November in Italy in sketches

I like travelling, it’s fun and Europe’s a great place to scratch that itch in. I’ve been to Spain quite a bit recently and had a great time. I’ve really got over my initial aversion from a family trip to Madrid more than ten years ago – perhaps clouded by some internal issues which confined me to a rice based diet. In this burst of Iberian fever Italy has been a bit overlooked. I have religiously consumed pizza and pasta but not stepped foot in the country for a while ( of course apart from a wedding in Perugia last year…James & Angelica – if you read this!). That duck was broken last month when I was treated to two long weekends away to Venice – GF and Turin – Mum. Very nice of them.

Both lovely places which I thoroughly recommend. Venice, of course is pretty established on the mini-breaker radar. Turin certainly isn’t, we hardly saw any tourists but it has some great sites and architecture, is easy to get to and has great food and drink – and Cristiano Ronaldo if you like football!

I took a sketchbook (that doubled as a bit of a diary) to both places. The ‘mini-break’ is a pretty full on kind of concept (see Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man for a brilliant take on it all) so taking a bit of time out in the weekend is pretty essential. Sketching enforces that pause for me.

I’m more comfortable drawing the architecture, it stays nice and still, but am trying to capture people as well – with less success currently. Here’s a tour of Venice and Turin through sketches. You decide…

From the most recent – Turin

To Venice (only 2 weeks before)

That all said I haven’t yet visited Pizza Express Woking, perhaps my most memorable Italian experience is still to come…

Moor than meets the eye

There could be worse places to start my blog section than the sun soaked ‘golden triangle’ of southern Spain. So here goes..

Last summer a friend and I rented a small car, a Seat of course, which we named Cristiano (a nod to Madrid’s top football star) and set off to explore Andalusia. Since then I have been fascinated by Moorish architecture and design. My history degree didn’t teach me a lot about the Moors but my Rough Guide informs me enough to give you a short history… In 800AD the Islamic Moors sail from northern Africa and over a period of 8 years bring most of the Iberian Peninsula (or modern day Spain) under their control. A series of civil wars meant that their control of the entire peninsula is fleeting. However, over their seven hundred year presence in Spain they held continuous control of al-Andalus (Andalucia) leaving there an architectural legacy of striking beauty.

What did they teach me?

Luxury doesn’t have to be gold taps. What about a beautiful courtyard of orange trees? The Mesquita de Cordoba has a staggeringly beautiful composition of orange trees which extend the columns of the cathedral out into the exterior courtyard. Dotted between these trees are a series of pools. Sunshine, fruit, dappled shade, running water and the ordered trees – I promise you it’s unforgettable – in the right way. Gold taps no thanks, orange trees in southern Spain yes please.

Go natural for lighting. Can’t all live in perma-summer can we? And I say this as a Scot. We could make more of what we have. I’m not a psychologist but it’s pretty clear that there’s something really relaxing about nature. The moorish buildings are made for the sun of Spain. They absorb its rays and take the harshness of the heat out of it, the wall tiles become more brilliant and the water seems to shine. You are shielded from the worst of the heat while taking advantage of it.

I think we could channel more of this into our architecture here. We are both exposed to extremes of climate, Spain has the sun, we have wind, rain and cloud. The response of the moors was to harness the sun. Our response tends to be to block out the British weather. Yet surely since we have so little light we should do everything we can to eke it out?


Gardens of the Alcazar, Cordoba

Lines of orange trees in the Mesquita de Cordoba

Inside the Mesquita de Cordoba. Originally the side of the cathedral would have been open and these pillars would have opened on to a view of the orange trees outside.

Islamic wall decorations, with reflection onto an interior courtyard

Islamic tiles in the Casa de Pilatos, Seville

Courtyard in the Casa de Pilatos