Friday Fun: Monastic Retreats

When I was in my early teens, I had a craving to become a nun. Not so much for reasons of faith, but because I kept thinking what fun it must be to have plenty of time to read, write, meditate and perhaps do a spot of gardening. Of course, in the meantime, I have realised that modern monastic communities do far more than that. And yet, when I see pictures such as these, I want to go on a retreat there for several weeks, if not months.

St Mary’s Monastery in Perth, Scotland, from TripAdvisor.
Metochi Monastery in Lesvos, Greece, has been rented out as a study centre for the University of Agder in Norway, from lesvos.com
The Swiss monastery of Kappel am Albis is a place where I once ran a training workshop over several days – the food was brilliant too! From Cityseeker.
The Chartreusian monasteries are among the strictest in the world – you are practically locked up in your cell – still, when the cell looks like this, I wouldn’t mind. Photo credit Nico Angleys on Twitter, from the Grand Chartreux Monastery.
The Abbaye de Lerin runs revision sessions for high school students preparing their Baccalaureate. It’s on an island near Cannes, so there is no escape. Photo credit: Jean-Jacques Giordan.
A very modern Benedictine monastery, Mucknell Abbey in Worcestershire was built on the site of an old farm. From Mucknellabbey.org
Combining two of my favourite things: South Africa and Buddhism, this Buddhist retreat near Durban is a dream – and has accommodation ranging from the basic to the luxurious. Photo credit: Chantelle Flores, from Travelstart.co.za

Friday Fun: Painters in Curtea de Argeş

One final blog post about my trip to Romania, but you will be relieved to hear that this time you will not have to rely on my puny photographic skills. Instead, I would like to introduce you to some painters associated with the little town of Curtea de Argeş. I was surprised to discover there were far more than I had expected, when I went to visit the local museum. Alongside painters who were either born or made their home here, this part of the country seems to have been a popular source of inspiration for well-known painters living in Bucharest. Not to mention, of course, the medieval church frescoes.

Starting with the oldest: 14th century altarpiece in the church at the Royal Court (Biserica Domneasca). From Trecator.ro
Interior of the Curtea de Arges monastery (frescos dating from the 16th century but renovated in 2010). From transfagarasantravel.ro
The famous ‘family portrait’ of Neagoe Basarab, who ordered the monastery to be built.
Iosif Iser: Peasant Family in Arges, 1918, from Universulargesean.ro
The artist who restored many of the church frescos in Arges, Dumitru Norocea. His house (painted here by himself) now houses a collection of art and ethnography. From Am Fost Acolo blog.
Ion Theodorescu-Sion: Street in Curtea de Arges, 1922, from Pictura Zilei, ziuaconstanta.ro
Porch in Arges by Rudolf Schweitzer-Cumpăna, 1927, on WikiArt.
Emil Ivanescu Millan was renowned in the 1930s as a painter of church frescoes. From adevarul.ro
After the Second World War, Ivanescu-Millan settled in Curtea de Arges and painted landscapes and portraits, from adevarul.ro
Nicolae Darascu: Landscape from Arges, 1950s. From WikiArt.
Not in Curtea de Arges itself, but at the Cotmeana Monastery nearby, this rather fine depiction of hell. From povestidecalatorie.ro.

Friday Fun: City vs. Country

There are contrasts between the urban and rural in any country, but I sometimes think that Romania is an extreme example of that. No wonder I am dazed when I go back there for any period of time!

The Museum of Romanian Literature is housed in a former noble townhouse in Bucharest.
My grandmother’s house has been repainted, the vine replanted, but you can still see the porch where we used to sleep in summer, because it was too hot indoors.
Architectural detail on Calea Victoriei, Bucharest.
Interior delight at my grandmother’s house in the countryside. We loved the stove, which was used both for cooking and for heating in winter. The ubiquitous Abduction from the Seraglio wall hanging (barely glimpsed on the left) was less popular with us children…
Charming room over the carriage entrance at a grand house in Bucharest.
Although my grandparents’ house had two rooms, one was kept pristine ‘The Good Room’ for guests, while the parents and seven children all crowded in two beds in this room. My father, the youngest of seven children, says that they slept horizontally across the bed, with their feet either dangling or propped up on chairs.
The best restaurant in Bucharest at the moment, or so I hear.
During the summer months, my grandmother used this summer kitchen next to the main house, with a vegetable and herb garden right next to it, and grapevines hanging over a trellis (no longer there) while we played cards at the table – and occasionally helped her.
The Bucharest villa of pianist Dinu Lipatti, lit up in Ukrainian colours.
One of the three cemeteries where family members lie buried in the countryside.
There isn’t much love for modernist architecture, but this 1930s building designed for a ministry deserves to be renovated.
Museum of Art Collections was one of my favourite places to visit while at school, with frequent talks about art and culture from other countries.

Friday Fun: The Little Royal Town

My parents chose to retire in the little town of Curtea de Argeș (population 27,000), because they were both originally from the local area, still have family there and can easily go and visit the family graves or native village without having to live in a completely rural environment. Despite its idyllic location in the foothills of the Carpathians, it is a sleepy town for most of the year, without a single theatre, cinema or leisure centre, and a library and museum that are hardly ever open or visited by anyone. In recent years, quite a few people from Bucharest have chosen to retire there (usually because of family connections) and built quite beautiful and large houses, in the hope of luring back their children for the holidays. But the children tend to find the place completely dead after they turn seven or so.

However, the name of the town itself hints at its former glory, for it literally means The Court on the Argeș, which is the name of a rather manky looking river nowadays (because they have built hydro power stations all along it), and also the name of the county. In the Middle Ages, when several local fiefdoms united to form the basis for Wallachia (which later became one of the founding states of modern Romania), it was here that they established the first capital city. You can still see the ruins of the court of the Basarab family and the church that they built here, which is even older than the famous local monastery.

Built by 1351, although the interior frescoes weren’t completed until 1369.
Detail: this style of building with layers of horizontal bricks alternating with stone is quite unique to this area, as far as I am aware. The renovated sculptural details around the window casing data from the 17th century.
The grand entrance to the royal court: the ruler himself lived in a fairly simple two-room accommodation on the right-hand side as you walk in, but his ‘offices’ on the left-hand side, where people came to petition him and where he received foreign dignitaries, were much grander. Still, he could walk from home to work, right?
The gatekeeper’s house was built in the mid-19th century to mimic a traditional peasant house from the local area.
Couldn’t resist this juxtaposition of old and new – this church was built at around the same time on a hill just outside the Royal Court and probably served as a watchtower. Nowadays, the small park contains the War Memorial.
The covered market was built in the late 19th century, when the little market town became popular again because King Carol I decided to make it his final resting place for him and his descendants.
Not my picture, but to give you an idea of what it looks like inside: from ZiarulActualitatea.com. Nowadays, however, the farmers’ market is next door in a slightly more modern building, while the main building is dedicated to butchers and fishmongers. Still a great place to shop, though!
This, however, is what the town is best known for: the Monastery, with its rather gruesome legend with echoes of Icarus and human sacrifice, which has led to one of the most enduring and heartrending ballads in Romanian literature. Proud to say that my younger son was christened inside it, especially since the church is no longer used for ceremonies.
But there are plenty of examples of eclectic 18th and 19th century architecture peppered across town, despite the Communist drive towards industrialisation and ugly blocks of flats.
Traditional architecture in Casa Cioculestilor, from ro.wikipedia.org
Casa Chiriță from the early 20th century in neo-Romanian style.
Casa Norocea from 1913.
The town is also an important archdiocese for the Archbishop of the local area and obviously has reserved a fine building for him and his workers.
The Teodorescu House, from ro.wikipedia.org
The Hohenzollern royal family liked this place so much, they built a whole railway track from Pitesti, with each station along the way in a distinctive red brick style and of course culminating in this gorgeous oversized end of the line station. Sadly, although the local council wants to renovate it as a historical monument, it belongs to the National Rail equivalent in Romania, who doesn’t have the money to maintain it. From ro.wikipedia.org

Friday Fun: Walking down the boulevard

I wanted to keep all of the architectural pictures I took in Romania in one place, although there are so many of them, that it will end up being two or even three Friday posts, if you can cope. The first installment is from Bucharest, on the boulevard I walked down nearly every day to get to my university department (which was not at the main university building). It was always a prestigious location, with fine noble houses from the 19th century. Now back to its old name (of a 19th century conservative politician) to replace the 1848 woman revolutionary Ana Ipătescu, simply because that was the name of the street during Communist times, although naturally she had nothing to do with Communism. I’m quite incensed about this change of name, actually, and not quite sure whether I should be grateful or sad that the most beautifully renovated buildings are embassies or foreign companies nowadays.

A balcony worthy of Romeo and Juliet – and more magnolia.
Some of the buildings are very Parisian in style and feel.
While others have (to my mind) a more Oriental/Turkish twist.
Some are clearly more Scandinavian or inspired by mountain chalets.
Some might call this hodge-podge, but I quite enjoy the variety of styles on display.
Clearly, there was a bit of ‘outdoing your neighbours’ rivalry going on.
Who has the best decoration, round windows, little turrets, balconies, iron gates?
A friend of mine lived in a flat in this building (back when it was nationalised), so it’s sad to see it is one of the few remaining unrenovated ones. Although it has a certain decaying charm…
Glad to see that this one is getting refurbished. I’d love a study right there at the very top, wouldn’t you?
Away from the fancy houses on the main street, the back streets in this area are still full of the more modest houses of the bourgeois professional classes. This ‘bungalow’ one might have belonged to a doctor or a lawyer.
It’s the little details that I love. So unnecessary, so charming.
And this is my favourite house, in the so-called neo-Romanian style which was hugely popular at the start of the 20th century. You might recognise it from the first picture at the top.

Friday Fun: Chateaux with Modern Interiors

You don’t always have to painstakingly maintain the traditional interior of a chateau, it appears that heritage laws are not always that strict – possibly if you have enough money to circumvent them.

Of course a chateau has to have a double-spaced great hall with a gallery, right? From Angus2012.
Keeping it simple, with bare floors and dark walls, from nbaynadamas.blogspot.com
A rather more ornate reinterpretation of a chateau, from Architectural Digest Middle East.
A blend of traditional bookcases and modern furniture and lighting, from Architectural Digest.
A timeless interior, with a few iconoclastic touches, like the shaggy chair, from House Beautiful.
With these frescos, this apartment on the Riviera only needs the bare minimum of furnishings, from The Spaces.

Friday Fun: Impractical Houses

My Friday Fun fluffy posts have always been about escapism rather than practicalities, but the houses below might strain credulity.

Ncaved House in Greece, half-buried into the mountain, by Mold Architecture. It feels like a very barren place to me.
Sea conch shaped house in Mexico looks brilliant at first glance, but can you imagine trying to fit in any furniture – or having to repaint the exterior? From WonderfulEngineering.com
This lighthouse-shaped house in Devon formed one of the saddest episodes of Grand Designs, as the owner not only took ten years and went millions of pounds into debt to build it, but his marriage also broke down in the process.
This playful, Moomin-like treetop house in Norway is destined for weekend stays… and is certainly not wheelchair friendly. From Azure Pan Cabin.
This Snail House in Sofia, Bulgaria, extends over five storeys (windows are all on the other side) – great fun, but the paint touch-up job must be excruciating. From Trip Advisor.
This one looks pretty much like a dream pad to me, except it feels slightly claustrophobic and I rather like my bedroom to be dark in the morning. From Pinterest.

Friday Fun: Of the Classical Bent

It seems that many of us cannot get enough of the more classical style of libraries – lots of wood, darker colours, symmetrical decorations, comfy armchairs. Somewhere to hide from the crazy world!

Shutters down if you are in a Southern climate, to protect your books. From Pinterest.
Art and books merge seamlessly here, plus check out that strategically placed reading lamp. From The Fuller Review.
You know I can never resist a library with a mezzanine floor, and this cosy seating arrangement is perfect for two bookish friends. From Pinterest.
The Americans always have to do everything bigger and more opulent – the fireplace apparently was brought over from a London townhouse. From Sotheby’s.
If you do not have the ceiling height for mezzanines, this arrangement works well too. From Architectural Digest.
Another American entry, Dunham Library in California, from Veranda.

Friday Fun: Timelessly Elegant

Or everything I am not, in other words! But then, how can you compete with some much-loved bookshelves?

Monochrome beauty by Visual Vamp on Tumblr.
Clever partition to allow for a reading and study space – and more shelves, not just on the walls. From Casa Paolo.
Ah, if only we had a loft or attic as spacious as this, right? From metalbuildinghomes.com
A Scandinavian living room, I’m sure – note the lack of curtains, the cosy fireplace, the minimalist furniture and the parquet flooring. From Fashiion-gone-rouge.
But if you prefer more classical alternatives, this seems like a good place to start, from ebookfriendly.com
The Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar – what a woman – a composer, collector and operating a highly respected cultural salon.
But if it’s a modest little paradise, you seek, then this one from The Grey Home should do the trick.

Friday Fun: Rearranging Bookshelves

At some point I need to have a big clear out of books, clothes and knick-knacks, but for the time being, let me still dream of endless shelf space! Some of the home libraries below have lots of room to play with, but others are very clever at making the best use of quite narrow spaces.

American painter Winslow Homer seems to have been quite keen on books too, and clever at using this corridor for bookshelves. From TheMaineMag.com
A more spacious corridor than any of us might possess, but still a delightful way to decorate, from zillow.com
If you have a whole outhouse or barn at your disposal to turn into a library, you can even create a book club and workdesk area. From Business Insider.
The classic French chateau look, from photonshouse.com
The English dandy look, complete with record player and chess set, from Awoum.com
Clever or excessive use of lighting in this double-decker library/living room? From Pinterest.
A more discreet use of lighting, from PhantomLighting.com