Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Chipping Norton and the Rollright Stones

The Town Hall

Another walk with my friend Merv. We started in the centre of Chipping Norton near the Town Hall of 1842 and headed west along the A44 soon bearing right across a field to eventually emerge into open country.

This led us to the edge of Salford from which we headed north towards Little Rollwright, passing the attractive Rectory Farm.

As we approached Little Rollwright we were struck by the neatness of the surrounding countryside with the trees planed in orderly rows.

We skirted the Manor House to reach the church of St Philip, built in 1617.

Inside this small and unprepossessing church we were surprised to find two handsome tomb-chests, also early 17th century to members of the Dixon family.

We headed across farmland to encounter the Rollright Stones. There are three elements. The first is a set of standing stones known fancifully as the Whispering Knights. They are what remains of an early neolithic (4000-3500 BC) burial chamber.

A little further on is the Stone Circle known as the King's Men. These date from the later neolithic period and form a ceremonial circle. Many were re-erected in Victorian times and apparently there were once more stones forming a continuous circle with ceremonial entrances. The circle is surprisingly large.

Finally, there is an outlying stone, on the other side of a road, known as the King's Stone, but also said to resemble a seal balancing a ball on its nose. This is thought to date from the Bronze age (1800-1500 BC).

Retracing our steps to the stone circle, we were struck by this fabulous temporary public sculpture, Three Dancing Fairies by David and Adam Gosling, inspired by a painting by William Blake. Well done to them!

We retraced our steps past the Whispering Knights and followed a field path down to a road. This in turn led us, via Over Norton, back to Chipping Norton. We detoured to Church Lane to locate the almshouses, founded by Henry Cornish in 1640.

Then, reaching the main road, turned right past the much altered Guildhall ...

... and bore left into Market Street with an attractive line of buildings.

I especially liked this one of 1890 almost opposite the Town Hall.

Conditions: Grey and cool, maybe 12 degrees.

Distance: 8 miles.

Map: Explorer 191 (Banbury, Bicester & Chipping Norton)

From: AA: 50 walks in the Cotswolds

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Vienna: Hietzing and Schonbrunn Palace

The Gloriette at Schonbrunn

This was a very interesting walk covering a range of historical periods from the 18th century onwards. Our first goal was to continue the Otto Wagner theme by seeing his Royal station Pavilion at Hietzing. We left the U-Bahn station and stumbled on a Greek restaurant for a very nice lunch. Heading towards the Pavilion we then stumbled on this art nouveau gem at Hadikgasse 57. It looked to be newly renovated.

The Pavilion is suitably extravagant and features a sort of porte-clochere

However, it is only when you look along the tracks from the bridge by Hietzing U-Bahn station that you are seeing is a miniature private station.

As always with Wagner the details are delightful. Note the imperial helmets on the roof.

Now we doubled back and headed along Maxingstrasse, passing the pretty Gothick style church of Maria Geburt on the left.

The next, rather lengthy section took us through Hietzing. This is revealed to be a quiet, up-market outer suburb where leafy streets, notably Trouttmansdorfgasse and Gloriettsgasse, have substantial houses. Many are of the Biedermeyer style. My sister-in-law Claudia explained that the essence of Biedermeyer is a relatively plain and un-showy exterior, while elaboration and extravagance restricted to the inside. So pretty much the antithesis of art nouveau. Here is a typical example.

I quite liked this rather more exuberant house further along Trouttmansdorfgasse.

Our route took us past the Villa Primavesi which I had heard described as pretty. It was esigned by Josef Hoffman in 1913-15 for the financier Robert Primavesi in a surprising neo-classical style.

Not too long after this we emerged again on to Maxingstrasse and quickly left it to enter Maxing park. This in turn flowed into the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace. We navigated our way towards the wonderful Gloriette, which we first approached from one end.

Here is a rear view of the left hand side ...

 ... and a view of the large orangery-like space in the central building.

Finally, we went up onto the roof for this great view of the Schonbrunn Palace.

From: DK Eyewitness Guide to Vienna. 

Distance: about 3 miles.

Conditions: bright and quite warm about 22 degrees.

Rating: Four and a half stars.

Vienna: Wagner House 1 / Ernst Fuchs Museum

We journeyed out to Hutlsdorf at the end U-Bahn line 4 and walked the mile or so to Wagner House 1 or the Fuchs Museum. You can see straightaway that it has something of a Palladian quality: a main building with two symmetrical wings, all topped with urns. Apparently Palladio was Wagner's favourite architect.

The building has quite an interesting history. It was built in 1886-88 by the architect Otto Wagner for his own occupation. By 1905 he was making plans for a new smaller house a little further along the road. It seems he saw this as being more suitable for his wife after he died (and apparently there is a German term for this type of building: “Witwensitz” or “Seat of the widow”). The house was bought by a businessman of Jewish descent named Ben Tiber and he vacated it in the 1930s when he left the country. During the Second World War the house was used by the Nazis and after the war it was left empty until 1972 when it was bought by Ernst Fuchs.

Fuchs was an artist and set about renovating the building in line with his own rather florid and exuberant taste. His then filled it with his own art works. However, he deserves great credit for saving the building from terminal decline. Happily, one wing was not altered and retains the original decorative scheme of Otto Wagner and stained glass by Koloman Moser. 

Now for the tour. The entrance is round the back and you are invited to explore upstairs first. You climb the stairs lined with a wallpaper which seems at first to be quite William Morris in style, but a closer look shows a somewhat sexual element which you gradually see pervades his work along with fantasy themes.

The large room upstairs has one original feature, a lovely ceramic panel by Koloman Moser.

There is also some nice furniture by Fuchs.

 And even a painting in the style somewhere between Burne-Jones and Munch.

Back downstairs you enter the main living room which again has quite pleasing art deco style furniture, but over-wrought paintings. The right wing gives a feeling for Fuchs's larger paintings, although again the chairs are attractive in an art deco style.

The left wing however is the great delight for any fan of art nouveau or Jugendstil architecture. This is the view through the doorway.

The upper walls and ceiling are covered with exquisite geometric patterns in gold. These are of the kind that Wagner made famous on the railway pavilions now located at Karlsplatz.

The corners of the floor have lovely mosaics with a snake pattern

The stained glass is in the Tiffany style and is full of vibrant colour.

Outside there is a suitably over-the-top structure, called the Brunnenhaus, by Fuchs.

Rating: four and half stars. A very interesting experience, but I would have preferred more Wagner and less Fuchs.

Further information: there is an excellent piece about this Villa and the nearby Wagner Villa 2 (which we unaccountably failed to visit) on Wiki Arquitectura.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Graz: Schlossberg


We started our second walk of the day at the pretty Schlossbergplatz. At the far end of the platz is the staircase carved by First World War prisoners. We decided to resist the temptation of climbing the stairs and instead walked along the road parallel to the river and took the funicular to almost the top of Schlossberg. This helpfully means you can have a more or less linear walk from the top of Schlossberg down to the city centre.

You emerge by the imposing Bell Tower of 1588.

 Continuing uphill you pass the Casemate Stage. A casemate was a storeroom which was also used as a cell for prisoners.

Soon you reach the flattish area at the top – 467m. There are pleasant views over the newer parts of the city towards the surrounding wooded hills. We wondered if a ridge walk was possible.

There is a wonderfully vivid statue of a lion which commemorates Major Hackher who successfully led the last military defence of the fortress from attack by Napoleon's army in 1809. No likeness of him was available, so the lion stood in.

Just behind the statue is a nice art nouveau balustrade.

It was remarkably quiet and calm on the top, but much to my dismay although there were trees and flowers, there were no butterflies – and this continued throughout our exploration of the Schlossberg. Why I wonder?

We headed downhill to explore the terrace in front of the Stable Bastion. Its massive walls are 6m thick and 20m high. On the right of the entrance was this splendid art deco mural. I haven't as yet discovered its significance.

At the base of the bastion there was a fine entrance portico.

And lower down there was a sweet Chinese Pavilion built around 1900. From there there was a good view of the Kunsthaus revealing the curious nodules on its roof.

Now we followed the path downhill to approach the famous Clock Tower. It is a handsome and worthy emblem of the city and dates from 1712.

Now we followed a winding path downhill towards the city centre, passing an entrance to one of the numerous tunnels which were dug during the war as air raid shelters. We emerged onto Karmeliteplatz and enjoyed the renovated Carmelite convent with its beautifully painted facade.

Conditions: a beautiful sunny day.

Distance: maybe 3 miles.

Rating: 5 stars. Such as lovely place to explore or do nothing much.

Graz: both sides of the River Mur

Generalihof Clock Tower

For our morning walk we completed our exploration of the old town centre on both sides of the River Mur, starting at the Generalihof and pausing there to admire the green stone clock tower. We walked along Landhausgasse and admired the detailing of the entrance to the Landes-Amtshaus.

We then headed off to the right into the so-called Veal District. The main sight is the Franciscan Monastery, founded in 1239 by the Minorite order. The tower was added in the 17th century.

The side entrance is quite anonymous but a helpful passer-by showed us the way in. Inside there is a sprawling complex with a wonderful cloister.

The church has no transept and the cloister is therefore not in the usual position of the angle between the nave and the south transept. It also has irregular sides. The church has a dramatic ridged vault …

… and surprisingly bright modern stained glass.

It is a few steps from the monastery to the bridge over the Mur.

The colourful sides of the bridge are covered with lovers' padlocks. We first saw these in Amsterdam, but now no self-respecting bridge of the appropriate design seems to be without its share. In the background is the Graz Kunsthaus (Art gallery) of which more in a moment.

Looking up river, you see the Murinsel, an artificial island designed by the New York artist Vito Acconci .We thought it a wild and wonderful idea.

On the far back there is a closer view of the Kunsthaus which was designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier and built in 2003. Close up it seems to be a giant balloon with a sort of gallery on top.

To one side, and now the Kunsthaus café is a rather lovely cast-iron building which was presumably once a market.

We turned round the back of the Kunsthaus and my eye was caught by this fine house with vaguely art nouveau details picked out in pink.

We walked long to Mariahilferplatz with its large 17th century Baroque church. 

There is a first view of the Schlossberg, with the castle on the left and the Clock Tower on the right.

We crossed the river via the Murinsel, which turned out to have a café and a sort of open air theatre in the centre. As we reached the other side we were struck by how full and fast-flowing the River Mur was.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about a mile and a half.

Rating: four stars. Interesting and enjoyable, but doesn't really stand alone.