Friday Fun: Beautiful University Campuses

My older son has just finished his first year at university and will be coming home for the summer. So I am in the mood to check out some university campuses around the world: while architecture and functionality are both important, I am always more impressed by beautiful locations and gardens.

Of course I will start with my favourite place and alma mater, Cambridge. The sun setting on the mellow stone of the colleges along the backs will always make my heart sing.
But I’m not biased just by universities I attended: for example, this one is Heidelberg, which is slightly more beautiful than Marburg, I admit. From Schiller University site.
American universities often try to copy European models, rather than embracing the new, but this small Berry College in Georgia looks charming.
What a library in the baroque University of Coimbra in Portugal!
The oldest university in Europe (or so they claim) is Bologna, and, this being Italy, the decor is outstanding. From Visiting Italy magazine.
But I quite like the bold, brash new universities in Asia, such as Xiamen University in China, in such a glorious location. From Study in China website.
The University of Tasmania has a rather blocky modern warehousey architecture, but who cares when you can go up Mount Wellington and see this view?

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
Interior of the Curtea de Arges monastery (frescos dating from the 16th century but renovated in 2010). From
The famous ‘family portrait’ of Neagoe Basarab, who ordered the monastery to be built.
Iosif Iser: Peasant Family in Arges, 1918, from
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,
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
After the Second World War, Ivanescu-Millan settled in Curtea de Arges and painted landscapes and portraits, from
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

Friday Fun: Where Should Marina Retire?

Every couple of weeks I start looking at property websites and planning my next move. The house in which I live now is probably the one I have spent the longest amount of time in (we bought it the year my younger son was born, 16 years ago), but we lived there intermittently, moving abroad twice during that period, for a total of seven years away. I fought tooth and nail to keep it in my divorce settlement, because I couldn’t face the hassle of yet another move. Yet, once both sons have swanned off to university or jobs or whatever they plan to do, I am planning to ‘downsize’. In my case, however, the downsizing might be more a case of moving abroad (in the EU, to be precise), where houses are more affordable (although not the ones I am showing below). I will obviously be spending some of the year in Romania, in a landscape somewhat like this:

But for the rest of the year, there are three places that are calling to me, each with its pros and cons.

Option 1 – France – for the skiing, food and culture

Lyon has that big city vibe but is close enough to stunning mountains, from Barnes International.
The apartments in the old part of Lyon are just perfectly proportioned, from AK.SO Conseils.
And this chateau just outside Lyon would allow me to invite Emma from BookAround over, and we could run reading retreats for all of our friends. From AK.SO Conseils.
If Lyon is too expensive, then Grenoble might prove a good alternative, and is closer to the pistes. From Espaces Atypiques.

Option 2 – Berlin – for the friends and lifestyle

Berlin is all about apartments or penthouses, and I like these stairs going up to a roof terrace. From FarAwayHome.
This penthouse flat overlooking the Bundestag is or was apparently the most expensive apartment in Berlin, from Peach Property Group.
I personally prefer the villas on the outskirts of Berlin, close to the lakes, such as this Villa Am Grunewald.
This Villa Bermann also overlooks a lake, and is probably big enough to accommodate a few reading and writing retreats.

Option 3 – Ireland, County Cork – for its natural beauty and remaining in an English-speaking environment

A view from the kitchen to die for, especially if you start sailing in your old age. From Christies Real Estate.
Maureen O’Hara’s house was up for sale a short while ago, nicely tucked away amidst the green. From Cork Beo.
But there are some surprisingly modern constructions as well, like this bungalow in Kinsale. From Irish Times.

So where would you advise me to move in a few years’ time? Where would you like to join me for writing and/or reading retreats, coupled with a bit of hiking or Nordic walking?

Friday Fun: Passion for an Architects’ Studio

Earlier this month I came across a dream villa in a dream location on the shores of Lake Geneva, designed by Olson Kundig Architects. I was so intrigued by it that I stalked them on their website and systematically worked my way through their portfolio. Alongside public buildings all over the world, they also have a knack for very modern private houses, with huge windows, in stunning locations, really allowing nature to mingle with the indoors. When I win the lottery (or a whole dozen of them, I think), you know whom I will employ to build me the dream home. All the photos are from their website

It all started with this view from the Chemin Byron villa on Lake Geneva.
Seamlessly going from the outside to the inside in this Californian home.
The sea can be heard and seen from this terrace/living room in Hawaii.
The forest is peeking into the house in this Canadian home.
This house in Rio has the jungle as a backdrop for the living room.
These wide open spaces are fine in summer – but what might they look like in the rain and snow of Washington State?
This is from another architecture firm, Villa Aquamarine by Mykarch in Mykonos, but I couldn’t resist adding it here as the perfect blend of indoors and landscape, and combining my favourite colours.

Friday Fun: Venturing Out into the World

We’ve spent a lot of time in home libraries, cosy reading nooks, even under the stairs over the past few weeks. So it’s high time we looked at inspiring contemporary architectures (hopefully well insulated and far away from peeking eyes) set in amazing landscapes. Welcome to spring, Easter, and nature’s rebirth!

Mountain home designed by Kelly Stone Architects, from OneKindesign.
Canadian lakeside home, photo credit: Maciek Linowski, from Contemporist.
Semi-underground ecological home from the Netherlands, from
Marataba Trails Lodge in South Africa is more of a hotel but I wouldn’t mind living here all year round, from
‘Cottage’ may be an understatement for this house set on its own island on New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, designed by Bossley Architects.

Friday Fun: Homesick for Romania

I was supposed to go to Romania this summer to celebrate my parents’ 80th birthdays (they are on different days, but both in the same year). I was hoping to take the boys for a hike in my beloved mountains, but instead will have to make do with these pictures instead. The first few pictures are from places that were within easy travel distance from Bucharest, so I used to go hiking and skiing there at least once a month when I was a pupil and a student. The last batch show the four seasons in different parts of the country.

N.B. I left Romania in the mid 1990s because it had a corrupt government, merciless exploitative capitalism combined with nostalgia for communist strong men, and because young people seemed to have no future there to fully develop their talents. There are still plenty of things wrong there, but I’m seriously thinking of moving back there in retirement at the latest.

One of my favourite places: the Sphinx on the summit of the Bucegi mountains. From Turist de Romania website.

Not far from there, Cabana Stana Tarla above Sinaia. From

A little bit further away, sunset over the Caltun Lake in the Fagaras Mountain range, from

The Seven Staircase Gorge near Brasov, photo credit Ionut Stoica. Not recommended if you suffer from vertigo!

Spring in the Apuseni mountains, from

Summertime in the Retezat nature reserve, from Icar Tours.

Autumn is always spectacular in the mountains, from

Last but not least, winter in Bucovina, with its traditional wooden churches. From The Romania Journal

Friday Fun: And Breathe… in New Zealand

This Friday Fun post is pure escapism, nothing political about it at all… but for some reason all of today’s houses seem to be located in New Zealand. A country I very much hope to visit some day. Most if not all of these pictures are taken from the wonderful website

Villa in Wairarapa, photo: Simon Devitt.

House designed by Strachan Architects, photo Patrick Reynolds.

House on Lake Wakatipu, photo Paul McCredie.

Kawau Island bach, photo Alex Wallace.

This house is not about the view, but about the rather lovely inner courtyard. Photo: Samuel Hartnett

The perfect beach house? Sorry, not sure of photo credit, but I couldn’t resist sharing it.


Friday Fun: A Romanian Landscape Photographer

Autumn is spectacular in the Romanian mountains and, as if to alleviate my homesickness, I’ve discovered the amazing photographs of the very talented Alex Robciuc. Here are just a few examples, but you can follow all his work on or check him out on Facebook. He was the award winner for Romania in the Sony World Photography Awards 2019. No filter required!

The first glimpses of autumn.
Autumnal village in Maramures.
Almost like a toy landscape in Transylvania.
Makes me want to move there immediately…

Friday Fun: Ireland in the Sun

To the tune of ‘Islands in the Sun’, here are some pictures from our lovely trip to Ireland last week.

My favourite place indoors, of course. Trinity College Library.

Guess what symbol this is?

View over Dublin and Howth.

Wicklow Mountains. No sun but spectacular clouds blowing past.

Old monastery, graveyard and siege-ready tower.

Lough Bray Lower.

The sea, the sea at Bray.

The grounds at Malahide Castle.

Cosy three-bedroom medieval castle at Malahide.

This was a common sight in Ireland and reminded me how I’ve never seen the Union Jack flying together with the EU flag in the UK even before the Brexit vote.

Friday Fun: Villas to Get Away from It All

Sunny spells announced today after yesterday’s stormy weather, but more grey bleakness still to come. So of course I cannot help but wish I were far, far away from it all, in one of these luxurious villas. (Small aside: have you noticed how most celebrity homes and holiday villas featured in magazines are rather tacky and over-decorated? It wasn’t as easy as you might think to find something appealing… even when money is no object.)

It's the landscape which usually does it for me... Villa in Bali, from
It’s the views which usually do it for me… Villa in Bali, from

Fearless architecture also tempts me, villa in Camps Bay, South Africa. From
Fearless architecture also tempts me, villa in Camps Bay, South Africa. From

Another Balinese beauty, but this time the Zen qualities of the inner courtyard. From
Another Balinese beauty, but this time the Zen qualities of the inner courtyard. From

The swimming pool seems obligatory, even if you have the sea nearby, as in this villa in Seychelles, from
Plenty of room to welcome your friends in a mass contemplation of the sea, as in this villa in Seychelles, from

The swimming pool comes in handy if you want a quick dip without trekking all the way down to and up from the beach, as in this Mykonos villa. From 400 Holidays site.
The swimming pool comes in handy if you want a quick dip without trekking all the way down to and up from the beach, as in this Mykonos villa. From 400 Holidays site.

Villa in Chile integrated into the landscape, with a rooftop garden. From
Villa in Chile integrated into the landscape, with a rooftop garden. From

The final one is purely conceptual for the time being and might prove a little too much for my claustrophobic tendencies, but it’s the perfect desert island for someone.

Floating villa with underwater level, from Daily Express.
Floating villa with underwater level, from Daily Express.