is peppered with small islands hundreds of which are inhabited.
We spent our first night in the Eastern Slope Hotel, North Conway, New Hampshire, built like an Ante Bellum house out of Gone with the Wind.
We took a cable tramcar to Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire (4080 ft) and left the colour behind as the mountain was covered in snow, something we did not expect.
Within minutes were in a winter landscape, everything, including all the trees laden with snow.
We then motored through magnificent fall scenery, the colours quite breath-taking, to Plymouth Notch in Vermont to see the birthplace of President Coolidge. (30th President 1923-1929)
Beautiful small village all small white houses and flaming trees.
Then on to Bennington with its church (1805)
again all white, small stores with all their goods laid out just as if time had stood still since the early 19th century and all with enormous pumpkins; getting ready for Thanksgiving.
By Lake Champlain, Vermont. Our guide on the right, LeVerne in the centre.
Elecra Havemeyer Webb with her mother by Mary Cassatt. Shelburne Museum
Next to Shelburne the creation of Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960), who collected historic buildings, like other people collect stamps, including a stagecoach inn, a school house, a jail, a lighthouse, an old river steamboat, a general store, a Greek Revival mansion, over 200 horse drawn vehicles. Not to mention her magnificent collections of among other things, American paintings, Winslow Homer, Singleton Copley, Grandma Moses, Andrew Wyeth, Impressionist paintings, patchwork quilts, American Folk Art and bronzes.
Jane Henrietta Russell, Springfield, Mass., 1844 by Joseph Whiting Stock (1815–1855)
Shelburne Museum collection.
Where we fell in love with early American portraits yet again.
William and Nancy Lawson by William Matthew Prior 1843
We visited Francona Notch State Park, located in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. Franconia Notch is a spectacular mountain pass traversed by a unique parkway which extends from the Flume Gorge at the south to Echo Lake at the north. Franconia Notch was the home of the famous Old Man of the Mountain, a natural formation of a vast stone face. The “Great Stone Face” immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
We also crossed those famous Covered Bridges.
Finally we finished up in the Bolton Valley Resort, Vermont where we spent our last nights of the tour. Needless to say the food was delicious everywhere we went and the people on the coach very welcoming and friendly. Everyone wanting us to enjoy their beautiful country and waiting to hear from us that we were having the time of our lives; as indeed we were.
On our last evening we received a phone call from Lucy’s daughter saying that Lucy had been calling on friends to invite them to a small party she was throwing for us at her home and had tripped over some ivy and broken her leg. She was now in hospital and of course we would not be able to meet up. The daughter had kindly arranged for us to stay at a hotel in Springfield for the night. We sent some flowers to Lucy and felt rather lost. The hotel turned out to be a very expensive dump, I doubt if Lucy or her family had ever had occasion to stay in a hotel in Springfield, it had been chosen because it was near the bus station. It certainly was a sorry let-down after our delightful tour. The next morning we set off by coach to Boston. We were to meet up with Lucy once more in 1983. I see that all her research material on Ellsworth is now lodged with the Frick Archive in New York. A quite remarkable lady who we just happened to meet on a holiday in France and who was overjoyed to meet up with an ardent amateur portrait miniature collector, though not in her league.
Boston was memorable for its heat. We came out of our air-conditioned hotel and the heat just hit us and within minutes we were soaked in sweat. It was almost unbearable. The hotel in the centre of Boston looked extremely comfortable, but when we got to our room we found that our windows adjoined, with what seemed like three feet away from the window, the overhead subway which ran through Boston. Every time a train passed the whole room shook. Needless to say I got them to change our room, they were very apologetic and I suppose to compensate us gave us a massive, quiet room with a sitting room and two enormous bathrooms attached, marked ‘His’ and ‘Hers’. We did the usual things of admiring the John Hancock Tower.
The Hancock Tower, covered in mirror glass, so that the city was mirrored in it
From a certain angle it looks like an incredible slim tower and then you saw the sides, all mirror glass in which was reflected the older buildings around it and the cloudless sky. We took a short coast trip to see the coast of Maine, The weather was misty and everything looked shut down and dreary. However the main purpose of our trip to Boston was to see the Boston Art Gallery and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, they did not disappoint. We were now getting a liking for American artists; their paintings have just not travelled to Europe. The Boston Gallery was full of a glorious collection of every form of art from the earliest of times till tomorrow. Dutch, English, French Italian, Spanish, and of course they boast the largest collection of paintings by Monet outside Paris. The Isabella Stewart Gardner is just magnificent. A sumptuous Renaissance villa complete with courtyard contains a remarkable hotchpotch collection of objects and paintings. Paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Whistler, Sargent, Piero della Francesca and Velasquez. The magnificent Velasquez of Philip IV of Spain having been sold by the then foolish owner of Kingston Lacy who had no need for the money and resold at a great profit to Mrs Gardner. We flew back the following day
1982. December – South Africa. We first flew to Johannesburg and stayed at a very comfortable hotel and visited the Johannesburg Art Gallery which contained nothing memorable, no catalogue, no post-cards. Neo classical building designed by Lutyens, completed in 1915
On the way out of the gallery we asked at the desk for directions to the railway station, the guy who directed us must have thought he would give us a lesson in apartheid and down this road we went as directed and found ourselves facing a vast crowd of Africans obviously coming from the station which we could see ahead of us. When we got to the station we were met by African guards one of whom gave us a short lecture on the iniquities of apartheid and told us we were on the wrong side of the tracks so to speak and in order for us to get to the white area we would have to walk a considerable way or we could go through his office. We were suitably crushed, though he was very polite. We were allowed through his office to the platform for whites, needless to say the platform for blacks which we had to pass was crammed packed with people, the platform for us whites was virtually empty.
Advert to be found on most stations. This on Rhodebosch Station
We then flew to Kimberley where William’s grandparents had lived for most of their lives. It certainly is the strangest looking place from the air, after acres and acres of arid burnt landscape you find yourself looking at the vast hole in the ground, the de Beers diamond mine, known as the Big Hole surrounded by the town of Kimberley.
We met up with William’s father Ted and his stepmother Joan. William and I stayed at the famous Kimberley Club, founded in 1881, strange time-warp of a place, with dark panelled walls and leather seats There is apparently a strict dress code, no jeans or t-shirts and no women in the bar area. The dining room was adorned with a copy by Batoni of the semi naked repentant Magdalen, I suppose it must have delighted the all-male diners.
Above the fireplace in the lounge was a beautiful watercolour by William Timlin (1892-1943) who had spent much of his life at Kimberley. The subject was a flight of swans over a river. It was slowly disappearing under our eyes, as each day the African sun raked across it, leaving it now, I should imagine, a shadow of its original brilliant colours.
We visited the De Beers new offices, a massive tower, and were taken to the room where there were rows and rows of very young men and women sorting out small pyramids of raw diamonds. Apparently diamonds come in all shapes and sizes and need young eyes to sort them. There must have been millions and millions of pounds-worth of diamonds in that one room. We were given to understand that we were very privileged as the public was not allowed into the room. We then visited the De Beers Old Offices to see where William’s grandfather had spent most of his working life.
Apparently the spoil from the old diamond mine was now being searched for black diamonds used mainly for industry and which had been disregarded by the original miners.
There was an extensive Kimberley Mine Museum (below), showing how the original miners worked and lived. It must have been all very primitive and the heat intolerable.
One of Ted’s and Peggy friends took us by jeep out to into the wilds, to see one of the Boer War battlefields at Megersfontein, all burnt rock and dried up vegetation, some ostriches appeared from nowhere and she decided to give us a thrilling drive by chasing after them, so around and around we went bumping over stones and bushes.
The next day we were taken through the De Beers Wildlife Park.
The first thing that happened was that we found ourselves in a rain storm, one minute it was hot and dry and next we found ourselves driving into a torrential rain storm. It was like driving through a curtain on one side of which was a hot dry landscape and the other a thunderous downpour through which it was almost impossible to see anything and having travelled through this for some time we then found ourselves out of it and back into the hot dry landscape.
We were shown one of their prize inhabitants a white rhinoceros with two of her young. Everything was so incredibly quiet as our shadows grew longer and longer in the sand as the sun slowly set.
Cape Town. On our return to Cape Town we were stayed at Joan and Ted’s home, and went on a trip to the top of Table Mountain using the cable-car.
Magnificent views to start with and then the whole mountain was covered in clouds and we could not see a thing. We also wanted to go to Cape Point to actually stand on the most southern tip of the African continent, a place where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet and which most seafarers throughout history has come to, or almost come to grief. There was a very good restaurant there whose resident visitor was a large tortoise.
When we were standing on the viewpoint on the rocky strip jutting out into the sea we saw a remarkable sight. Birds, I don’t know what kind, but clearly migrating birds, were flying from all directions meeting together to form a large inverted V in the sky, when everyone felt there were sufficient numbers they set off across the ocean. As soon as one formation set off another would start to form. And so it went on and on, hundreds of birds all flying off in perfect formation, I wonder who decides on being the bird in front or does one bird just find it is leading by chance.
The paradise. We visited one of Ted and Peggy’s friends on his magnificent estate. We drove up to this beautiful house surrounded by orchards with vast views. He was a widower, who lived alone with his daughter and their servants. He told us that he owned all the land as far as the eye could see which took in a deep valley and a distant hillside. There were tennis courts and a swimming pool, huge lawns with beautifully laid out beds of flowers among fruit trees laden with fruit of every sort, gardeners bustling around and the sun just beginning to go down.
The place was like a paradise, sadly this paradise was a small hell. He had lived in this house with his wife and her two sisters and daughter. His wife, and her sisters had died and he was left with his severely autistic or mentally afflicted daughter. No one spoke about her ailment so I have no idea what was wrong with her, except that something was very wrong. The whole place had an air of emptiness and sadness. The vast house with its grand staircase in the hallway, was beautifully furnished with paintings, sculptures and cabinets filled with collections of porcelain figurines. Not the usual run-of-the-mill stuff but really fine pieces. The only thing was, when I looked closely into the cabinets, I found most of the figurines were lying on their backs or fronts, or were broken, a few were still standing but it looked like someone had just opened the cabinets and raked their hands through them.
The maid brought some tea, all served on massive silver trays, with a huge silver teapot, etc and enough food to feed ten people and we sat at a dining table, three servants standing behind us, his daughter was brought in by her black nurse, she was in her 30s, and she just sat there at the head of the table, he at the other, looking down at her lap and hardly acknowledging us. The nurse stood behind her chair. I think our host wanted her to pour out the tea, and be sociable, but that was not going to happen, so he got Joan to do it and the servants handed the cups around and the silver salvers of sandwiches, etc. His daughter took a couple of sips of the tea and then indicated she wanted to leave, so off she went with her nurse, who obviously never left her side.
Later we went out into the garden with its magnificent views and beautiful swimming pool, and all his orchards, he said he owned all the land to the horizon, and as he passed a fig tree he plucked the figs and handed them to us; they were bursting with ripeness. The air was quite oppressive with the heavy scent of fruits and flowers and the taste of the ripe figs only added to the feeling of terrible sadness. When we left he wanted to load our car with crates of fruit of every description, Joan refused to take them, goodness knows why, the poor man just wanted us to have the fruit, but she dug her heels in till it seemed almost rude, sometimes I almost lost patience with Joan as he was clearly hurt by her refusal, so he said to Ishmael our chauffeur, ‘Well you take them home with you and hand them out to your people’. So the fruit was loaded into the car and I thought lucky old Ishmael. William can remember visiting the house many years before when it was bustling with life when the three ladies were alive. And now? What happened to the daughter in the end? I presume she would have been taken to a private asylum eventually when he died. What sadness to be found in such a paradise.
Ishmael, who drove us everywhere in Joan’s car, had been chauffeur to the great Beit family in his younger days. The Beit family had made their fortune in South Africa and accumulated the great art collection which now resides in Ireland. William’s father arranged that we go on a short two day trip with Ishmael and had booked us into some very splendid hotels.I can recall very little of the trip other than we went to an ostrich farm and saw some of the countryside around Cape Town and travelled along a magnificent coastal road and stayed at luxurious hotels. When we arrived at hotels, Ishmael would take our luggage in to our room and would then disappear with the car. I asked him where he went and where he stayed the night. Apparently he parked the car and then went to the rooms allocated to the servants at the back of the hotel, and usually spent his time in the kitchen, where he said he was served much better food that we ever got. But clearly he was quite happy with the fact that he could not stay in our hotels, or even join us in the dining rooms, something which had begun to disturb us. We had no idea what you did with a chauffeur anyway, if he had not been an African, would he have joined us at our table, is that what chauffeurs do, or do they sit separately? Fortunately we have not needed to worry about such dilemmas.
Joan’s bungalow, Cape Town. The bungalow was situated in beautiful manicured lawns and gardens which were studded with other bungalows in the same development. Joan’s chauffeur Ishmael lived in his own house in one of the coloured settlements outside Cape Town, but most of the, mainly, elderly white residents, had live-in chauffeurs. Joan told us how appalled she was by the accommodation provided for these, mostly, young men. Apparently the spacious garages in which luxurious limousines were houses, had a basic concrete room above in which these men had to live. We never saw the garages and presumably they were kept out of sight. She had voiced her concerns at a residents meeting and felt that something should be done to make these windowless rooms more comfortable, but she was in a weak position as she did not have a resident chauffeur and so nothing was ever done and everyone no doubt returned to their luxurious homes thinking what a fuss about nothing.
No visit to Cape Town would be complete without a visit to the Mount Nelson Hotel, so we all went there for tea in the gardens. Pure Somerset Maugham luxury territory. William’s father picked up the bill; it must have cost the earth.
We also visited the rather grand Rhodes Memorial erected at the foot of Devil’s Peak, Cape Town.
The lions are modelled on those in Tragalgar Square. The rider on a horse is by George Frederick Watts, ‘Physical Energy’. Watts originally intended it to be dedicated to Muhammad, Attila, Tamerlane and Genghis Khan as epitomising raw energetic will to obtain power. The original is in Kensington Gardens, London and a cast was made for the Rhodes Memorial. I suppose you could add Rhodes name to the above.
We decided to do a detour on our way back and flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg (lightening and thunderstorm) and then caught a coach to Pretoria to see the Pretoria Art Museum which had a collection of Dutch Masters and we discovered an artist called Pierneef with whom we were very impressed. We then shot back to Johannesburg and went into the largest hotel we could find and had a drink by the pool while we waited for our flight to London. The hotel was hosting a wedding party on a grand scale and there was a whole ox being roasted by the side of the pool, delicious smell, we were told we could join the wedding party if we wanted, but sad to say just as the ox was about to be served we had to leave for the airport. One of the memorable disappointments on our travels.