For quite some time The Writer and I have been testing the theory that a little bit of disaster punctuating a holiday just makes the good bits better. You might have read about the border incident which showcased a classic example where stress and imminent starvation resulted in a bog standard schnitzel consumed an hour later tasting like something a team of Michelin starred chefs had dreamed up for the culmination of the final dinner at a gourmet retreat.
You might be surprised to learn we’ve amassed a fairly hefty set of data to support our working theory over the years. Indeed, The Writer has already published some early data based on a single holiday with five subjects participating in the field experiment-me ,The Writer, MIL and the two offspring.He has a perky little writing style and many a reader has commented along the lines of : “I bust a gut laughing at the antics of the Whitton family on holiday”. If you think you might enjoy a bust gut you can join the gang down at the hospital after reading Bon Voyage.
Sometimes the geek in me wins out so I decided to create an equation to express the working theory and here it is:
(Within the confines of H) D followed by NPE = HSH
H= a holiday from the usual place of residence ( preferably overseas with limited local language skills)
D= any event that precipitates pain, stress, financial loss, misery, tears, shouting or actual bodily harm
NHP= any normal happy event such as a dinner that is edible, a car that gets you from A to B without breaking down, a mobile phone that has signal when you want to use it or a swimming pool that is full of water on a hot day.
HSH = a heightened state of happiness.
I plan to post a few examples of D followed by NPE = HSH over the next little while so get your inner geek on, set up a journal club and join in the evaluation of the working theory.
It’s always hard coming back after a holiday. Holidays mean the freedom of unscheduled days, hours of sunshine when I don’t have to be cooped up inside, an unspoken agreement that it’s OK to eat all those forbidden foods I usually ration out and a winding down from months of stressful work. It’s no surprise that I’m grumpy and out of sorts when it all ends!
Heading off I feel it will all be worth the 26 hours of airports and flights . I pack and repack happily, weighing suitcases to calculate how much I’ve left for the all important holiday buys. Do I really need those black sandals? Surely it won’t be cold enough for a jumper? I carefully choose a lightweight read and even look forward to watching a few movies on the longhaul flight. I stock up on chocolate and nuts at the airport and look forward to 5 weeks of blissful sun, sea, culture and good food.
It’s a different story on the way home! I curse the extra sandals as I try to crush in the last of the gifts. I decide I’ll have to carry the thick and weighty jacket I had to buy because it did get cold enough for the jumper I didn’t pack – and it annoys me all the way home as I haul it in and out of overhead lockers. The movies are rubbish and I the books I chose is dull. I don’t have any chocolate because I couldn’t face the queue to buy it but that’s OK since I feel sick as a dog.
I can’t wait to be back in my own home but once I am there’s all that unpacking and washing and sorting of clothes . The piles of gifts sit and look at me accusingly as I try and work out when I’m going to get to see all the people I want to visit now that I’m not on holidays anymore. The rain pours down and my nose streams as I hack and splutter with a welcome home cold. Jet lag kicks in and I can’t sleep for nights on end – the days at work are a blur as I try and act professional through gritty eyes and gritted teeth. I almost resign on the first day back but manage to keep my mouth shut and get on with it.
A week later and sleep returns and the very next day I find myself planning next years holiday. After all there’s only 11 months to go!
A recent visit to the Val D’Itrea in Puglia, Italy was inspired by a promotional ad for holiday accommodation in a Trullo. It looked so unique that The Writer was hooked so we built it into our 5 week Italy holiday. I have to say that The Writer is a consistently great travel planner and does a lot of destination research before presenting me with options and possible itineraries. If I had to pay for his time I wouldn’t be able to afford the holiday!! Well I suppose he would just put it in the holiday fund and we would be able to afford it anyway… back to the Trulli ( plural of a Trullo in Italian)
What’s a Trulli?
A Trullo is a traditional round dry-stone house with a conical stone roof built by the early peasants of the area now known as Puglia in Italy. We saw thousands of them on our stay, concentrated in the town of Alberobello ,dotted around the countryside in fields and huddling together in farm complexes. There were ancient tumbling down Trulli, rustic but functional Trulli, faithfully renovated Trulli, renovated and extended Trulli and brand new built Trulli. Traditional Trulli were made with large grey rocks from the field set together without any joining material. A conical stone roof was added and then flat stones were layered over the top to allow the water to run off into collecting channels built like steps into the roof – a bit like the modern tiled roof. The roof is then capped off with a little spire holding a round stone ball ( sometimes other shapes were used). The cap is often whitewashed and provides a great contrast to the grey stone. Some are just a single room, others are grouped together with connecting doors through the very thick walls, and some big farming complexes will have a main house with many conical roofs and smaller dwellings for animals and storage nearby..
Why build Trulli from stone?
Well if you ever visit Puglia you’ll notice an abundance of stone fences. And when I use the word abundance I really mean it! Seeing metre wide stone walls running each side of the narrow lane way to our accommodation just emphasised the amount of stone that must have been in the fields. If you want to plant crops you need to cultivate the land so down come the trees and out come the rocks. You can use trees for buildings, furniture, storage, fencing and fuel and but once the trees are all gone you need to find another building supply. There’s only so many fences you can make so what better way to use up those pesky stones than to build with them. There’s also a popular theory that by pulling out the conical capstone on the roof the local peasant could dismantle his house almost instantaneously thus avoiding the tax on permanent dwellings. Sounds a bit dodgy to me – I bet they took a long time to build and I certainly wouldn’t be demolishing mine every time the taxman came around! I might make a portable painted panel to disguise it though. You know the sort of thing I mean – a bucolic little number with an olive tree and a couple of goats grazing underneath with a sow and her litter foraging for windfall. I reckon that would do the trick and save a heap of work.
Alberobello World Heritage Site
Whilst Trulli date from the prehistoric age the oldest intact examples are from the 14th century and can be found in the town of Alberobello where there are over 1000 Trulli! Many of the Alberobello Trulli have whitewashed walls with a stone roof and a whitewashed capping cone. Some have whitewashed symbols painted on the roof.
This area is now a World Heritage listed site and we visited it during peak tourist time, then again early one morning and later for a sunset . It’s impressiveness lies in the simple, functional beauty of the buildings and the sheer number in such a small area. The downside was all the tourist trinket shops set up in the Trulli. I love arts and crafts but they’re scarce on the ground in Alberobello. Puglia has been one of the poorer areas of Italy so while it’s pretty easy for me to be annoyed at the tacky souvenir shops spoiling the atmosphere the locals are just doing their best to make a living and I tried to remember that.
Is the Trulli a dying art form?
There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think the Trulli won’t be around for another few millenia. We saw a lot of modern Trulli which are often made from a lighter, creamy coloured stone using square-cut blocks from local quarries which were mortar set. They incorporated multiple conical roofs with other larger areas using different angled roofs and there are some stunning properties around. Our accommodation for the week was part of a renovated Trulli with very sympathetic extensions set in beautiful grounds with a stunning paved pool area, fruit trees and olive groves.
Would I want to live in a Trulli permanently?
Not really – great for a holiday but the design means there’s not much space in each little circular room. The up side is the conical roof means there’s plenty of height to hang your favourite rustic chandelier, the downside is once you’ve got in the table and chairs there’s no room for anything else. Still, in Puglia’s summer heat those 3 foot thick walls really keep you cool and once it’s winter you can just stay tucked up in bed when you’re not eating at the table!
I was expecting the beautiful beaches of Sardinia but this small island has so much more to captivate and delight the senses. I’m not downplaying the beaches though as I’m a big fan of turquoise waters, small sandy coves and coastal flora!
Capo Coda Cavallo
Spiaggi di li Cossi
The water is warm and inviting and not only did I do my fair share of swimming and snorkelling but I managed to fill up my sketch book and break out the pastels for a painting session. It was a bit frustrating with the pastels as I just didn’t bring enough colours to really capture the full gamut of greens and blues in the water but I enjoyed the simple ink and watercolour sketches.
The wildflowers were in full bloom everywhere. Fields of dinner plate sized Queen Annes Lace carpeted the countryside and along the coast were the yellow curry plants with their pungent perfume, bright pink pigs face, delicate purple and pinks of flowers I have no name for yet and more of those QALs.
Queen Annes Lace. Sardinia
Coastal flora. Sardinia.
It’s not all beaches and flowers, there’s plenty of culture and history when you need a break from all that blue and green sea! There’s a rich history of Nuraghi settlements and burial necropoli to explore as well as the influence of the conquering Spanish and the early Christian churches. I found the Nuraghi necropoli sites very evocative and was impressed with the innovative architecture of one of their protective fortresses with it’s maze of passageways and stairs.
Nuraghi necropolis. Sardinia
Nuraghi necropolis. Sardinia
Nuraghi fortress passage. Sardinia
Nuraghi fortress. Sardinia
The early Christian churches have some wonderful carvings and were set in lonely fields and on stoney outcrops giving them an air of mystery and romantacism.
Santa Sabina. Sardinia
Church detail. Sardinia
Church deatil. Sardinia
St Antioco di Bisarcio. Sardinia
San Lorento. Sardinia
We even stumbled upon a cheery festival and saw evidence that the traditional costume is still worn on special occassions.
A short stroll down to the local beach in the evening rewarded with a moody evening light. The pine forest on the headland cast dramatic shadows and the setting sun silhouetted the wetland trees.
The wind has weathered the rocks creating interesting rockscapes.
There’s a hinterland of mountains and rolling farmlands wiith small villages scattered across the landscape that provide an interesting contrast to all that coastal scenery.
There’s something special about the light in Tuscany. The last few days has been a parade of misty mornings, sunny days and stormy afternnons resulting in some stunning landscapes. Here’s just a few.
When I haven’t been absorbed in the larger landscape I’ve been seduced by the details. The polished doorhandles, small window decorations, intricate patterns on the church facades. Everywhere is detail and it brings another level of richness to travelling in Italy.
Sometimes the two coincide in a happy moment of serendipity as happened this morning while I was visiting a small and beautiful 12th century cloister in a tiny village. The sun came out casting wonderful shadows through the black and white arches and lighting the fiery red geraniums in their terracotta pots.
Amidst all the pleasures of travel light and detail are top of my list.
I wanted to make something personal for my Mum this Mother’s Day. For me as a mum the gifts I appreciate most are the one’s that show thought and caring, maybe they take a little time , like a board game or tell me that my sons know me, like a travel set of brushes. So this year I decided money was out it was time to make something – after all I make stuff all the time for my Etsy shop , for other clients, and just for my own pleasure.
Mum and I took a road trip in New Zealand last year so I decided to make her a personalised concertina sketch book of the trip. It’s an expression of my love for her and my appreciation for those 10 days we got to spend together with no one else to interrupt our conversations or hurry me off to the next place I have to be. Time is a precious commodity I usually meet out stingily so it was a joy to have time to talk, to laugh, to moan, to rejoice, to ponder, to be silent – together. Thanks for those 10 days Mum – and all the other days of my life when you’ve been the one who gave me your precious time and love.
And no – I’m not letting any cats out of the bag – we had Mother’s Day lunch today !
New Zealand sketch book
New Zealand sketches
Concertina sketch book.
Oh – and I printed the gift box with a ewe and lamb in a nod to our family name- Woolley!
I shared a tutorial on a hand made concertina sketch book earlier this year which was inspired by a trip to my local art store. Just last week I popped in again and came away with an idea for this years travel sketch journal. Of course the art shop had a lovely little number but at $65 it was a bit pricey – I was recovering from a pre holiday trip to my favourite shop for the well endowed woman in need of reinforced swimwear- the bill was still weighing heavily on my mind ! So instead I bought an $11 sketch pad and headed home. Once there I searched around for cutoffs and scraps and in no time at all had whipped up my own version which will be just right for our trip to Italy ( only 14 sleeps to go!!)
Materials I used
purchased sketch pad
mat board off cuts
metal straight edge ruler
250gsm kraft card
Step 1. Marking the covers for cutting
Here I’ve taken a piece of mat board which is stiff enough to form the covers. The Front and Back are the same size – the size of the pad. If you want to make your own just adapt the measurements to your sketch pad.
I need to make one of the spines slightly wider – the thickness of the mat board in fact. This will mean the fold over flap will sit comfortably on top of the front cover. I make the fold over flap roughly 1/4 of the front cover width. Now I cut along the solid lines with a craft knife using my metal ruler to keep everything nice and straight.
After I cut this out I decide I want the cover to be slightly larger than the sketch pad because I’m going to add a brush holder next to the pad so I’ll need a little extra space for that . Luckily I’ve got plenty of mat board off cuts so I just cut a new back cover that’s 2cm wider. I do this quite often – redesign as I go – so it’s no surprise to find I have a lot of offcuts!!!
Step 2 Cutting out the front cover windows.
I love having a cover window or two ( in this case three) so I can add some mini paintings later which will hint at the journal contents. I just mark and cut out 3 square windows at equal distance from each other. I leave a larger gap at the bottom as I think it balances out better. You can leave this step out entirely or cut one big window instead if you prefer. This is a great way to personalise your travel journal.
Step 3 Centering the covers and glueing to the cloth.
I take a scrap of bookbinders cloth and lay it face down. Now I assemble my cover pieces leaving a small gap the width of the mat thickness between the cover boards and spines. An easy way to do this is use some matchsticks as spacers . I just eyeballed it. This gives flexibility so the covers will open and close smoothly . ( not the eyeballing – the leaving of spaces!) I mark the cloth 2cm wider than the covers all the way around and cut out. Next I spread pva glue all over the covers and cloth smoothing it out to the edges . Best to put in all on some scrap paper before you do this step but I was in too much of a hurry and so had to clean up the dried glue off my cutting board later! Now I press down firmly smoothing from the centres of each board out to the edges making sure there are no air bubbles.
Step 4 Neatening the edges.
Quickly before the glue dries I turn in the cloth around all the edges and press down firmly making sure it’s snug against the edges. Now I slash from corner to corner in each window frame and glue the triangle flaps to the cover board. pulling tight as I go. Next I glue a piece of thick sketch paper over the windows on the inside of the cover so when I turn it over the windows have little white inserts. At this stage I also use the blunt edge of a knife to run a crease down the gap between the spines and the covers.
Step 5 Adding an elastic closing strap
I wrap a piece of wide elastic all the way around the back cover and cut it 2cm shorter. I butt the ends together and sew with a wide zigzag stitch to secure . I position it 3 cm in from the spine closest to the front flap with the join on the inside of the cover. If you’re wondering what the black oblong is it’s a piece of fridge magnet I used to try out a magnetic closure but it turned out not to be strong enough. Another redesign on the go!
The elastic could be any colour you like as an accent feature. I initially wanted black but only had white and I think it was a lucky thing as the white looks good against the black cover.
Adding the elastic closure
Step 6 Attaching the lining paper.
I cut the kraft lining paper to fit inside the covers leaving a tiny 3 mm edge on the black cloth showing. Smoothing out from the centres again to get rid of any air bubbles. I get out the blunt knife and run it down the creases in the spine gaps. The little white thing is a tiny piece of elastic I glued down to the spine to hold a brush or pen. I just cut a slot in the kraft paper to slip over the elastic.
Step 7 Inserting the sketch pad.
Lastly I remove the front cover of the sketch pad and glue the back board to the back cover. I push my favourite travel watercolour brush into the elastic holder, fold the flap over and flip the elastic band to secure it. Ready for Italy!!
Handmade travel journal.
This travel journal might seem a bit slim for a 5 week holiday but the 50 pages mean I’ve got one a day with a couple to spare. I’ll be using it for my round up each night and be using a small store bought sketch book for my out and about sketching during the day. Let’s see how it goes!
I really loathe the expression “point and click”. The word I really object to is point. It’s such a sneery term implying that as the owner of a digital camera with a very good auto function I will simply point my camera at any scene and click away with no more thought than if I were flicking a light switch.
The Writer often extolls the virtues of his digital SLR- talking all that photographer speak of f stops and iso . I remind him that I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist. Red Velvet, my lovely red camera, is simply another artistic tool in my studio and whenever I use her I am most concerned with composition . I NEVER “point” and click.
Sunset Hokitika New Zealand
I could go all technical if I had the inclination , after all I run an MRI unit where I’m constantly concerned about signal to noise, contrast to noise, resolution and image quality. I know how to manipulate factors to improve image quality and provide high quality diagnostic images of the human body. Of course I could learn to manipulate my camera’s many manual features if I wanted to- but the truth is I don’t really want to. There’s been a lot of R&D gone into fine tuning her auto functions and I can tell you they work just fine without ant intervention from me. I’m never going to be one of those people who carry round a notebook and jot down the ISO for this shot and now what does it look like with a different ISO? Just don’t care! Surprisingly I’ve done some of my best work from less than perfectly focussed or lit photo references!
What I do care about is using my artistic sensibility to frame in an inspiring way. To see an imperfect scene and crop before I shoot. Of course I’ll keep cropping afterwards because cropping is my friend. …but why would I want to just point when I can frame?
Tuscan evening sky
Taking photos for me is another form of sketching. I’m making little thumbnails of a scene, I take one in portrait, one in landscape, then I move the horizon low …what about if I make it all about the sky and move that horizon really low? I’m already working on the painting that might not materialise on canvas or paper for several years. I’m storing up visual memories that will lay dormant until some time in the future when I search through my archives for inspiration and bang! there are all my thumbnails , the composition options already thought out and one will leap out at me and I’ll be excited because all those memories of being there, on the spot, will come flooding back. If I had just pointed I wouldn’t have the scene so firmly etched in my memory.
Tuscan clouds and wheat fields
That doesn’t mean to say I don’t use a sketch book as well- but sometimes a camera is more convenient. When I’m travelling with The Writer we often hike through amazing scenery and he hikes a lot faster than me! If I were to stop and sketch every sketch worthy scene I would never make the ridge , the top of the mountain or the end of the track. So I take along Red Velvet and frame and click away with just the occasional sketch when we stop for a break. Later that night I’ll make some more sketches after dinner to fix the subject even more firmly in my memory banks.
Monumental rock peaks in the Italian Dolomites
So that’s why I hate that phrase. I don’t judge you if you like to mess about with your ISO and F stops so don’t judge me just because I love the auto functions on my digital camera!
Not that I’m counting -but there’s only 33 days till we head off to Italy again for 5 glorious weeks. It’s been 2 years since we last visited. There are some things I just can’t get anywhere else so I’m a tad excited at the prospect of 35 straight days of Italian pleasures.
We spend a lot of time in the countryside and because we always hire a car we get to drive around early morning and late evenings as well as long, lazy, lovely days. The summer fields of wheat look beautiful anytime of day but I love this shot of the sinking sun turning the wheat golden against the lengthening evening shadows.
Then there’s the summer wildflowers. I know you can get wonderful wildflower meadows other places but the poppies are such an integral part of a summer in Italy that I miss them and if I have a summer without poppies I feel I’ve been florally cheated!. One year we went a little later than usual and the poppies were gone only to be replaced with fields of deep red/purple clover. After years of visiting Italy I discovered another pleasure of the Tuscan countryside.
When I’m dreaming of Italy it’s the colours that I’m longing for … all those ochres, reds, oranges…warm and earthy with the summer sun bouncing off them. The reflections in a Venetian canal capture all the colour, movement and essence of Italy. The iconic cities never disappoint!
There’s the unexpected like this zing of orange leaves against the bright blue sea I captured on a walk around the island of Capri.
….and the night time reflections as we walked the Cinque Terra trail after sunset.
Of course there’s all the little details as well. Doors and doorknockers are right up there for me. Also tiled terracotta rooftops with their variegated oranges brightening up the village skylines. The flap of white clothes drying in the breeze on lines slung across the laneways. Roses climbing up stone walls. Pots of geraniums making a windowsill all the garden that is needed. Fountains with their sweet sound of cool water in the summer heat.
Not least of all is the food! I just cannot get ice cream as good as Italian gelati anywhere else in the world…and I have to eat enough spaghetti vongole to last me till our next trip.
This bridge in a quieter area of Venice is achingly beautiful in it’s simplicity . The mellow red brickwork edged sharply in white stone , the geometrical angles contrasting boldly with the curving steps and Arabesque windows of the ancient palace facade and the stark shadow of the handrail delineating each step all add up to a visual feast.
There is mystery in the dark shadows under the arch, passion in the splash of red paint that echos the exuberance of the flowers, happenstance in the greenery clinging to the brickwork and balance in each curve and edge. This is the Venice I love.