#22 Searching for Vivaldi and Caterina

At the risk of being called a complete nerd, I think I can safely claim the title of Australia's most highly-researched children's novelist about Antonio Vivaldi! Yep, I'm proud to admit - I'm a big fan of this Baroque genius. I can tell you umpteenth facts and figures about his extraordinary life. I'm collecting many of his 500 concertos. I can hear when Winter Allegro non molto from The Four Seasons concerto is played slower than Vivaldi wrote it (this linked version is perfect). I also know heaps about his connection to the Ospedale della Pietà, the home for abandoned and unwanted children in Venice. This relationship is at the heart of my novel, THE FOUR SEASONS OF CATERINA. Yes, my enth

#21 Venice ... things don't always work out

Researching in a foreign country takes some planning, but things don't always go to plan ... like my morning at the Santa Maria della Pietà church and the Ospedale della Pietà. This was where I expected to collect data about the girls who lived in this place, as well as the Ospedale's connection to famous composer and violinist, Antonio Vivaldi. The woman I'd organised a tour with wasn't there, so the attendant showed us around. Showed as in 'rushed us through' a mini-tour of the stunted display of the Ospedale papers and objects, and some historical instruments. I said to him, in my limited Italian, 'Sono scittore. Bisogno di informazioni per scrivere libre' - roughly translated, 'I am writ

#20 Venice ... city of dreams

Venice, more than any other city in the world, has a seductive charm that's entranced travellers for centuries. It was nicknamed La Serenissima, "The Most Serenely Beautiful One" — and for good reason. We arrived in heavy and humid fog four days ago. We've walked through the calles and over bridges in light rain for a day. Then, as if she wanted to make sure we experienced her charms in all manners of weather, Venice lifted her foggy veil and showed off her colour and her beauty. I have (naturally) gone a bit crazy with a camera. Sure, there are tourists galore here (as there were in 1715, minus the bling-encrusted selfie-sticks), but the world has been coming to Venice for pleasure, trade,

#19 Vicenza ... serendipity strikes again

Sometimes, researching for story-making can be like drowning in a molasses bin of facts and images. Vicenza, our current Italian stay before we head for Venice is the other setting for my novel work-in-progress, The Four Seasons of Caterina. I knew what I wanted to research here, but the architectural beauty of ancient Vicenza within its historical walls is overwhelming. The act of story-searching could fall by the wayside so easily. This is the city of the renown Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio. Regarded as the most influential architect in history, you can read more about his extraordinary work here. Andrea was the 'trend-setter' of the 1500s, influencing architects from foreign cou

#18 Like Hannibal ... through the Alps into Italy

This morning, just like Hannibal, (no, not Lecter ... the one, a Carthaginian general (247-182 BCE), we crossed the Alps into Italy. Hannibal came with African war elephants, surprising the Roman Empire and its armies and wining the 2nd Punic War (googled). We came via a very comfortable train through gaps in the mountains, or through them ... along with constant picture shooting. Who could resist? It wasn't only us snapping lots of images - so were the Italian police who'd been on our train. They got off in the little ski-resort town of Bardonecchio, and stayed. The trip through the Italian Alps (not a lot of snow yet as it's been a late autumn), was worth taking the train. A leisurely way

#17 In our backyard ... the Chateau de Beynac

We left our beautiful French village, Beynac today, on the first leg of the journey east to Italy. One thing about this town will stay in my head for a long time ... just behind our hotel, up a very steep walk on cobbled streets is the castle (or fortresse) of Beynac. I'm so glad we made the effort yesterday to see it! Every step up the incline was like stepping back in time, and that was before we passed the castle's keep and the stables in Luc Brusson's movie, Jeanne d'Arc) where they filmed the horses and Jeanne d'Arc is still here. My friend, author, Karen Brooks would love this place - Karen, if you ever wanted to write an historical novel set in this region, the castle would make the p

#16 Lascaux ... a writer in Cro-Magnon paradise

I'd planned my research for my other work-in-progress novel (the one set 17,000 years ago) well - with one significant archaeology site to visit. A site of utmost importance to the beginnings of pictorial art for humankind, LASCAUX, 'the Sistine Chapel of prehistory' painted by the early humans, the Cro-Magnon people. But this trip into France's prehistoric cave country has opened up many more questions than answers for me about the paintings and carvings in the Dordogne caves. Like it has done for countless scientists over the years as well. Like... why did they create these wonderful images? How many people were involved? How many generations worked on them? Who knows? They left no carbon

#15 The Dordogne ... and 6% of separation

I love train travel ... always have, ever since I was a railway-man's little girl. So when we boarded the train from Paris to travel south, it didn't matter that the rain threatening us for a week, finally came down. By the time we got to Brive, where we were to pick up the hire car, it was pouring. Driving in Europe in the rain, in a manual car = nightmare. Not that I was the driver, but being navigator when one is direction-challenged is not a pretty thing. It took us 20 mins to get out of the car park because we hadn't located the electric handbrake (we finally did at Sarlat B&B, with the help of Luca, our host who could read the Audi French instrument book). Now, after three days of driv

#14 Paris ... The Pigeon of Sacré-Coeur

It's no surprise Paris is a city of cathedrals. Its Catholic history started with King Clovis the first king of the Franks (464 - 511 AD), through Charlemagne the Great, the 'Henry' Dynasty and the 'Louis' Dynasty. It stopped, violently in a time of guillotining and burning at the stake during the French Revolution, and finding its way again in modern France. These Gothic or Roman-Byzantine cathedrals are also a tourist mecca ... the city reaps the monetary benefits. ... everyone is happy. Ancient cathedrals are expensive to upkeep. Just ask Victor Hugo. It was Hugo's famous and popular book written in 1831 called The Hunchback of Notre Dame that encouraged people pay a tax towards saving th

#13 Bonjour, Paris ... a walkers' delight

The last time I saw Paris, I was in my early 20s, having a fabulous time on a 12-week Contiki bus tour. I didn't appreciate everything the city offered back then - too busy flirting with boys and having fun with my two Kiwi tenting buddies (who I'm still friends with). I'm so glad to have the chance to experience the joys of Paris again, for real ... yep, it was wasted on the youthful me. Now I'm walking the streets, soaking up Paris's long and complicated history, exploring the delights of Le Louvre (even though most of the toilets are not working in that place), checking out the cathedrals, loving the Metro, practising my schoolgirl French (why does Italian keep popping out though?), eatin

#12.2 Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin .. the highlights

The words translate as 'until we meet again', and for we two travellers, I reckon we will return to Berlin. Today, we leave for France. I've found many stories in Berlin - proving the fact, in this city at least, writers need only open their senses and their 'story eyes' to find the possibilities. I thought I'd bring you a pictorial post of extra bits and pieces. HISTORY: Frederick the Great, my favourite German monarch and his Sans Souci, the chalet at Potsdam. Note his gravestone - potatoes and roses. The legend goes that during a famine, Frederick brought potatoes into the country, but people didn't want to try this new food. So he put a guard around a crop of potatoes and ordered them to

#12 Berlin ... stories in fine art

I knew I would find a story amongst all that art in Berlin. The city abounds with art galleries and museums, both state and private. I've never seen such a list of possibilities. And boy, they sure make them accessible for anyone to be tempted within their doors, or up their marble staircases. Don't be fooled into thinking, oh, no, not another museum! The German archaeologists and scientific explorers of the 19th Century were as thorough as the British in excavating ancient sites, and either buying the treasures, or sneaking off back to their homelands with kit and kaboodle. They have the most amazing collections here ... they would've had more too if the Allied bombers had spared these trea

#11 Berlin...the stumbling stone stories

Anyone with a sense of history would feel the stories as they walked Berlin's stone cobbles and pavements. From the 1930s, this city was the seat of Hitler's power. The Nazis goosestepped through these streets. The sturmabteilung (literally, the Storm Detachment) or Brown Shirts burned the books of the intelligentsia, the thinkers; carried out their terror raids on Jewish houses, smashing shop windows and rounding up Berlin's Jewish citizens for detainment, and worse. Here in Berlin, there are monuments in many places about the Holocaust - from the stunning Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, to simple inscriptions on walls. There is a term here, "German collective guilt". It refers to

#10 Berlin ... a city of stories

If ever there was a city of stories and books, Berlin is it. This city abounds in bookshops - catering for all tastes, languages, sexual orientation, creeds, philosophies and genres like comedy, sci-fi and fantasy, crime, children's books, romance, every non-fiction subject under the sun, and so much more. Yes, bookshops just devoted to one particular subject - imagine that! OTHERLAND ... sci-fi and fantasy. Two doors down, HAMMETT ... crime novels. The most poignant encounter of our time here so far happened the other day. I knew about the subject, and about the memorial constructed for this particular place in the city. When we encountered it, its simple visual impact and its reason for be

#9 Berlin ... a city like no other

Already, Berlin has worked its magic upon this traveler ... like it does to most others, I hear. There is so much to love about this city ... its wide open streets and boulevards of plane trees on the verge of changing colour. Monumental building in marble, stone and cement, pockmarked by bullet holes and mortar pounding of wars. The 2,711 grey concrete slabs known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe ... both potent reminders of the city's dark history. And so much more. And there there's the bread! And pastries! Oh, my, I'm in heaven. Luckily we're walking an average of 15,000 steps a day (so says my Fitbit), although it's still a little confused by the change of hemisphere. Berl