Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Day 24 - To London, to London, to buy a fat pig!



[from two weeks ago- still playing catchup]

Finally got in touch with our friends Lori and Gideon, who had been down at the reunion in Frome, and they reiterated their invite to come stay with them in London, which I happily accepted. I uneventfully got myself to the Brighton station and took the train to London, which was mercifully less expensive than the cross country adventure I had taken a few days earlier. I arrived at the Victoria station and couldn't contact Lori for a while, so I went straight away to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham, which I knew I wanted to see, and was only a short walk from the station. As a bonus, they had a coat check that could take my travel bags (a lot of them don't, as I learned later) The funny part was that they had to do a security check like you'd get at the airport, seeing as how close to the Palace they are, and the girl there was quite thorough in her inspection of my dirty socks etc, to the only slightly stifled annoyance of a couple of blue hairs waiting in the queue. Mostly I had come to see the architecture and the statues by Sandy Stoddart, who had been at the Classical Traditions Conference last year. I was not disappointed by those, though the collection was a bit thin, despite a nice Rembrandt biblical painting.

Queen's Gallery at Buckingham, architecture by John Simpson, sculptures by Alexander Stoddart.

After that I went down the street and saw the bear hat guards out in front of the Palace, sat by the fountain, then walked down to try to see Apsley House, which would not allow my bags (or photography- so forget them!) Went to the Hyde Park rose garden, which was hitting its stride and had a number of unusually beautiful flowers and combos, then heard from Lori and got on the tube to follow her directions to their house, on a lovely little park called de Beauvoir in NE London. 

Flowers in the rose garden at Hyde Park

Next day got up and went in to see the Soane Museum, where Sir John Soane had assembled a packrat's collection of ancient architectural fragments and molds, paintings by Hogarth, a Canaletto,  and amazing watercolor renderings of his projects by his compatriot Joseph Gandy. The house is a fun glimpse into the kind of accumulative mentality of the early 19th century, with items piled and hung one on top of the other in dusty profusion. The pictures gallery has giant swinging doors that allow pictures to be hung on both sides, thereby maximizing the amount of art that could be hung. Many of the rooms seem larger than they are by virtue of their designs, and the whole house has light channels that flood the interiors with amber light through tinted skylights all the way to the subterranean level. The library is of course very enviable, with notebooks of thousands of original Adam brothers drawings from their Grand Tour of Europe (what I'd give for a week or two to look through those!) I hear I just missed the reopening  of some of his personal rooms by a day or two, so if I make it back to London, it might be worth another visit. Especially since they also ban photos (boooo!!) so i could take another shot on sneaking a few more.


John Soane's museum, a packrat's delight!
After a quick lunch I walked over to the nearby British Museum, where I was pleased to learn that it's FREE, and they do NOT prohibit photos. Featuring a cornucopia of artistic gleanings from around the world, including the Elgin Marbles taken from the Parthenon, the museum is an encyclopedic look at the world's physical cultures. Despite my four hours of intensive scrutiny there, I need to go back again, as I entirely missed the prints and drawings collection, and a bunch of other things I'm interested in. This is not a one day museum! It's all housed in a great building too, with polychrome neoclassical Greek ornaments, designed by Robert Smirke in the early 19th century. Hall after hall opens up, with bits you'll recognize and many you won't. And then there's the recently glassed over central court, by Norman Foster, which allows a nice amble in climate control, but appears to be aging rather badly after just 15 years.


Ceiling of the BM addition looks pretty cool- until you look closely at the pigeon debris!


After they dragged me out of there (kicking and screaming "no!!") I walked about for a bit in central London, trying to get any semblance of familiarity from the last time I was here, in 1978. I couldn't. It all seems so much more commercial than my memories of it, with so much street level activity everywhere. Restaurants, shops, adverts, kiosks, walkstreets, and general crowds seem so much thicker than I remember. I'm sure the same thing would be true of New York or even LA if I hadn't been there in the intervening years, but it's strange to be somewhere you know you've been before and not recognize a single thing.

Not quite sure what they were thinking with this modern addition to town. Total disharmony.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Day 23- Brighton Beach Memoirs

Woke up with a knife in my throat, which is apparently an indicator of strep, but I needed to see the Royal Pavilion, so I had a bit of coffee (ouch! too hot!) and walked on down to the little park that fronts it and the old stables, which is now the Brighton Museum. I like the character of Brighton, which is kind of touristy, mostly British, with loads of food offerings and reasonable lodgings. My walkup single, on a nice square just a block from the beach, was only £30 ($45). There are all kinds of shops in the winding alleys known as The Lanes.


Local boys adding some atmosphere to the park in front of the Pavilion
I entered the Royal Pavilion and was sad to find out that photography is not allowed there! It is a marvelous interior (exterior too), based on an amalgam of Indian and Chinese architectures. The exterior is mostly the work of John Nash, and was done around 1820, while the interiors are mostly the work of Frederick Crace. It was used by King George IV as a getaway from London, and it has a very festive party look, with an outrageously ornate banqueting room that features a one ton chandelier and very fine decorative work all over.

Model of the Pavilion shows the Indo-Saracenic influence of the exteriors. By John Nash, ca 1820



As the rooms went on, it became easier to sneak a shot here and there, and I almost thought about going back into the banquet hall, but opted instead to do a small drawing of a piece of wall paper in the music room. I later found out that I have friends who know the chief of restoration there (now retired) and I might have gotten a more intimate tour, but as it was I was very impressed with the quality and extent.


Ceiling of the Music Room in the Pavilion gives a taste of the more Chinoise decor of the interiors

After some Thai soup that helped my throat a bit, I crossed over the garden, which has been restored to its original configuration recently, and went to see the Brighton Museum, housed in the old stables building. It's a nice museum, with a mix of design, history, archeology, and science. There were some tasty bits of early 20th century furniture and art, the requisite Turners, a good clothing display, and some Egyptian mummies and crocodile skulls just to round things out.


Early 20th century bathing suits in the Brighton Museum


All in all, a very good day, despite hacking fits and a throat that still feels like someone poured lye down it. Went back to the hotel, spent some web time in the lobby, and turned in early (only to find out that the cough syrup I'd bought had pseudoephedrine in it, which kept me up all night!)


Fun vernacular style of architecture has brick surrounds with beach cobble infills

Day 21-22 Down to the Sea!

Goodness- I'm getting way behind! That's what happens when you stay with friends rather than in a boring old hotel where there's nothing better to do at night than write stuff about your day. Instead I'm having a great time meeting peoples' kids, spending time with spouses and generally enjoying life without electronics! Who knew? But I vow to carry on with my reports, if for no other reason than getting to look back at them some time in the future when I'm knee deep in details and need a reminder that this is what it's all for!

Robert in the garden at Stourhead

So, back to my last day in Wiltshire, almost 10 days ago now. Said goodbye to Andrew and thanks for all the hospitality, then set off with Robert to go see Stourhead, another house with a Capability Brown landscape, just about a 20 minute drive away from their house. (I have a Home Depot and a Costco about 20 minutes from my house.) (OK, I also have the Pacific Ocean within a 20 minute walk, so there's that.)

First glimpse of a couple of the follies in the garden, designed by Henry Flitcroft


Got there just as they opened, and walked down the paths to the lake, on a brisk but sunny morning. The rhododendrons here were in their perfection, and some of them are huge- 30 feet tall - covered in pink or purple or white blossoms. We cruised the pathways around the lake, passing several architectural follies (not by Brown) that had nice interiors with statues and painting, and one particularly chatty guard. The guards and and security in most of the English museums I've been in on this trip have been talkative and enthusiastic, and (mostly) very well informed. Nice to see that they care and value their jobs.
The Temple of Apollo, also by Flitcroft.


We were almost ready for lunch by then, but decided to first tackle the house, which is not as large as some, and was completely refurbished after a disastrous fire in 1902. It is still charming, and had another one of those libraries that I could spend quite a bit of time in, with large antique print books that really turn my wheels. The decoration was somewhat plainer than others, but it was still charming and really felt like a home you could live in. The exterior was designed by Colen Campbell, (1676 – 1729) who was instrumental in bringing Palladian style to England mostly through his book, Vitruvius Britannicus, published in the early 1700s.

The portico at Stourhead was a later addition, but was done to Colen Campbell's design.

Left the house and had a bit of lunch, then Robert drove me down to the train station at Gillingham, where I caught a train to Woking (£35 for a 1- 1/2, ouch!) and then rented a car to get down to a hamlet called Chiddingfold, where I'd stayed in an inn with my mother some 42 years ago! I'd located the inn online and booked a night there just for the memories, and (once I found it- without GPS!) I was not disappointed to find it looked unchanged. The low, dark entry was charming and reflected its long history as an inn. The Crown Inn was built around 1250, and is recorded as a place for traveling monks to stay in the mid 1300s. It is a half-timbered house with wonky floors and a beautiful old dining room. My only disappointment was learning that my room was in a recently built annex, though it was still nice and reflected a moderate price that is probably not the case with the old room where my mom and I stayed in the 70's. 

Crown Inn in Chiddingfold, Surrey, built in the mid 1200s
The next day I got up and had my first proper English breakfast in the dining room, then drove down to Petworth, another fabulous house with gardens by Capability Brown again. For the past couple of days, I'd had a bad sore throat coming on, and as I walked the grounds before the house opened, I was feeling pretty light headed. The house was pretty fabulous, with a very nice kitchen and servants area, and an early example of a private gallery in the house that included numerous Turners and William Blakes, and carved wood ornaments by Grinling Gibbons in a great room that lived up to its name. 

Delicate and intricate carvings by Grinling Gibbons at Petworth



By this time the illness was coming on strong, and I barely made the drive down to Brighton, where I turned the car in and got dropped off at my little hotel on Regency Square. The place was fine, though I almost passed out from the effort of lugging my bags up to the 4th floor on the narrow stairs. After a short nap, I got up and out to find something for my throat, then I walked on a bit to take a look at where the Royal Pavilion was (for my visit the next day) and then went down to the beach to see what that was like.

"Put on your boots and let's go down to the beach!"

As a beach boy myself, this was hilarious! First of all, everyone is fully dressed. Maybe a few shirts off here and there, but loads of people (including me!) in jackets, shoes, and pants. It's a bit easier in that regard than it would be in LA, as the beach here is covered in cobbles, not sand, so you stay pretty clean on it. You are also free to smoke and drink alcohol on it, and the locals certainly do. There were no bathers in the water, and a few brave souls were on kayaks, and I saw one lonely paddler on a surfboard. Not quite as lonely as Quadrophenia, but certainly not Redondo Beach either!

Nothing says "beach" quite like stretching out in your suit and talking on your phone as the gulls circle overhead, taking aim
Straggled on back to the hotel, spent a few minutes on the WiFi in the "lobby", and then crashed.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Day 18-19- 20 Off to the Bath and a Longleat



Maynard and Marianne check out Robert's studio

Our first day of reunion was a joy of old friends hanging out, laughing, making fun of each other and the world, exploring the house and the yard, and eventually piling onto a bus and making our way into the old town of Bath for a bit of meandering and exploration. It was blustery and cool, which was just fine, with sun bursts that felt great and gave good lighting on the buildings. The yellow Bath stone that many of the buildings are made of reminded me a lot of the Lecce stone we experienced a couple weeks ago in Italy. It was nice to be in a crowd of English speakers again, but still feeling like a foreigner.

Clip Clop!

Bath is pretty commercialized, but there are still corners where you can imagine the sound of horses hooves and carriage wheels, and there was a vegetable vendor whose spiel sounded like something from the 18th century. Took in the pretty Bath Abbey- the first gothic interior I've been into on this trip. 

Gothic revival chandelier in Bath Abbey
Returned to the house for a fine round of croquet on the lawn, naps, and some drawing time. Very relaxing! Whipped up a delicious dinner between several of us, and went to bed entirely satisfied. 

A little tree hugging in the park

Next day brought glorious weather, just lounging about the house, more croquet, visiting the tiny 13th century church next door to the house, stopping in to say hi to the cows (poor fellows- I think their days were numbered!) and doing a bit more drawing. Some of the group took off that afternoon, with hugs and vows of keeping in touch (we all know how that goes!) Repeat of dinner, and satisfaction for a day well done!

moo?


Next day I decided to visit Longleat House, which is just 5 miles away from the house, and I got dropped there by Marianne and Heather, who were splitting off to do their own mini tour of sacred sites, starting in Cornwall. 

Longleat from the front side

Longleat is an Elizabethan country house, seat of the Marquess of Bath, set in a 1,000 acre park designed by famous landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown. It also has a wild animal park on the premises since the 1960's, made to create some income for the upkeep of the place. 


Longleat from the back yard


I am so glad I got there in time to take the tour of the private apartments, which have been extravagantly and eccentrically decorated by Alexander Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath, who took it upon himself to invent a colorful version of a naive figurative style that encompasses all kinds of thematic elements, from history and politics to erotica, all attached to the walls and ceilings of the paneled interiors of most of one side of the building. I'm sure there are many who object to the non-traditional style of the work, but I found it fascinating and deeply personal. I felt a great affinity for the Marquess, and had to resist the urge to call out to him, as he lives on the top floors still. From his pictures, he looks like he was quite a colorful character, though he is now getting on and is apparently infirm. His son has taken over running the house, and he has removed at least one room's decor (they are all done on panels, so the underneath is still intact, and the work can be preserved as well.) I suspect that in a short time the value of his work will be recognized as a very age appropriate and unique addition to the house. 

The billiard room at Longleat, decorated by Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath. (not my photo- it comes from the souvenir book)

After that introduction, the rest of the house was a pleasant tour of more traditional works, with a dense Renaissance Revival interior mostly done in the 19th century, but incorporating older bits of Italian paintings that were bought by the 4th Marquess and installed by John Crace, interior designer who worked on the Royal Pavilion at Bath and numerous other major projects around England.


Decor of the grand rooms incorporates bits of Italian Renaissance art, such as the frieze and the inset panels in the ceiling, with 19th century surroundings. Has a very Venetian feeling overall. 

There were numerous bedrooms and parlors, each with very fine decorations, including a Chinese wallpapered bedroom, and there are over 40,000 books in the library, spread around the house, that included all kinds of droolinducing "elephant" folio (approx 22" x 28") books about architecture and art, which I had to use all my self control not to leap upon and peruse. 


Chinese export wallpaper in a bedroom

After satisfying myself that I had shot about as much as I could possibly shoot there, I made my way outside again and set off to explore part of the garden. "Capability" Brown (1716-1783) was known for designing sweeping gardens at country houses around England that are characterized by their pastoral, naturalistic look, despite being quite artificial. They often include man-made lakes and brooks, meadows, large specimen trees planted for their shape and color, and architectural follies.








 The part I chose to explore was called the "Pleasure Walk" and consisted of large trees, flowers and shrubs chosen for their exotic characteristics, color or scent. It took me up the side of the very large approach to the house, and also to the end of my camera's batteries. Thus I strolled back along several long lakes ringed by fishermen and populated by swans and geese, and was picked up from the animal park by Robert, who listened to me babble excitedly about the house on the way back to his.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Day 17- Hallo England!

I'm getting way behind in my reportage, but rather than skip a bunch of days to where I am now, I think I'll just continue sequentially, since it helps me to remember what I did on each day. I've actually now been in England for a week, but this one's about getting here.


Awoke at dawn to catch a taxi to the train to the airport, where the usual confusion and stress of being in transit mode set in. For someone who loves traveling, i really don't much enjoy the in transit part. The watchfulness, stressing over time frames, and standing in lines are not my idea of fun. Once I'm in my seat and moving it's ok, but the preamble part, not so much. I also stress on finding myself in a new place where I have no orientation, looking at maps and trying to figure out where to go. The computer is great when you have WiFi, and the maps supposedly were going to work on my phone (but have not) so I sometimes get a good map from internet and leave the page open on the laptop, and will get it out for reference when needed. That's worked pretty well, with the exception of Venice, where the addresses are not always correctly entered in the database.

In the Rome airport a noisy groom's party (with him in a bridal gown) looked like they'd been going all night1

Anyways, made it through all the airport hoopla and got on the plane, a cheapie hopper from Rome to London. There are now a whole bunch of smaller airlines competing for business ferrying people from point to point in Europe, which means there are really low fares (especially if you book in advance!) on planes that are bare bones, but who cares if it's only a two hour flight. Vueling, Easy Air, Ryanair, you can find a bunch of them online. 

Not sure what that's all about. Kinky Brits!
As we were approaching Gatwick airport, I was struck by the difference between the rural landscape below and that of the U.S. From the East Coast to the Rockies, the landscape is a grid of roads and field divisions that is very regulated on a North East South West pattern, and you can easily see that it stretches for miles that way. In England (and most of Europe) that grid is nonexistent, with fields and roads that are built to accommodate for natural features, rather than the other way around. 

English countryside has none of the mechanical gridding that dominates the US

Touched down at Gatwick and did the usual passport stuff, noticing how many closed circuit cameras there were everywhere. England is supposed to be the most monitored country in the world for video, and you do see it everywhere- little notices that tell you you're being watched by big brother. Somewhat reassuring, but somewhat disturbing too. Got on the bus to transfer to Heathrow, where Marianne was coming back to meet me after going home for a week to wrap up the school year at her job (she's a school nurse at a middle school.) Didn't have to wait too long before she came in, and we made our way to the car rental place, which is what we'd decided to use to get down to our friend Robert's place in Wiltshire, near Bath. We were rather put off by the rental price jump for insurance; Marianne thought she'd found a car for $20 a day, but then they hit you with "Oh, the insurance fee is $60!" We almost decided to blow it off and take a train, but after some foot stamping and negotiation, we got a decent car for a decent price (around $50/ day all told) and set out. 

Traffic jam on the A3- feels just like home!

I was amazed at how shifting on the left side didn't really feel all that strange (we got a manual- they're cheaper) but the left side of the road thing is definitely a challenge, and more than once I found myself on the wrong side, especially when making a right turn. English roads are funny- they seem so rural everywhere- even the big motorways are surrounded by trees, and they don't have billboards, so it almost seems like you're in a green tunnel. Once you're on the smaller roads, they are very narrow and hemmed by greenery, and people park in places that make the road only one car's width, so you take turns coming through. Traffic accidents here must be real show stoppers, as there's frequently no alternative route, and if it's only one lane and that's blocked, well….

Stonehenge, taken from the window of the car as we passed by- it's that close!

We were also really happy to have gotten a car with SatNav (GPS), since Marianne is not much of a map reader, and I was doing the driving. In England, the little postal codes in the address is actually a unique coordinate for any building, so the computer can tell you exactly where you need to go- including the tiny country lanes. On our way down to Robert's, we were surprised to see Stonehenge just off the road we were on, looking rather small (as in Spinal Tap!) We passed by and soon made it to Frome (rhymes with "broom"), squeezed through the streets there and found Robert's country hideaway out in the middle of fields, next to a dairy farm. Robert and Andrew (they're a couple) live there in very peaceful surroundings, much of which Andrew has built up over time. They just recently added a lake (we'd call it a pond, but it's his lake!) and the house is a delightful little farmhouse that's been made very cozy for the two of them. 

The approach to Robert and Andrews house. Without the SatNav we never would have found it!
The whole reunion thing was kind of a last minute idea, borne of us traveling to England, but bringing together some far flung pals who had a tight knit group that centered around the punk music scene in LA during the late 70's and early 80's. There were 10 of us altogether, most of whom had known each other for over 30 years. Two of us, Robert and Alan, had moved to the UK a number of years ago, and our reunions are few and far between, so it was a real joy to get together and share stories and memories. We all settled in and Andrew showed me some of his art collection around the house- very nice pieces that included watercolors of the area, and some really good portraits and landscapes by a great-aunt of his.



Andrew showing us the lake he had put in. Not too shabby!


Ate a yummy dinner prepared by Robert (with help), and talked until one AM. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Day 16- Arrivederci Roma!


After a good night's rest at Darius and Erica's place in Roma, I set out to see a couple of sites up in the Parco Borghese. It was a beautiful day, so I walked, pleased at how I'm beginning to know my way around Rome without a map. Since there is no grid to the city, the best navigation is from landmark to landmark, so I went from Sant'Ivo, past the Pantheon and the Palazzo Colonna up to the Piazza del Popolo, then up the hill to to the Museum of Modern Art, in the middle of the park. I had only learned last year that the museum actually contains work made from about the 18th century on, a considerably broader definition of "modern" than we would use in the U.S.A. The museum is housed in a grand Beaux-Arts style building designed by Cesare Bazzani, though the interior has mostly been unfortunately "modernized" into featureless white boxes that will not compete with some of the minimal contemporary art in the newer galleries. 

Exterior of the Modern Art Gallery, building by Cesare Bazzani

There's loads to see in this often overlooked gem, with a few international big name artists like Van Gogh and Gustav Klimt, but also an eye-opening array of Italian work that was really nice to learn about and see. Works by Sartorio, Nino Costa, Gaetano Previati, De Carolis, and an amazing set of 18 paintings depicting putti in artistic toil that were created for the 1900 Exposition at Paris by Paolo Gaidano. Giorgio di Chirico is well represented in the collection, and I hadn't realized that he was such a prolific painter of self- portraits. There were also contemporary works there, and a good show of contemporary Italian ceramic work.

Cherubs making ceramics, from a set of 18 panels by Paolo Gaidano


Did a few hours of looking and clicking there, then meandered up through the park to see the Borghese gallery for the second time. I know that they tell you that you need reservations to get in, but if you show up right before they let the next group in (visits are limited to two hours, and they enter on the odd hours- 9,11,1,3,5) you can find they ofter have available tickets. I was lucky and got there just at 3, bought my ticket and walked right in. And, (drum roll please!) they now allow photography!! Last time it was so hard to resist the temptation to sneak one or two (I think I did shoot a few in the stairwells) but now the only hard part is finding something to brace the camera against for the inevitably long exposures due to low light levels. 

Hard to choose what to look at in the Borghese, there's just so much!

I usually go pretty slowly because of my camera obsession, added to by the numerous tour groups jostling and distracting, but eventually they pass on and I had many galleries almost to myself by the end. I figured out that a good strategy for future visits would be to make straight for the farthest away gallery first, then tour in reverse, with just a bit of crossing over in the middle part when they've already begun to thin out. It's hard to decide what's best in the gallery; it has equally phenomenal holdings in antique Roman statuary and mosaics, paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance, and then the walls with their decorative work. It is as dense a jewel box as one could look for anywhere, and I will definitely be back for more next time. Plus I ran out of battery towards the end!
Detail of paint on marble panels of a new-classical table at the Borghese


I was still taking in the Bronzinos and Parmigianinos towards the end when they kicked everyone out, so I headed back leisurely to Darius and Erica's across town, had a very nice dinner with them, and hit the hay, dreading somewhat the early departure time to make my flight to England the next day.


Last pic I caught before my camera quit. Guess I'll just have to go back again! Boohoo!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Day 15- Caserta for Dessert-a!

Stairway up to the first floor of the Reggia

Woke up in my mini-stateroom  at the Tropicana B&B, brand new and totally anonymous, and went down to the coffee place to pay the bill and leave my bags while I went to see the Reggia. The Reggia Caserta was the royal palace built for the Bourbon king Charles VII (aka Carlos III of Spain) who was a descendent of the Farnese family. It was the largest palace of the time and is still the largest palace by volume in all of Europe, larger than Versailles. The tour of the interior that I took was a half of one of the floors, (of which there are 4) and it was 60 highly decorated state rooms. There are over 1,200 rooms in the Palace, though not all of them are decorated. The palace has never been abandoned, passing from the Bourbons to the Savoy family, and was used in WWII as the Italian Air Force Academy, later the Allied command HQ in Italy, and eventually served as the location where  Germany officially gave up on its control of the country. Today it still houses the Air Force, another school, and the museum

Ground level hallways at the Palace are absolutely enormous!
On entering, you come into these immense passages which served as carriage routes under the building. The scale is stunning- it's a bit like being under a modern bridge or a freeway. After a few passageways you come to the main staircase leading up to the piano noblile- the main floor- which is only one flight up, but what a flight! The stairs are set at a very regal pitch; somewhere around a 6" height with at least twice that in depth- a very relaxed climb so that you wouldn't break a sweat in your layers of crinoline and velvet. This was the stairway they used as a palace for Queen Amidala in Star Wars Episode One, and it is surreal- I'd say it's the biggest stairs I've ever been on- at least for one floor! Of course it's lined with marble carved with all sorts of ornamental trophies and statues.

Main staircase coming from the ground up to the First floor- cue Natalie Portman!

At the top of the stairs is a gigantic rotunda with triangular piers, followed by the entry to the first room of the tour: the Royal Chapel. Again lined with marble, it seems to be afflicted with some type of corrosive problem, with large chunks fallen out for inexplicable reasons. Then into the first of the decorated rooms, one of five reception rooms leading to the throne room, where one might hope for an audience with the powers that be. You can pretty easily imagine the bewigged and dressed up aristocrats making their way through these rooms along with the occasional bedazzled regular Giuseppe gawking (just like me) at the spectacular show of wealth and power. The whole palace is in the neoclassical style of ornament, with plaster, gilt, stone, murals, and unusual painted terra cotta floors that are in remarkable shape for their age. Although it is pretty consistent in style, it's actually decorated over a fairly long time frame- maybe 60 years or so, from the late 1700's to the middle of the 1800's. The rooms still contain quite a bit of furniture from the time, which adds to the time capsule effect.


Egyptian Neo-Classical clock and table, with chairs covered in needlepoint
There were some great models of the rooms that were done by architect Luigi Vanvitelli to show the King how the palace would look, and there are also models of what would be their equivalent of amusement park rides- some that would not look at all out of place in a modern park, other then being constructed out of wood! There was also an elevator, built in 1845, and a couple of drop-dead beautiful baby rockers that were tours de force of wood carving and inlay. As you round the sixth corner you catch sight of the full run of one side of the building, which seems to disappear into haze after about the 10th or 15th room. They must have needed livery just to get from one end of the house to another!

Model for an amusement park style ride with boats and towers that would probably have been built for a one-time spectacle and then dismantled. 
 There are 3 rooms of library in sequence, and I was drooling at the giant elephant portfolios of 19th century prints of Pompeii and elsewhere, all of them beautifully bound in leather and languishing unadored by me! Poor things! After taking as many pics of the place as I could (832, to be precise) I got some lunch in the very decent basement cafe, then headed out the back door to explore the gardens. Modeled on the Palace at Versailles, the gardens are on the same scale as the palace- i.e., absolutely immense! A series of very long fountains stretches along a central axis up to the nearby hills, terminating in an artificial cascade.

View from the top of the cascade looking back at the Reggia Caserta, way off in the haze. 
It was pretty hot out in the afternoon sun down the middle of the garden, so I quickly veered off to one side, where dense woods were penetrated by paths and clearings, with a few small fountains and some really lovely meadows of uncut hay that gave way onto long cross-cutting vistas that ended with a cypress tree or other feature. I paused for a bit to watch swallows swooping through the field, and I was the only person it that area. It was transcendent. I rejoined the main alleè at an English style fountain surrounded by roses, then walked up the first of several terraces that climb the hill, each one terminated by a variety of large fountains. There were sea gods, gods of wind, Venus and her coterie, and finally, two groups of statues portraying poor Acteon and the vengeful Diana, who, enraged at being spied (accidentally) at her bath, turned the hunter Acteon into a stag, whereupon he was ripped apart by his own hounds. Very sad!

Diana and her maidens prepare to destroy poor old Acteon just for spotting her in the bath!

Above that I climbed up to the top of the cascade, which gave a great view of the whole park and the surrounding area, including some other castles and stone quarries, and then I explored the English style garden, which had an awesome nymphaeum folly and all kinds of specimen trees. By the time I got back to the exit I figure I must have walked at least 3 or 4 miles, just in the park. Then I noticed the bikes I could have rented to explore the garden a bit quicker- oops! Got back to my room, retrieved my bags, hoofed on down to the station to find I'd missed the early train I'd hoped for and that my only real option was to backtrack to Naples and take a fast train from there, for twice as much money. I was a little irritated about that, but it turned out to be quite a ride on the bullet train, hitting 300 kph several times, and the trip that took us 3 hours plus on the regular train was just over and hour and a quarter. Got down to Darius and Erica's digs in Campo di Fiori again, and ended another fine day out in Italy.

Artificial ruin of a nymphaeum in the English garden at Caserta