America Latina by bike….. el Caribe to Santiago

This is the second part of a trip I started a couple of years ago when I flew to Santiago and biked from Villarica  (about 1000km south) to Ushuaia. That was my first cycle touring mission but I immediately took to it. The scenery was amazing, the encounters with the people sublime and what a great way to travel. After having traversed the southern tip of the Andes it was only naturally that I now ‘needed’ to traverse the rest of the Andes, to complete the trip….a plan was made.

At the end of April I flew to Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. It’s a beautiful well preserved Colonial town, an architectural gem. It was founded in 1533 and grew to the most important port in the ‘New World’. The core of the city was built on an island and completely walled in for defense purposes. This very thick impressive wall one can stroll along on top today. The city itself has spread onto the mainland and has over a million inhabitants today and makes for a busy place. It’s nice just to stroll through the streets and hang out on the plazas of the old town, drink cafe and take in the atmosphere. I stayed for a few days, just enough to get over the culture shock and the jet lag. I did a trip out to Playa Blanca for some beach time and than headed south east to a small town called Mompox, a Unesco World heritage Site on the eastern arm of the Rio Magdalena. Founded in 1540, Mompox is now one of Colombia’s most beautiful colonial towns. Rows of well preserved white one story buildings have served as a backdrop in many Colombian films.

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I decided to start my trip here in Mompox, and not in  Cartagena as there was too much traffic and it seemed too hot and too far away from the mountains. I now am a couple of hundred kilometers closer to the hills, but Mompox lies 15m below sea level and therefore is hotter than Cartagena! I also just realized that now is the start of the rainy season and most rain falls in May and June. I finally decided on my route and will head east to El Banco tomorrow, a 85km dirt road ride to start me off….I guess there is no easy way!! At least it will be a flat ride and hopefully it wont rain over night, nor tomorrow?!

And here she is mi MARIPOSA…..out of the box and ready to go!!!

Mi Mariposa

Italian Mountains, Art and Architecture

Tessin, the Italian part of Switzerland functions like a Swiss clockwork in Italian style. We entered via the Gotthard Pass and checked out the newly renovated Hospice, now a modern Hiker’s Hotel. The Tessin region has some beautiful valleys to explore, mountains to be climbed, lakes and rivers to swim in. The Verzasca Valley is a stunning place offering a multi day high mountain trek along a ridge line. We were amazed to find the huts empty and stocked with beer, wine and food, all based on a honesty system. It was like walking into someone’s home! Hard to believe this works in a place so well populated like Europe and what an example to the world!

After this little warm up we crossed the border into Italy, the region of Valtellina, and went to Valmasino and Val di Mello, ‘Butterfly valley’. Just the name would want me to go there. I love butterflies, paint them, called my bike Mariposa, and am generally fond of them, as they are a symbol for passion. What else does one need to know! It’s a valley well known to climbers for its shear granite walls, but otherwise mainly very popular for day trippers from Milan. Yet it has a lot to offer: luxurious hot thermal springs with healing attributes, a crystal clear river to swim in, a cute little village, the best Pizzaria, day walks and a multi day high alpine trek called ‘Sentiero Roma‘. I attempted it a few years ago, but too much snow had stopped me and I made a vow to come back one day.

Mission completed and we carried on to the Dolomites, visiting the Basilica della Madonna de Tirano on the way. She is known for healing many sick people, so I lit a candle for a friend. We than drove over the Passo de Stelvio with great views to the Ortler Mountains and visited the Messner Mountain Museum Ortles in Sulden, which is all about snow and ice. I have been twice before to his MMM Firmian Museum in Bolzano and love the synthesis of modern and old architecture, art and culture. He’s as much an artist/architect as a mountaineer and a businessman. We made a point of also visiting the MMM Ripa at the Bruneck Castle, dedicated to the mountain people of the world.

And of course in the Dolomites there are plenty of via ferratas to climb and blessed with a week of fine weather we managed quite a few of the harder ones…not without a few coffee and beer stops, as well as some culture and history thrown in.

Bolzano is a great place to stay, a lovely town to explore and centrally placed to access the different regions of the Dolomites. Only a short distance away we visited the Plattner Bee Museum and I learned a lot about these little creatures: the bee can sense the magnetic field of the earth and from there determine the time of the day. They have a dance floor of about 100cm2 at the entrance of the hive to communicate via vibrations the destination of the food source, etc… Humans only would survive about 4 years should the bee disappear. Another place worth visiting in Bolzano is the new Salewa Headquarters and climbing wall.

We left Italy via the Timmelsjoch, once a smugglers road and a mule track, linking the Passeiertal valley and the Ötztal valley. Architectural sculptures located at several stopping places along the road, enlighten travellers about the natural surroundings, the history, the culture, the communities and the economy of the region….expanding our horizon. I also learned that the substances deep embedded in Swiss pine (Zirbel) wood, typical for this area, reduce our heart frequency. That in turn increases our physical and mental abilities. If we sleep in a bed made of Swiss pine, our heart is saved some 3500 beats, the equivalent of an hours work, every single night. It also has antibacterial properties and fights of mould.

Chalets, Refugios and Alpine Architecture

As always my favorite subject – in art and architecture – are mountain huts and architecture in the alpine region. They are the inspiration for my latest series of paintings and I hope to one day get the opportunity to build or renovating one. I have been keeping an eye out for derelict chalets and buildings in the Alps during my visits over the last few years.

After leaving the coast we traveled north, following the french Alps up, we visited Alexandra David-Neel’s House in Digne. She was the most famous french explorer and first woman visiting Lhasa, an inspiration of one in a kind. We than explored some valleys in France, paid a visit to Chamonix with its new state of the art Gouter Hut, and drove over many passes before we took a turn east and arrived in Switzerland.

After visiting the Matterhorn and the new state of the art Monte Rosa Hut, we discovered another kind of mountain hut, the Anen Hut in the Loetschen Valley, probably the most exclusive hut in the Alps. It’s a privately owned and designed hut by a local mountain guide, and takes hiking, ski touring and mountaineering to yet another level. The hut is located just below the glacier and has access to 4000m peaks all around. After a nice day out one can than enjoy a spa, a sauna, a delicious meal and sleep in luxurious bedding…. all for a reasonable price. And last I have to mention the Baeregg Hut in Grindelwald, also privately owned by a trust, and offering a fantastic view and great service in a more traditional style.

By now I was looking forward to my second visit to Ballenberg, a Swiss open air museum with more than 100 century-old buildings from all over Switzerland. It’s a stroll through the past but for one building, my favorite one, the House Matten from 1570, which has been modernized with style inside and sustainable technology has been introduced. This is an example to show case to the visitors of the museum how tradition and innovation come together in the renovation of a historic building. Ballenberg also has presentations of old trades such as cheese making, charcoal burning, shingle making, etc….and many more throughout the day.

 

Next destination Italy……

La vie en rose….LA PROVENCE en Cote d’Azur

Well… it’s been a while since my last update and I will try to catch up and fill you in on what’s been happening: A LOT!! I’ve seen so much inspiring things and had some fantastic adventures, that after returning home I needed a wee while to settle back in and digest it all. I must admit that Wanaka felt a little small to start with…., but soon the lovely vibe of a wonderful place with a fantastic community had me enchanted again.

But lets look back where I left off:…..FRANCE, la Provence. We first visited my sailing friends. Once upon a time I sailed from NZ to New Caledonia with them in their 34ft boat ….and I was hooked. After living on a boat for more than a decade they now live on land, close to Aix-en-Provence, and renovate what they call a vertical boat, a 20m2 ‘Cabanon’ for their family of four. They are masters of the Tiny House Movement, the simple but good life.

We than visited my family’s luxury retreat in St Tropez. Two houses, one a modern renovation of a ‘Provencal’ stone house, the other a contemporary modern lodge, style ‘provencal’.  My father has done a fantastic job with the design and development of this place. He has a very good eye for design, uses only the best materials and enriches the spaces with his favorite artists work. I’m happy to spot a few of my works too! This place is a culmination of his experiences gained while building Art/Design Hotels in Germany. The gardens also need a special mentioning for their beauty. Both places are available for rent untill sold.

And France wouldn’t be France if not for the foods…., the choice of cheese, the markets and the pleasure of eating, etc…..yummy!!

St Tropez itself is famous for its fancy launches and yachts, as much as for the well known ‘Pamplona’ Beach, which Brigitte Bardot and many other famous people used to frequent and still do.

After a few days of indulgence we had to tear ourselves away from such luxury. We drove through the  ‘Gorge de Verdon’, a famous rock climbing area with stunning dramatic scenery and than entered the french Alpes….not before camping the last night in a lavender field!

More will follow soon……

Romanesque Churches, Pyrenees Ridges and Roman Ruins

Finally I made it back to the Pyrenees, a place I visited about 8 years ago to climb my first mountain with snow and ice. I was seduced by the name at the time and made it my mission: ‘Monte Perdido’ or ‘Lost Mountain’ in the Odessa National Park. How could one not want to climb a peak called that name? After the circumnavigation and climb I returned the rental gear and bought a set of crampons and an ice axe in the same shop. Revisiting the Pyrenees was a long time anticipated for all the beautiful old stone villages and old houses, as much as for the mountains, national parks and as always my longing for the Spanish lifestyle and language. The Pyrenees are also the less visited mountain chain in Europe which makes them even more appealing. While on our way to the National Park Aiguestortes a bakery owner took all his time, neglecting other customers, to tell us to go and visit the Boi valley, a UNESCO protected site for its many Romanesques churches. This picturesque valley with about a dozen of these beautiful simple stone churches made our imagination flower and we started our exploration of the park from this end.

We left from ‘Caldes de Boi’  for a multi day trip in the Aiguestortes Park National. The  famous circuit of several days is called ‘Carro de Foc’ http://www.carrosdefoc.com/en and takes you through an amazing landscape of granite, hundreds of lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The passes are up to 2750m high and were holding some snow. The higher lakes were still semi frozen while the lower ones invited for a quick refreshing dip at the heat of the day.

 
After this little warm up we moved on to Pico Aneto, which is with his 3404m the highest mountain of the Pyrenees, and is a nice day trip from the car park. Benasques is the get away town for Aneto climbs and a bustling hub at main season, but was quiet at this time of the year. It also has a lovely historic center and great outdoor shopping. Next stop was Ainsi, which has a fortress, a Romanesque church and is at the entrance to the Bielsa Valley to access the Odessa National Park.
We attempted the ‘Extreme Circuito de Monte Perdido’ this time round, which is a slight variation taking a higher route, on the circuit I did 8 years earlier. We also did it in half the time…yeah! It was great to come back to this special place, where you cross from Spain to France and back. The Refugio Tucarroya sits in a very precarious spot right in a steep little notch with barely enough room for the two stone vaults. It’s right on the border and the vaults used to be separated volumes, one belonging to Spain and one to France. These are now connected with a door inside. It’s the oldest shelter in the Pyrenees, finished in 1890 and sits at 2661m, with a great view to the north face of Monte Perdido. This hut left a lasting impression with me on my first visit for its construction on such an extreme site. From there we dropped down to the Circle de Gavarnie which is famous for its waterfalls, one the height of five times the Eiffel Tour. We had a spectacular route up the face of these waterfalls and back across to Spain via a gap in the mountain called the ‘Breca Roland’ and on to the famous Odessa Canyon.

We were sad to leave Spain, but it was time to carry on to France and we aimed for the beach at the famous Cote d’Azur, but mad a few stops en route: first in Carcassone, where we visited the biggest fortress of Europe, another fortress in Aigues Mortes, than through the Carmarque  – land of the gypsies – and on to Arles, where the Romans left some ruins behind, a theater, an amphitheaters, thermes, etc…

 

Rendez-vous with GAUDI and DALI

It’s been a long time since I wanted to return to Barcelona, a city which got it all: the sea, the mountains close by and CULTURE….. crazy artists, great museums and monuments, old and contemporary architecture, tapas and wine, sunshine, etc…. all imbued with Spanish attitude and flair. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world!!

I think the best way to see and experience a city requires a good pair of walking shoes and a lot of stamina……but there always is SIESTA and MANANA in Spain!

And as always it’s the textures and layers of time in a city that mesmerize my.

And of course Barcelona wouldn’t be what it is without Antony GAUDI, the visionary Architect which started the most important building of this century….the Sagrada Familia. The construction of this gigantic cathedral of the modern days was started mid last century by Gaudi and is still in construction, now under a New Zealand project manager….still only about 60% built so far. It’s one of the rare buildings which give me the shivers and a great WWWOOOWWW effect, totally absolutely stunning!! I have last seen it about 10 years ago, but since than the roof went on and totally transformed the place. How fantastic to witness the progression of such an amazing piece of art and architecture.

He used Biomimicry in his architectural language years before anyone ever heard about it, modeling the structure on nature’s way of building. Walking into the cathedral is like walking into a forest transformed by light. He also contributed to the city with many of his apartment buildings, houses and the Park Guell.

Another encounter was with Salvador DALI, first on the coast in his private house in Cadaques, than in his palace/museum in Figueres. He is another amazingly creative personality, way ahead of his time, experimenting with illusions and blurring the line between reality, fiction and fantasy in art. I really enjoyed visiting his private house in Cadaques which gave a more intricate experience of his personality. He experimented on many levels and left behind a huge oevre of fine arts and jewelry.

Dali: ‘The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.’

 

Small House Designs

I love painting big scale, but got a deep passion for small house design. Having a big white canvas comes with all the connotations of new beginnings, but it is overall a great challenge! And that’s only the start…..it’s fun having all that space to explore and a huge sense of freedom overcomes me when I can go wild. I always wanted to go real big and had an attempt a few years back….but had to take the public bus to deliver it to the gallery in the next town. It just wouldn’t fit into my truck. I now only do big scale paintings on commission, as the logistic are otherwise just to complicated and costly. Now, that I’ve got a very small studio, I struggle even on my normal ‘big’ size paintings, but enjoyed working on a series of small size house design works…..exploring different variations on one small hut design. My favorite is the little red hut, the material oozing character, just like a well weathered backcountry hut or beach batch. It’s that piece of material, which revealed to me the artistic talent of my grandmother.

                   

               

              

 

              

             

             

Alpitecture: Alps – Architecture – Art

I have a strong passion for huts and alpine shelters…. small structures in extreme places. The effect of the environment on the materials used and the weathering produced is of extreme beauty to me and tell a story of time and place. The shelters themselves are a synonym for security from and exposure to the elements. They stand for ‘time out and recharge the batteriers’, a simple life away from the clutter filling our daily routines. In Europe they are often referred to as refuge or refugio, …how well suited is that!

When first I came to New Zealand to write the thesis for my architecture degree I had no plan. I picked up a map of the South Island and was intrigued by the graphic representation of Fiordland….what else was there to write about than huts? I picked the most remote location in an already remote national parc and set to work. This was the beginning of a life long love affair with small structures in extreme places.

I love the fading colors of painted or rusted corrugated iron used in many New Zealand huts as much as the beautiful natural tones of timer, stone and plaster in the European shelters. The European Alps have a long tradition of alpine architecture, with a variety of regional styles, initally built for farm purposes and now for tourisme alike. New Zealand’s back country huts often look back on a history of hunting and forestry work instead. 

My new series of paintings called ‘Alpitecture’ are inspired by having spent quite a lot of time in both alpine environments. I am trying to recall the colors and textures of the simple structures, the glow of the air and the magnificence of the surroundings without being precise in any way. Like a very distant but very vivid memory of time and place in a different dimension. It’s more about capturing the feeling of the moment, a very intuitive experience.

 

 

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Architect – Artist – Athlete: what gets you moving and what motivates

This art work of a 8 year old in the children’s sculpture section of the ‘Art in a Garden’ exhibition in the Flaxmere Gardens, NZ appealed to me on an artistic, architectural and athletic level. Since I cycled solo 3000km through Patagonia last summer, I have a close attachment to any bike parts and got to know every link of my bike chain quite well. Working in the architect’s field and renovating houses I got to appreciate diggers and as an artist I always was drawn to scrap yards making art works out of old metal bits.

There was another sculpture in the children’s section which moved me. It’s a representation of the now destroyed Christchurch Cathedral. The child’s family used to go there for Christmas and he even put a tree inside….I guess he is concerned about what will happen this Christmas….

 

 

Mud is awesome!

Last weekend I went to the Earth Building Conference in Peel Forest, NZ. There was a great variety of very interesting lectures from some very inspiring people:

Themes covered included  passive house systems, earth plaster, a very fancy looking Pallet House project, history of straw & earth, earthquake assesments, building codes, a sustainable success story, prefabricated straw bale wall systems, log homes and of course EARTH!

Properties visited included an artists family strawbale home, a lanscape designers strawbale studio & nursery, a beautiful garden, a timber log prefab yard, a timber life & love story, and a kiwi down to earth strawbale construction.

 

These photos are taken on the house tour:

Smartest veggie patch I’ve seen…and it doubles as an animal shelter. Grow your vegetables in comfort! This is a good example for Form follows Function = Beauty

The landscapes designer’s studio sits well in the landscape. This is a straw bale construction.

Controlled crackling on an interior earth plastered wall containing cement. The plaster has been sprayed with water daily for a week from application.

Earth Plaster and Tadelakt on the kitchen wall. The Lamps are made fully from recycled materials.

A light earth plaster and a red Tadelakt wall. Tadelakt is a bright, nearly waterproof lime plaster which can be used on the inside of buildings and on the outside. Tadelakt is a Beber word meaning to rub…..tactile architecture!!

An exposed concrete and a smooth concrete floor. The stones are a nice massage on the feet. Architecture for the senses!!

Earth walls and a simple bath mixer tap.

A designer heated towel rail.

Recycled heated towel rail.

Timber logs

Weathered log cabin.

Door handle: reuse, recycle and renew