Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Scone Palace - The Crowning Place of the Scottish Kings.

Scone Palace is one of the finest examples of late Georgian Gothic style in the UK and a place that attracts visitors from all over the world. While we were at the Palace a coach load of German visitors closely followed by a coach of visitors from the Netherlands were being given the guided tour also plenty of American accents could be heard  - and this was mid week.

Scone Palace.

This historical building is the family home of the earls of Mansfield whose family name is Murray and who still reside in the Palace apartments for a part of the year. If your a film fan you may remember the 2013 period movie Belle which is based on a painting by Johann Zoffany of West Indies born Dido Elizabeth Belle beside her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray a splendid piece of artistry which is hung in the Ambassadors Room in the Palace. The 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England commissioned the painting while Belle resided at Kenwood House in North London.
Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray. 
The Palace site dates back to the 6th century when a Celtic church could be found on the site, this in turn was replaced in the 12th century by an Augustinian abbey and a Bishops palace that provided lodgings for the Kings of Scots, both were destroyed in 1559 by a local mob incited by the John Knox leader of the Protestant Reformation. John Ruthven Earl of Gowrie forfeited the lands in 1600 because of something referred to as the Gowrie Conspiracy, an event shrouded in mystery, and estate was thereafter given to Sir David Murray who built a new palace. But it was not until 1802 that the 3rd Earl 19 year old David Murray commissioned William Atkinson to build the luxurious palace in the Tudor Gothic style that we can see and visit today.
The original entrance. 
With the help of the very friendly on-site guides there was no need to miss out on any of the treasures that the Palace of Scone offers. It houses fine collections of important Royal heirlooms and unique collections of Dresden and Sevres porcelain, ivories from Bavaria, Italy and France and beautifully ornate French furniture including a Reisener writing desk which was gifted to the 2nd Earl of Mansfield by Marie-Antoinette. My own favourite’s was the rare collection of Vernee Martin vases and two full size stuffed bears!

The replica of the Stone of Scone. 
The Chapel on Moot Hill.

The grounds are well worth exploring and include one of the most historical sites in Scotland - Moot Hill. Topped by a chapel it is said that the hill was created by boot falls of earth brought by nobles attending the coronations of the ancient Scottish Kings where they were ceremonially invested on the Stone of Destiny, although the original stone has not been kept at Scone since 1296 when the English King Edward 1st stole it and carted it off to Westminster Abbey were it was kept for 700 years until it was returned home in 1997 to be kept in Edinburgh.
The Murray star shaped maze. 
Don't forget to try your navigational skills in the Murray star shaped maze, although beware traces of those that could not find there was out litter the maze. There are some fine pine trees in the grounds some of which were planted by the famous botanist David Douglas, who originally was a gardener on the estate and are at least 250 years old. A number of very tame peacocks that will steal your lunch given half a chance roam the grounds including an albino male. And don't leave without having a coffee and a scone in the Scone Palace coffee shop.
Peacocks roam the grounds.....

....including  beautiful albino males. 

and don't forget to sample scones from Scone Coffee Shop.
Also worth a trip while you’re in the area is Perth the former capital of Scotland situated on the banks of the River Tay and the birthplace of actor Ewan McGregor. 

The River Tay.

Plenty of bus routes serve the city from outlying areas but beware of the timetables - ours from Old Scone Saw Mill only ran every two hours! The main reason for our visit to the city was to do some shopping and there are a fine collection of shops although there are signs like in any other city of shops closing and more charity shops springing up. There is a selection of great walking shops to visit that hold some good stocks. Also you must try Marini's located in St Catherine’s Road for a good daffy of fish and chips before you leave the city.

Seen outside the Sweeney Todd barber shop - any resemblance to a certain Mr Depp is intentional.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Culzean Castle and County Park.

Designed by Robert Adam The Scottish National Trust’s flagship property Culzean Castle and the beautiful grounds that surround it are well worth a visit if your visiting Ayrshire in Southern Scotland but make sure you allow a complete day at least, it kept us occupied for three!  

Drive way up to the Castle.

Beautiful grounds and formal gardens. 
Although not a cheap day out, a family ticket will set you back £38, you do get plenty for your money. Our four year old grandson can vouch that there is plenty of things to entertain children including a very safe sandy beach to play at Port Carrick, a large and exciting adventure playground, a 13 acre lake known as the Swan Pond where you can see a great array of ducks and swans and strangely enough a second hand bookshop which to his delight had a large quantity of Horrid Henry books for sale, at 50p each a bargain!

The safe sandy beach at Port Carrick.
A children's paradise. 
You enter the estate via the Home Farm Visitors Centre where a decent cup of coffee can be obtained before setting off on your tour of the grounds that as well as the outstanding Castle it self you can visit the Gas House which provided town gas for the castle up until 1940. You can also see the gas manager’s house, the Retort House and what remains of the gasometer.
The Gas House.

The Gas Manager. 
Gifted to the trust in 1945 to avoid inheritance tax, Culzean Castle was built for David 10th Earl of Cassilis between 1772 and 1790 and designed by the Scottish born neoclassical architect, interior and furniture designer Robert Adam. It stands majestically on the cliff top over looking the Firth of Clyde on a site associated with the Kennedy family since the 14th century. Inside the castle every thing is on a grand scale including the magnificent oval staircase and on the first floor the circular saloon over looking the sea.   Plenty of history to absorb and for youngsters hidden Lego figures to spot, 17 in all, we managed to find 9 and won a sticker.

Visitors entrance to the Castle. 
The castle is reputed to house at least seven ghosts but unfortunately on our visit they were not at home. Also Culzean was used in 1972 as the castle of Lord Summmerisle played by Christopher Lee in the cult movie The Wicker Man.
Lovely views over the Isle of Arran.  

and a Horrid Henry book.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Berlin Diary 2016.

The first time we visited Berlin was in August 2012 on an organised trip and we liked the city so much that we wanted to return under our own steam, hence this second visit. But before I start to describe this trip I must make it very clear that our visit was greatly improved by the presence of our friend’s Tony Barbour and Berlin resident Ulli Myska both of whom acted as our guide to the German capital and without whose help we would not have had such an interesting and informative trip.  I can honestly recommend the hotel that we stopped in. 

A Berlin Bear doing a handstand outside the Hotel. 

A U-Bahn Station that became very familiar. 
It was part of the Adina Group and was situated very close to the Spittlemark U-Bahn Station at Krausenstrasse and had a swimming pool and gym in the basement.

Day 1.
Berlin has a great selection of transport including trams.
Arrived at Schonefeld Airport to be met by our friends and taken to our hotel via a weekly transport ticket that allowed us to use of the BVG Transport System, which includes the U-Bahn, Tram’s, buses and some ferry networks also the S-Bahn urban railway system, incidentally very good value if used regularly. 
Lenin-Engels Monument.
After a short tour that took in the Lenin-Engels[1] monument situated on the edge of a public park in Spandauer Str, some lunch in a typical Berlin restaurant and a look around the Gendarmenmarkt to see both the German and French Churches and the Schiller Monument.  

Schiller Monument with the French Church behind. 
A Chocolate Section of the Berlin Wall. 
Then an expensive treat, a visit to the largest chocolatier in the world where you are faced with the finest selection of Fassbender and Rausch mouth watering chocolate products to have with your coffee.

Day 2.
Ministry for State Security Offices
One of the places we had planed to visit on this trip was the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security (MfS) that from 1960/61 until 1989 was one of the most secure area’s in East Berlin. Haus 1 is open to the public and houses a permanent exhibition showing the workings of the Stasi, as the people of the Democratic Republic called the MfS, the shield and sword of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). 
The Shield and Sword of Socialist Unity.
As well as being a museum it is now a research and memorial centre concerning the political system of the former East Germany. Founded by civil rights activists in 1990 its aims are to foster the development of the museum as a "centre for the collection, preservation, documentation, rehabilitation and exhibition of evidence and research materials relating to East Germany”.

Erich Mielki rest area. 

Offices and meeting areas.

The exhibition is on three floors of the building and its centrepiece are the offices and working quarters of Erich Mielke who served as Minister for State Security from 1957 until the destruction of the Berlin wall.  
Listening devices hidden inside door.

A vehicle for transporting and disorientating people used by the MfS
Other interesting parts of the exhibition show how the Stasi kept an eye on its peoples and the tools of its trade including special cameras, bugging equipment, tools used to enter people’s homes and the devices for clandestine opening of letters. We also get to find out how many people worked for the organisation. Approximately 275000 people were employed and a further 180000 East German citizens became IM’s, unofficial informants. I think the main thing that came out of this very informative exhibition was how well the MfS had things under control and how much information they had on the citizens of East Berlin.  

East Berlin's World Clock Alexandra Platz.
Travelling back to our hotel via Saturn at Alexanderplatz I did find some DAFA DVD’s with English undertitles, more of which at a later date in my Movie Blog.

Day 3.
One of the things we did not manage time for on our last trip to this great city was a visit to the German Museum of Film and Television at Potsdamer Platz, which by the way has greatly enlarged its shop which stocks a great many film related items including books and DVD’s. The museum is one of six film museums in Germany and houses exhibits from the entire span of German film and TV history including the exile of many artists to Hollywood during the National Socialist era. For 7euro you get to see posters, photos, film costumes, architectural sketches and props. The highlight for me were the use of mirrors in certain areas and the sections on Marlene Dietrich, my favourite German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the inventive Leni Riefenstahi who directed and produced Olympia (1938) documenting the 1936 Olympics held in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, clips of which were being shown while we were their. 

Brilliant use of mirrors at the Berlin Film museum.  

Being with someone that knows what goes on in Berlin allowed us to attend a free lunch time concert in the Berlin Philharmonie. These concerts take place in the very large lobby area of the concert hall, famed for its acoustics and architecture that is home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  
Patiently waiting for our young performers.

The concert hall gradually fills up. 
The concert consisted of four pieces of classical music from Haydn, Schtschedrin, Paul Hindemith and my own favourite from Edward Elgar. Young award-winning musicians performed the music; the youngest was only 12 years old. All were students of the Julius Stern Institute at Berlin’s University of the Arts. It was a good job we got there early, as these concerts prove very popular and was packed. Be warned though you have to sit on the floor or for a better view one of the carpeted staircases leading up to the first floor, still it was well worth a little discomfort.

Young performers from the age of Twelve. 
Early evening was spent in one of Hackescher Markt independent Kino’s (movie theatre) to watch a German film, which fortunately had English undertitles. The movie was the excellent Wild (2016), which for those of you that are interested please click on the link to sample my review.  

Day 4.

Another must visit earmarked for this trip was the Stasi prison at Berlin-Hohenschonhausen. Following unification of the West and East German states the prison was closed in October 1990. Former prisoners spoke out in establishing a Gedenkstatte (memorial) at the site. In 1992 the prison complex, including the hospital block was listed as a historical monument. Since 2000 it has been deemed an independent foundation under public law.

The new prison block....
....and the hospital block.
Set up originally as a Soviet internment camp at the end of World War 2 it became the Stasi detention centre in March 1951 and extended in the late 1950’s. The new building included an extra 200 prison cells and interrogation rooms. The hospital wing, run by Dr Herbert Vogel, was extended in 1972. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the prison was primarily used to house those who wished or attempted to leave the GDR, although political prisoners were also held there. Any one sentenced to a prison term rather than detention was placed in one of 16 prisons spread around East Berlin and East Germany. The prison was used until the Berlin Wall was demolished in 1989 when a great many of the records were destroyed. Because of this, today's knowledge of the functioning of the prison complex comes mainly from eyewitness accounts from ex-prisoners some of whom work at the Memorial as tour guides.  Originally part of an extensive secret area that no ordinary citizen of the GDR was allowed to enter, an area not shown on any map, was officially closed on 3rd October 1990.

The Submarine....
....with its very basic facilities.
The sensory cell where your confined in the dark. 
Our English speaking tour took in the bunker like cells in the basement known as the U-Boot or submarine including the rubber walled sensory chambers. Cells on the floors above bear a resemblance to present day prison cells including modern sanitary arrangements to comply with prisoner’s human rights. Also you get to try out the outdoor exercise cells known as ‘tiger cages’ by the prisoners which are not much bigger than the actual cells. After the tour you can catch the permanent exhibition showing the history of both the Stasi and the GDR that is well worth a visit – but allow plenty of time lots to see.

Better facilities in the new prison block. 

Typical interrogation room. 

Observation Tower....

....and transportation train. 

Returning to Hackescher Markt by public transport to have a meal at the charming Sophien 11 a genuine traditional Berlin pub located in one of the oldest streets in Berlin, which has a  menu that specialises in some real old Berlin cuisine. 

Sophien famous for its old Berlin cuisine.
From there it’s only a short distance to see some brilliant Berlin street art in one of the courtyards leading off Rosenthaler Str. 

Berlin street art. 

Day 5.

The Babelsberg Film Studio is located in Potsdam-Babelsberg just outside Berlin and is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world , one which has been producing films since 1912. Today it covers 25000 square metres making it Europe’s largest film studios. Early films include Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930), which starred Germany’s most famous actress Marlene Dietrich. More recent productions include Bridge of Spies (2015), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), The Book Thief (2013), Inglourious Basterds (2009) as well as the last two Hunger Games movies.

The studio were The Blue Angel was made,
The main tourist area is a movie theme park and includes various attractions including the Dome of Babelsberg in which you sit in a large chair and get thrown about whilst a 3D cartoon version of Pirates of the Caribbean is played out on the screen and you get to kill as many ‘objects’ as you can with a gun attached to the side of your seat! Much nicer is a demonstration of ‘Film Animals in front of the Camera’ where an animal trainer puts a pig, a dog, a chicken and a wee pony through their paces.

"Film Animals"

The most exciting attraction is the stunt show in the 2500 seat volcano area. Babelsberg’s stunt men and women put on a show on a Mad Max type set. Hopefully you will be able to see highlights on my YouTube Channel (follow link).

A cracking stunt demonstration on a Mad Max type set.

The central part of our visit consisted of the ‘Media City Tour which included a look at the filming of one of Germanys longest running soap operas GZSZ (Good Times, Bad Times) which was first shown in 1992 when it was panned by the critics but has since risen to the heights of popularity.  Based on the Australian format of The Restless Years it concerns the lives of a fictional neighbourhood in Berlin and deliberately targets a young viewership. We were also shown two film sets that had been set up at the studio. The first was one of my favourite movies The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) a film about the Red Army faction between 1967 and 1977. The second set was for The Monuments Men (2014), which was directed by and starred George Clooney. 

Props from Der Baader Meinhof Complex.

Relocated set from Monuments Men.
From Potsdam we travelled back to Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin famous for the conference in 1942 to discuss the implementation of the final solution to the Jewish question whereby most of the Jews of German occupied Europe would be deported to prison camps in Poland, and then a ferry across the River Havel to Kladow on the other side.

Ferry across the Havel.
After a long day we travelled by bus to Spandau to the wonderful Fisch Frank restaurant in Charlottenstra├če 7, it may be small but it has a justifiably good reputation.

Tasty fish dish at the Fisch Frank.
Day 6.
After walking to Checkpoint Charlie for coffee it was a shopping day, starting at Potsdamer Platz and then walking through the Tiergarten to Brandenburg Gate and catching a 100-tourist bus to shop at Alexandra Platz.
Checkpoint Charlie.

Potsdamer Platz.

Oldest traffic lights in Europe.

GDR TV Tower.
Brandenburg Gate.

Deemed an institution by Berlin residents the Winterfeldt Markt near Nollendorfplatz station proved to be well worth a visit on a Saturday morning by all four of us.  The leafy square surrounding the St Matthias Kirk has approximately 250 stalls mainly selling seasonal fresh farm or market garden produce but also you can find some rare ingredients like wild herbs, edible flowers, foraged mushrooms and locally made salamis along side some mouth watering cooked food.

Winterfeldt Market on a busy Saturday morning. 

Next stop was The KaDeWe, which is short for The Kaufhaus des Westerns (Department Store of the West). With 8 floors totalling 60,000 square metres of selling space and more than 380,000 articles available, it is the largest department store in Continental Europe. It is alleged that it attracts 40,000 to 50,000 visitors every single day. The highlight is the gourmet food market floor, where the amount of different food on display has to be seen to be believed. Even in this age of austerity you can witness large groups of people digging in to oysters and Champaign! 

The largest store in continental Europe. 

After looking at all this food hunger was beginning to creep up. The Berliner Funkturm Tower restaurant at 55metres above ground level was the next stop. The former Berlin Radio Tower, now a protected monument, was constructed between 1924 and 1926 and originally planned as a transmitting tower but now has not only the restaurant but an observation deck at 126metres above ground level reached by a lift that travels up to 6 metres a second. Both the food and the towers top deck make the tower well worth a visit, the views of Berlin from the top are breath-taking (see link).

The former Berlin Radio Tower.

The restaurant 55 metres above ground level.  

Across to the TV Tower in Alexandra Platz.

The Olympic Stadium home to Hertha Berlin.  

After a quick look at the book shop that formed part of the Helmut Newton exhibition we travelled back to Alexandra Platz on the top deck of the 100-tourist bus allowing us to take in even more views of a city that’s constantly full of surprises.

Various views fro the 100-bus.
Day 8.
On our final full day we travelled to Podbielskiallee for Sunday brunch at Eierscale (Eggshell) Dahlem with our wonderful friends who as I said before have really made this holiday special. This traditional restaurant is on two floors with a spacious outdoor area and on a Sunday is full of local Berlin families enjoying a very well laid out buffet and live music.  Not only famous for its cuisine but also its visual appeal with its beautiful wall paintings, gilded stucco ceilings, and a magnificent chandelier that spans both floors.

After leaving the Eierscale we had a tour of the local area including a walk in a woodland area our first real countryside walk since arriving in Berlin. Then on to enjoy coffee at a restaurant in the uniquely named Mexikoplatz,  a suburban area in the far southwest corner of Berlin.

The idilic Mexikoplatz.
The main event of the day was a Jazz Concert at the rather plush Rathaus (Town Hall) in Kleinmachnow. Titled Swingin’ Ladies Plus 2 this extremely talented quartet consisted of Nicki Parrott, who originated in Australia, on bass and vocals, the very talented St Louis Missouri born 29 year old stride, ragtime and jazz pianist Stephanie Trick who along with her Italian husband Paolo Alderighi was on piano and Germany’s own Engelbert Wrobel on sax and clarinet who also took on the role of master of ceremonies. Most of the material was taken from the quartets CD From Joplin to Jobim released in January 2016 and consisted of some great jazz instrumentals, wonderfully appealing vocals from Ms Parrott and some great 4 handed piano pieces from the husband and wife duo. The hall was packed with a very appreciative German audience and the performers were happy to chat to their audience and have photos taken at the mid way break. It certainly rounded off a delightful holiday.

Stephanie Trick.

Stephanie Trick with husband Paolo Alderighi.

The multi talented Nicki Parrott.....

....with Engelbert Wrobel.

The final bow. 

[1] Authors of the Communist Manifesto.