Thursday, February 14, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 388

La Rocca di Vignola, Italy

The castle fortress pictured on this week’s postcard is every bit as impressive and beautiful in person as on the card.  Vignola was one of the places our friend took us to see when we were visiting Italy in October.  The photographer is not identified on the unused card but the distributor is listed as OK Spedisci Qualita, Garami.  This was one of the places that had little or no English version booklets available.  We purchased a book with Italian text for the interior photos since no pictures were allowed inside the structure.  However, we did take a few photos of exterior views.  

Aerial view of the complex and surrounding countryside
[From:  La Rocca di Vignola, page 87, Fondazione di Vignola publication]

Vignola did not even rate a footnote in our Italian tourist guidebook and is somewhere we would never have visited or known to visit without our friend.   It is located southeast of Modena not far from Bologna and near an ancient Etruscan road that connected Bologna and Parma.  The fortress or castle was first mentioned in 826 to protect the lands of the nearby Abbey Nonantola.   It would also have been a place of refuge for the townsfolk during times of medieval feudal struggles.  Grapes are grown in this area, we saw several small vineyards, and the name Vignola is derived from the Latin “vineola,” which translates to tiny or small vineyard.  It is not too far a stretch to think that the abbey was growing grapes.

The Dove Room
[From:  La Rocca di Vignola, page 24, Fondazione di Vignola publication]

Detail of the design, Dove Room
[From:  La Rocca di Vignola, page 25, Fondazione di Vignola publication]

Most of the castles and fortresses that we have seen were partial ruins or all ruins but this one is one of the best preserved and looks much as it did originally.  Since the 15th century the fortress was used as a military structure.  Careful restoration began in the mid-20th century and is continuing with modern historical research providing new insight regarding the frescoes that decorate the ground and first floor halls.  The six named halls are:  the Lion and Leopard Room, the Dove Room, Ring Room, Dame Room, Coat of Arms Room, and the Tree Trunk Room.  The paintings cover not only every inch of the walls but the ceilings as well.  

Entry into the courtyard

The Contrari family owned and lived in the castle from 1401 to 1577.  Their family coat of arms can be found on the walls of the Coat of Arms Room and tell the family history.  A bank purchased the property in 1965 and later transferred it in 1998 to the Foundation of Vignola that is authorized to keep it maintained and opens it to the public free of charge.  The building is also available for cultural, social and educational activities in Vignola.  When we visited we noticed posters advertising events to be held there.  

There was a walkway all around the top of the tower.  The floor was uneven and sloped, perhaps intentionally, since we noticed drainage pipes for rain water runoff.  Nevertheless the uneven surface made it more difficult to walk without fear of tripping.

 Looking out and down on the courtyard and toward one of the other towers

Looking straight down from the walkway around the top part of the tower

One of the window views from lower down in the tower

 We climbed all the way up to the top of one of the taller towers.  The stairs became steeper and narrower as we ascended but there was a railing on one side that helped some.  As mentioned previously, I do not like heights and could not really bring myself to get that close to the open window holes to look out, just leaning forward enough to take a few photos.  There was one connecting hall to a cell where prisoners were held that had a grated floor.  My two companions crossed over and looked around but I did not.  I also needed a bit of help getting down from the very top.  Bob suggested going down backwards, like climbing on a ladder, but I wanted to be facing forward even though I could not really see the steps or my feet.  My two strong male companions put me in the middle so that one could catch me if I fell or one could grab my hand if I slipped.  Fortunately neither was needed but it was nice to have friendly hands guide me down those steep, narrow and dark steps. 


Down on the ground looking up at where we had been

For additional information, see:
La Rocca di Vignola, Fondazione di Vignola [the foundation book in Italian with photographs of the exterior and interior of the fortress]

Thursday, February 7, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 387

Castle ruins, Crozant, Creuse, France

Here is another postcard shared by my French friend.  This unused one has a color photograph of the castle ruins of Crozant on the River Creuse in France.  The card is a Photo Edition “France Regard” issue.  The ruins are on an islet located at the confluence of the Creuse and the Sédelle rivers.

The Eguzon dam built in 1926 altered the landscape from the time when the castle was in use.  Paintings and old photographs from before 1926 show the differences.  The castle was built on a rocky outcropping between the Creuse and its tributary the Sédelle.  It is estimated that a fortress was built here between about 997 and 1018 AD.  The current ruins shown on the card date from the 13th century.   When the Catholics took the castle in 1588 one of the towers was ruined.  During the early 1600s the local people used the castle for building materials and by 1640 the king’s inspector noted that the remains were in a sad state.  The ruins cover a large part of the spur; have several ramparts, a square donjon and two 13th century towers plus a chapel.  It also has a water tower where water could be raised from the river undercover and safe from attack.  In modern times the ruins were acquired by the local community and have undergone major reconstruction.  Beginning in 2008 the site opened to the public for a fee. 

During the 19th century this area was a favorite with artists and there are many paintings of it.  One of the artists mentioned was Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927) who painted about 140 landscapes and who resided in Crozant.  The Eguzon dam created Lake Chambon and paintings done after 1926 now include the lake.  Boat tours and dinner cruises around the lake are also available.

Thank you to my friend as always for sharing postcards.

For additional information, see:

Thursday, January 31, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 386

Guéret, Prefécture de la Creuse, France, ca 1905

Here is another used vintage postcard shared by my French friend.  The stamp on this card is also found on the picture side of the card at the lower left corner.  The postmark gives the year as 1905 and the name and address of the recipient disregards the divided back and fills the reverse of the card just as it would have be required to do before the backs became divided around the time this card was sent.  There is a number 50 to the left of the title on the picture but no indication of the photographer.

Notice how the address fills the reverse of the card without regard to the dividing line

The black & white photograph on the postcard shows the prefecture or the administration building for this region of France.  During the French Revolution 83 departments were created on 4 March 1790.  Creuse is one of those original departments and was created from the former province of La Marche.  Marche appeared as a separate fief when William III, Duke of Aquitaine, gave it to one of his vassals in the mid 10th century.  Like many other fiefdoms it passed through different hands until Philip IV of France seized it in 1308 and gave it to his youngest son in 1316.  It then passed through the House of Bourbon, the family of Armagnac and back to the Bourbons and seized once again by the king, Francis I, who made it part of the holdings of the French crown. 

This locality in France has rolling hills, steep valleys, and woodlands with oak, ash, chestnut, and hazel nut trees.  Beef cattle and sheep are the main farming.  There are no commercial vineyards in this area.  The River Creuse and its tributaries flow through the region and there are dams at several locations that supply water and also hydroelectric power.  In 1886 the village of Bourganeuf became the third town in France to receive public electricity.   A telephone line was installed at the same as the electricity.

The green Justice and Angels stamp was in use between 1900 and 1924.

Once again, thank you to my friend for sharing the card.

For additional information, see:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Plain XC Skiing, 2019 -- "In January the sun will not melt the ice."

Map of the XC ski trails at Plain

A couple of weeks ago when we went over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth to XC ski along Icicle Creek we decided to check out Plain, another nearby XC ski area, before heading back home.  It looked good so this week we went there to ski.  Unfortunately there has not been any new snow for about three weeks; therefore, even though it is groomed daily the tracks were mostly solid ice!  For those unfamiliar with XC skiing, there are basically two types; the classic gliding style that uses tracks and the skating method, much faster and takes more energy, that uses the middle portion of the groomed trails.  It is possible to do the classic gliding in the middle but it requires more skill.  Up until now I have not felt confident enough to try skiing outside the tracks but this time the middle section was much safer than those icy tracks where I was slipping backwards almost as much as gliding forward.  As Bob says, “In January the sun will not melt the ice.” 

Plain Hardware

Day XC ski pass

The ski pass purchased at Plain Hardware was attached to the jacket, we were given a map of the trails, and off we went.  The total network of trails covers over 24 km or about 15 miles.  It was a gorgeous day, cold and crisp when we started out, lots of sunshine and beautiful blue sky.  The snow had sparkles as the day warmed up to just above freezing.  The trails are wide enough that we could ski side-by-side, which is not always possible.  Also we went on the main or Blue trail, intermediate level, as well as the Green trail, beginner.  Along the way we met a local couple who provided some helpful hints and admitted that this year’s snow was about 1/3 the amount of prior years.   

 Nearing Hot Tub Hill

Considering the icy conditions we followed their advice and skied to Hot Tub Hill, near Mt. Springs Lodge on the map, and turned around to head back a slightly different route along Meadow Loop, one of the Green trails.  If there is more new snow, and less ice, we will go back and venture farther out.  As it was we we skied a total of about 2 hours.  On a good snow day, I think, we would stay at least one hour longer. 

 Rounding the corner we saw these Red Twig Dogwood bushes with new, pretty red tops

 Most of the evergreen trees in Eastern Washington are pines like these

Close up of a pine tree dusted in snow and ice

The ski area at Plain is pastureland that is opened for skiing in the winter.  It is mostly flat although there are some small dips and hills and a couple of larger hills. 

Most of the trails are relatively flat

Due to the hard, icy conditions one small hill had to be sidestepped up because the fish scales on the bottom of the XC skis would not grab and consequently there was major slippage backward.  It is difficult to explain what icy snow sounds like when XC skiing.  It is sort of a harsh scraping, cracking, crunching sound.  Whereas skiing on powder snow is almost silent.  On this same hill on the return trip Bob went down first and caught a “snow snake,” almost falling.  Snow snakes are clumps of snow that stick to the ski and cause jerking instead of gliding.  I took off my skis and walked down that section fearing that my sense of balance and recovery were not as good as his and the snake would get me for sure.

We ended a very nice day with no falls, a burger at Zeke’s, and not too much traffic on the way back home.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 385

The Viaduct de Busseau, Creuse, France, ca early 1900s

This vintage postcard with a real photograph is one that was shared by my French friend.   The card has the number 116 at the upper left and identifies the place and indicates that the picture is an ND Phot.  Unfortunately the ND is insufficient for identifying the photographer or the studio. 

With the stamp placed on the picture side of the card it suggests that the card was mailed shortly after it was possible to write a message on the backside of the card.  Prior to about 1908 postcards had undivided backs and messages were penned on the picture side of the card with only the address and stamp permitted on the reverse.  This card has a divided back with a message plus the address but that left no room for the stamp so it went on the front of the card instead.  Once people became used to the divided backs a space was outlined on the back for the stamp. 

The viaduct is an iron railway bridge that crosses the Creuse River located in Ahun, Creuse, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France.  It is about 1,111 feet or 338.7 meters long and about 185 feet or 56.5 meters high.  It is a lattice truss and deck truss bridge.  Originally built in 1863 but was damaged during World War II.  It was then repaired in 1944-45 and is still in use today.  

The image of the sowing woman was used on French stamps for about 100 years from 1840 to 1940.  I found some examples of this 10c stamp listed as issued in 1906 and that corresponds with the tentative dating of when the card was mailed or around 1910.

As always a special thanks to my friend for sharing the postcard.

For additional information, see:

Thursday, January 17, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 384

Throne of Maximian, Ravenna, Italy, ca 545-553 AD

This unused postcard was found in the gift shop of the Museo Arcivescovile di Ravenna, Italia.  The card is distributed by Opera di Religione, Della Diocesi di Ravenna.  The museum was one of the places we visited while in Ravenna, Italy.  No photographs were allowed in the museum so I was pleased to find a few postcards in the shop.

Described as the most precious relic of the museum, the ivory throne was made for Archibishop Maximianus of Ravenna, who served as bishop in the mid 6th century, and gifted to him by Justinian I.  The throne is an example of early Christian Byzantine art and is dated between 545 and 553 AD.  It is made of carved ivory panels set on a wooden frame.   Originally there were 24 panels of which 16 have been restored.  Missing panels have been replaced by blank spaces.  Each panel has relief scenes of important Biblical figures.  For example the back of the throne contains scenes from the Life of Christ.  Other panels have scenes from the Book of Genesis, the story of Joseph, and John the Baptist.  Because two different types of techniques were used on the panels it is thought that two to four artists probably worked on the throne; possibly because the principal master may have died before the piece was completed. 

Some believed that the throne was not meant for the personal use of the bishop but was a symbol of imperial or divine power.  It was carried during religious ceremonies.  The decorative carvings on the back side of the throne suggest that it was designed to be moved out of the apse and placed so that the back was visible to the congregation and not always placed against a wall.  How big is the throne?  It is about the size of a small chair, 22 inches or 0.6 m wide by 4 feet 11 inches or 1.5 meters high.  It is displayed in a glass case and can be viewed from all sides.

Ravenna was at that time the western capital of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire.  Maximian was a protégé of Justinian I and may have acted as regent for the Emperor as well as the bishop. 

For additional information, see:

Thursday, January 10, 2019

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 383

 Ice skaters and windmills, Holland

We had a 6-hour layover in Amsterdam on the way to Spain that provided ample time to walk the airport mall in search of postcards and other things including some food.  This card was so pretty and it seemed to be a good one to share during the month of January.  The photographer is not identified on the card but the design is from PaperClip.

The picture does not have tulips but it does have two other familiar symbols associated with Holland or the Netherlands, ice-skating and windmills.   Although the winters are generally mild, skating is one of the most popular sports in the Netherlands.  The preferred skating surface is outside on the frozen canals, ponds, streams and channels.  Skating is open to all and free entertainment that can be enjoyed by all.  The long stretches, such as the one depicted on the card, allow for long distance as well as figure skating. 

Today’s skates are quite different from those used when skating first began in Holland around the 16th century and even those in use about 100 year ago.  The old skates had wooden runners with a piece of iron underneath to provide the edge necessary to cut into the ice.  Some of the little children are taught to skate as soon as they can walk.  Skating was not just for entertainment but also provided a way to travel distances during the wintertime before other forms of transportation was available.

Windmills have been used in Holland since the second half of the 12th century.  They have been used since antiquity not just in Holland but also in many countries.  They were, and are used to mill grain, to power sawmills, paper mills, threshing mills and to process things like oil seeds, wool, paint and stone products and as drainage mills where the soil is unstable.  There are about 9,000 windmills in the Netherlands.

Today modern giant windmills are being used worldwide to generate electric power.   Holland has 1,050 wind and 150 watermills.  There are several windmills that are open to the public on Saturdays.  Volunteers are happy to explain how they work. 

The most common configuration is four vanes or sails as shown on the card.  Sails have sailcloth attached to the vane frame and are adjustable according to the wind speed.  The mill is stopped, the adjustments made to the sail and then restarted.  In the Netherlands when the windmill is not at work the position of the sails has been used to give signals from joy to mourning. 

For additional information, see: