Hitting the Ground Running in Yangon

My travel destinations are often inspired by literature, with its descriptions of majestic landscapes, fascinating people, and unusual sites. Great stories that make me feel like I was “there” motivate me to visit their locations. Isak Dinesen’s stories about her life in ”Out of Africa”, EM Foster’s tales of Florence in “Room with the View”, and Tama Janowitz’s detailed chronicles of Manhattan’s art scene, each planted in my mind a seed that later grew into a real trip.

In my final year of school, I read George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”. Orwell spent five years, from 1922 to 1927, as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma (Myanmar). Burma had become part of the British Empire during the 19th century as an adjunct of British India. The British colonized Burma in stages, finally capturing the royal capital of Mandalay in 1885 so that Burma could be declared part of the British Empire.

Although Burma was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia, as a colony under British rule it was viewed as a backwater. Orwell’s Burmese Days is a sad tale of a disillusioned life, lost love and missed chances. Orwell’s description of the daily life in Myanmar stuck with me. Ever since then I have wanted to see how much of Orwell’s experiences would still be visible. I finally got my chance, and not a moment too soon, because at the rate Myanmar is changing it won’t be too long until the architectural traces of its colonial past are gone.

Yangon Overview

Although I travel a lot, jet lag is always a difficult hurdle to get over whenever I arrive at a new place. Knowing this I try to organize an activity for soon after I arrive, that has some built-in guidance. A guided walking, bike or vehicle tour to start a trip gets me out and about while I adjust to a new place and time zone.

Scheduling a tour at the beginning of a trip is also a terrific way to get an overview of the place you will spend the next few days exploring. You can take note of interesting things you come across and return later to explore further. Doing one of these tours early in a trip has always served me well.

Arriving in Yangon, Myanmar, it was jet lag times three! With two flight changes and a seven-hour layover in Hong Kong. Knowing that Day One was going to be a challenge I contacted Backyard Travel in advance and set up a city tour for the morning after we arrived. Bangkok based Backyard Travel specializes in all things Asia with great local experts in all major cities. They offer many kinds of packaged tours, ranging from one-day to multi-day excursions. If you have a particular interest, they will make a custom program just for you! For Yangon, they offer a great one-day outing, called “Eat, Learn, Love”.

The “Eat, Learn, Love” tour is perfect for culture hounds and foodies. It touches on the city’s fascinating traditions by looking at art, crafts, antiques, architecture, religion and local foods. Discover old colonial buildings and visit the country’s most revered sacred sites, popping into Yangon’s foremost antique shops and art galleries along the way. You’ll eat like a local at bustling markets, rub shoulders with Yangon locals and try some of the country’s tastiest specialties.

Indian Market

Our guide was Nge Nge, a local expert, born and raised in Yangon. She greeted us at our hotel first thing in the morning with a big smile and driver in tow. Having a car for the day was a real treat with the beginning of the hot season just getting going — even early in the morning, it was already a whopping 90 degrees!

Our first stop was the Indian Market. Indians immigrated in large numbers to Myanmar during the period of British rule, to fill the empire’s insatiable need for administrators and laborers. After the British moved on the Indians stayed and have built a thriving community in Yangon.

It was Saturday morning, locals were going about their shopping and the market was swarming with people. With so much to see we were quickly overwhelmed but Nge Nge kept us moving, guiding us towards interesting stalls and feeding us street food samples from vendors where she knows the food is safe. As we sampled foods, Nge Nge explained how each dish was made, what local ingredients were used, and how each dish fit into the local food culture. My favorites were the small pancakes made of rice flour … delicious!

For the food alone, having Nge Nge with us was worth it. Without her, we simply could not have partaken (without considerable worry) and would have missed a lot of the experience! Myanmar’s food safety standards are somewhat lacking, so indiscriminate eating can quickly get you into trouble.

We zipped in and out of dark and dusty warehouses, through quiet halls stacked to the rafters with all manner of supplies, only to emerge again onto busy thoroughfares where fisherman, butchers, and farmers were preparing the day’s offering and keeping the flies at bay. After navigating many blocks of what seemed to us like a maze, we emerged at the other end of the market to find our car waiting.

It was time for lunch so Nge Nge instructed our driver to take us to a popular lunch spot on Yangon’s east side. Being Saturday, families were out in full force lining up for their weekly meal out. Nge Nge ordered a lovely cross-section of local dishes for us to try, describing the ingredients and history of each dish, with a liberal sprinkling of humorous anecdotes.

After lunch, we took in some local art galleries and checked out some old fading colonial buildings before heading to our next stop, the reclining Buddha at Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple.

Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple

The Reclining Buddha at Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple is an awe-inspiring 217 feet long: one of the largest Buddha likenesses in Burma. This is not the original Buddha at this temple. The original was sponsored by a wealthy Burmese Buddhist, Sir Po Tha, in 1899, completed in 1907. But once complete, everyone found the new Buddha unsettling. His proportions were odd, and he had an aggressive facial expression.

So, in the 1950s, the original Buddha image was demolished, and temple trustees began work on replacing him, under the supervision of U Thaung, a well-known master craftsman. From head to toe, the Buddha is an awesome sight to behold. Its huge size may not be fully appreciated until you see one of the monks on dusting duty, scaling the Buddha on ropes, with the monk dwarfed by the Buddha’s immense body parts. The life-like eyes make the Buddha appear more compelling than many other older Buddha’s. Their life-like appearance is due to their being perfectly cast as a single piece of glass, a feat that made local glass factory Naga famous.

Shwedagon Pagoda

With the sun getting low, Nge Nge suggested it was a perfect time to visit the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the crown jewel of cultural sights in Yangon and the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. Legend tells that the Stupa contains important Buddhist relics including eight of Buddha’s own hairs!

Historians maintain that the pagoda was built by the Mon people between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. However, according to legend, the pagoda was constructed much earlier, more than 2,600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.

We arrive at a busy scene full of tour groups, families, monks and worshipers making their way into the long passage of steps that leads up to the plateau on which the pagoda rests.

Arriving on the plateau, we take our time wandering around the Stupa observing the varied ceremonies going on around us. Between the evening light, rituals, the smell of incense, and the ancient architecture, it was a curiously overwhelming experience. As the sun set, we made our way back down to the bustling city of Yangon.


Over the next few days, while we struck out on our own to further explore the city, we eavesdropped on some other guides and noticed there was a huge difference in quality compared to our wonderful experience with our new friend Nge Nge. Her insight, attention to historical detail and insight into present-day culture were wonderful. She made an enormous difference in our experience exploring the city of Yangon.

In a city like Yangon, where the streets are a bit of a maze, traffic and traffic lights are tricky to negotiate, with no street lights in many areas, and open drains that are hard to see at night, having some guidance can make for a far richer, less stressful, and safer experience.

And one final note about the fragile state of Yangon’s Colonial infrastructure. On arrival, we were amazed at the chaotic traffic throughout the city. We asked Nge Nge about it and she replied that it’s a recent phenomenon. Just a few years ago cars were so expensive in Myanmar that they were a rarity. Most transportation was via horse and cart. I wish I had visited a few years earlier; George Orwell would have felt quite at home. But wait much longer and there may not be much left to see! The time for Myanmar is now.


To book the Eat, Learn, Love tour with Back Yard Travel, go to; www.backyardtravel.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Amber Butchart’s Fashionable Old London

London arrived fashionably late to the world of couture as a place that inspires fresh ideas for designers’ seasonal collections. The capital city has operated mainly as a resource conduit, exporting primary or unfinished products like wool and metal, and procuring luxury items like fur and embroidery for use elsewhere.

Where it has built a great reputation is in the traditional handcrafts of clothiers: tailoring, shirt making, hat making and shoemaking, trades essential to the trappings of proper English gentlemen.

But there are exceptions. The UK is legendary for its eccentric characters and some have used fashion as a means of expression. To mention a few of the most famous: Beau Brummell invented the “Dandy”, Mary Quant invented the miniskirt, Katherine Hammett gave us the political T-Shirt, and Vivienne Westwood, the mother of punk fashion, defined an era of rock and roll. And let’s not forget Thomas Burberry, who, in 1850, experimented with waterproofing a raincoat. It was probably an effort that was more engineering than fashion, but it was bound to happen, considering London’s perpetual mists and rains. It was a true London inspiration.

To dig a bit deeper into London’s relationship with fashion we arranged to meet Amber Butchart, a born-and-raised Londoner, and herself fabulously fashionable. Amber is a rising star on BBC’s presenter roster, a fashion historian, and a wealth of knowledge on textiles and all things related to the art of fashion. She currently shares her insights on BBC4’s, “A Stitch in Time”, a six-part series exploring the lives of historic characters through fashion.

Amber Butchart

With Amber’s unique take on fashion and history, we were curious to know what her London haunts are and where she gets her fashion inspiration locally. Her insider suggestions sent us on a totally new route around London.

Dennis Severs House

The Dennis Severs House, is located on Folgate Street in London’s East End. It was created by Mr Severs who uses his visitors’ imaginations as his canvas to paint an intimate portrait of the lives of a Huguenot silk weaver’s family.

Amber Butchart

Severs lived in the house in much the same way as its original occupants might have done in the early 18th Century, without electricity or running water. This he did for his own personal enjoyment as well as to construct an atmosphere that would create a seamless passageway into the past.

A visit is a fascinating look into London of another age.

Beyond Retro

This vintage clothing retailer with shops in the UK and Sweden is Amber’s original stomping ground and where she long ago trained buyers in all things vintage. One can find items of every era of the 20th century.

All the clothing and accessories found at Beyond Retro started out as donations to charities. The sale of these donations generates revenue for charities all over the world. Beyond Retro buys directly from charities or through recycling companies.

Amber Butchart

Designer Alexa Chung and singer-songwriters Paloma Faith and Kate Nash are just a few of the many regulars that can be found combing the racks at Beyond Retro. Join them to assemble your own look curated from the backs of Briton’s closets and its attics.

Fan Museum

Over to Greenwich, we visit a beautiful Grade II listed building dating back to 1721. It’s now a small museum dedicated to the fading art of fans and the process of making them.

Aside from their obvious artistic merits, in their time fans played a critical role as a means of subtle communication when social norms discouraged banter between the unacquainted.

Amber Butchart

The master craftsman of the fan age was Felix Alexandre. In the late 1800s, having one of his creations was the ultimate luxury. The Queen of the Netherlands, Empress Eugenie, and later Queen Victoria were both customers of his Parisian studio.

If you plan your visit for Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday you can also enjoy afternoon tea in the old town house’s lovely Orangery.

Davenports Magic Shop

Davenports is not just any magic shop, it is the oldest family run magic shop in the world! The business started five generations ago when Queen Victoria was the one living in nearby Buckingham Palace.

Its collection spans back to the enterprise’s beginning and each object tells a story. The business started in the East End in 1898, with later locations on New Oxford Street and across from the British Museum. Now Davenports is tucked away in the tunnels of the Charing Cross tube station near Trafalgar Square.

Amber Butchart

Offering workshops for aspiring magicians as well as consulting with professional magicians, Davenports is magic’s link to its Victorian heyday.

Come home from your London trip with a new trick up your sleeve.

The Armory Room at the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is a wonderful art museum covering all manner of art and crafts. The collection was amassed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. In 1897, Lady Wallace, Sir Richard’s widow, bequeathed it to the British nation.

Amber Butchart

The collection is immense. One visit is just not enough to cover it. So, Amber’s idea of singling out just the armory collection is brilliant.

The European and Oriental Armory Collections alone contain nearly two-and-a-half thousand objects. The spectacular array of Oriental arms, armor and related works of art, chosen specifically for their fine craftsmanship, Eastern opulence, and exotic beauty, were acquired mainly in Paris in the late 1800s. Collecting objects like these was all the rage for the well-heeled aristocrat of the day.

Amber Butchart

For artisan and fashion enthusiasts, to marvel at the fine craftsmanship and richness in design in this collection is a rare treat.

Cordings of Piccadilly

To my great shame, I’ve walked by Cordings of Piccadilly countless times and never knew that what lay behind these beautiful old wooden doors was a treasure trove of British outfitter history. So,thanks to Amber for encouraging us to look deeper!

Waterproofing was the business of the original Cordings, and John Charles Cording opened his first shop as a waterproofer and gentleman’s outfitter in 1839. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for three years before she paid her first official visit to the City of London in 1839 and on that day her grand procession passed right by Cordings’ first shop.

Amber Butchart

Over the years the Cordings name became synonymous with outdoor living. In 1871 the explorer, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, made it his first stop to gear up for his Central African quest to find the long-lost Dr. Livingstone. On finding him and proclaiming, “Dr. Livingstone I presume”, he was likely wearing Cordings boots.

Since 1839, Cordings has seen many ups and downs. In 2003, during a particularly low period, a long-time customer took an interest, financial and otherwise. It was none other than Eric Clapton, who couldn’t bear to see the brand disappear, cutting off his source of much-loved country attire. Soon after, his wife also got involved and brought a full collection of women’s clothing to the brand. It had only taken some 165 years. Better late … I’d say

Amber Butchart

Innovation has been the driving force behind all of Cordings’ product introductions. Its waterproofing business led to the Macintosh. It invented the classic Covert coat, and with the Prince of Wales’ influence, made the Tattersall a pattern that in Britain came to symbolize rural life. The practicality and quality of each invention turned them into British classics.

No need to visit a museum to see the history of British country attire. At Cordings you can still gear up for your own outdoor expedition just like a modern-day Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

Wilton’s Music Hall

Located off Cable Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Wilton’s is the world’s oldest surviving Music Hall and one of those hidden gems that make London such a culturally rich city.

Over a span of 300 years this building evolved from Victorian Sailors’ pub to music hall to Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Eventually falling derelict, it was restored and reopened in 2004 in its pub and music hall incarnation. Restored might not be the correct word though. More accurately, the additions since its music hall and pub days have been peeled back to reveal its exact earlier state. You get to tap the very same floorboards and belly up to the mahogany bar as earlier generations did.

Amber Butchart

The music hall program covers a wide spectrum, including opera, puppetry, classical music, cabaret, dance, and magic. Monday nights at Wilton’s Mahogany bar you can even enjoy a free concert and hang with locals.


There you have it! Amber Butchart’s London destination suggestions all put fashion and history to the fore. Give it a try and you will see London in a whole different light. Many thanks to Amber for sharing her unique perspective and great advice.

By the way, since we were talking to a London fashion expert we couldn’t resist asking Amber’s advice on what to wear in London. “A raincoat and a pair of colored tights” was her answer. With that as your foundation, add to it what suits! Gentlemen, you may substitute socks for tights … if you like. With that, you are sure to blend in nicely with the locals.


To watch Amber Butcharts new series, a “Stitch in Time”, follow the link; www.bbc.co.uk. And to find out more about the fabulous Amber Butchart? go to; www.amberbutchart.com

Dennis Severs House: www.dennissevershouse.co.uk
Beyond Retro: www.beyondretro.com
The Fan Museum: www.thefanmuseum.org.uk
Davenports Magic Shop: www.davenportsmagic.co.uk
The Wallace Collection: www.wallacecollection.org
Cordings of Piccadilly: www.cordings.co.uk
Wiltons Music Hall: www.wiltons.org.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The Tough Luxury of an Alpine Hay Bath

What would the modern spa be without treatments that seem implausible, absurd even? Mud baths, hot stone treatments, even leeches offer therapeutic relief to those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Judging by the relatively limited menu of treatments on offer at spas, it is clear that discoveries of good new treatments are rare. So, when we heard tales of an obscure century-old spa tradition in a remote village in the Italian Alps we had to check it out.

The story goes like this: Like in many of the alpine regions of Europe, hay is cultivated during the summer months on the high meadows of “Seiser Alm” or “Alpe di Siusi”. This is a region that has at various times been German and Italian speaking, so it is customary to name places in both languages (far be it for us to break the rules). The hay is harvested and stored to keep the livestock fed and bedded for the winter.

It was the job of the “Senner” (shepherd) to take care of the animals on the meadows and to keep watch over the hay stores. A hut built on the meadow made do for both hay storage and accommodation for the Senner — before serving as feed for the cattle the hay served as a bed for the Senner. Senners were a notoriously healthy bunch and while the rest of the village was prone to normal winter sniffles, Senners seemed immune to them. At some point the connection was made between health and hay and an enterprising innkeeper set about recreating the hay-rich environment of the high-meadow hay hut in his inn. He called the new treatment a “Heu Bad”, which sounds just like the English translation, “Hay Bath”.

Soon those partaking of the Heu Bad reported some relief from ailments such as arthritis and rheumatism which they attributed to their time in the hay. Word spread of the medicinal effects and around 1890 a local physician, Dr. Josef Clara, spread word about the treatment around the town of Bolzano, in the valley below. The commercial endeavor took off as Bolzano’s elite headed up the Alps to take advantage of the hay bath’s therapeutic benefits.

Initially arranged in an ad-hoc manner, a Guesthouse (inn) would empty a room in their Gaststube (restaurant), fill it with fermenting hay, and arrange guests in the hay. An attendant kept watch, wiping the sweat away, waving the flies off, and keeping guests hydrated with their choice of white or red.

Even though the effects on one’s health were generally beneficial, the hygiene of the whole affair was not optimal. Over time the hay, shall we say, tended to develop a life of its own. So, around the 1960s and ’70s, the Hay Bath culture declined. Local government started to regulate the treatments. They could not be advertised as “medical” anymore, only “therapeutic” and people turned to more trendy ways of relaxing after a day of hiking.

Hay Bath

The hay bath in Voels am Schlern is an original and traces its history back to the origins of the concept. Today it is overseen by fifth generation hay bath purveyor, David Kompatscher. It was David’s mom who really brought the hay bath treatments into the modern era by creating a system of temperature-controlled single-use fermented hay prepared fresh for each individual treatment. Her solution was ingenious, combining a temperature controlled water bed overlaid with heated and perfectly steeped hay into which the spa goer is submerged.

The kind of hay and where it is grown is critical to an effective treatment. To produce the best effect David has his grown literally on highest point of the high meadows, well free of pollution and pesticides. This is how he gets what’s referred to as “fat” hay. That means the natural diversity of grasses, herbs, and flowers is very high in oils. And it’s the oils that act as a carrier for all the hay’s natural goodness into your skin as you lie steeping in a hay bath.

We accompanied David on his obscure commute to the high meadows of the Alps where his hay field is located. It’s a half day journey each way, requiring a funicular ride, a long hike (we could also have taken a bus for that part), a second funicular and then a steep climb up to David’s field. The field’s owner/caretaker also operates a tiny restaurant at the site, in summer, for hikers passing by, so it’s an excellent reward for your effort.

Back down at Hotel Heubad we finish our day in the hay. Wrapped up in the 40 degree (Celsius) hay we lay steeping for an hour followed by another 30 minutes wrapped in linen sheets to help let the essential oils, natural fragrances, and tannins work their magic. It is a truly amazing feeling that leaves you completely spent. David suggests a seven- to ten-day program of treatments and sleep to gain the full relaxing benefit of the treatment. On our next trip through northern Italy we will definitely keep a few extra days open for a stay in Voels at Hotel Heubad.

Speaking of all things hay, Hotel Heubad also served hay soup (a dish we were also served at another hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, in an adjacent valley). We will be telling that story at a later date, but it was interesting to learn that hay is therapeutic in many forms!

With the treatment so heavily dependent on a local source of hay it is unlikely that you will find hay baths showing up at your local spa anytime soon. But being in the Alpine environment is part of the experience, so you really should go there for the full effect. If it is total relaxation you seek, this might be one of the best places on earth for you to find it.


For reservation and details about Hay bath treatments, or book a few nights at the hotel go to: www.hotelheubad.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

At The Chatwal Hotel, Experience Turn of the Century Manhattan Today

Off Manhattan’s 44th Street, a few steps from the hustle and bustle of Times Square, is The Chatwal Hotel. A few years ago this amazing property got a new lease on life. From what used to be the exclusive haunt of The Lambs Club, Midtown hangout for the theatrical set, The Chatwal Hotel now brings the Lambs’ vibe to all comers in need of a meal, a drink, and a room.

The prestigious Lambs was America’s first professional theatrical club. It originated in London before making its way to this side of the Atlantic. John Barrymore, Red Barber, George Michael Cohan, John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks, and Fred Astaire were just a few of the impressive list of over 6000 Lambs members.

In 1905, the club hired celebrity architect Stanford White to design their club in Midtown. For the Lambs Club, White’s work reflected the spirit of the age — a turn of the century period of confidence and optimism in the United States that inspired the feeling that America might be the embodiment of no less than Greek Democracy, Roman Law, and Renaissance Humanism. The architecture of the day reflected this, notable examples being the homes of the Vanderbilts, the Washington Square arch, and the original Madison Square Garden, where White used to live in a grand apartment on the second floor.

“Now occupying White’s Lambs Club building, The Chatwal Hotel has opened a new chapter of this iconic building’s history.”

The extroverted White, who had a penchant for glamour and beautiful young women, was known for hosting frisky parties where the entertainment was rumored to feature a red velvet swing occupied by scandalously clad women. One of the performers, Evelyn Nesbit, became White’s downfall as her millionaire husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, shot White one night in a jealous rage. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of “temporary insanity”, a landmark case in American jurisprudence because of the novel plea.

Now occupying White’s Lambs Club building, The Chatwal Hotel has opened a new chapter of this iconic building’s history. Under the direction of Master Architect and Designer Thierry Despont, the circa-1905 building has been meticulously restored and modernized as a 76-room hotel of traditional glamour and contemporary luxury. And with a nod to one of the famous American personalities that roamed its halls, Drew Barrymore lent her name to the penthouse suite, paying homage to her legendary grandfather, a Lambs member.

One of our visits was during a steamy New York summer, when The Chatwal Hotel provided a cool, serene getaway to relax from the madness of the Big Apple, just a few steps away. Between sights we scheduled a few cool-down minutes in the lobby to sit, sip a drink,  and catch up on the news before heading back into the hubbub.

In contrast, we made another visit just before the Christmas holiday season and were amazed at how the place had transformed into a cozy winter wonderland. What was cool and quiet in the summer was now warm and festive, seemingly the perfect place for a New York stay during any season, especially for Broadway fans where all on offer is at your doorstep.

chatwal hotel

You might think that biking in Midtown would be a challenge, but it is actually an easy way to get around. Once on one of The Chatwal’s custom bikes, you realize that the crowded feeling you get while navigating Manhattan is mostly about the sidewalk. Once freed from its confines you can glide through Manhattan’s canyons with ease.

The bikes come with a handy map to help you find your way, and a classy Chatwal Hotel helmet to keep you safe. We took a quick spin up to Central Park which took no time at all, and spent a few hours exploring the park. Nothing like spending a hot day in New York with a cool breeze blowing on your face.

chatwal hotel

If you time it right, another fun thing to do during the summer months is to take in a free classic movie in Bryant Park. It’s a quintesential New York thing to do on a balmy summer night, less than a five minute walk from The Chatwal Hotel. And on a Chatwal bike, it takes only a minute!

chatwal hotel

Experiencing New York is very much about searching out the latest, the newest, things that can’t be found anywhere else. But what makes it unique is that all that new stuff is in a setting of tradition and history. The Chatwal Hotel is a great place to enjoy all the Big Apple still has to offer while experiencing a piece of old New York glamour.


To find out more and to make a booking at The Chatwel, go to; www.thechatwalny.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

A Passage on the Cutty Sark

Even before the Cutty Sark, speed was the name of the game in the 19th-century English tea trade. The country was mad for the delicate Chinese leaves and great wealth and public adoration went to the ship that was first in retrieving each season’s first shipment. This was the age of the great three-mast clipper ships, designed to make this blazingly fast run from China to London in about 100 days.

The Cutty Sark, always fasionably late.

In 1896, the shrewd businessman John Wills inherited a shipping fleet from his father. Driven by a keen sense of competition, and not satisfied to merely participate in the tea trade, Wills wanted to take advantage of the great wealth due to only the fastest of the clippers. So he sought out a young ship designer with little experience but a reputation for innovation, Hercules Linton. Linton had just opened his own shipyard but was yet to gain any clients so when Wills showed up he was anxious to get his first commission.

A bit too anxious as it turned out. Wills, knowing he had the advantage in negations with the brand new concern, extracted an onerous contract from Linton which later was to be Linton’s undoing. But for Wills, whether lucky or calculated, his bet on the untested ship designer was spot on.

Linton quickly got to work rewriting the rules of clipper design to produce something revolutionary for the day. Clippers were fast but that speed came at a cost. Streamlined wooden hulls with great rigidity made for a speedy ship but rigidity required massive timber structures that greatly reduced the cargo space and, therefore, a ships profitability.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 04

Linton’s out-of-the-box thinking resulted in a hybrid hull composed of a rigid wrought iron structure sheathed with flexible wood planks. And for the real stroke of genius, Linton used for the first time on a ship’s hull a newly developed alloy called Muntz metal. This golden material resulted from the combination of copper, zinc, and iron and had the unique property of leaching copper when in contact with salt water. That made it repellent to any living thing that typically attaches itself to a ship’s hull as it sales along. With the reduction in drag from limpets, seaweed and various other sea creatures that like to hitch a ride, Linton’s new design was sure to be the quickest thing on the high seas.

In the local paper for November 23, 1869, a small announcement indicated that the previous day the Cutty Sark was launched. In that very same paper it is also announced that celebrations had just taken place to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. Ironically, the fastest clipper in the world launched on the same day clipper ships, in general, became obsolete because, with the new shipping route through the Suez Canal to China, Steamships not clippers could make the trip faster and with much greater cargos. But it would take several years for the change over to steam and in the meantime, the Cutty Sark would come prove Linton’s genius in designing the ultimate clipper ship.

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Soon after its launch the Cutty Sark had an opportunity to show its true colors. Loaded with a full cargo of tea it left China on the same tide as the Thermopylae. As the two ships headed into open waters the Cutty Sark showed her brilliance easily pulling away from the Thermopylae and eventually disappearing in the distance leaving the Thermopylae in the preverbal dust. Rounding the Cape of Africa through the Cutty Sark found herself buffeted by unprecedented storms, so much so that her rudder was ripped clean off and disappeared. Faced with the choice of either heading into port for repairs or attempting a risky repair in rough seas, the captain chose the latter which cost less time but extracted a heavy human toll. The captain’s own son was one of the crew members most critically injured by the collapse of the makeshift forge set up on deck as it was several times overturned by the rough seas.

So the Cutty Sark, while the undisputed fastest clipper on the seas, never succeeded in being first to London with the new season’s tea. But even as the looser, the Cutty Sark, captain and crew became popular heroes of the day for their daring repair and good old English determination and sacrifice.

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With steamships now dominating the tea trade, the Cutty Sark eventually shifted its attention to the transportation of wool from Australia, where for a brief time clippers were still faster in navigating the route between Australia and London.

Falling on hard times for a time and disappearing from notoriety, the Cutty Sark eventually showed up in Cornwall, was fully restored to its former glory and in 1954 made its way to Greenwich to become a museum ship and part of the National Historic fleet.

The Cutty Sark comes home.

With its grade one listed monument status and on the building-at-risk register, the Cutty Sark became an instant visitor success. That was until in 2007 when a fire broke out during some renovations. The culprit, a faulty hoover. But once again, luck won out in the end for the Cutty Sark. Most of the precious original floorboards and cabins had been moved off-site for restoration so the ship was salvageable.

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By 2010 the Cutty Sark was like new again and proudly suspended 3 meters above its new and final resting place, a glass enclosed “dry dock” designed by the British architecture firm, Grimshaw.

A new slip for the Cutty Sark.

Upon entering the dry dock you pass through the gift shop making your way along a ramp into the main body of the ship. Here you see how the ship was so efficiently loaded and a timeline is on display to lead you through the history of tea and England’s long affinity for it.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 13

If you have kids in tow for your visit, the interactive displays offer an engaging educational experience with listening stations where old crew members voices are represented tell tales about life on the Cutty Sark. One, in particular, tells the story of the Cutty Sark’s naming. It was suggested by Linton and Based on the epic poem “Tam o’ Shanter” by Scottish writer Robert Burns, telling the tale of a farmer named Tam who is chased by a scantily clad witch named nanny, dressed in a “cutty sark”, an archaic Scottish name for a short nightgown. An odd name for him to select for his new clipper as witches cannot cross water.

Hands-on interaction is encouraged with many installations containing drawers and interactive visuals which make the history lesson very entertaining. I especially enjoyed the moving benches which rock back and forth simulating the movement of the ship, as did several kids jumping on and off them next to me.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 09

Winding your way up through a small staircase to the deck of the ship you can imagine the hustle and bustle of the crew navigating the tiny spaces. Looking up you get dizzy just imagining that sails had to be set by hand climbing up and down the rigging in strong winds with the ship constantly swaying. It is not for the faint of heart.

Making your way underneath the belly of the ship is a great place to enjoy a cuppa while contemplating the true genius of Linton’s hull design and golden “high-tech” protective cladding. A short climb out of the dry dock you find yourself conveniently where you entered, in the shop.

Inspired by my maritime excursion I decide to take the boat back up the Thames to central London. A fitting end to my imaginary journey on this very real legendary clipper of high seas.


For opening hours and ticket prices go to: www.rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark

Getting to the museum from central London is quick and easy on the Thames Clipper. For instrucitons click here.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The Spanish Riding School

Like many cities in Europe, much of Vienna’s intoxicating character is due to its well-preserved architecture and the long-held traditions contained within. Beautiful old buildings bear testament to a city that steadfastly clings to its past.

About a century ago, Adolf Loos, a Vienna resident and one of the world’s first “modern” architects, wrote a series of cultural critiques which ran in one of the local Vienna newspapers, The Neue Freie Presse. In one of his articles he decried the resistance of the Viennese to embrace the “modern” world. In his article Loos mocked the residents of Vienna for their curious habit of dressing in the traditional style of country folk, pointing out that in London, people had quite appropriately adapted to the practicalities of their modern urban environment and found a way to dress accordingly.

Walking the streets of Vienna today, you will still come across lots of people who would not look out of place one, two, or three hundred years ago. There is truly a stalwart resistance to change in this beautiful city and we can be thankful for its stubbornness, as it enables us to step back in time.

To take this to the extreme and really delve into the oldest of Vienna’s unchanged institutions you should not miss a visit to the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule). Here you can put the modern world behind you and immerse yourself in the past. Everything about the school is steeped in tradition: The daily routine, the uniforms, the architecture, all have remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years.

The Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School is located right in the heart of the first district, next to the Hofburg, former residence of the Emperor, and coincidentally, just a few steps from one of Adolf Loos’ most famous buildings. The white stallions or “Lipizzaner” of the Riding School have made this their home since the complex was completed in 1735.

Spanish Riding School Visits & Tours

Now, I find that the Spanish Riding School is very much taken at face value in Vienna, meaning that while it has remained unchanged, the institutions to which it was connected and the practical use it provided the country disappeared long ago. So while it is a fabulous and uniquely Austrian spectacle, whenever I visit I have the feeling that there is more to the story than what is on display. So today I want to find out more about how the Riding School came to be and get a closer look at those fabulous Lipizzaner horses. And to do that we are going to take a Behind-the-scenes tour.

For the first few times I visited, I just showed up and bought a ticket assuming there was just one show to see, and I ended up at one of the practice sessions. This is the daily training session in front of an audience, and you will see the distinctive moves and tricks of the Lipizzaners, but some of the horses and riders may be less experienced. And because there is a training aspect to the show, it is less formal. What’s great is that you get to see some of the junior horses in their evolution, and surprising things can happen.

The Spanish Riding School

Once a week there is a gala performance. This is where the best, most experienced horses and riders show their stuff. If you want to see the highest expression of equestrian skill and harmony between horse and rider, you should go to this show.

Finally, there is a tour that explores the architecture of the school and performance arena and takes you into some amazing hidden spaces inaccessible to the general public. That tour we are covering in a future issue, so stay tuned.

The History

The First thing you should know about the Spanish Riding School is that there is no institution like it anywhere in the world. Nowhere else have equestrian skills been preserved and practiced in their original form continuously for over 400 years. So it was only fitting that UNESCO recently declared the Spanish Riding School’s horsemanship a cultural heritage to be protected at all costs for generations to come.

The first mention of the Spanish Riding School was during the Habsburg reign in 1572. This “Haute Ecole” or High School of classical dressage movements evolved from the cavalry and the process of training horses for battle. In the heat of a crowded battlefield a cavalry man often needed to clear some space in order to break away from an enemy. This was accomplished by having your horse jump up vertically with all four legs to distract the enemy, allowing you to then charge off to safety. This being the state of the art in military maneuvering, accomplished riders were often called upon in peace time to perform these difficult maneuvers for guests of the royal court.

The Spanish Riding School

In 1729, Emperor Charles V decided to formalize the event and create a fit-for-the-purpose venue to maximize the political effect of the shows. He commissioned famed baroque architect Fischer von Erlach to build the Winter Riding Hall, which is where the Lipizzaners perform today.

And it is not only the physical structure that harkens back to the building’s origins. What happens in the building is also virtually unchanged. When you attend a practice session or gala show you will notice the riders always stop and tip their hats when they first enter the arena. What they are doing is saluting Emperor Charles V. And since Charles cannot be with us, his painting at the end of the arena stands in for the traditional show of respect.

One question you might ask while attending a performance of the Spanish Riding School is, why is it called the “Spanish” Riding School and not the Austrian one? The Spanish designation comes from the original horses that formed the basis of the Lipizzaner breed.

Back in the 16th century, when the Habsburg dynasty included all of Spain, Archduke Charles II established a stud farm in the village of Lipizza, now in modern-day Slovenia. Here he crossbred Spanish, Barb and Arabian horses producing the foundation of the eight lines of Lipizzaner horses. The horses are now bred at Piber, in Styria, the Spanish Riding School’s stud farm. Since the 1920s Piber has taken care that only stallions which have proven themselves in the arena at Vienna, and specially chosen mares, will parent future generations of the Lipizzaner breed.

It is easy to determine each horse’s lineage while walking through the stables. Above each stall you will notice the horse’s name displayed with its lineage coded right into it. Stallions are given two names, the first referring to the line of the sire and the second the name of the dam.

Arriving early at the stable’s impressive Renaissance courtyard, the morning routine is in full swing. Caretakers are pushing around wheelbarrows loaded with hay, stables are being cleaned, and the horses are getting their special formulated muesli for breakfast while undergoing their morning grooming.

The Spanish Riding School

Stalls around the courtyard are paired up in sets of two. Like rooms with a view they overlook all the action as an endless stream of tourist passes by the glass windows on the opposite side of the courtyard. Each group peers at the other, the horses just as curious as their human onlookers.

The stable has a kind of college dorm feel to it. Each horse and its roommate are usually quite engaged. We run into Stable Master, Mr. Hamminger, and he tells us that he learns each horse’s temperament from a very young age. He gets a feel for who gets along with whom and conversely, which horses cannot stand each other. “If you get the combinations wrong”, says Mr. Hamminger, “it can be a mad house!” He obviously has an innate sense for each horse’s temperament because as you walk along the stalls the atmosphere is positively serene.

The Spanish Riding School

Keeping 62 horses, fed, groomed and trained is quite a job and a small army of helpers and junior apprentice riders are on duty this morning to take care of the prized residents. We chat with one of the caretakers who is grooming the long white mane of a young stallion, getting him ready for his morning turn in the arena. Another caretaker applies a special oil on his hooves for conditioning. The horse is fidgety but is enjoying the attention. “He’s young”, says the caretaker. “He doesn’t yet understand all the hard work he’ll have to do to keep getting the attention”.

Horses are usually sent to Vienna at about the age of four. Training horses to this level is long hard work. It can easily take five or more years to get them ready to publicly perform the signature Lipizzaner moves like the Levade, Courbette, Capriole, and Piaffe. For riders it takes even longer. A rider in training is referred to as an “Eleve” and for them to become accomplished it can take as long as 12 years.

The Spanish Riding School

For almost all the institution’s 400 years the riders have been exclusively men. But in 2008, in a move that could only be called modernization, women were finally invited to enter the training program for riders. Now, after working her way up the ranks, 26-year-old Hanna Zeitlhofer has joined her male colleagues in the performances. With an additional three women “Eleven” currently in the program, it will soon be possible for there to be equal representation of male and female riders in the daily performances.

The Spanish Riding School is by no means an action-packed riding extravaganza. It is a living museum where you can observe the successors of soldiers past, carrying on centuries-old traditions. It is a performance that shows at the highest level the synergy possible between horse and man: a mutual trust displayed between two living beings that enables the two together to accomplish great feats.

Though no longer training for a life-and-death struggle on a battlefield, the beauty and simplicity of white horses flowing through the arena like magical creatures in partnership with their skilled riders is a sight to behold.

The Spanish Riding School

On my first visit to the arena, I enjoyed the show, but knew little of the history and traditions of the institution. My next visit was so much more interesting, having learned about the Spanish Riding School’s fascinating past and having seen the inner workings that maintain this important tradition in the beautiful city of Vienna.


Guided tours are available from May to December. To book a tour, go to; www.srs.at. Morning exercise sessions usually occur Monday through Friday. For times and tickets, go to; www.srs.at. Gala Performances occur on weekends but the schedule is not regular. For dates, times and tickets, go to; www.srs.at.

One note on photography; During the guided tours, photographs, videos or any kind of recording is forbidden. Bearleader received special permission to produce our story.

If your schedule does not permit any of the performances or tours, you can still get a glimpse of the famous horses through the windows along the alleyway between the stables and the arena. If you are lucky you might just see the horses lining up for the show!

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Murals of Brotherly Love

I recently took a trip to Philadelphia. It was a bit of a leap of faith because much of what I know about the city does not really merit taking a trip to see, or see again as the case may be. Yes, I know, it’s the birthplace of America and then later … Sylvester Stallone made a movie which caught the world’s attention, and then he made five more. And sometime in between someone chopped up a steak, covered it with Cheese Whiz and onions, put it in a bun and called it a Philly Cheese Steak. All great stuff, but surely there’s more to Philadelphia than these old stereotypes.

At Bearleader, like a bear to honey, we specialize in sniffing out a destination’s hidden delights and revealing them to our readers. So, confident that Philadelphia had secrets to be revealed, we hit the road to discover its little-known treasures.

Mural: Art for the People

Here is a great thing we found that you have to visit Philadelphia to see. Did you know that aside from being the “city of brotherly love”, Philadelphia is also known as the “world’s largest outdoor art gallery”? It all started back in 1984 when the then Mayor, Wilson Goode, was trying to find a way to combat graffiti, which was blanketing the city. He proposed an anti-graffiti program as a way to channel the energy of young offenders into more productive endeavors.

Mayor Goode enlisted the help of Tim Spencer and artist Jane Golden to create what came to be known as the Murals Art Program, with a modest goal of enticing kids to participate in organized art projects, and away from producing illegal “graffiti”. Giving young graffiti offenders the option of applying their talents to a designated area with the input of the community as opposed to going to jail was an easy choice for the early participants.


Many years later, the Mural Arts Program has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Still under the guidance of Jane Golden, the Mural Arts Program is now the largest employer of artists in the country, with around 300 individuals working on projects throughout the year.

Since 1984, about 3,600 murals have been painted and about 2,000 can be found today in and around Philadelphia, with new ones going up all the time. On our tour we swung by to see one being painted, a large mural on a bare, south-facing wall in the Old City district, and had a chat with the trio of painters.

Taking advantage of one of the last warm autumn days before the season’s end, artist and lead painter Jon Laidackaer was high above the ground marking out a tiny section of the enormous wall he and his fellow artists were slowly working their way across.


Originally from Pittsburgh, Jon moved to Philadelphia ten years ago to participate in the Mural Arts Program. He was also the lead artist on the largest mural produced to date, 85,000 square feet in size and covering a parking garage close to the Philadelphia airport – just for reference, a football field is 57,600 square feet – that’s big!

In many communities the Mural Arts Program murals are treasured and beloved by their residents. This is in large part due to Jane’s early emphasis on engaging with communities to solicit participation in determining the content and, in many cases, actually painting the murals. Community buy-in on projects means that they can easily move forward, having heard and accommodated dissenting voices early in the process.


With a structure of community communication built into the Mural Arts Program’s working process, a side benefit quickly became apparent to Jane’s team. They were on the city’s front lines as de facto government representatives. So when meeting with communities to offer funding for a neighborhood mural, they often would hear about other local issues of concern to the residents. In fact, even within communities there was sometimes little communication, so bringing people together to discuss a mural also became a forum in which to discuss other issues of local concern. In this way the the Mural Arts Program became both a facilitator of change, and a conduit for communication with city government.

With its great success, the Mural Arts Program’s repertoire of production techniques has developed rapidly to accommodate a more inclusive community-based process. Early murals from the ‘80s were produced with conventional acrylic-based paints on surfaces sometimes not conducive to long-term exposure to the elements.


Learning from the past, new murals are produced with much more durability via a variety or innovative techniques. First there is the old-school method of painting directly on a wall, but not with pealing and fade-prone acrylic paint. In its place, a permanent masonry-based paint imported from a Germany is the new standard. This is what Jon and his team were using. Jon says that even the sun-drenched south-facing wall they are currently working on could easily last 30 years without much noticeable fading or damage.

Another technique utilizes a substrate of durable parachute cloth so murals can be produced off site on a horizontal surface and later installed at the designated location. This is great because, as you might imagine, having volunteer artists working high up on scaffolds may not be the best idea. Painting on the ground, everyone can get involved and it can happen year round – another important benefit.

The parachute-cloth technique led to other possibilities. One, the Mural Arts Program program goes into prisons and engages inmates in mural projects. When the murals are later installed around the city they form a point of contact between the incarcerated and their families: a tangible memento of a loved one, inaccessible by any other means.


Which brings me to one of the Mural Arts Program’s most recent projects. The location chosen for this artwork is the Friends Center, headquarters of the Quaker Society in Philadelphia. The Quaker Society has a particular interest in prison reform. Famed artist Shepard Fairey, of Obama-poster fame, was commissioned to do the work. To contextualize his work in the vein of the Quakers’ ethos, Shepard produced a work called “The stamp of incarceration” showing a young woman, Amira Mohamed, who, after being incarcerated for seven years, is now part of a rehabilitation program, and studying to become an architect.

Formally incarcerated individuals often have limited visibility within society so Shepard’s artwork places Amira in the context of a stamp, a representation reserved for those of high achievement in our society. Celebrating individuals like Amira in this format gives voice to their great achievement in turning their lives around, adding weight to the Quakers’ emphasis on restorative justice.


I sometimes think about the 1929 WPA Federal Art Project, which hired hundreds of artists and resulted in over 120,000 paintings, murals and sculptures over its 14 year span. Some of the 20th century’s greatest artists came out of the program and the public benefited greatly from their creative vision. Why, I wonder, couldn’t something like this be done today? Well, in Philadelphia the Murals Art Program is, and to tremendous positive effect. In Jane Golden’s words “Art ignites change”.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To get more information about the work of the Mural Arts program or to make a donation, go to; www.muralarts.org

We recommend you take one of the Mural Arts Program’s tours when you visit Philadelphia. The educators are very knowledgeable and what you pay goes right back into funding more Mural Arts Program Program. Tours run from Aril to late November. www.muralarts.org/tour

In case you want to check out the murals on your own there are a couple of different routes to consider. Check out these walks you can do all year round. www.muralarts.org/mural-mile-walking-tour

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Ham House

On the bank of the Thames in Richmond, a short distance from Central London is Ham House, one of the most unique and atmospheric houses in England. This rare gem is widely recognized as the most intact and “original” 17th century building in Europe. And as is the case with buildings left to their own devices for hundreds of years, some think this house has fallen under the spell of some previous inhabitants, that it is haunted. But lets not veer off into lore, let’s look at the history.

Ham House was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavsour, Knight Marshal to James I. For those uninitiated, James I succeeded Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor rulers, and star of the movie “Elizabeth”. And we also know of James I through his “King James Bible” fame.

After King James’ passing the house went to his son Charles I, who leased it to his good friend and former whipping boy, William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart.

And what, pray tell, is a whipping boy? Because kings were understood to be appointed by God and therefore divine, no one other than the king was worthy to administer punishment to a prince. And since kings played no role in a prince’s upbringing, dealing with any wayward behavior fell to a prince’s tutor for whom it could be potentially perilous to deal out punishment.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

So, the ever-practical monarchy developed a workaround. A young lad of high rank was picked to grow up with a prince, to be his playmate and confidant, and to take his punishment. Having forged a strong emotional bond with his playmate, a prince would have found it hard to endure his best friend taking his punishment, and, hopefully, would behave well in order to avoid the emotional trauma.

Charles and William were so close that Ham House was given to William and his descendants for life, a rare event, as after death, property given by a king is supposed to revert back to the Crown.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

Later during the Civil War, William, in a shrewd move, transferred the house’s title to his wife Catherine in order to save it from being later sequestrated by Cromwell’s new government. After spending some time locked up in the Tower of London, William joined the court in Exile in Paris. Catherine, however stayed in London, and being quite the political operator herself, managed to maintain ownership of the house.

After Catherine’s death, the beheading of Charles I, and Cromwell taking power, the house was claimed by Parliament and sold. It seemed that Ham House’s luck had finally run out.

Catherine and William’s eldest daughter Elizabeth was, like her mother, a shrewd and independent woman. At the insistence of her father, she received the best of educations in mathematics, languages and science. Education for a woman at the time was extremely uncommon and learning of this caliber unheard of. But this allowed Elizabeth to hold her own in the tumultuous political landscape of the day. Not willing to let Ham House go she secretly commissioned a third party to act on her behalf, and thus managed to buy the house from Parliament and move back in.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

In an extraordinary display of her brilliant political maneuvering, Elizabeth entertained Cromwell at Ham House while she was secretly advancing the Royalist cause of Cromwell’s enemies with her husband, Lionel Tollemache. They were members of a secret society plotting to restore Britain’s monarchy, called the Sealed Knot. And it eventually happened. Monarchy was restored and Charles II became king. For Elizabeth’s loyal service Charles bestowed her with a lifetime pension.

So you can see that it’s a miracle the house stands today essentially unchanged. Without all these small quirks in history and the individuals who drove them, Ham House would certainly be an empty shell or worse, and not the special looking glass reflecting back to 17th century Britain that it is today.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

There are several magnificent aspects to the house.

Upon entering the Great Hall check out the distinctive black and white checkered marble floor. But don’t linger there. Head up the grand wooden staircase which was commissioned by Catherine and William when they took ownership. Here from the upper floor gallery you will see the Great Hall to best effect.

Without all these small quirks in history and the individuals who drove them, Ham House would certainly be an empty shell or worse …

On the second floor don’t miss the miniature collection in the “Green closet”. The green closet is actually a small room wrapped in green fabric off the “Long hall”. The miniature collection is the largest accumulation of miniatures of one family, and is largely intact. Usually you will find a volunteer on duty in the room so have your questions ready. They really know their stuff.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

Stroll leisurely through the upper rooms and then make your way downstairs again. In a small cozy room at the far end of the house there is a lovely small white crackled teapot on display. A fine example of Chinese Dongkhe ware and it is thought to have belonged to the Duchess.

The kitchen and Still House below stairs are especially interesting. Elizabeth was a talented and knowledgeable herbalist producing many ointments for herself and family members, remedies which might have contributed to her unusually old age of 72. She also brewed her own ale, which she supplied to staff, heading off sickness due to water-borne bacteria common in the day.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

Also downstairs you will find one of the oldest purpose-built bathrooms in England.

Once outside, look for the wall containing a gallery of busts of Roman emperors, and just around the corner from that you will find the entrance to the Duchess’ private Cherry Garden. Here amongst the domes of lavender and santolina focusing on a statue of Bacchus, the god of wine, the Duchess and her private guests would have “taken the air” away from the bustling activities of the house.

Near the house are the “working” gardens where the estate grew its own produce. The National Trust, which has maintained the house since the 1950s, has restored the original beds with plants dating back to the 17th century. The day of our visit I met one of the several gardeners who told me that they use seed from a few select purveyors who specialize in heritage seeds, and are diligent in maintaining the gardens in their original state.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

The Orangery boarders the working gardens and Ham House has converted this building into a cafe serving a great selection of soup, sandwiches and cakes all made on the premises and using produce from the gardens. Of all the National Trust food establishments I have visited this was by far the best, so count on enjoying a great lunch at Ham House.

On the way out we were saying goodbye to one of the volunteers. It was about closing time and just before we left she said “let me show you something”. She produced a large ornate key. Amazingly, it’s the original key and there is only one copy. This is a fitting wrap up for our great day at Ham House. Seldom will you find a place so complete in its architecture and all the bits and pieces that fill a space when it is lived in, right down to the key that has locked the door every night since 1610.


For details on how to visit Ham House in Richmond, go to; www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Corine’s Menagerie

Wandering the halls of great museums I often wonder what it must have been like to visit the studio of an Old Master and talk to them about their work. Maybe even buy a piece to bequeath to my descendants.

Well, old masters may be off the table, but new masters are well within the realm of possibility. And what better place than Paris to track down great and inspiring artists. Today I am heading to the 15th Arrondissement to meet artist Corine Perier at her studio and home. I came across Corine’s work online and loved seeing her regular updates. So I contacted her and arranged a studio visit.

She suggested we meet at a small corner cafe close to her house. The 15th is the largest Arrondissement and not traditionally on the tourist route. But there is some great stuff here. We arrived early so we could check out is the Parc Andre Citroen, built on the site of the former Citroen Automobile manufacturing plant. It encompasses about 35 acres and is built around a large rectangular lawn with a modern Greenhouse on either side. Definitely a fun side trip if you are looking for something new to do in Paris

Corine arrives and we set off to her studio through the small winding streets of the 15th. We learn that she was born in the 15th and has lived here her whole life. Her most recent residence is a modern flat in a building run by the Parisian municipality where she lives with her husband and two kids. A few years ago when she started painting full time she converted part of the flat into her studio.


Corine studied Art History and after graduation began a career as an art restorer where she had an opportunity to learn close up the painting techniques of the old masters. I guess Corine has done me one better in my fantasy of visiting old masters in their studios. At least in terms of technique, Corine has really gotten to know some of the greatest painters close up.

Painting on wood panels and applying the oil paint in many thin layers in the style of the Flemish old masters, Corine’s fanciful creatures have a dimensionality that makes them stand apart from their environments. As with the Flemish masters, Corine finishes each work with a glossy smooth layer which brightens the colors and brings her curious subjects to life.


We make ourselves at home in the studio and have a coffee as we look around. Corine’s fantastical little creatures keep a watchful eye on us from their perches. Their expressions are so animated, you feel like they want to be part of the conversation. My favorite piece was a portrait of strong-willed, serious-looking ram who travels in the clouds with a cheeky bird catching a ride on his head, an hourglass in his beak. A menagerie of birds, wildcats, and goat are just a few of Corine’s conjured friends that share the studio and home with the Perier family.


Corine’s imaginative work is truly unique and she is one of my favorite Parisian artists. On your next trip to Paris plan on bringing home one of Corine’s masterpieces for your collection.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To schedule an appointment with Corine and her fantastic friends, go to; www.corineperier.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Dennis Severs’ House

Peter Ackroyd, the British writer and critic, said of the Dennis Severs House, “The journey through the house becomes a journey through time; with its small rooms and hidden corridors, its whispered asides and sudden revelations, it resembles a pilgrimage through life itself”. The journey Ackroyd describes aptly represents the mysterious path each visitor takes through 18 Folgate Street in the East End of London.

The house is a veritable puzzle of real and constructed stories lain over one another so that the edge of one melts into another, blurring the boundaries of reality and imagination. You become implicated just by entering into Dennis’ world. To enter is to become, in some magical way, part of another story that is uniquely your own. The conspicuous absence of Dennis and the inhabitants he so carefully nurtured has created a vacuum which you are easily drawn into.

Dennis Severs

First there is the story of Dennis Severs himself. Born in Southern California in the small town of Escondido, Dennis became fascinated by all things English, especially the London light, or as some may say the lack thereof. He saved up money and in 1965, right after graduating from high school, he set out for London, where he remained until his death in 1999.

Intending to study law, Dennis enrolled in University only to change his mind shortly after and pursue a series of odd jobs. One of them, which was surely formative, saw Dennis driving horse and carriage tours through London while taking up residence in the carriage house.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

It wasn’t until 1979 that he bought the house at 18 Folgate Street. And he was not alone in staking out territory in this area. Gilbert and George, famed British artists, became his neighbors and for a long time they were the only pioneers in that part of London. The area was run down and neglected, but, in large part because of neglect, the properties in the neighborhood maintained their original details.

One would typically set about renovating a house like this to bring it up to modern standards – at least install electricity and plumbing, as the house had none. But Dennis had other plans. He moved in immediately without any conveniences and started living like the fictitious Huguenot Jervis family who purportedly built the house in 1724.

The Jervises

Here is where the second story starts to emerge. The Jervis family were French protestant silk weavers who came to London and made it their home. Upon arrival they changed their name from the French “Gervais” to the easier and more English sounding “Jervis”.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Dennis conjured up the family to tell the story of the house through their lives and times. Over the years he added layer on layer to each of the ten rooms of the house, creating representations of the time and tastes of the Jervis family. With meticulous attention to detail, Dennis built up the everyday lives of the family, even down to the food they ate.

When Dennis started giving his famous nighttime tours, visitors would be dazzled by the succession of candlelit rooms, the smell of the Jervis’ meal still half consumed on the table, the fireplace crackling, and Mr Jervis’ pipe, quickly set aside as if he had to attend to something elsewhere and left the room moments before guests had arrived. He created a script for the house where each room was a scene in his own movie. Dennis coined the term “still-life drama” to describe his creation. His goal was to provide visitors with a rare opportunity to become lost in another time.

Initially, highbrow academics frowned on Dennis’ constructed fantasies as they were not factual, but reflected emotional connections to the past. But nowadays Dennis’ ideas have come into vogue through a general recognition that a certain amount of theatrics is important, or necessary, to engage the public in history by bringing the past back to life.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

On the day we arrived at 18 Folgate Street to meet the Jervises, our host David Milne had already woken up the house in preparation for our visit. A fire was crackling in the kitchen, candles lit, and even though it was a sunny day outside the house was blanketed in a kind of twilight haze. Shutters were partially opened for the light, but not too wide as it was a cold day and too much window exposure lets the heat from the fireplace escape.

The Jervises had apparently entertained in the parlor the night before and had made a late night of it. The remnants of the evening’s food and libations littered the parlor table. It looked like great fun. I wish we had come earlier.

Walking through the dim candlelit rooms on a bright sunny London morning, I better understood the character of Hogarth’s London society scenes and realized that there was not much artistic license taken in those paintings. They were true-to-life in their depiction of London domestic interiors of the day.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Dennis’ house now is operated by a trust, with David Milne continuing Dennis’ life work. It’s wonderful to watch David lovingly arranging little bits here and there; a bowl with rose petals sitting on a dresser, a half finished meal on a table with a few mussels left on the plate, and playing cards left on a table in mid-game. The smoky fireplace in the top floor has left a haze in the room and the bed is still unmade. It is a very intimate scene but you never feel like an intruder. You are always part of the story as it continues along.

The Marvels

A third story surrounding the house is now just starting to take root. Brian Selznick, illustrator and author of the bestsellers, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, was so taken in by his visit to the Dennis Severs House that he made it a character in his new book, “The Marvels”. We got an advanced copy at our office in New York and were thrilled to read Selznick’s tale woven around such an intriguing place. Being advocates of experience-based travel, it is great to see a travel destination inspire such a fascinating piece of literature.

Selznick’s story takes place in the 1990s and chronicles the experiences of Joseph, who runs away from school, finding himself in the puzzling house of his estranged uncle in London. The book captures the nature of family, not necessary the one we are born with but the wider one we acquire during our lifetime. If you don’t have an opportunity to travel for a while, The Marvels takes you on a great trip from the comfort of your home. We recommend it.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Selznick’s and Severs’ stories are woven throughout the book. After reading The Marvels it’s clear that Selznick and Severs are kindred spirits with Selznick acting as an ambassador for Dennis’ story. Although the two storytellers never had the opportunity to meet, they have both come to share the same house through the tales they have spun.

On my way out I catch a glimpse of two well-worn New York Yankees baseball caps in the hallway, notable because they are the only modern thing I have seen on my three hour tour. I chuckled at the visual disjuncture and David responded, “Dennis wore one of those every day. We keep them there where he left them”.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Stepping out onto the front steps David sends me on my way. It was now lunch time in the busy Spitalfields district with people rushing through the old cobblestone streets. The modern world was a bit shocking and I wished I could retreat back to Dennis and David’s 18th century for just a little while longer.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To book a tour of Dennis Severs House, go to; www.dennissevershouse.co.uk. Plan ahead, the house cannot take many visitors and tours tend to book up fast. With the “the Marvels” now on sale it will soon be an even more popular destination.

Pick up a copy of “The Marvels” Here.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Surprising Nuremberg

How many of you have Nuremberg on your list of must-visit holiday spots? For me it is way up there on my Christmas holiday list with its world renowned Christmas market and great holiday events. Actually, there is probably no better place to be at Christmas. But I must confess that outside of the holiday season it was not in my top 10. So when I got an invitation to visit from the local tourism board, I jumped at the chance to see what’s going on in Nuremberg the rest of the year. And what a surprise!

Two Days in Nuremberg

At Christmas time the market on the main square is such a draw that you really don’t have much time left to look elsewhere. And that’s too bad because, as we discovered, Nuremberg has way more to offer.

I am a studier, so the first thing I do when preparing to visit a place to check out the stats. It is usually not for sharing, just a method to find my way into a place. But Nuremberg has fascinating stats, so it seems worthwhile sharing:

– The city of Nuremberg has just shy of a half million inhabitants, and another 3.5 million in the larger metropolitan area. That’s a good sized city. In addition, the city is large area-wise, and to cover all that ground, Nuremberg has a great transportation system. It is easy and inexpensive to get around.

– Nuremberg is today the biggest exporter of ginger bread, and way back in the 13th century this delicious treat was being baked in the city by specialized guilds. Nuremberg is a crossroads city and trade routes from the east found their first trading opportunity in Europe when they arrived there. So spices were readily available in Nuremberg, but remained rare in most other places.

– In the 15th century Erhard Etzlaub, a compass maker by trade, came up with a great marketing idea. He developed the first “Romweg” or “The Way to Rome” map. This is the first European road map and the thing that eventually led to the Google map you may use to get around today. Etzlaub’s map was used by pilgrims heading to the Christian capital and included information on accommodations and places to eat along the way. He got his data from the traders that traveled to and from Rome regularly. And just like Google, Etzlaub updated his map regularly.


– Around the 17th century the first clarinet was developed in Nuremberg in the small workshop of Christoph Denner. Today Nuremberg has an impressive classical music program which is especially active in the summer months.

– In 1875 Nuremberg was one of the first major European cities to get electrical street lighting. All that trading going on in the city made lots of money which enabled investment in the latest technology.

– The cough drop was invented in Nuremberg, the first one being made in 1923 by Dr. Carl Soldan. The drops were branded as Em-Eukal and are still on sale today. They were likely used by Henry Kissinger who was born in the adjacent town of Fuerth, where he lived until 1938 when he fled the Nazis for American shores.

– In 1924, 16 years after the American company Converse invented the modern sports shoe, two bothers from the adjacent town of Herzogenaurach got on the bandwagon and started their own sports shoe company. It did not go well and the brothers started feuding. The company broke up and each started their own company. The competition that followed between Adidas and Puma has fueled constant innovation ever since.


– In 1927 all the things that had made Nuremberg such a successful and vibrant city became its downfall. Hitler loved the city and chose it as the centre of his Third German Reich. When Hitler was voted into office in 1933, Nuremberg became the centre of all Aryan ideas and the Nuremberg laws, stripping Jewish citizens of their German citizenship, were initiated. In the end, because all the strife started in Nuremberg, the allied forces chose Nuremberg as the location to put the Nazi leadership on trial. The place of the Third Reich’s origin became the location of its end.

One of the first things that caught my attention when we arrived on the train was a postcard, half in black and white showing a heavily bombed Nuremberg, and on the bottom was the beautiful vibrant Nuremberg you see today. It made me think how far the community has come in order to look beyond that dark period and rebuild with the vibrant open energy you experience today.

We picked a hotel a bit above the main square so we could explore the old town without too much hill climbing. Parts of Nuremberg are pretty steep! We stayed at a lovely, newly-opened boutique hotel called Hotel Elch. The building has been in the lodging business since 1342, so staying at Elch you are walking in the steps of traders and pilgrims from many centuries past. You will not, however, suffer any of the inconveniences they likely faced. The rooms are completely modern and equipped with all the amenities.

1 Kaiser Burg

A short walk up from Hotel Elch is the Kaiser Burg, the imperial castle of Nuremberg. Early records indicate that the first parts of the building were constructed around 1050. Major building works did not start until a century later during the reign of King Conrad III in 1140.

In the 13th century Nuremberg became an Imperial free zone, a major turn of events because free cities at that time enjoyed more autonomy and had only the emperor to report to. That made trading, tax collection and administration a lot easier and more lucrative.


Along with the new freedom came responsibility for the castle’s building works and maintenance. And during this period the castle grew substantially in size with many out-buildings, towers and moats being added. The castle today, quite literally, towers over the city. The large “Luginsland” or the “look into the land” tower was, when built, the largest structure anyone had seen.

During WWII the castle was mostly destroyed leaving only the Roman Chapel and the Sinwell Tower intact. But like much of Nuremberg, the castle was reconstructed to appear as if nothing happened. Without the benefit of the numerous before-after postcards in souvenir shops around town you would never know that it was ever destroyed.


We roamed the castle for several hours navigating the maze of hallways with hordes of happy school children. Clearly this is a popular field trip destination.

Feeling a bit peckish after our castle wanderings we hop on a bus and head to our next destination just a few stops away.

2 Cafe Wohlleben

In Germany there is a kind of cafe known as a Konditorei. Traditionally it was the place you would go to for coffee and cake, or as the locals say “Kaffee und Kuchen”. As convenience and chain stores take over more and more space on city streets, the traditional Konditorei is not as prevalent as it used to be.


Cafe Wohlleben owner Alexander Hilderbrandt is putting a new spin on the tradition, bringing it up to date with an extraordinary emphasis on the “Kuchen” part of the business. His beautiful and delectable creations make an afternoon break a real special event. And heading up the “cafe” part of the experience is barista Sarah Schweizer. Her coffee brews are just as special as the sweets they accompany. And the two together are a dream. Quite an upgrade from the old filter coffee and Bundt cake which is standard Konditorei fare.

With an eclectic mix of antiques and modern elements, Cafe Wohlleben has been assembled with an eye towards the Konditorei tradition. During our visit patrons streamed in: elegant German ladies, young students, a group of office colleagues, a real diverse crowd all joined by their common interest in coffee cake and sweets.

Now well-nourished and with plenty of calories to burn, we hop on a streetcar and head for the centre of town.

3 The Lorenz District

We head through town on the Königstraße, the old road that carves a path from the train station up to the main square. Not far from the station we head off into a small courtyard called “Handwerkerhof“, or the Craftsman centre. Here you can find an array of quaint old shops reminiscent of the medieval village that Nuremberg used to be. Most of the stores specialize in local arts and crafts so it is a great place to find small handmade gifts authentic to Nuremberg.

Along with the local crafts you can also experience the local cuisine here. In the middle of all the shops there’s a “Bratwursthaeusle” or “sausage house” called Bratwurst Gloecklein. It is a lovely old-style setting and often less busy than the other Bratwursthaeusle up next to the main square. It is almost obligatory to try the famous “Sechs auf Kraut” (six Nuernberger Sausages with cabbage salad). Aside from the fact that they do not serve much else other than the six sausage dish, they are really good.


Fun food fact: The “Nuernberger” sausage is a trademarked object for its size, shape and ingredients, and can only be served in even numbers. Those Nuernbergers are very serious about their sausages.

Just beyond the courtyard the scene changes from medieval to futuristic. Nuremberg’s New Museum opened in 2000, designed by Berlin Architect Volker Staab. It is nestled in-between older buildings and its striking modernism makes it eye-catching by contrast. In its 33,000 square feet of space it houses contemporary art, sculpture, video and design.


The side of the museum opens to a courtyard and the vast glass wall reflects the old buildings across the way. This makes it fit right in with the surrounding medieval buildings in an odd-modern-gleaming kind of way.

Now we make our way through the city towards Hauptmarkt, the main square. Crossing the Pegnitz River we avoid the main bridge and take the pedestrian bridges that cross the western tip of Trodelmarkt Island. This is a great place to see the river from a lower vantage point. And as a bonus you walk right by the Henkersturm, “The house of the hangman”. I guess no one wanted to live next to this guy so he was stuck out in the river on an island.

At the Hauptmarkt there is a market every day and of course this is the site of the famous Christmas market. Walking through the square there is an abundance of food carts and we taste our way from one side of the market to the other, trying all sorts of foods from cheeses to crepes to gingerbreads.

If you are lucky to be at Hauptmark at the stroke of noon go over to the main church on the square, the Frauenkirche. There you will witness the famous “Maennleinlauf” or “men running”. When the clock strikes noon, look up at the clock tower to see seven life-sized Archdukes shuttle pass Kaiser Karl.

4 Hausbrauerei

Reinhard Engel is the owner and brewmaster of Hausbrauerei Altstadthof. In 1984 Reinhard decided that he wanted to create a new kind of small-scale brewery using only the purest local ingredients. Nowadays we hear a lot about organic, sustainable micro brewing, but in the 1980s this was nearly unheard of. Reinhard was a pioneer and had his microbrewery running years before it occurred to anyone else that this might be a good idea. Now whenever a microbrewery starts somewhere in the world, it is likely that the brewers call Reinhard first to learn how it’s done.

Reinhard took us down into the heart of the operation. It’s just a few steps from his pub so when you drink at Hausbrauerei it really could not be any fresher. The traditional copper kettles he uses are really old school. From the brewing room he took us down into the tunnels underneath the city where Reinhard stores his barrels taking advantage of the constant temperature.


I would not call myself an expert on beer. It is not really my drink of choice, but when in Rome… Reinhard offered me one of his specialty brews, the Rotbier (red beer). I definitely could taste the difference. It is very smooth with a delicate touch of hops and a dark copper color.

Before our departure Reinhard made a quick detour to give us a peek into his latest venture, a micro whiskey distillery. Apparently it is not a drastically different process to distill whiskey than it is to brew beer, so a few years ago Reinhard decide to give it a try. And now the first barrels are just about ready to go.

There are regular tours of the operation so you learn all about micro brewing. And next door is a great little shop with nice gifts and treats to buy for all your beer loving friends and family members.

5 Docu Centre

The next morning we walk down to the train station, board a street car and journey out of the center to the Southern district of Nuremberg. Today we are visiting the infamous Documentation Centre and Nazi Party Rally Ground. The Museum, or Docu Centre as it is called, is located in the North wing of the former congress hall designed by the National Socialists party to house 50,000 spectators. Its unfinished state gives it an eerie ominous feeling.


Inaugurated in 1994 The Docu Centre was designed by Austrian Architect Guenther Domenig who himself had a family connection with the institution’s subject matter. His father was a judge during the Nazi regime.

At around 45,000 square feet, the permanent exhibition is titled “Fascination and Terror”. The exhibition takes you step by step through the complex social events that led up the creation of the Nazi party, its brutal exploitation of the population, the war, and the final reckoning at the Nuremberg trials.

The presentation is dense with detailed information and illustrated with artifacts and the copious documentation generated by the Nazis themselves. What I found interesting, and at the same time chilling, is that by looking at events that occurred in Nuremberg step-by-step, you can better understand how small actions accumulating over time can easily lead to such a horrific result. Each step in itself can seem relatively benign but they have a momentum that builds up and becomes unstoppable.

I would recommend everyone make to visit the Docu Centre to get perspective on these horrendous events. The retelling of this story is applicable to current events and is worth pondering to better recognize the danger signs when events are carrying us along.

Take advantage of the headsets on offer which will really help to navigate the dense and sometimes difficult subject matter.

Although ending on a somber note, this was a great trip and Nuremberg really surprised us in the variety and breadth of experiences it offered. We did not have time to see all that we wanted but we will certainly be back for another visit soon to take in more.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


We suggest a visit to the tourist office when you arrive in Nuremberg. You can get lots of useful tips and find out about their latest special offers. It is located close to the train station and the staff is very helpful. For more information go to; tourismus.nuernberg.de

Many thanks to the lovely Hotel Elch for hosting our stay. To arrange accommodation at Hotel Elch, go to; hotel-elch.eu

For more information about the Imperial Castle, go to: kaiserburg-nuernberg.de

For more information about Cafe Wohlleben, visit their FaceBook page:

For more information about Neues Museum, go to; nmn.de

For more information about Handwerkerhof Nuremberg, go to; handwerkerhof.de

For more information about Hausbrauerei, go to; hausbrauerei-altstadthof.de

For more information about Bratwurst Glöcknern im Handwerkerhof, go to; die-nuernberger-bratwurst.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Post Socialism in a Blue Skoda

Having recently ventured as far east as Vienna, it seemed a shame not to take the opportunity to go all the way “east” to Bratislava, and cross the borders that really divided east from west for much of the 20th century in this part of Europe. Time for some good old Soviet nostalgia.

The last time I was in Bratislava was just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, so I expected the city of today would be much changed from the exuberant city I last saw freshly opened up to the west.

One Day in Bratislava

From Vienna it’s a surprisingly short trip down the Danube to Bratislava. Near the center of Vienna you can board a catamaran that will ferry you directly to the center of Bratislava in just a little over an hour.

Planning my itinerary, I wanted to stay away from the fake trolley cars that take hordes of tourists through the old part of town. I was looking for a way to meet locals and find out how their world has changed since the fall of communism.

I came across a great company called Authentic Slovakia that specializes in off-the-beaten-track tours in and around Bratislava, showing the city’s past and its more recent developments.

I emailed them and quickly got a message back from Brano, one of the two brothers who own the company, suggesting that we meet him at SNP Square. We would recognize him by the blue vintage Skoda he drives.

SNP Square is the biggest public space in the city. The plaza was built to commemorate the 1944 Uprising by the people of Slovakia against the Slovak government and its collaboration with Germany in World War II.

Traditionally, when a large crowd gathers for political rallies or celebrations of local sporting victories, SNP Square is the place. But the last sporting victory was the ice hockey championship in 2002 so these days it is usually pretty low key.


While we waited, we wandered around the grouping of looming-dark statues at the center of the square which symbolize the people of the uprising. But soon we caught sight of the bright blue Skoda with Brano behind the wheel.

Brano greeted us in perfect English. In fact most of the young people we met spoke perfect English and usually several other languages, too. Brano gave us a bit of an introduction for what to expect during our four hour “Post Socialism” tour, and we were off!

Brano’s Skoda is completely authentic with all its original details. The perfect vehicle to set the scene for the tour. The sound and smell of the car immediately takes you back, the characteristic put-put-put-put sound is classic. The car belonged to Brano’s grandfather who took great care of it, as having a car during communism was a real luxury.


We quickly zig-zagged up through hilly neighborhoods rising above downtown and into the more posh areas. Here modern architecture is mixed in with wonderful turn of the century and Art Deco villas.

Brano pulled over in front of an ‘80s era apartment building with a large fancy sign over the entrance saying “Bonaparte”. He began to explain that a lot of politicians live around here … and then all of a sudden we hear a “tap-tap-tap” on the window. An imposing plainclothes security guy wants to know what we’re doing here.

Unaccustomed to being questioned on public streets I first thought “this must be part of the tour” to demonstrate the way the state made its presence felt in everyday life. Then I thought, “No, this is too real. Are we going to end up in some secret security office never to be seen again?” I think I have read one too many John Le Carre spy novels. In truth, we really had attracted the attention of some local security personnel and it felt very “Soviet”, adding a nice ominous tone to Brano’s descriptions of Bratislava’s past.


With a bit of back and forth Brano seemed to put the guard at ease, he retreated and we were on our way again. Brano joked, “We are famous. We were on TV the other day and he remembers us”. Thank goodness for the power of TV.

Next we arrived at Slavin, a large memorial and military cemetery overlooking the city. The site is awkwardly located atop an area of expensive real estate, adjacent to several international embassies including the American one. It’s the burial ground for over 6,000 Russian Soldiers that fell during World War II. Built in the late ‘50s by the Russians in a classic Stalinist style, it is monumental, complete with looming statues posted around the square. Quite chilling even on a sunny afternoon.

It was deserted except for some kids playing in the far corner. But a great place to survey the city. Brano pointed out how the city has changed over the last 60 years and had with him historic photos taken from the same spot to illustrate.


Back in the car we sped off to our next stop, Gottka Square, named after the first communist president of Czechoslovakia, Clement Gottwald. It was officially renamed Namestie Slobody (Freedom Square) in 1989, but the new name never caught on. Everyone still calls it “Gottka”.

The 200 by 200 meter square has at its center a huge defunct fountain, a 9 meter tall representation of a linden flower. Slightly unkempt and overgrown with weeds and grass, people were still enjoying the sunny fall day occupying some of the old benches, obviously original to the square’s rigid design. We hopped back into the little Skoda and Brano headed off to our next destination.

Just over the Danube is an area called Petržalka. Also known as the Bronx of Bratislava, is famous as the largest public housing project of its time, the location of the oldest theatre in the country, and has a notoriously high crime rate and the highest suicide rate in Slovakia. Sounds depressing but to drive through it is amazingly monumental in its monotony.


Construction began in the ’70s and for a long time it was its own town. Eventually it merged with the city of Bratislava and is now connected by five bridges. Over 100,000 people live in the development and in the last few years things have greatly improved, with the crime rate now about on par with rest of the country.

Built in a classic Eastern Bloc style of pre-cast concrete panels, different buildings have been color coded so people can better find their way around the endless procession of virtually identical buildings. The place felt like a set for a ’70s Sci-fi movie. “Surreal” is how I would describe the feeling you get while you drive through the area.

Then abruptly, it all ends and you are at the edge of no-man’s land at the border with Austria. We stopped next to an old guard bunker just as a group of Austrian senior citizens zoomed across the border on their bicycles.


The juxtaposition really brought home what a different world it is now. We drove along the country roads that used to be lined with fences, barbed wire and guard towers, and soldiers on both sides with guns pointing east and west. Now it’s all gone or in ruins. The only thing left are two small stones set in the ground marking where Slovakia ends and Austria begins. All those years of intrigue and misery reduced to two stones in the ground.

On our way back across the Danube to the old part of town, the sun was setting. Brano dropped us off with a parting gift of some authentic ’70s Slovakian waffle candies called “Horalky”. A great end to our drive through the recent history of Bratislava.


We only had a day in Bratislava and saw a lot, but there is much more there to discover. We will definitely be back. Maybe next time to try one of Authentic Slovakia’s popular Wine and Hiking tours.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To book a tour with Authentic Slovakia, go to; www.authenticslovakia.com. In the summer months they are very busy so make sure you book well ahead of time. If you have a larger group, they can drive you in the Skoda van. We didn’t get to try out the van but it looked like a fun ride.

If you have some time left after your tour, swing by the Bratislava Transport Museum. It is housed in an old train station and you can see tons of Skoda motorcycles and cars. The staff is a bit off-putting and not a lot of people are around, but that just adds to the obscure feel of the place. www.slovakia.travel

If you are traveling from Vienna, we recommend taking the Twin City Liner. It leaves Vienna from the dock near Schwedenplatz. book ahead of time as tickets are cheaper purchased in advance. We were graciously invited by the Twin City Liner for our cruse down the Danube to Bratislava. Book your tickets here; www.twincityliner.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Amsterdam Recommended

We are off to see what’s new in Amsterdam. I love this city, the people are open and friendly, the food is great, it has some of the best art in the world, everyone rides a bike … I could go on and on. So when the City of Amsterdam invited Bearleader to come up and see what’s currently going on, we jumped at the chance.

We firmly believe that the character of a place is mostly down to its people, so what better way to convey what’s going on than to talk to locals. With a bit of research and some recommendations from our friends, we arranged a few meet-ups with some movers and shakers to talk to them about what makes Amsterdam special.

Tijdmakers &
Eau d’Amsterdam

Business partners Saskia Hoogendoorn and Lieuwe Martijn Wijnands are the creative force behind the design agency Tijdmakers (Time makers). They are kind of a local think tank that explores creative ways to influence the public’s experience of the environment through art and installation.

We arranged to meet at de Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat, a great little place where locals hang out, meet friends and colleagues and sip coffee while tapping away on their computers. The pastries on offer are lovely and they serve a great cup of coffee. At the time we arranged to meet it was raining, and in true Amsterdamer rain-or-shine fashion, Saskia and Martijn arrived on their bikes.

Many of their projects are internally generated so Saskia and Martijn have become quite adept at not only coming up with great ideas, but also the more daunting job of organizing the logistics that make their projects come to life. Dreaming is one thing, but what is great about Tijdmakers is that they know how to make their dreams come to fruition. And being somewhat of a creative instigator myself, I admire Saskia and Martijn for their ability to drive their dreams into reality.

One of their latest ideas was to create the first ever municipal scent. Thus was born “Eau d’Amsterdam” the official perfume of Amsterdam. And what is the smell of Amsterdam? Ask any Amsterdamer and you will likely get a blank stare. But there is a familiar scent in the air and it took Tijdmakers to track it down.


As it turns out, it’s the trees, or the Elm trees to be exact. Lots of cities have a particular tree that has been chosen to adorn the streets for practical and aesthetic reasons. There is the “Berlin unter den Linden”, Paris has its “Plane” tree and Amsterdam has the Elm. In fact the old trees of Amsterdam are designated a Unesco World Heritage.

Amsterdam has about 75,000 Elms, some of them as old as 100 years. The first Elms were planted around 1662 and they were held in high regard from the start. The punishment for damaging them could be your right hand.

Saskia tells us the perfume was created by famed Amsterdam “nose” Tanja Deurloo from Annindriya, in cooperation with IFF. They carefully studied the wood, leaves and blossoms to create an interpretation of the city’s Elm-derived essence. The moment Eau Amsterdam hits your nose there’s an “Ah-ha! That IS the smell of the Elms!” Strong and earthy with a flowery feel, the scent ages well on your skin.

The original idea behind the project was to raise awareness of the city’s trees and their importance to Amsterdam life. It also supports another of Sakia and Martijn’s projects, the Amsterdam Spring Snow Festival started three years ago.

The Spring Snow Festival takes place when the 75,000 Elms are in bloom, April 21 – May 21. The blossoms are so prevalent that they blanket Amsterdam’s streets. If it weren’t so warm you would definitely think it was snowing.

The perfume comes in a wonderful dark green glass bottle with an antique style bulb atomizer. I was especially intrigued by the packaging. Saskia tells me the image on the box is a painting by 18th century Haarlem painter Hendrik Keun, and shows a large elm tree on Keizersgracht at Molenpad. The painting was produced around 1775.

To see some of the oldest Elm trees in Amsterdam like the ones in Hendrik Keun’s painting, make your way to Oude Schans, across from houses 72, 58 and 29.

Until meeting Saskia and Martijn I must confess I had not really paid much attention to the trees lining the canals. But for the rest of our trip I could not stop thinking about them. Well done Tijdmakers! Mission accomplished.

Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen & Cottoncake

The De Oude Pijp (The Pipe) district of Amsterdam, sometimes referred to as Amsterdam’s “Quartier Latin”, was the traditional home of poor artists and students. Now it’s a popular area to live, full of interesting restaurants and concept stores alongside a great market and “moeder & pop” shops that continue to do a good trade. This is also the neighborhood of Israeli-born artist Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen, and her studio called Happy Red Fish.

After walking the local De Oude Pijp street market on Albert Cuypstraatwe, we headed over to the concept store Cottoncake Cafe on van der Helststraat where Hagar recommended we meet. This white-box concept store is an eclectic mix of clothing, cake, jewelry and coffee. An odd mix that has attracted a loyal following of locals and it’s one of Hagar’s favorite places hang out.

After marrying a Dutchman, Hagar and her husband moved to Amsterdam, which she now calls home. The medium for her creative work is common sewing thread, but her work is anything but common. She transforms existing photographs using layer after layer of colored thread adding depth and texture and expanding the context of the original image.


Clearing away our coffee and cake we made room for Hagar’s books which she uses to protect the work. I could not help thinking of how I used to press flowers in books and the excitement I had each time I would check back to see how the flattened botanicals were developing. Hagar’s works have a kind of flattened dimensionality that seems at home pressed into large tomes repurposed for the storage of art.

After a few more coffees and a good chat, Hagar had to get back to work. We kept talking as she walked us to the tram where we set off to meet our next “insider”.

Michelle van der Vliet &
De Plantage

Amsterdam is a relatively small city. You can get most places on a bicycle in less than an hour. So you might imagine that the food scene, while interesting, is relatively tame and slow moving. How many new restaurants and food related happenings could possibly be happening in this compact city? Well, my assumptions here were completely wrong. It is unbelievable how much is going on with food in this city. So much so that someone needed to take on the job of keeping track of all the epicurean comings and goings to keep the rest of us up to date.

In 2012 Amsterdam native Michelle van der Vliet took up the challenge and started blogging about everything food-related in the City. Since then she has gathered a dedicated following of like-minded locals, and occasional visitors like us, who like to keep track of interesting things happening in our favorite cities. Michelle really knows the food scene and if you want to eat well in Amsterdam you should definitely follow her at story154.com.

We met Michelle on the bridge at the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, a super picturesque spot which is worth a visit, if just for the photo opportunity. This is close to the Noordermarkt where the food scene is quite dynamic. We took a walk with Michelle to one of her favorite coffee roasters nearby, Headfirst. True to form, Michelle’s recommendation was spot on. The best coffee we had on our trip was here.


As we left Michelle we asked for a great lunch spot that’s not in the guide books, to feature on Bearleader. Without hesitation Michelle said “I have just such a place”.

Overlooking the city’s Artis Zoo in the beautifully restored Artis building is the restaurant De Plantage occupying the space of the building’s 19th century orangery. It, along with the Artis Zoo, are important fixtures in Amsterdam life today. Michelle is the expert so I will let her fill you in on the restaurant’s particulars. Here is her review.

After a quick lunch we dropped in at the Micropsia Museum, also in the Artis building, and one of the newest museums in Amsterdam. It is the world’s first museum dedicated entirely to the smallest forms of life: microbes. Very interesting exhibit and definitely something you won’t see anywhere else.

Nicemakers, SLA & Noordermarkt

Next we are visiting design studio Nicemakers to talk with designers Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll about their work, and get their Amsterdam-insiders’ tips. We had only been in Amsterdam for a few days and Nicemakers had come up in conversation several times, so we were sure Joyce and Dax would have some great ideas about what to do around town.

Unbeknownst to us, we had already visited some of the local restaurants designed by Nicemakers and seen some of their impressive work. But we did not realize any of this until we sat down in their studio for a chat.

Long before there was a Nicemakers, there was just Joyce and Dax and even early in their relationship the seeds of Nicemakers were already growing. Dax regaled us with stories of weekends he and Joyce spent stalking antique markets for anything that caught their fancy: early modern furniture, mid-century lamps and peculiar objects and ephemera. They knew all the good spots to find the best stuff.


Buying on desire rather than need was not unusual so a collection naturally began to develop. Over time, some of their objects found their way into design projects they were working on, and by anchoring their modern design work with objects curated from their eclectic collections a modus-operandi developed. Now they have honed their process into a fine art which has proven phenomenally successful in their rapidly growing practice.

Walking around Nicemakers’ small, sleek studio you can see the continuity in their creative partnership. The clean lines of the fresh white space are offset by their carefully curated collections and meticulously arranged material samples that Joyce and Dax are mulling over for current and future projects. I comment on the great variety of ceramic tile samples carefully arranged in groupings of color and texture. Joyce laughs and says, “we love tiles”.

And now I recall one of Nicemakers’ recent projects for a new local healthy fast food company, SLA. Food blogger Michelle van der Vliet had pointed out the new interior to us on our walk a few days ago. And indeed, SLA’s interior is a symphony of tiles, so I see where Joyce is coming from.

It’s time to go, but as we leave I ask Joyce and Dax the all-important question: What should we visit in Amsterdam? True to form, Joyce gives us a great tip on a local market, “Saturday mornings on the Noordermarkt are a definite must”.

The following morning we check it out. At Noordermarkt the stalls offer everything from fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese to antique collectibles, locally woven linens and a variety of prepared foods. And, being full of locals, it’s a very authentic Amsterdam experience. With lunch just around the corner at SLA we had a full-on Nicemakers experience.

Good tips Joyce and Dax, thanks!

Bearleader & Vivian Hann

Even though this story is about local recommendations, while wandering around on my own I found something great to share.

A short walk down Haarlemmerdijk, just west of Central Station, I did a double-take walking by the display window of a small ceramic and cutlery shop called Vivian Hann. Brilliantly colored objects, simple shapes, wonderful hand-crafted textures, I went in for a look. At the counter I introduced myself. And, as it turned out, it was Vivian Hann on duty in the shop that day!

Vivian originally hails from California but Amsterdam has been her home for many years now. Back in 1998 when she opened the store, Haarlemmerdijk was nowhere near the bustling picturesque street you see today. It was gritty, and walk-in customers were far less frequent. But Vivian persevered and now her shop is in a great location, convenient for locals and in just the right spot for the considerable tourist traffic flowing daily from the nearby train station.

Passionate about design, Vivian has put together an irresistible collection of everyday objects that is sure to strike a chord with visitors. Her enthusiasm for form, function and craftsmanship is on display with a great collection of ceramics, glassware and cutlery. In fact, Vivian’s is one of the few shops in Amsterdam that specializes in functional homeware with an emphasis on the work of Northern European designers.


With pride of place, and well protected under glass, Vivian has on display her collection of Hugo Pott cutlery. Cutlery is really Vivian’s main interest and Hugo Pott’s designs have all the attributes of simplicity, beauty and functionality that Vivian admires.

I have similar interests to Vivian so I recognized some of the pieces in her cutlery collections, but I did not know much about Hugo Pott. And Vivian was all too happy to bring me up to speed on his life and work. And this is what makes Vivian’s tiny shop such a great place to visit. More than what’s on display, it’s Vivian’s encyclopedic knowledge of design and function that make a visit so interesting. Whether you are looking for a small souvenir or need to find flatware for a crowd, Vivian can lead you to just the right solution and fill you in on the story behind your newly acquired objects.

I say skip the run-of-the-mill souvenir shops and go straight to Vivian Hann for a great memento of your Amsterdam trip. Rather than buying something that will quickly end up disused in the attic, you will have something destined to become your next family heirloom, used and talked about for years to come. A forever reminder of you fantastic trip to the charming city of Amsterdam.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To get around Amsterdam, I am/sterdam city card offers a wonderful all-included ticket for public transport, a canal tour and entry to all museums (15% off the Rijksmuseum). It’s the one essential ticket for a great Amsterdam visit. www.iamsterdam.com

To purchase Eau d’Amsterdam go to; www.eaudamsterdam.com. And check out de Koffie Salon Where we met Saskia and Martijn, at; www.dekoffiesalon.nl

If you’re planning a trip in spring, try to schedule it so you can take in the Spring Snow Festival when 75,000 Elm trees come into bloom and the city is covered in white blossoms. It happens between April 21st and May 21st. You will find more information here; www.springsnow.nl

To find out more about Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen’s studio Happy Red Fish go to; www.happy-red-fish.com, and here’s a link to Cottoncake; www.cottoncake.nl

For great new places to eat in Amsterdam visit Michelle van der Vliet’s blog at; www.story154.com

For one of the best coffees in Amsterdam try Head First Coffee Roasters at; www.headfirstcoffeeroasters.com

And for a visit La Plantage you can book online at; www.caferestaurantdeplantage.nl. Don’t forget to check out the Micropia Museum next door: www.micropia.nl

To see more of Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll’s work at Nicemakers, go to; www.nicemakers.com. Or to visit one of their project in person, have lunch at one of the SLA locations. www.ilovesla.com

To meet Vivian at her store Vivian Hann, go to; www.vivianhann.com Keep in mind that she is closed Sundays and Mondays.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The Frescoes of Sklavopoula

I went to Crete this past September for the sea, the mountains, and the language (I’d been learning modern Greek for two years). I also found unexpected adventures. One of these was Sklavopoula.

It was just a short paragraph in the Rough Guide to Crete that caught my attention, telling of a remote village in the southwestern mountains with three churches from the 13th and 15th centuries, with frescoes.  I found it on my Michelin road map. I had already been up in those squiggly lines, in my nimble little Fiat Panda, and had mastered the art of honking while rounding curves, to warn oncoming cars not to take my side of the road — and going slowly in case oblivious goats lurked in the shadow of the hills. I knew it would be an all-day trip from my base at Kastelli Kissamou on the northwest coast. So I set off early one sunny morning to find the three churches.

The drive was beautiful. I stopped several times to look at little churches along the way, to buy olive oil and honey from roadside stands, and to admire the mountains and valleys. When I finally entered the village of Sklavopoula, there was the first church, the Ecclesia tou Ayiou Yiorgiou (Church of Saint George), next to the school, just as the Rough Guide said.


The guidebook’s instructions were to go to the house next to the school and ask for the key. I found a family party in the courtyard of the house and approached with some trepidation, trying out my Greek. They welcomed me eagerly, and a lively discussion ensued, in which several teenagers competed for the honor of escorting me up the back way and into the little church.

I have seen many carefully restored frescoes in museums, and well-maintained old churches and cathedrals around Europe, but there was something uniquely haunting about these ancient images looking at me out of the past, unrestored and yet still alive. The other two churches were to be found along a footpath to the left of the kafeneio in the center of town. The cafe was easy to spot.

By this time, it was mid afternoon, the local lunchtime, and I was quite hungry. So I entered the cafe, which turned out to be the general store as well.

The proprietor made me an omelet, a salad, and a huge plate of fried potatoes, and chatted with me while I ate. He charged me 5 euros, then tried to give me back one euro because I had only eaten a small part of the potatoes!


He showed me the footpath to the other two churches, the Church of the Madonna and the Church of Christ the Savior, and invited me to stop back for some water after seeing them. He gave me some complicated instructions, which I thought I understood, about how to find the house of the man with the keys, and to call out to him by name.

I set off down the hill. My first difficulty arose when I came to what seemed like a dead end: on the one side, thistles, on the other, the wire fence of a goat pasture. I went back and forth for ten minutes, trying to figure out where to go. It was hot; I was getting thirsty and tired.  Finally, I realized that what I thought was part of the pasture was a passage, opened by pulling up the wire fence, which was really a primitive gate. On I trudged, past a few stone houses, hollering all the time for the man with the keys. But I saw no-one aside from goats and some dogs that became very agitated by my hollering. My shouts and their barking sounded all the louder because the only other sound was the buzz of cicadas in the olive groves.


Eventually I spotted the two churches, side by side up another hill. I decided to try the doors. I was in luck: they were not locked. The interiors were cool and silent. Dark shadows contrasted with brilliant sunlight shining through the small windows. The frescoes seemed to glow from within.

Back up at the cafe, the proprietor, now joined by his wife, greeted me with cold water and a plate of grapes, for which they refused payment. I rested, refreshing myself with food, drink and more conversation. What would have been rather dull small-talk in English at home in New York became fascinating and rewarding in another language and setting. They sent me off with another bottle of cold water for the road.

Here’s a last look south towards the Libyan Sea:


< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


About the author:Karen G. Krueger practiced law in New York City for 25 years. She now teaches the Alexander Technique, a mind-body method for achieving greater poise and efficiency of movement and dealing with chronic pain and stress.

Here are some tips from Karen for your excursion to Sklavapoula:

I went to Sklavapoula from my base in the northwestern town of Kastelli Kissamou.  A day trip — longer by about two hours — is also feasible from the more popular Chania (a very beautiful city, well worth visiting). Sklavapoula is easily accessible from Palaiochora, a seaside resort town on the southwest coast.

When I was planning my visit to Crete, I first decided to spend a week at Kastelli Kissamou.  I then found a seaside rental apartment in Kastelli using the website Homeaway, a very comfortable small apartment carved out of the home of the owner, Minas.

Before I paid the deposit, I exchanged e-mails and one phone call with Minas, to make sure that I had a sense of dealing with a honest person.

I was scheduled to arrive at the Chania airport after dark, so rather than deal with renting a car and driving in unfamiliar territory, I e-mailed Minas for help.  He arranged a taxi to meet me at the airport, reserved my rental car from a firm in Kastelli, and then drove me into town the day after my arrival to pick up my car, a little Fiat Panda with manual transmission that was perfect for the windy roads of Crete.  Note that if you need an automatic rental car, you should specify that, as many rentals have stick shifts.

I like to navigate with a real map, so I used the Michelin map of Crete, 759 National, purchased from Amazon.

When I read about Sklavopoula and decided to go there, it was not hard to find my way there using this map.

Photography and story by Karen Krueger

Planning to make a visit to Sklavopoula? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

partly cloudy
42% humidity
wind: 7mph SE
H 67 • L 43
Weather from Yahoo!

Hauser & Wirth — Art Farm

A few weeks ago a friend called from San Francisco with a question. “I’m visiting London with my mother soon and we want to take a day trip into the country. Any ideas for where we can go without having to drive?” I know they’re both interested in contemporary art, so Hauser & Wirth immediately came to mind.

Hauser & Wirth Co-founders Iwan Wirth and Ursula Hauser recently established a brand-new outpost for their collection of galleries nestled in the green pastures of Somerset. Seems like an odd choice on first thought with the vast majority of art establishments firmly ensconced within urban centers. But no one ever had any success in the art world by doing what’s expected. So in a business where contrarian thinking can often garner spectacular results, this is worth checking out. I suggested that my friend and her mom take the train to Hauser & Wirth in the small town of Bruton, about an hour and a half west of London.

Hauser & Wirth, Somerset is not a gallery in the conventional sense. It’s a new kind of art experience combining education, conservation, sustainability, shopping, dining, performance and accommodation, centered around a beautiful rural gallery space and all set within a classic-English-pastoral landscape.

So what are the chances this is going to work? Well, the numbers speak for themselves. Since opening in July 2014, there has been a steady stream of visitors from near and far. I planned my trip on a Tuesday thinking I would have the run of the place. No such luck. Even on a cold and grey winter’s day the galleries were bustling and the dining room was fully booked. On weekends there are many more visitors.


From the start Hauser & Wirth placed a strong emphasis of reaching out to the community. Children from local schools visit often, there are family Saturdays, lectures, DJ Fridays and many more events occurring year round. All this adds up to a great place both for the community and city dwellers on a day-trip, like us.

The foundation of the complex is the original historic buildings of the Durslade Farm. When you first enter through the main courtyard you are greeted by a collection of sculptures. On the day of our visit, to the right was a large Paul McCarthy sculpture and to the left a massive milking pail by Subodh Gupta.


At the far end of the courtyard sits a wonderful 18th century farmhouse adorned with a Martin Creed light installation announcing to all visitors “everything is going to be alright”.

The Parisian architects Laplace restored the derelict stables, cow sheds and threshing barns, and linked them with a new structure containing galleries, with space more suitable to larger scale work. The existing buildings are often left with the original stone walls and roof beams exposed, set in contrast to large expanses of glass, where barn doors used to stand, directing the view outside.

The gardens are equally interesting, designed by Dutch garden architect Piet Oudolf whose signature planting schemes you will also find on New York’s Highline elevated urban park. We are visiting in winter when gardens do not typically show their best face, but I find Oudolf’s planting beautiful even when ostensibly barren. There is a poetry and beauty in the plants just carrying seeds and grass turning yellow and bearing the scars of winter. Grass circles lend a graphic element to the center of the garden which changes in character with each season.


Offsetting a cold and grey winter day was Pipilotti Rist’s lovely video shot on the farm during the previous summer. To produce the work Swiss-based Rist took up residency on the farm with her son in tow. Projected on three large walls of the gallery, the images speak of a warm lazy summer’s day. People look on, sitting on the gallery floor strewn with sheep skins, as if still grazing in a field.

After touring the gardens and galleries we visit the restaurant located in the farm’s former cow shed. Roth Bar and Grill is run by husband and wife team Julia and Steve Horell. It is a mixing space where people arriving with different agendas all end up together. I think this is the lynch pin of the whole place and the main reason the complex works so well. People come for the art and stay for the food. And conversely, people with little interest in art, stop in for a bite and can’t help but share their sense of enchantment. In each case everyone is engaged and enjoying the experience.

The walls of the dining room are adorned with tightly packed works by artists of the Hauser & Wirth family. Large vibrant neon chandeliers by the late Jason Rhodes cast a multi-colored glow over the room.


Steve serves a simple, honest, seasonal menu with local produce, usually sourced within a 5 mile radius. We tried 1/2 Woolly Park Farm Chicken with lemon mayonnaise which was lovely. I can really recommend it – but I am a sucker for the simple things. Nothing beats homemade bread and butter. Steve makes his own, and it is excellent.

After lunch we checked out the farmhouse. If you can’t get enough in one day, why not stay over at the farmhouse. It has six rooms and can sleep up to 12 people. The house is an artwork in its deconstruction executed through a collaboration between Laplace and conservation architects Benjamin & Beauchamp. The team set about excavating the house’s history, revealing the traces of the families that have lived there since the 1700s.

Walls have been peeled exposing their various paint layers. Temporary walls from the 20th century have been reinforced and put to new use, and furnishings have been found in local thrift stores and flea markets to keep the spaces grounded in local character.


One area has been used as an installation space for a recent artist in residence. Hauser & Wirth gave one of their famously open briefs, asking Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca to create something in the dining room during his five week residency. He started painting on one of the walls and gradually it expanded to encompass the whole room, floor to ceiling. With nowhere else to go the project came to a natural end. Along with the five green glasses we found on the table when we arrived, it seemed like a complete piece of art.

All through the house you see old and new in beautiful tension: It really is an inspirational place, a living art space. As the day drew a close we made the short walk back to the tiny Bruton train station, and headed back to the big city.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


Remember, book your train tickets online early for the best fare. Trains depart from London Paddington to Bruton with one train change.

For opening hours and details about the gallery, restaurant and how to book the farmhouse, go to: www.hauserwirthsomerset.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning to make a visit to Hauser & Wirth in Somerset? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Conquering Chania

Just north of the African continent, a little southeast of Italy and southwest of Turkey lies the island of Crete, the southernmost island in Greece. Its location plumb in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea has made Crete a stopping-off point for thousands of years. Throughout history, anyone going from here to there in the Mediterranean likely had a layover in Crete. And these successive waves of traders, marauders and pirates are the key to understanding the many layers of modern Crete.

Much of the flux in Crete has centered on the city of Chania in the west of the island. Here the successive layers of conquest and immigration by various Mediterranean and European groups is hidden in plain sight. You just need to know a few clues and, like an x-ray machine, all the intricate layers of history are revealed.

Today’s invaders of Crete are mostly package-holiday goers, a relatively benign force that, as a rule, stays in camp, rarely venturing out. When they do go out, a popular destination is the historic and beautiful harbor at the center of the old city. On our initial visit to Chania we too headed straight for the harbor in search of history, local culture and fresh regional cuisine. What we found was fast food, cocktails and the drum beat of euro-pop echoing across the deep blue waters.


Briefly disoriented, we thought surely this is not the Chania we had read about. Were we mistaken about this place? We quickly changed strategies.

It is true that Chania’s harbor is the most picturesque part of town, and probably for this reason uncontrolled development has taken over, making the place a bit of a mess. Realizing we needed help ferreting out the hidden delights of Chania, we sought professional assistance.


Dr. Alexandra Ariotti is an Australian born archaeologist and historian. She works all over the world researching, lecturing and digging. She has extensive experience around the Mediterranean and a particular focus on the Middle East. However when she is not working abroad, she calls Chania home. Alexandra hosts fabulous private historic walks, each lasting 2.5 to 3 hours, guiding you through a maze of streets and alleys on routes which reveal the mysteries of Chania’s fascinating history. Alexandra knows the city inside and out. Listening to her weave historical and present day Chania together brings the place alive.

I jotted down some observations from our tour with Alexandra:

• Chania is the second largest city of Crete and until 1971 it also was the capital (today the capital is Heraklion). The old town of Chania is the site of the Minoan settlement the Greeks called Kydonia, Greek for quince.


• Crete has quite a tumultuous history due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean. Ever since the Byzantine era, the Venetians, the Ottoman, all the way up to the Germans in World War II, fought for and occupied the island. You can see the scars of conflict all around you. Alexandra points out the dividing lines in some of the excavations, where one group co-opted buildings from the past to build on Crete’s evolving urban landscape.

• Walking around town you come across various excavation sites seamlessly woven into the fabric of a neighborhood. Some of them feel a bit neglected, but since everywhere you scratch the surface you stumble across some important archeological find, important ones are simply stabilized, protected and left for future research.


• We saw many old houses falling apart and in ruins while right next door a house would be beautifully restored and fully occupied. Alexandra explained that in World War II during German occupation, the city was heavily bombed, killing the occupants of the buildings. Ownership is often shared between family members or is murky with the former owner deceased. Without clear ownership or agreement on who can develop the homes, they fall into disrepair and eventually fall down.

• Walking through town while Alexandra points out details dating back to Minoan times is like walking through a mystery novel. All the while locals come and go among the ancient structures seemingly oblivious to the history around them.


• Walking through the market area where in days past fine Cretan leather products would have been made and sold, we notice that most of what’s on offer is imported. There are exceptions though. We found one obscure shop still making the famous black leather boots worn by men throughout Greece. You have to look hard but there are a few shops that still practice the traditional Cretan crafts.

Having completed our time with Alexandra we had a good overview of the old city and could start navigating on our own. We set out to explore some more. Here are some of the places we found that are worth checking out.

The Archeological
Museum of Chania

The museum is housed in the former Venetian monastery of Saint Francis, a truly wonderful place to explore. The old worn walls in pinkish colors and the 1950’s-era museum cases make for an interesting mix of styles. You can see jewelry, vases, sculptures and coins from the Minoan, Roman and Byzantine times.


Etz Hayyim Synagogue

We sat down with Dr. Nikos Stavroulakis in the Synagogue’s courtyard, to talk about the buildings long history.

Etz Hayyim Synagogue is the only surviving Jewish monument on the island of Crete. The building goes back to the Venetian period and became a synagogue in the 17th century to serve a vibrant Jewish community living in Chania at the time.


For about 2,300 years, Jews thrived in Crete, sharing in its history and contributing to the complex local culture throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Andalusian Arab, Venetian and Ottoman periods, until near the end of World War II, when the Cretan Jewish community was, decimated.

In early June 1944, virtually all the Jews in Crete were rounded up and arrested. Together with some 600 Greek and Italian prisoners, the Jews were put on the German merchant ship Tanais and shipped off the island. Tragically, soon after its departure, the Tanais was spotted by the British submarine HMS Vivid and fired on. The Tanais and all on board were lost.

Canea Gift Shop

While wandering around, we happened across the Chania Gift shop. Owner Konstantinos Konstantinidis was born and raised in Chania and after living abroad for many years came back home to start a local business. His idea was to make a gift shop that sells unique products that are designed and made in Greece.


You will find smartly designed mugs, towels, bags, T-shirts, and notepads: absolutely the best place to get a souvenir to bring home from Crete. I still use my mugs from Konstantinos regularly and remember my time in Chania every time.

Tamam Restaurant

After talking to Konstantinos for a while about his shop and his great products, he invited us to come by his restaurant, Tamam, to meet his partner. Tamam is quite well known for its authentic regional cuisine. And like his shop, at Tamam, Konstantinos’ mission is to support local producers.


Located one street behind the harbor but still in the hub of the old town, Tamam has been in operation since the 1970s. It is still one of the best places to eat in Chania. There are two indoor seating areas across the street from each other. And in-between, a narrow row of tables where you can sit outside and watch the people passing by. As usual, in high season it will be very, very busy, and off-season a real delight.

The Well of the Turk

Wandering through the back streets of old Chania, we stumbled across the restaurant, The Well of the Turk, and recalled that it has been recommended to us by friends. Located in a quiet neighborhood, it’s a great restaurant serving an eclectic mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food.


House 66

There are many homes for rent in Chania, but we happen to have the inside track on one of the best. This apartment is right in the heart of the old town and owned by an architect husband and wife team living in London. It’s a great place to spend a few days … or much longer. Check the details section below for contact information.

Doma Hotel

A wonderful hotel owned by two fascinating sisters who were born in this house which has been owned by the family for generations. If you are looking to immerse yourself in Chania history this is the place for you.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To book a tour with Dr. Alexandra Ariotti go to;

To visit the Archeological Museum of Chania, go to 25 Chalidon Street.

For more information about the Etz Hayyim Synagogue go to;

For more information about the Canea Gift Shop go to;

For more information about Tamam Restaurant go to;

For more information about The Well of the Turk Restaurant go to;

To book House 66 in Chania go to;

To book a accommodation at the Doma Hotel go to;

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to Chania? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

The Murals of New York City

On the cover of Murals of New York City is a painting by Maxfield Parrish, which hangs over the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. In 1906 John Jacob Astor IV commissioned Parrish and paid him $5,000 ($200,000 in today’s money) to paint a scene from the children’s rhyme, Old King Cole. Parrish was reluctant to have one of his works hanging in a bar (he was a Quaker and tee totaler) but the money was too good to pass up.

Commerce trumped virtue. But as soon as the contract was signed Astor told Parrish that he wanted his face to be the face of the King. At that time the center of the art world of New York was located on West 67th Street. Parrish, a man of enormous ego, always insisted there was no subject too elusive for him to capture in paint. His fellow art stars were always challenging him with impossible subjects. So about the time of the Astor commission they gave him the ultimate dare. Paint a fart. So he got his revenge on Astor and won the wager at the same time. In the painting, Astor, as King Cole, is sitting on his “throne” having just passed royal gas. The palace guards are all either holding their noses, grimacing or laughing at this majesty. The guards all resemble Parrish himself. It is a study in passive aggression. The bartenders and regulars at the bar all know the not-so-secret joke and are happy to pass it along to their customers and friends. If Astor knew that he was being ridiculed he never let on. He died a few years later on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.


During the Great Depression John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought up one of the worst slums in New York west of Fifth Avenue from 47th Street to 51nd Street and erected a towering complex of 19 office buildings. The epicenter of it all was the 65 story tall 30 Rockefeller Plaza, then the RCA building. Rockefeller placed the responsibility for the project on the shoulders of his 25-year-old son, Nelson.

Rockefeller Center was to be not only the living symbol of capitalism but decorated by the most accomplished artists of the day. There was to be giant mural decorating the lobby of Rockefeller Plaza to welcome tenants, clients and visitors. Rockefeller approached both Picasso and Matisse to paint the mural but the great artists rejected him. As a third choice he turned to the world famous muralist, Diego Rivera. The only problem was that Nelson Rockefeller was the world’s most famous Capitalist and Rivera was the world’s dedicated Communist. Not a marriage made in heaven.


Rivera began work on his fresco. He was so famous people came and paid large fees to stand in silence in a roped off area and watch the master paint on his scaffold. This was the sort of things people did before cable. But about halfway through the project Rivera veered away from the agreed upon design and painted into the composition a portrait of Lenin. Rockefeller saw this as a desecration of his family’s property and demanded the removal of the offending image. Rivera refused. A battle of wills ensued with daily headlines reporting on the conflict in all the many newspapers of the day. Ultimately Rockefeller won and fired Rivera, paid him off and had the fresco destroyed. That act of cultural vandalism cost New York City what would have been one of its greatest treasures.

Rivera’s replacement was the elegant Spanish painter Jose Maria Sert. He was the polar opposite of Rivera who he detested. His painting, which covers the entire lobby is entitled, “America Today” and is a testament to the American optimism of the day and the belief that nature could be harnessed for mankind’s needs and through Capitalism all the world’s ills would be resolved. Sert painted the massive painting on canvas in Paris studio and had it delivered to Rockefeller Center for installation. It is all very grand eloquent, overblown, somewhat corny by today’s sensibilities but powerfully painted.


The other painter who shares the space with Sert was Britain’s most famous muralist, Sir Frank Brangwyn. Sir Frank painted his contribution in a giant studio on the piers of Brighton, England. He was a super religious , aristocratic, revered artist with an ego match his status so when Rockefeller insisted that he tone down the religious messages in his paintings another battle was fought. But Brangwyn, faced with the fate of Rivera, relented and allowed his good business instincts to prevail. The mural remained but his depiction of the Sermon on the Mount had Jesus turning his back to the viewer looking a little more like Darth Vader than his original depiction of Christ.

The murals in the grand entrance of the American Museum of Natural History known as the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda are there in all their restored glory to be seen afresh since their completion in 1935 by painter William Andrew Mackay.


The 5,200 square foot mural is a tribute, primarily, to the first President Roosevelt whose family was instrumental in the establishment of the museum. It shows in wonderfully colorful compositions the many accomplishments of Roosevelt including his expeditions to Africa, and Brazil where he mapped the River of Doubt and the creation of the Panama Canal. The biggest obstacle to the digging of the Canal was Yellow Fever that devastated the workers on the massive project. It was Roosevelt’s support of scientific research that lead to its eradication thus saving thousands of lives.


The three murals in this article are but a small sampling of the treasures of public art to be found in New York. All of them are fascinating not only as works of art but also because of the wonderful back stories of the fusion of art and commerce and colorful personalities that resulted in their existence. To fully enjoy all there is to savor pick up a copy of Murals of New York City and experience thirty more murals covered in the book.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


About the author:

Glenn Palmer-Smith has been an art director, a fashion photographer in London and Paris, an agent for photographers with an agency in New York, painter, muralist and author of Murals of New York City. He will be teaching at the New School in New York this Fall on the murals covered in his new book.

The book “The Murals of New York” is available at Amazon

For more information about the murals of the Rockefeller Center click here

For more information about the murals of the King Cole Bar click here

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to Manhattan? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Taking the Train Back in Time

When the Bearleader was invited to take a day trip on the Belmond British Pullman train to York, we jumped at the chance. We are avid readers of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories, and to have the chance to briefly step into their fictional world of early-20th-Century travel glamor was too good to pass up. What better way to experience first hand what it would like to go along for the ride in an Agatha Christie novel?

Early in the morning we made our way to Victoria Station, platform No.10 to meet our train. After checking in you are directed to one of eleven coaches, each identified with a sign showing its original name; Audrey, Cygnus, Gwen, Ibis, Ilone, Lucille, Minerva, Perseus, Phoenix, Vera, and Zena. We had a private coupe compartment in Zena, a first-class parlor car with 24 seats. built in 1928 by Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Ltd, this carriage was recently used as a location for movie “Agatha” about Agatha Christie.

The train is owned and operated by the Belmond group. Researching the trains I was intrigued to learn about James Sherwood, the man who bought the trains and put them back on the tracks. He made his fortune in shipping and purchased two carriages at auction in Monte Carlo. Everyone thought he was crazy to buy something as useless as a couple of old train cars. After all, isn’t luxury train travel dead? Funny though, the British Airways Concorde has come and gone, but the great British Pullman trains are still chugging along, well frequented and still hugely popular. Belmond offers a variety of excursions and specialty trips (week-long, overnight and day trips) departing from Victoria Station to York, Scotland, Folkstone and Cornwall.


The carriages are beautifully restored to their original condition. The interior detailing is just gorgeous. And since this kind of craftsmanship is rare in our modern world, being in these old rail cars, you really feel like you have stepped back in time.

The trip is part historic adventure and part fine dining on wheels, which calls for a bit more style than what normally passes for travel attire these days. Dressing up a bit makes sense since many people take this trip as a way of celebrating something, even if it is just a celebration of early train travel. I chatted with some of the other guests to see why they came on this trip. The responses were wide ranging, from anniversaries to birthdays, and a group of school friends celebrating and an engagement. Speaking of engagements, if that is your plan for the trip, the train is equipped with all the necessary props for your proposal. A special pillow for kneeling is on board and ready at a moments notice—in case the mood takes you.


During the trip I took a walk through all 11 carriages to get an up-close-and-personal look at all the interior details, and to see how the staff managed in cramped and constantly moving quarters. It was quite something to see the staff glide up and down the train with hands full of dishes, always friendly and never a dropped plate. I on the other hand was thankful for the narrow hallways that several times prevented me from taking a spill. Planted firmly back in my lounge chair for dinner, I was amazed how the beautiful table settings also resisted the tendency to move back and forth with the train. Here you come to appreciate the sturdiness of old dishes and silver. Classic style, and with a weightiness to resist motion

And of course we should mention the food. One cannot help but make the comparison with what’s on offer in a modern train: a pack of crisps, a soda and a packaged sandwich if your lucky. No no, This is truly fine dining on wheels. A prix fixe menu drawn from British classic dishes, and of course all the ingredients, british caught, raised or otherwise produced on the Isles. And as you dine, all the while the picturesque English countryside is slowly passing by.


If there was one thing that really set the stage for our trip back in time, it was the amazing original hand-crafted interiors. All the cars are wood paneled and each uses a different decorative motif, implemented in the paneling with a technique of wood inlay known as “marquetry”. Following our trip we researched this technique further, and discovered that the company that created the original cars is still in operation not far from London.

We couldn’t resist extending our story to include the back story on the interiors. so we made arrangements to meet Sheryl Dunn and her mother, the fifth generation to carry on this traditional craft at the company started by her great grandfather. An hour train ride from London we arrived at a wonderful old building, the home of A. Dunn and Son for the last two generations.


Sheryl gave us a tour of the operation and demonstrated the various steps in producing marquetry. We learnt that all the intricate pieces of wood are cut with a special hand-saw rig called a “donkey”, that the special shading in the woodwork, so distinctive to marquetry, is produced with the “hot sand” technique, and that decorative panels are glued together with natural glues, the same as has been used for generations. Sheryl showed us that antique panels using natural glues, like the ones in the Pullman trains, can easily be heated and re-pressed to make them virtually like new. More recent work with modern glues is less flexible and once damaged, it is very difficult to restore. This is one example of how the old way is often the best way.

It was Sheryl’s grandfather who did the original work on the Pullman cars we rode in. As Sheryl tells it, when the Pullman cars were ready for restoration, the new owners were cleaning up and by chance happened across a loose receipt for the original marquetry panels. The receipt was from A. Dunn and Son, which led the new owners to put the restoration work back in the hands of the company that made them.


During our tour Sheryl pointed out a large stack of architectural drawings and casually said: “somewhere in there are the drawings for the Titanic panels. But we don’t know what they look like since no photographs of the interiors were taken prior to the first voyage, so now there is no way to reference them”. Sheryl’s great grandfather did all the marquetry work for the Titanic. The schedule was so tight that there was no time to document the work before the maiden voyage. So that undoubtedly beautiful work was only briefly used, and never to be seen again. At least we can still see work of like quality in daily use by the Belmond British Pullman trains.

On the modern train back to London, with a bag of crisps and a plastic bottle of water in hand, I got a bit nostalgic for the British Pullman trains. Truly a journey through time. We cannot recommend this experience enough. All aboard!

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


For information and booking visit; www.belmond.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a trip on the Belmond British Pullman train? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Visiting Old Masters in Dulwich

Whether you are a first time visitor to London or on a repeat trip, you should include in your itinerary a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in Dulwich London. The gallery is a gem, full of history, mystery and some of the most important artworks in the world.

We take for granted today that we can freely visit art galleries and enjoy amazing art collections. But this easy access to art is a relatively recent phenomenon. It wasn’t that long ago that fine art was exclusively the purview of the wealthy collectors, only available for view by those few granted access.

All that changed with the Dulwich London Picture Gallery. This was the very first public, purpose-built gallery in the world. So if you have enjoyed a recent visit to your local public or private art museum, the original idea that made your visit possible can be found in the leafy Dulwich, London.

Dulwich London Picture Gallery | Bearleader No.27

The story of the gallery started in the 17th-century. Theatre actor turned 17th century producer, Edward Alleyn, ran two successful theaters, the Rose and the Fortune. Both were competition to the better known Globe theatre.

Through his success in the theater, Alleyn acquired the manor of Dulwich London where he started several schools and a college for the poor. The original college is still standing today next to the Gallery. After Alleyn’s demise in 1626 he bequeathed his extensive collection of paintings to the college. Later, in 1685, due to Alleyn’s connection with the theatrical world, another famous actor, William Cartwright left 239 additional artworks to the college. Eighty of these are still in the collection today.

Dulwich London Picture Gallery | Bearleader No.27

Access to the collection made significant progress toward what it is today when Sir Francis Bourgeois, artist and art dealer, died and bequeathed his extensive collection to Dulwich London College, along with 10,000 pounds for the building of a “public” gallery to house the collection.

Famed architect Sir John Soanes was commissioned for the project. Soanes left his signature mark on the building in the wonderful use of light in the gallery spaces. Whenever I visit I am always amazed how modern the use of windows is to produce such great light. They are all strategically placed to give the perfect overhead lighting for viewing the paintings in daylight year round.

Dulwich London Picture Gallery | Bearleader No.27

Soanes’ characteristic manipulation of space is also evident. The gallery is essentially one long room with several alcoves opening off the main space. Even though the main gallery is not large, the use of light gives it a grandness and airiness which adds to the feeling of modernity.

This was the very first public, purpose-built gallery in the world. So if you have enjoyed a recent visit to your local public or private art museum, the original idea that made your visit possible can be found in the leafy Dulwich London.

In 1815 when the gallery opened it was briefly only accessible for students of the Royal Academy of Arts. The poor students had to enjoy the paintings in the cold due to a faulty heating system. Finally in 1817, with the heating fixed, the galley was opened to the general public.

Dulwich London Picture Gallery | Bearleader No.27

The gallery quickly became popular, with many of the visitors being artists. William Turner, William Etsy, John Constable and Vincent Van Gogh all were regular visitors. The gallery was also mentioned in Charles Dickens novel ‘The Pickwick Papers’, with central character Samuel Pickwick visiting the gallery in his retirement.

The current collection contains over 600 works. Rembrandt’s “Girl at the window”, Nicholas Poussin’s “The Triumph of David”, Thomas Gainsborough’s “Elizabeth and Mary Linley” to name just a few of the highlights. Probably the most infamous painting in the collection is a rather small portrait by Rembrandt called “Jacob de Gheyn”. It was stolen four times, making it the Guinness Book of Record’s most stolen and returned piece of art. After its theft it was: recovered from a left-luggage office in West Germany, returned anonymously, found on the back of a bicycle, and discovered under a park bench in a graveyard in nearby Streatham. And today it is safely in place, luckily, none the worse for the wear.

Dulwich London Picture Gallery | Bearleader No.27

The gallery also looks clearly towards the future, with one part of the building dedicated to changing exhibitions and a variety art appreciation programs for all age groups year round. It is worthwhile checking ahead on the gallery website to see what will be on offer during your visit.

Dulwich Picture Gallery was built long before these kinds of institutions had to support themselves financially, and a funny quirk of the museum is that the modern functions of ticketing and gift shop display have no other place to go but in the museum proper. So when you are buying your ticket, you do so under several amazing old master paintings. When I went to pay for my book at the gift shop I must have stared a bit too long at the painting behind the cashier. The clerk joked “You want to buy that one? I can wrap it for you.” Hanging behind the cashier is a pairing attributed to John de Critz the elder, of James, son of Mary Queen of Scots, James the VI, king of Scotland, later crowned James the I of England in 1603. Deciding against the painting purchase, I paid for my book and headed for some idle time in the sun, at the outdoor cafe.


For opening times special exhibits and programs; www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Dr. Sands on Robert & James Adam

As I prepared to head over to the meet Dr. Frances Sands at the Soane Museum to see their collection of James and Robert Adam documents, an armed robbery was in progress somewhere nearby. With police in pursuit, the getaway car sped past Soane Museum on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Trying to dispose of evidence, the thieves tossed their gun from the moving car. The gun came to rest on the sidewalk in front of the Soane Museum.

Arriving shortly after, I found the police in full forensic’s mode. No one was allowed in or out of the museum. I reschedule for the following day. This is as close as I probably will ever get to a CSI moment. At lease I hope so.

In 1833 John Soane, a voracious collector of architectural artifacts, came across an opportunity to buy an extensive collection of drawings by the architects James and Robert Adam. The Adam brothers were contemporaries of Soane with their major work executed from around 1750 to 1790. He bought the drawings, all 8,000 of them, for the sum of 200 British pounds. That would be about 16,000 Pounds today. Each of these amazing drawings were acquired for the price of a couple of postcards. The collection, which is about 80% of all the surviving drawings produced during Robert Adams’ careers. Somehow they remained intact while passing through many hands in the years after Robert Adam and his younger brother James were deceased. I find it incredible that they survived at all.

 James and Robert Adam at the Soane Museum | Bearleader No.13

The collection, over 200 years old, has been in a preservation process for the last few years, and is now being cataloged and photographed. Frances is leading this monumental task and in the process, researching the stories behind each drawing. So there is a bit of a white-gloved detective work involved. With the previous day’s crime scene still fresh in my mind, seeing Frances carefully analyze these fragile drawings for clues, it occurs that her work is as mysterious and meticulous as yesterday’s police scene.

I was so impressed with Frances. With a PhD from the University of York’s Art History Department, she specialized in architectural drawings. When I asked her how she chose this career, she answered without hesitation. While on holiday in Greece with her parents as a teenager, she became fascinated by food storage caves and started drawing them. “From that moment,” she says, “that is what I wanted to do”. Frances showed me around the archive. All the drawing are bound into numbered folios. Special cabinets have been built to contain the extensive set of volumes.

 James and Robert Adam at the Soane Museum | Bearleader No.13

The Soane Museum is one of the best museums in London. There you are in Soane’s private home. You see his taste, his ideas, and take in really quite an intimate view as you explore the rooms he carefully crafted in which to live and work. And it’s all perfectly conserved and meticulously cared for, thanks to the dedicated and talented Soane Museum staff.

The original Robert Adam drawings were often engraved and copies sold to the public by publisher Andrew Millar from his shop on the Strand.

The Robert Adam drawings are a very small part of Soane’s vast collection. Just another artifact which he used to educate his staff and students, and notoriously to no avail, his son George. But Soane’s home also is a pristine example of the one of the most modern homes of the time. Or at least as the famously obsessive Soane thought one should live.

 James and Robert Adam at the Soane Museum | Bearleader No.13

Frances and I chat about Robert Adam ’s Admiralty Screen, a building still standing in Central London. It was the Adam’s first civic commission so it’s a great example to see how Adam’s work translates to the present.

Robert Adam ’s initial design evolved during construction. Give this a try; when you visit London, print out the drawing and compare it with the building standing today. See if you can spot the changes

 James and Robert Adam at the Soane Museum | Bearleader No.13

The original Robert Adam drawing were often engraved and copies sold to the public by publisher Andrew Millar from his shop on the Strand. Millar sold prints much like posters are sold today. So in a small way, people could own a little bit of public architecture and display it in their homes, much as they still do today.

On your next London trip, by all means take some time to stop by the Soane Museum. And if you find yourself around St. James Park and Picadilly Circus there are Adam buildings everywhere. Read up and keep an eye out. In the meantime, check out the Soane Museum blog “Looking at drawing”, where monthly you will see buildings with a then-and-now comparison.


Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm. Last entry 4:30pm. Closed every Sunday, Monday and bank holiday. Admission is free.


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Battle Armor at the Graz Zeughaus

This is not just a museum. This is a place unchanged, a time capsule that can transport you back 100, 200, 300, almost 400 years. Walking on these floors, you are mere millimeters from the actual surface that men trod, who went to battle girded in medieval battle armor for honor, profit, or because they had no choice. The feeling of the past is palpable.

In the short span of my life, I too have a past here. My first visit was at age seven, escorted by my grandfather. Returning today, the rooms are filled with the same magical battle-ready aura I felt as a child. So convincing is the feeling that it would come as no surprise to turn a corner and find yourself caught up in preparations for war, donning your suit of medieval battle armor. If this experience is all you come to Graz for, it is well worth the trip.

Built between 1642 and 1644 by architect Antonio Solar from nearby Tyrol, the Zeughaus (Provincial Armory) stored medieval battle armor and armaments used to protect the area from constant attacks from the Ottoman empire to the south and Hungarian rebels from the east. The armory housed an inventory of 32,000 medieval armor and weapons, and remains intact today, the largest collection of its kind still in its original layout and location.

battle armor

In the years of its use, the Armory’s inventory of battle armor was a well-kept secret so as to not give the enemy any advantage of knowing that this small building housed enough weapons and battle armor for 5,000 men. It is easy to step back in time, imagine the smell of gun powder and steel hanging in the air, and instruments of war being lowered by rope and winch from windows on all levels to meet the challenge of an approaching foe.

So convincing is the feeling that it would come as no surprise to turn a corner and find yourself caught up in preparations for war, donning your suit of battle armor.

battle armor

Each floor is meticulously organized by rank from low to high. The bottom floors contain less refined and more sparse battle armor, presumably lighter for more active combat. On up to the higher levels elaborate and decorative medieval armor provided near complete protection for both rider and horse, with the inevitable downside that should the rider fall, they would be immobilized by the sheer weight of their extra protection.

battle armor

A great place for kids and adults, as I can well attest having visited in both age groups. And the perfect day out for all you Game of Thrones fans.


Before scheduling your visit please check here to make sure they will be open when you arrive. Published hours are; April thru October, Mon and Wed–Sun: 10am–5pm. November thru March, admission only as part of a guided tour.

Guided tours are available on; Mon and Wed–Sun and public holidays:12am and 2pm. There is a tour in English Mon and Wed–Sun and public holidays at 1pm. Or schedule a personal tour by emailing the Zeughaus at least one week in advance.

An admission ticket allows a single visit to the Landeszeughaus within a calendar day. The Landeszeughaus is part of the wider collections of the Joanneum museum. If you intend to visit other Joanneum exhibitions, you can buy a Joanneum 24-hour or 48-hour ticket. These entitle you to visit all Joanneum institutions within 24 or 48 hours. Guided tours are not included in the price of the ticket, but can be paid for at the relevant ticket desk prior to joining a guided tour.

Contact: Herrengasse 16, A-8010 Graz, Tel: +43 316 8017 9810
E-Mail: zeughaus@museum-joanneum.at

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Huddled Masses

Having just arrived back in New York from Europe, it occurred to me that this was the perfect time to stop by a Lower East Side gem, and one of my favorite New York excursions, The Tenement Museum. Founded in 1988 by Historian and Social Activist Ruth Abram, the museum is dedicated to keeping alive the story of immigration to America.

Ruth initially had much smaller ambitions. Setting out to find an empty storefront in which to establish her institution, she stumbled on 97 Orchard Street. On further exploration she discovered the building was virtually unchanged since its construction in 1863. Eventually taking over the whole building and starting the Tenement Museum, she lovingly restored and authentically fitted out each apartment to tell six different immigrant stories, representing a cross section of the New York immigrant experience.

What’s unique with this institution is that it is a museum within a museum. The whole Lower East Side remains, in large part, as it was originally built in the 19th century. So tours relate the stories of immigrants’ personal living space, as well as reaching out into the neighborhood to tell the larger urban story of immigrants’ day-to-day lives.

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side | Bearleader No.8

In the many years I have lived in New York I can number on one hand the native New Yorkers I have met. It seems that almost everyone in New York hails from elsewhere, and the character of the city owes a lot to the people who have come here seeking opportunity. I, too, am an immigrant to New York, though I am lucky to have had a relatively easy time of it. My experience was worlds away from what early immigrants would have faced arriving on a boat via Ellis Island.

The real charm of the Tenement Museum is its knowledgeable team tour guides, or “educators,” as they are called, that bring immigrant stories to life.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually ask an early immigrant what it was like? Well, if you are lucky you might meet one in the Tenement Museum. On most weekends Victoria Confino, a 19th century teenage immigrant from Greece, can be found inhabiting the museum. She will happily answer your questions about the trials and tribulations that she faced after leaving her home and family in Greece to make a new home in America.

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side | Bearleader No.8

You might also be interested in the Sweatshop Workers Tour where you will be introduced to the Levine family working and living with up to 8 people in one apartment. Or visit the Rogarshevskys family at their Sabbath table, set on the third floor, and imagine sitting down with them on a Friday night for Shabbat.

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side | Bearleader No.8

The real charm of the Tenement Museum is its knowledgeable team tour guides, or “educators,” as they are called, that bring immigrant stories to life. Various professionals – historians, teachers, actors, musicians, even a fashion designer – will tell you in great detail about what life was like at 97 Orchard Street.

The Tenement Museum, Lower East Side | Bearleader No.8

Start your visit with the 20-minute documentary. It really sets the scene for your visit and helps transport you to life 150 years ago. And don’t forget to stop by the well-curated gift shop on your way out. You will find some great souvenirs for friends and family back home.


Located on the corner of Delancey Street, the Tenement Museum visitor center and shop is where tours start and end, and where tickets are sold. The wheelchair accessible door to the Visitors Center is located on the Delancey Street side of 103 Orchard. The closest street address is 81 Delancey.

B or D to Grand Street
Exit at Grand and Chrystie. Walk east (away from Bowery) on Grand Street for four blocks. Take a left at Orchard Street and walk north for two blocks to the Tenement Museum Shop 103 Orchard Street.

If you are coming by Public Transport:

Take the F train to Delancey Street or the J, M or Z trains to Essex Street. Once you get off any of these subways, walk two blocks away from the Williamsburg Bridge (west) on Delancey Street to Orchard Street, turn left and walk 1/2 block south to the Tenement Museum Shop 103 Orchard Street, between Delancey and Broome, near Delancey.

The Delancey-Essex F, J, M and Z subway station has an escalator but no elevator. The nearest wheelchair accessible subway station is B, D, F, M and 6 station at Broadway-Lafayette.

The M15 and Sightseeing Buses stop at the corner of Grand and Allen Streets. Exit the bus and walk one block east to Orchard Street. Then walk one 1/2 block north towards Delancey Street.

The tour schedule varies so check the Tenement Museum’s calendar to see what is on when you plan to visit, and then book your ticket online.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Habsburg Gold

I had made arrangements to photograph the Habsburg Royal Collection exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. So I arrived at the staff entrance at the appointed time. After being checked in by security, Nina, the PR liaison ushered me into a maze of busy back corridors and stairways. We paused at a set of enormous double doors. Nina pushed the doors open and we found ourselves at the center of the Rudolfsaal (Rudolf’s room), a room packed with gold and bejeweled decorative and scientific objects. I was overwhelmed at the spectacular sight.

Emperor Rudolf the second (1552-1612) was a keen devotee of science. Over his lifetime, he amassed a diverse collection of objects, employing the best craftsmen and foremost thinkers of his time. Stellar scientists and artists like the astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe to name a few. In his palace in Prague, he repurposed and adapted eight rooms just to house his paintings, library and “Kunstkammer”.

No.6 | Kunsthistorisches Museum shows Habsburg Gold in Vienna

Kunstkammer is a word that refers to a “cabinet of curiosities” or “cabinet of wonders”. It’s an encyclopedic personal collection showcasing things like sculptures, tapestries, elaborate table decor, paintings. Other peculiar objects were acquired just to entertain and impress guests and wealthy patrons. Kunstkammers were particularly popular with the European gentry from the Middle Ages all the way through the 19th century.

The Kunstkammer in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum displays the collection of the rulers of the house of Habsburg. So since the Habsburgs were at the top of the heap for Royals in Europe, you know these cabinets are going to be extraordinary. Emperor Franz Joseph the first, instated the Vienna Kunstkammer in 1891. The collection then stayed relatively undisturbed until the Kunsthistorisches Museum was closed in 2003 to undergo major structural refurbishments, opening again in March of 2013.

No.6 | Kunsthistorisches Museum shows Habsburg Gold in Vienna

We had entered in the middle of the exhibit, so I made my way back to the beginning to experience the full exhibit as intended. Starting at the Middle Ages, artifacts are organized by chronology and benefactor, ending in the late Baroque and Neoclassical periods with a room full of wonderful marble busts.

No.6 | Kunsthistorisches Museum shows Habsburg Gold in Vienna

The richness and diversity of the collection is breathtaking. In contrast to our present-day culture in which the ostentatious display of wealth is frowned upon, during the time of the Habsburg rule, such impressive displays were a common form of propaganda – a way to convey one’s status, intellect, and cultural sophistication.

The Kunstkammer in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum displays the collection of the rulers of the house of Habsburg. Emperor Franz Joseph the first, instated the first Kunstkammer in 1891

Objects were collected of the most exotic and uncommon materials. At the time, they were uncommon because they were not accessible to the average person. And today they are just as rare because much of what is on display is (sadly) either extinct or endangered.

No.6 | Kunsthistorisches Museum shows Habsburg Gold in Vienna

In the Rudolfsaal (Emperor Rudolf room) are displayed some of my favorite objects in the collection, the automated and scientific machines. They are amazing to behold, even when they sit idle. Considering their age it is hard to imagine they would still work but they do, in fact, operate perfectly. Around the perimeter of the room tablet computers have been built into benches, conveniently displaying videos of the “Automaten” in operation.

It was a rainy Viennese day so the museum was packed with visitors. I was surprised by how many children and young adults had come for a visit with their parents and grandparents. It was lovely to see people’s awe-filled responses, especially the younger attendees. People whispered so as to not disturb the quiet atmosphere. It’s a perfect excursion for a multigenerational group with varied interests.

No.6 | Kunsthistorisches Museum shows Habsburg Gold in Vienna

For me, the most haunting object was the Allegory of Transience, the so-called Vanitas Group, by Michel Erhart. Produced around AD 1470-1480, it shows three female figures, or the same figure at three different stages: youth, beauty and old age. It brings to mind one’s own mortality.

No.6 | Kunsthistorisches Museum shows Habsburg Gold in Vienna

Not widely known, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and its Kunstkammer are truly an exhibit for the 21st century. The collection is curated in a wonderfully diverse and educational manner. Old technology is on display but it is perfectly supported with the best modern technology to facilitate the experience for visitors. It’s a wonderful place to see the long lost past brought into the present.


Entrance tickets to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum are available at www.shop.khm.at/ticket-shop and from the ticket offices in front of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.

Tickets are available for Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Annual Ticket holders, holders of combined tickets or Friends of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien can pick up their free tickets at the ticket office in front of the museum.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
Maria Theresien-Platz, Vienna

Telephone 011 43 152 5241

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger