Saturday, July 28, 2012

Levens Hall and Gardens

Levens Hall and Gardens is located on the edge of the Lake District in Cumbria, England a few miles outside Kendal and is one of the best examples of a topiary garden in the world. Topiary is the art of cutting trees and shrubs into shapes which are held in position and trained using wires.

The topiary garden was designed by Colonel Grahame's gardener, Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont in 1689 and completed in 1720. Beaumont was gardener to King James II and helped to design the gardens at Hampton Court. Levens Park was originally a medieval deer park but was formally restructured as a recreational park with a great oak avenue, ancient yew trees, specimen trees and views of the river. 

The trees used for the topiary work at Levens Hall are Yew, Golden Yew and Box. The borders to the beds are of Dwarf Edging Box. The historic topiary garden also incorporates a small orchard of apple trees and medlars, a nuttery and herb garden, a bowling green, a rose garden, herbaceous borders and seasonal bedding.

The Hall is a magnificent Elizabethan mansion built around a 13th century pele tower and contains a collection of Jacobean furniture , fine paintings and the earliest English patchwork.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dinosaurs in Paris

The Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy is a part of the French National Museum of Natural History and is situated in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris near the Gare d'Austerlitz.
The Gallery was inaugurated in 1898 as part of l' Expositions universelles de Paris of 1900 and was the creation of professors Albert Gaudry (Professor of Paleontology) and Georges Pouchet (Professor of Comparative Anatomy) who wished to preserve and present to the public collections of great historic and scientific importance. The collections derive from the great expeditions of the traveller-naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as from the ménagerie' (zoo) of the Jardin des Plantes.

The Gallery of Paleontology presents a famous collection of fossil vertebrates (especially dinosaurs and other extinct animals) and of invertebrates.
The Gallery of Comparative Anatomy, holds nearly a thousand skeletons and interprets their organization and classification. The remarkable Gallery building, designed by the architect Frederic Dutert consists of two floors and its surface area is approximately 2,500 square meters. The largest gallery, made of stone and metal, is almost 80 meters long, the facades are decorated with sculptures inspired by naturalists and large windows afford abundant natural light.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France (44 hectares (110 acres) though there are larger cemeteries in the city's suburbs. Père Lachaise is in the 20th arrondissement, and is reputed to be the world's most visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the graves of those who have enhanced French life over the past 200 years. It is also the site of three World War I memorials.

The cemetery is on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. The Paris Métro station Philippe Auguste on line 2 is next to the main entrance, while the station called Père Lachaise, on both lines 2 and 3, is 500 metres away near a side entrance. Many tourists prefer the Gambetta station on line 3, as it allows them to enter near the tomb of Oscar Wilde and then walk downhill to visit the rest of the cemetery.

Père Lachaise is still an operating cemetery and accepting new burials. However, the rules to be buried in a Paris cemetery are rather strict: people may be buried in one of these cemeteries if they die in the French capital city or if they lived there. Being buried in Père Lachaise is even more difficult nowadays as there is a waiting list: very few plots are available. The gravesites at Père Lachaise range from a simple, unadorned headstone to towering monuments and even elaborate mini chapels dedicated to the memory of a well-known person or family. A lot of the tombs are about the size and shape of a phone booth, with just enough space for a mourner to step inside, kneel to say a prayer, and leave some flowers.

Oscar Wilde's Grave

Edith Piaf's Grave

Jim Morrison's Grave

Dedications to Jim Morrison on a tree next to his grave

The cemetery manages to squeeze an increasing number of bodies into a finite and already crowded space. One way it does this is by combining the remains of multiple family members in the same grave. At Père Lachaise, it is not uncommon to reopen a grave after a body has decomposed and inter another coffin. Some family mausoleums or multi-family tombs contain dozens of bodies, often in several separate but contiguous graves. Shelves are usually fitted out to accommodate them.

Tribute to Flight AF447

In relatively recent times, Père Lachaise has adopted a standard practice of issuing 30-year leases on gravesites, so that if a lease is not renewed by the family, the remains can be removed, space made for a new grave, and the overall deterioration of the cemetery minimized. Abandoned remains are boxed, tagged and moved to Aux Morts ossuary, in Père Lachaise cemetery. Plots can be bought in perpetuity, for 50, 30 or 10 years, the last being the least expensive option. Even in the case of mausoleums and chapels, coffins are most of the time below ground.
There are a large number of famous people buried at Père Lachaise cemetery including Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Stephane Grappelli, Marcel Marceau, Jim Morrison, Michel Petrucciani and Gioachino Rossini.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bordeaux Chateaux.

Think of Bordeaux and you immediately think of wine. Bordeaux sits on the Garonne River in south west France and is surrounded by some of France's most famous vineyards. 
Bordeaux is the world's major wine industry capital. It is home to the world's main wine fair, Vinexpo, while the wine economy in the metro area moves 14.5 billion euros each year. Bordeaux wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century. The historic part of the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as "an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble" of the 18th century.

Bordeaux has about 116,160 hectares (287,000 acres) of vineyards, 57 appellations, 10,000 wine-producing châteaux and 13,000 grape growers. With an annual production of approximately 960 million bottles, Bordeaux produces large quantities of everyday wine as well as some of the most expensive wines in the world. Included among the latter are the area's five premier cru (first growth) red wines (four from Médoc and one, Château Haut-Brion, from Graves), established by the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855: The first growths are:

  • Château Lafite-Rothschild
  • Château Margaux
  • Château Latour
  • Château Haut-Brion
  • Château Mouton-Rothschild*
*In 1855 Mouton-Rothschild was ranked a Second Growth. In 1973, it was elevated to First Growth status.

Both red and white wines are made in Bordeaux. Red Bordeaux is called claret in the United Kingdom. Red wines are generally made from a blend of grapes, and may be made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit verdot, Malbec, and, less commonly in recent years, Carménère. White Bordeaux is made from Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. Sauternes is a subregion of Graves known for its intensely sweet, white, dessert wines such as Château d'Yquem.