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Peggy Guggenheim's Museum in Venice

Catherine de Boer

Peggy’s beautiful blue Venetian glass figurines.

Peggy’s beautiful blue Venetian glass figurines.

There is something very special and moving about visiting the former home, and now house museum, of one of the most significant collectors in modern art history: Peggy’s Museum, is situated on Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal, Venice. 

It is a beautiful and personal space that speaks of Peggy's love of the very best of the contemporary art world. It’s modern palazzo interiors are exquisitely finished in marbles, and complimented by timeless pieces of furniture.

Located on Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Grand Canal, Venice, it is one of the most renowned museum collections of modern twentieth century art in the world, a cynosure for art lovers.

Peggy Guggenheim (b New York, 1898- d Venice,1979) belonged to a famous family. She was the niece of Solomon R Guggenheim, founder of the Guggenheim Foundation, with its several significant museums in the world.  Peggy’s father, died in the Titanic.  I was privileged to visit Guggenheim Foundation’s museum in Bilbao last year- a stunning, curvaceous, titanium clad building, designed by ‘starchitect’, Frank Gehry.

Alexander Calder's striking Artwork mobile in the entranceway

Alexander Calder's striking Artwork mobile in the entranceway

Peggy’s Venetian collection encompasses masterpieces from most of the significant Modern art movements, such as Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, European Abstraction, collected over a period of eight years. I recognized many works that I studied in my twenties, as well as the work of some of 20th century’s greatest sculptors. Peggy Guggenheim donated her home and her collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, in 1976 shortly before her death. 

Peggy’s ashes are buried in her garden overlooking the Canal, along with her fourteen animals: her spirit lives on in this house.

Peggy’s ashes are buried in her garden overlooking the Canal, along with her fourteen animals: her spirit lives on in this house.

Although Peggy was a wealthy and eccentric art lover, she used her wealth wisely.  A visionary “art collector, she believed that some works are worth keeping safe in the collective cultural memory, protecting them against obscurity, as if it were a noble cause." ( The Priceless Peggy Guggenheim ) Original furnishings and artworks are there including the white leather couches and dining setting, her jewellery collection and Calder’s sculptured silver bedhead pieces. There was also curated artwork of Jackson Pollock complimenting a lesser known work of his brother, Charles Pollock.

I loved how each room was curated, with images of her interiors as she lived in them, on each of the room’s walls:

Peggy in her dining room

Peggy in her dining room

Catherine in Peggy's dining room

Catherine in Peggy's dining room

Peggy in her lounge room

Peggy in her lounge room

Catherine in Peggy's loungeroom

Catherine in Peggy's loungeroom

‘Peggy Guggenheim Collection’, in Venice, 
is a lasting and visionary legacy left for us all to enjoy. 
Saluto di Peggy!
— Catherine de Boer

Inside Mona - Museum of Old and New Art

Catherine de Boer


bit.fall,2001-2006, Julius Pop

bit.fall,2001-2006, Julius Pop

Visiting Mona is like participating in something very chill…dark, confronting, atmospheric, engaging, and intriguing…It is Australia’s largest privately owned museum.

Even arriving there is an experience, on board the owner's vessel. On my recent visit, I journeyed up the river in the chilled and seafog bound Derwent River. My thoughts dwelt on that iconic film, 'Apocalypse Now', as we berthed in the quiet coldness and damp of the winter's morn.  Since opening its doors, Mona has become notorious in the Artworld, for its non-conformist Attitude- with a capital A. The museum is carved out of a sandstone cliff face, beneath Sir Roy Ground’s pair of architect-designed houses - the ‘Round House’ and ‘Courtyard House’ of Moorilla Vineyard.

Mona is located on an historic site in Hobart, Tasmania. The land was formerly owned by Claudio Alcorso, an Italian entrepreneur and business founder of the Sheridan Sheet Factory. Alcorso originally established the vineyard and family estate –now known as Moorilla, with its two iconic 1950’s houses, on a prime piece of land jutting out into the Derwent River.

Experiencing the art at Mona is matched by its amazing architectural space. The architecture of the building delights - it is so site specific, with its cavernous internal sandstone wall carved out of the subterranean rock face. 

It is located on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart, Tasmania. Mona defies the traditional museum genre in every sense of the word. It is just something else…

[Mona has become the] darling of contemporary world art
— Franklin, A, 2014

The author in Kryptos (2011) by Brigita Ozolins

The author in Kryptos (2011) by Brigita Ozolins

Subterranean and Weird: Awe-Inspiring

Everything about Mona is subterranean and weird in an awe-inspiring way. As one progresses through a dark labyrinthine series of spaces viewing art, the experience evolves into a pot pourri of the weird, wonderful and the ancient.

When we visited there with our young French visitor, Edmee, it was a water installation that first attracted our attention, with its bands of regulated droplets falling from a height to form words. My subsequent visit recently, also yielded surprises.

The first artwork to greet us is called bit.fall, by Julius Pop. It sources its words from information sites on the internet and ‘translates’ them into drops of water as, in the artist's own words, ‘a metaphor for the incessant flood of information we are exposed to’.

The experience of art at Mona is bound together by an amazing architectural space. The architecture of the building delights- it is site specific, with its cavernous internal sandstone wall carved out of the subterranean rock face.

Sound tunnel

Sound tunnel

Moffatt and Nolan

Something More, 1989, Tracey Moffatt

Something More, 1989, Tracey Moffatt

I was delighted to see Tracey Moffatt's series of nine photographs entitled ‘Something More’.  Three are black and white: six are cibachrome. This work is narrative, ambiguous, intriguing, and probably her best-known work, with its cinematic qualities.

There are confronting themes of death-inspired works, human sexuality, the shock of the new, the ancient and the macabre.

Mona’s collection is cognoscent with ideas about death, sex and evolution.
— Franklin, p6, 2014

There is the fascinating scale of giant library of weathered grey falling books, which is the central focus of an entire room. 

And the Nolan Gallery- all 51 square metres of a curved wall, which exclusively houses Sidney Nolan’s ‘Snake’.

Sternenfall/Shevirath Ha Kelim(2007) Anselm Kiefer

Sternenfall/Shevirath Ha Kelim(2007) Anselm Kiefer

Snake by Sidney Nolan (1970-1972)

Snake by Sidney Nolan (1970-1972)


More Surprises: Ancient Egyptian Coffins!

Neolithic projection points

Neolithic projection points

Just when I thought there could be no more surprises, I came upon a pair of Ancient Egyptian coffins. I read “Early 26th dynasty C 730-600 BC.” That’s Before Christ. OMG! This is amazingly old... In fact there are really ancient relics in here, like the Neolithic projection points, all magnificently exhibited.

These gallery spaces are built to envelope the artwork: some of it is of a massive scale, like Encyclopedia 2005, by Charles Sandison, which takes up a ten metre long wall, with its pulsating data projections.

O (pod) guiding devices are a cool use of technology... On the ‘O’ device I read about each curated piece…I love how I can record my personal tour, upload it to the Mona website for reference, and later, using a 3D model to retrace my path, relive the experience vicariously.

Cultural Gift to the People Of Tasmania

Encyclopedia, 2005, Charles Sanderson

Encyclopedia, 2005, Charles Sanderson

Behind the international sensation that is Mona Museum of Old and New Art is its creator- David Walsh. This museum is his amazing cultural gift to the people of Tasmania.

After finally emerging from the cave like interior, hours later, I am left in awe, fascinated and immersed in thinking about art in new ways. And as I sip the finest champagne from the cellardoor of Moorilla vineyard, I contemplate the stories of what was and what is now.
And like the moth to the flickering light, I am drawn back again and again to the world that is …Mona.

Cited reading: Adrian Franklin, The Making of Mona, Penguin, 2014.
Photography copy-write by Catherine de Boer

Narawntapu National Park

Catherine de Boer

How do you explain to someone why wilderness is so important? It is only through experiencing it over time that one comes to such an understanding.

Narawntapu Swamp 

Narawntapu Swamp 

Across the Port Sorell estuary, to the west of our family shack at Hawley Beach, Tasmania, lies Narawntapu National Park. From our shack we have an uninterrupted view of the Park that forever changes with seasonal weather and cloud formations. It is an ancient and quiet land- the legacy of the men who loved this place and understood its importance to preserve it.

I first traversed the length of this park years ago  from Baker’s Beach to Green’s Beach, when I was just fifteen. I still love walking there in the different seasons when the feed is plentiful for the protected wildlife, and the beaches are deserted, wild and windswept.

The park extends from the Asbestos Ranges down to two  Bass Strait beaches- Baker’s Beach and Badger’s Beach,  stretching for many miles of coastline. The traverse  of these beaches is a good day’s walk in either direction.  The park includes many inlets- Shell Island, Penguin Island  and The Carbuncle, headlands, dunes, wetlands, a lagoon and an old historic farm.

Narawntapu National Park

A Summers Walk

We completed our summer’s walk in Narawntapu- a circuit of over 18.9 kilometres. The weather was ideal- overcast, cooler temperatures in the low 20’s before rain developing late afternoon.

This summer there was a notable absence of wombats, due to their population being stricken by a deadly mite parasite, since our last visit.  The water table was low, and in the swamp areas there were more visible plums of surface algae and weed. The bush was showcasing several species of wild flowers, - white flowering tea tree, a climbing native blue berry, a rare purple orchid, and the vibrant pink flowering trigger plants. Native tallboys, triggered by the higher summer temperatures and bush fires of the past, were also evident in seed on Archer’s knob.

Bennett's wallaby

Bennett's wallaby

My husband, Jim and I, first walked through to an ancient paperbark forest swamp. This is my favourite spot in the park:  it reminds me of wading through swamps with my science teacher- ‘Sir’  we called him, in search of microscopic life forms, Year 8 at school: the best science excursion I ever had growing up!

We climbed to the summit of Archers Knob, then ambled down to the eastern end of Bakers Beach. Another climb up over the saddle, and down again revealed the deserted and beautiful Copper's Cove.

Returning, we were able to transverse around the headland due to the low tide. Low water mark revealed a number of sea caves, and interesting striated ancient rock formations, weathered by time and wind. Although very sharp to walk on, I enjoyed the challenging clamber across the rocky outcrops around the cliffs.

Arriving at the eastern end of Bakers Beach, I took a refreshing dip in the ocean, whilst Jim assumed a life guarding patrol (not that I needed rescuing!)

Springlawn walk

As we retraced our path towards Springlawn, Jim sprung backwards to avoid a tiger snake on the track ahead of us- a flash of stripes and head rearing to strike, as we disturbed it from its slumber. But this snake was easily faster than us as it retreated into the bush. The tiger snake is the deadliest of all the snakes in Tasmania to come across. (The others to avoid at all costs are the black snake and the brown snake.)

Once we reached the open planes of the Springlawn, we came across families of grazing Forester kangaroos, oblivious to our presence. We were so lucky to view them at such close range.

'Yoga stretch' Forester Kangaroo

'Yoga stretch' Forester Kangaroo

A Winter’s Walk

When we took our young visitor from France, Edmee, with a long list of animals she wished to see, we weren’t disappointed. There was an abundance of wildlife grazing late afternoon on the open grassy plains – forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies, paddy melons, echidnas and wombats.  Sheltering on the lagoon were flocks of black swans, ducks, herons, pied cormorants, coots, bitterns and grebes.  Kookaburras observed us studiously, blue wrens played in the foliage, and native hens scattered in our path as we walked.

Ahead of us warned plovers of our approach, and on the beach- oystercatchers, seagulls, terns and ocean gulls, wheeling around in the biting wind. All this was in the space of a few hours walking through the bushland, past the swamp and bird hide, our feet sinking in a water logged boggy path, as we plied our path around the lagoon in the ebbing wintry twilight. 

We strode past bleached white skeletal remains of possums on our path: stripped clean by foraging animals- constant reminders of the natural order of survival here.

Bakers Beach

Bakers Beach

Black swans on Springlawn lagoon

Black swans on Springlawn lagoon

One summer’s night I remember watching in disbelief as our park burnt:  red embers glowered. The silhouetted trees alight, flickering against the night sky. The smoke haze choked the ranges, as the fire raged and burned for days on end. Recovery was slow over a few years, but gradually the bush recovered, wildlife returned and regrowth signalled new life again. Part of the cycle of life.

It is in Narawntapu National Park that I rekindle a sense of contentment, enjoy solitude and enrich my soul- something that only a wilderness experience can bring. I hope that I too, will impart this love of wilderness to those who walk with me in this hallowed land, like those before me have done.

I am a part of that wild place... and it is a part of me. 

View across to the park, and Penguin Island

View across to the park, and Penguin Island

Top 5x5 Sacred Spaces in Spain

Catherine de Boer

A predominately Catholic country, Spain has a rich wealth of sacred spaces- architectural havens for contemplative prayer, and solace. My recent visit to Spain included experiencing some of its impressive religious heritage.

1    Catalonian Church Art, Museu Nacional D’Art Catalunya, Barcelona

This beautiful building houses a number of important collections. I am here to view the only one of its kind in the world- the collection of Romanesque church art. The 11th,12th and13th century collections includes nine metre high domed fresco ceilings- magnificently preserved, beautiful carved wooden sculptures of the blessed Virgin, Christ on the Cross, baby Jesus, apostles and saints. The many stone sculptures, altars and artefacts all originate from old Romanesque churches of the Pyrenees.


2    Holy Basilica and Cathedral of Barcelona

An outstanding example of Catalan gothic architecture, it is right in the heart of the gothic precinct of the city, and is described as ‘a meeting place between God and men’. It is a  beautiful and serene place to visit in the heat of the day. It is so very old, dating from 1298 and completed in 1450. 

A working cathedral, it is the seat of the Cardinal–Archbishop of Barcelona, and an important place of prayer. In the map-guide for the cathedral, visitors are asked to pray for world peace, for the civilisation of love, for the unity of Christians, our needs, and for those in spiritual and material need, however humble our prayer. It was really moving to be asked to be prayerful, in a house led by a Cardinal-Archbishop of the Catholic church.            

3    Seville Cathedral  

 An enormous Gothic architectural building, sacred space, and UNESCO world heritage site, Seville Cathedral is known as the most extensive gothic cathedral in the world. It provides a quiet, peaceful sanctuary in the heart of old Sevilla. It is gothic architecture in its most elaborate form. We soak up the extensive and impressive collection of sculptures fonts, altars, sanctuaries, and paintings under the one roof...and to experience a deeply religious space. One cannot be more at peace than when one leaves this hallowed sacred ground, loved by so many Spaniards.

Known as the world’s third largest church in Europe, and the largest gothic cathedral anywhere else, it is also home of the tomb of the great explorer, Christopher Columbus. We climb the ancient bell-tower to gain great views over Sevilla, and to appreciate the enormous series of working bells housed at the top.

  4    Montserrat Monastery

Closer to heaven than earth is Montserrat Monastery- UNESCO world heritage site and mountain retreat of the Benedictine order, set high up in the mountain range…It is a place of serene solitude, spirituality and beauty. We day trip to this remote place,1230 feet high up in the mountains, just an hours train from Barcelona, and then a short ride by cable car.


Woo-ho…the views from the cable car are breath-taking: this is like arriving on a James Bond movie set! Adrenaline rush subsides and we take a funicular car up even higher up to visit some of the 300 hermitages and sacred sites of the mountain, including the site of Saint Joan and caves, before walking back down on a circuit.

Montserrat is a living monastery of Benedictine monks. Although adherent to vows of poverty, the monks are charged with managing what has become a large pilgrimage destination. There is a choirboy school of 50 exclusive scholarship holders to run, as well as the large Basilica, a hotel for conferences and retreats, and a museum of artefacts. Today the pilgrimage queue has a 3 hour waiting time to visit the black virgin- Mother Mary shrine, so named because of her skin colour. By mid afternoon as we leave the mountain, the temperature has soared to 35 degrees in the town of Montserrat below. On our return home we take an unscheduled siesta on the station bench, waiting an hour to pick up our train back to Barcelona!

5    Sagrida Familia, Barcelona


Antoni Gaudi was known as God's architect, and God's architecture doesn't get much better than this.  Sagrida Familia- is the temple of Gaudi's creation, in which ‘everything imitates nature.’ This is the last great Cathedral under construction in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site. When it first came into my view I wondered at its immense scale in the cityscape. The building is such an impressive and a powerful site from the outside, but inside... raising my gaze upwards in this sacred space was like contemplating eternity. 

Unlike its gothic counterparts, Gaudi designed this internal space to be light and airy, with its symphony of arched parabolic (u shaped) or hyperbolic (elliptical) structures reaching upwards, like a forest towards heaven. In the central nave section, four huge porphyry columns rise up to the roof like large tree trunks, made of brown clay, grey granite and dark grey basalt. Kiln fired brick detailed tiles line the interior at the top.

A glorious array of stained glass – a symphony of coloured light, is dappled and shimmers like a rainforest canopy. We walk over cool floors of porphyry flagstones, and parquetry. On the exterior of the building, there is a mesmerising maze of gargoyles, frogs, snakes, lizards. I don't know where to look first! On each façade are sculptures, such as the crucified Christ and the nativity scenes. Completed post humorously, these exterior sculptures do not carry the same signature style of the earlier Gaudi work inside. The amazing Sagrida Familia is a work in progress, due to be finished, somewhat optimistically, in twenty years time. I think I'll be back then for a visit.

However, one doesn’t necessarily have to travel to visit Spain to visit a sacred space, to rekindle our spiritual selves. My mother used to speak of this old Gaelic saying as I was growing up:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The spirit of the earth for mirth,

You are nearer God’s heart in a garden,

Than anywhere else on earth.
— old Gaelic saying
Nothing is invented; its written in nature.
— Antoni Gaudi

If we move beyond God's architecture, to amble along a garden path, trek high in the mountains, or along a wild beach; we are at one with nature- in harmony with it, and it is then that we are most in tune with our spiritual selves, more than any other time of our daily life.

Top 9X9 Secular Places in Spain

Catherine de Boer

Visiting exquisitely beautiful Moorish palaces, experiencing the magic of Gaudi’s architecture, and engaging with modern art, was a pot-pourri of earthly delights on my recent visit to Spain. In the second of two blogs on this country, I review nine secular places that left an indelible impression upon me.

1     Magic Fountains, Barcelona

As an entree to Spain's offerings, my family and I walk across town to view the evening’s light show at Magic Fountains. The waters come to life in coloured spectacle most evenings in the Catalonian capital. 

The area is bustling with tourists. Beneath the bridge police direct an entourage of buses slowing to a halt. The series of fountains are a breathtaking sight- retained from when Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games. The fountains froth and bubble inhues of pinks, blues and greens against the steamy heat of the evening sky. This is a festive spectacle not to be missed.

2      Anton Gaudi's Park Guell, Barcelona

Park Guell is a whimsical fun park to visit, where the father of architecture in Spain, Antoni Gaudi experimented with much of the hallmark design that would become his signature and more mature style. We visit the park and access the courtyards that feature his prettiest work, such as sinuous curving landscaped columns. 
We see typical broken tile decorations known as ‘trencadis’ that were created by Gaudi's colleague, Jujol.

Much of Gaudi's amazing works is due to the generous patronage of industrialist, Eusebi Guell, after whom this park is named. Guell spent most of his 90 billion fortune bankrolling Gaudi and his contemporaries to create a raft of astounding visionary works.

3     Antoni Gaudi, Casa Battlo #43

Gaudi’s apartments in Barcelona showcase his iconic style and give a rare insight into his applied interior detail. The first of these is located in what is known as the Block of Discord, where three traffic-stopping apartment buildings compete with each other for the admiration of the many who come to visit and stare from the street.

The most famous of these is Gaudi's Casa Battlo #43. I immediately recognise the famous facade that I have been fascinated by for years. I cannot believe that I am here in the street gazing up at it at last! It looms over the street with its curvaceous and sinewy form, propping up seemingly skeletal balustrades. Swathed in green and blue ceramic speckled tiles, it glistens in the afternoon sun. The building is adorned with skull-like features, harlequins, and topped by an amazing curved roof resembling a dragon.

4     Antoni Gaudi, La Pederast (Casa Mali), Barcelona

Completed in 1912, this Bourgeoisie apartment is strikingly organic- there is not one square line anywhere. It is all curves and a seamless spatial design. The quality of light is fantastic, owing to the central light well,complete with an amazing roof with claypot chimneys. 
As I wander through the apartment, I dream of living here- it is such a beautiful space! 

Gaudi’s attention to detail extended to curvaceous doorknobs, organic shaped light fittings, and sinewy iron balustrades. The one main detraction for me in how it was presented was the inclusion of museum furniture and furnishings that were of less significance to the building. Although of a similar period, these pieces was not created by Gaudi at all. From this designer’s perspective, it confused the purity of the interior.


5     Palacio Real, Madrid

I love European Rococo style, encapsulated here in the gob smacking, incredible Palacio Real with its sumptuous interiors. As we wander through the rooms, massive elaborate crystal chandeliers sparkle, suspended from cloth covered pendulous chains. In the dining room crystal glassware glistens, old silverware beckons use and Royal porcelain china is set for dinner for a typical 150 guests. Furniture is hand crafted by the court's master craftsmen.

I gaze incredulously at five priceless Stradivarius violins and cellos in one room. Enormous tapestries adorn the walls, woven by the Royal craftsmen, often copies of paintings of scenes of importance to the Royal family. Tessellated marble floors lie beneath awe-inspiring paintings and frescoed ceilings painted by the Royal court artists brought here from Italy.

I loved the regal dark blue and gold wallpapers of Carlos 111 Anti-chamber, with its huge crystal chandelier, family portraits hung on the walls, hand crafted carpets and elaborately painted mural ceiling.

The jewel in the crown is the breathtaking Gasparini Room (gasp!) - a pure work of art in high Rococo style.

6     Alcazar, Sevilla

Originally a Christian rulers palace, Alcazar is built by Moors and with Moorish artisanship. Today it is still a functioning palace, UNESCO world heritage site and Europe’s oldest palace. We visited the oldest areas of King Pedro’s Place and are amazed at the splendid decoration and craftsmanship in the rooms. The royal palace is in a style called Mudejar - a mix of Islamic and Christian elements. It was changed during each period of reign and over many centuries. It was so easy to get disorientated, as this was a deliberate planning strategy by the King, so that in times of danger, he could retreat down little known passages.

These are exquisitely beautiful spaces. From the sublime Baths of Lady Maria, to the Hall of the Ambassadors, with its ornate handcrafted cube, topped with a half dome. I love the enormous tapestries adorning the walls of the Hall of Tapestries. They are so old and intricate, depicting several scenes of battle from the Kings Court. We pause to appreciate the beautifully manicured courtyards with shady orange trees, our minds full of admiration at this amazing Palace.

7     Hammam El Banuelo (Moorish Baths) and Hammam Bafios Arabes (Arab Baths) Granada

What a delight to visit the Moorish Bath ruins on our morning walk around the old Albayzin Moorish part of town, and later that afternoon, to enjoy a steamy session of relaxation and massage at the Arab Baths.  The Moorish Bath (ruins) once served as meeting place and social mixing place for the Muslims. Starlight shaped skylights provided ventilation and temperature control within. Unclothed segregated bathing was the norm. 

My visit to the Arab Baths follows a time honoured bathing ritual. The baths are splendid with candles, steamy with scented oils, decorated with patterned ceramic tiled walls, marble flagstone floors, and intricate stuccowork ceilings. 
I move between bathing in three baths of different temperatures: the first is ice cold, the second - a warm bathing pool, where I lazily swim, and a third; a hot bath to soak in. A dreamy massage with scented oils completes an afternoon well spent in serious relaxation.

8      The Alhumbra, Granada

This is the last of the greatest Moorish palaces within a compound of a small walled city that features 4 sites: Alcazaba Fort, Generalife Gardens, the former Charles Vs Palace- now a museum and, the jewel in the crown- Palace Nazaries. It is a World heritage UNESCO site.

The Moors built the Palace for Moorish rulers. There is an amazing display of craftsmanship in this exquisite Islamic Palace. As we move through the rooms we soak up its magnificence. Outside the gardens, courtyards and fountains of the Generalife Gardens are superb and expansive, taking us over an hour to walk through.

We dine that evening enjoyed our last look at The Allumbra at sunset from the hilltop area near St Nicholas church, with the music of Spanish guitarist buskers playing in the background...a day never to be forgotten.

9     Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

This is one of the most amazing buildings in the world: the Titanium icon, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. The baroque sculptural form inspired by fish scales, is resplendent in the morning sun, as we circumnavigate it, taking it in from every conceivable angle.


We are first met by a huge Jeff Koon’s 42-foot tall installation, Puppy that almost bounds out to greet you, at the entrance with a wagging tail. Made entirely of flowers, it blooms seasonally all year round. Giant chrome Tulips, also by Jeff Koons, lay in the sun on the terrace. The museum houses a massive work by steel artist, Richard Serra, A Matter of Time - a series of curved steel forms, uniquely formed by extruding two ellipses at 90 degrees skewed to each other. The resultant series of curved forms either move towards or away from you as you walk through the spaces. A 30-foot tall spider, by French artist Louise Bourgeois, calledMaman, looms over the exterior public space. 

We are first met by a huge Jeff Koon’s 42-foot tall installation, Puppy that almost bounds out to greet you, at the entrance with a wagging tail. Made entirely of flowers, it blooms seasonally all year round. Giant chrome Tulips, also by Jeff Koons, lay in the sun on the terrace. The museum houses a massive work by steel artist, Richard Serra, A Matter of Time - a series of curved steel forms, uniquely formed by extruding two ellipses at 90 degrees skewed to each other. The resultant series of curved forms either move towards or away from you as you walk through the spaces. A 30-foot tall spider, by French artist Louise Bourgeois, calledMaman, looms over the exterior public space.  
These works reside as part of the famous Guggenheim ‘family’ of museums, wrapped up in a Titanium clad sculptural masterpiece. At Bilbao our modern art visual feast concludes a memorable visit to Spain!



Mole Creek Karst National Park

Catherine de Boer

Mole Creek Karst National Park protects the finest and most visited of natural caves in Tasmania. The jewels in its crown are Marakoopa Cave and King Solomon’s Cave.

 It is located 40-minute drive south of Deloraine, in the north of the state. But there are more than 300 caves or sinkholes in this park alone. The word ‘Karst’ refers the natural process of chemical formations that led to the creation of these caves: the flow of acidic water eroded limestone, leading to the formation of calcite deposits and the caves.

Entry to Marakoopa Cave is through a serene rainforest, with giant man-ferns and eucalypts guarding its entrance. On our recent visit with our young French visitor, Edmee, we escaped the sleeting rain and Tasmanian winter chill outside into the deep cavernous interior- set at a cool nine degrees.

These limestone caves are millions of years old. Although known to Tasmanian Aboriginals for many years before, white man only discovered them just over one hundred years ago. The importance of preserving these caves for future generations was recognised, and so the caves’ existence were kept secret for many years more, until finally a plan was in place to protect them. 

We first walked through the entrance tunnel into a huge space glistening with calcite deposits, with water dripping down from a myriad of stalactites.  As we moved beyond this chamber there were even more delightful formations to be revealed. 

A large white stalagmite candle, many thousand of years old, stood proudly on the cave floor. It is still growing, slowly fed by calcite-laden water droplets from above. In awe we stood and watched the next droplet fall...

We gazed at the absolute perfection of form of the reflection pools- limestone rendered in tan ochres and dusky pinks, and its crystal clear waters.  The formation reminded me of an exquisitely layered wedding cake.

At one point, a steep seven metres drop below our path, was an interior gorge, its creek cutting a path through a rocky bed. Marakoopa is regarded as a live cave, for its underground streams feed the troglobites- species that have no eyes- including cave-spiders and a colony of glow worms- which are the larvae of a small mosquito-like insect.

Seeing the stream gushing with water reminded me of my first experience of caving was when I was fifteen, decked out with a helmet with a powerful flashlight, thick wet suit and boots. In a group we navigated for a day through a cave system, entering from the side of a teeming river. 
We waded knee deep through underground streams, into passages where we squeezed- at times on our bellies, through narrow cavities to other chambers beyond. We tracked our path along safety lines to ensure we didn’t get disorientated or lost. It was claustrophobic, dark and confronting, but truly a wilderness experience, with its double-edged sword of wonder and risk. 

After a while journeying underground at Marakoopa Cave, our eyes had adjusted sufficiently to the darkness for the culmination of our visit. Our gazes moved upwards to the ceiling of The Great Chamber, revealing in the dark, a myriad of tiny pinpoints- a colony of glow-worms- the delicate larvae shining their beacons of light to attract food.

A stillness and quiet washed over us, as we contemplated the layers of beauty we had just moved through in this cave. A pristine wilderness- that etched in our souls as we departed for home.

Sri Lanka

Catherine de Boer

Taprobane, tea leaves and a tragic tale in Sri Lanka

December 26th is the anniversary of when a tsunami claimed thousands of lives in Sri Lanka. This catastrophic event came without warning hitting the southwest coast- a region where I recently visited. 

Sri Lanka is still only just recovering from the civil war to the north driven by the Tamil Tigers, a recent history that ended only in 2009. But on 26th December 2004, a tragedy struck of such magnitude to bring the country to its knees.

First stop of our tour is Colombo- two hours in the traffic from the airport: the chaotic Asian capital of Sri Lanka.
It is teeming with cars, tuc-tucs, animals, the vegetables and fruit markets at Pettah- the central market district, shanty towns, noise, dust and oppressive tropical heat.

Hidden within this metropolis are also serene sanctuaries- boutique colonial hotels, temples, and shopping places to visit that excite the designer in me.  

The textile manufacturing industry spawns beautiful cloth, in amazing colours and weaves. 

Designer homeware,artifacts and antiques are to be found, and on this trip I source a number of antique lanterns to bring home.

We stayed at the historic Galle Fort Hotel: a colonial hotel on the foreshore. We loved K.Chattu Kutta: he had worked as a valet in this establishment his entire working life.

From Colombo we wind our way up into the Hill Country, dodging traffic on blind corners, potholes,wildlife, domestic  animals.  Sri Lankan drivers are notorious when it comes to ignoring traffic rules, including speed limits- lane markings are merely a guide to weave. On several occasions my heart was in my mouth, in the face of oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road. There is a code of beeping horns and local custom in driving etiquette, which our driver seemed to understand.

My car sickness is nothing that a good cuppa tea couldn't fix. Two and a half cups later, my health restored, we embarked on a tour of an old tea factory in the heart of this tea plantation region. Afternoon tea is taken at The Grand Hotel at Nuwara Eliya, a delightful resting place.


We drive on to Kandy, the country’s former historic capital of Ceylon, and its most visited temple, The Sacred Temple of the Tooth, a Buddhist temple on the lake : it is staffed by saffron robed monks. Lit by candles, it made a spectacular sight, when we visited it by night.

The next day we drove to Sigiriya Rock, rated UNESCO’s eighth wonder of the world.  This serene heritage site rises out of the earth as a rocky fortress 200 metres above the ground, bearing amazing rock paintings of women with amazon figures, bare breasted and with hair piled high: this could be contemporary graffiti, but these are from about 1500 years ago. The lush greenness of the gardens at its base is so very tropical.

We visited Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage near Kandy, established by the government to take care of elephants orphaned or the victims of war.

Men, women and children aren’t the only victims of war: the animals suffer as well. One animal we saw had only three legs, the fourth was blown off by a land-mine.  Their mahouts take them to bathe in the river each day. We enjoyed seeing the elephant herd engaged in this daily ritual.

Driving back down to the south-west  of the island, I stayed within the walled Unesco World heritage town of Galle Fort, at the Rampart Street home of my brother, architect Justin Hill; a beautifully restored sanctuary.

Our house manager, Amila, recalls to me a number of his family lost to the tsunami so matter of factly. He speaks well of Australian cricketer, Shane Warne and his generosity to the local community in aiding the restoration- post tsunami, of the local oval greens. 

Amila also spoke of the exploitation that occurred immediately after the event, with unscrupulous developers buying up plots of land from those affected.

Our housemaid makes us superb Sinhalese breakfasts to start each day, comprising a delicious curd yoghurt, cooked eggs,fresh papaya and mango, and pots of Ceylon tea. 

Of an evening, we dine on Sri Lankan fish curries in a rooftop restaurant under the stars, only a stone’s throw from the lighthouse. These are magical evenings!

From Galle Fort we journeyed back up the coast to visit the region where the tsunami’s devastating impact was felt: religious crosses line the side of the palm fringed white beaches and roadside. But there is not just one, but in some places several, signifying the loss of a complete families who once resided there. 

The site of the railway train, that was now a bronze monument, sculpted with figures depicting the turmoil of Sri Lanka’s worst rail disaster. it is sobering to imagine the thousands of lives lost when the train was hit by the massive surge. A huge Buddha statue is sited there to also mark the catastrophe.

Nearby we visit my brother’s charity- the Peraliya Community Health Centre. We meet Dr Dezoysa, a practitioner of natural Sri Lankan medicine. It was established in partnership with Dr Thomas, a German surgeon, after the wake of the disaster.  

We watch smiling children learning in the small basic classrooms, and meet the doctors and staff who are providing essential health care for the local people.

The centre appreciates any donations of wheelchairs for its many children, who don't have access to this form of mobility, spending their time on the floor of their own homes.


The work of Geoffrey Bawa

We roamed through the magnificent gardens of Geoffrey Bawa’s country estate- Sri Lanka’s most famous architect and export. I can’t help but be touched by the enormity of his legacy that he has left behind. His work in tropical architecture is legendary, and we visit a number of his signature projects.

The highlight is his garden country estate of Lunuganga, where he lived and worked, with its lush green outlook to the river beyond, its viewing platforms, sculptures, and expansive peaceful views. As we turn for home, we take in another of Bawa’s legendary projects, The Villa, at Bentota.

The highlight is his garden country estate of Lunuganga, where he lived and worked, with its lush green outlook to the river beyond, its viewing platforms, sculptures, and expansive peaceful views. As we turn for home, we take in another of Bawa’s legendary projects, The Villa, at Bentota.

Taprobane Island

A drive down the Southern coast leads us to the private and uniquely accessible island resort on Taprobane Island -only accessible at low tide. This luxury neo-palladian mansion, was originally built here in the 1920’s by Count de Mauny-Talvande. It has played host to many famous visitors over the course of its history.

On this tour of Sri Lanka we relished the culture, colonial history, and a diversity of sights, tastes and smells. As the tragedy of the tsunami are wiped away, Sri Lanka now forges its way into a brave new period of hope- eclipsing the tears of the past.  We hope to return again soon to see this renewal and growth continue.


Catherine leads design tours
to Sri Lanka

Donations to Peraliya Community Health Centre: contact

23 Ramparts Villa, Galle Fort, reservations:


Catherine de Boer

Portugal enticed me away from the European Continent, to travel and experience its unspoilt isolation, beauty and proud traditional culture. After my family and I first arrive in Lisbon, our taxi driver listens to a Catholic mass sung in Portuguese all the way from the airport. Fatima is mentioned 9 times. Welcome to Portugal, an 85% Catholic country!

We are here to see the trolley trams featured in the iconic Australian movie 'Death in Brunswick', partly because it's closing scene was filmed in Lisbon. We climb aboard a crowded trolley tram to wind our way through narrow cobblestone streets, to reveal spectacular views at the top of old Lisbon town. 

Facades of buildings are glazed in ceramic blue tiles, washing hangs out to dry from balconies high above us as we walk. Local people gather together in the shady plazas.. We are not disappointed with the Lisbon's custard tarts locals are queuing up for, nor the freshest of seafood (enormous prawns!) as we dine in the shade mid afternoon, resting on our full day walking tour through three neighbourhoods of the old part of town. 

We take in a day trip to Sintra, nestled 15 miles north-west of Lisbon- a UNESCO world heritage listed site, and former summer retreat of Portugal's kings. Penne Palace (Palacio de Pena) is the jewel in the crown of Sintra: we also visit a Moorish Castle ruin, and the National Palace.

Penne Palace, built in to late 1800's, was once the hilltop palatial home of King Ferdinand. It is suggestive of Moorish architectural influences, but with a playful disnification and mix of German and Portuguese styles. German born, King Ferdinand was known as a romantic, and he spent a great amount of effort transforming this palace into a magical fairyland of earthly delights. Its ochre walls contrast the vivid blue sky, with a beauty and simplicity.

We enter through white-washed walls, with sinewy balustrades carved out of wood, into exotic rooms with stone floors, decorative patterned wall tiles, and elaborate stucco ceilings. French silk fabrics line feature walls, dark 19thcentury furniture suggestive of each rooms use, including canopy beds, cast iron baths, ea de toilette for a queen. A smattering of late 17th century and early 18th century oil paintings allude to the former Royal inhabitants.

As we wander through the terraced garden, I imagine the Royals in their self imposed seclusion, enjoying the expansive garden of trees, temples, chapel, and exotic plants, down to a series of lakes, each with its own bird life, birdhouse and fountains. We relax with our lunch, the wind whistling through the mature and stately sequoia trees, imagining the Royal family enjoying this peaceful sanctuary, before being forced to flee Portugal in 1910, during its civil uprising.

Our final Portuguese destination is Salema. We alight from a trainload of tourists, escaping to the coast of Algarve, at Lagos. Whitewashed apartment buildings crowd the skyline. At the end of the train line we are hot and expectant of a rest, but it is still a one hour wait for our taxi to appear to take us to our final destination.

Salema, the last bastion of unspoilt fishing villages in this coastline, is tucked away in the far flung corner of the Algarve Coast of southern Portugal. It teems with German and British tourists at this time of year, like ants all over the beach. It is hard to escape the G-string brigade of all shapes and sizes, tanned flesh...ironically no one is swimming, a sea of bodies is lined up on hired sun lounges. Waves roll in from the Atlantic Ocean: my toe dipping tells me it feels colder than my Tasmanian waters back home.

The beach at first light is deserted and beautiful to walk upon. As we crunch along the sand we find ancient dinosaur footprints on a rocky platform. The light is beautiful and the fishing for the day is just done: boats, nets stowed ashore. Stray cats sun themselves on the folded piles of fishing nets. Octopus pots dry in the sun. An old man shuffles along the path for his daily walk. Salema reveals its true character, before the tourists swarm again as another peak season August day begins.

Our driver, Isabella, is a wonderful guide, and proudly shows us the pearls of her native homeland: Cape S Vicente, with its sandstone cliffs over 200 metres high, the lighthouse with its staggering views along the coastline, Marata beach, Sagres surf beach, and the fishing harbour of Saida. Oh Salema!...our visit to you is far too short, but we will return to savour your beauty again.

Portugal beckoned us and we were not disappointed by its rustic charm, friendliest of people, staggering history and sheer natural and man made beauty. Unspoilt by tourism, it retains its charm, its integrity, its Catholicism, and  proud history. Vasco de Gamas, was such an amazing explorer of his time. How adventurous were the Portuguese nation! We ponder with locals at the prospect that Australia, my home country, was very nearly Portuguese. My appreciation of Portuguese design is enhanced by this visit.

What an unspoilt corner of Europe! Ciao Portugal! ate' nos encontrarmos novamente !