Weekend away, and other bits

Hey everybody!
I’m recently back from a weekend spent in the south of England, which was quite simply splendid! I went to Oxford for a long weekend, somewhere I haven’t been for years now, but it’s one of my all-time favourite places to be, so I was looking forward to that quite a lot! In the event, while I spent most of Sunday there, I don’t feel like I got to see enough of the place, having spent most of my time at the Ashmolean Museum, but even so, it’s a wonderful place, and I’m hoping that I can go back very soon!

While I was there, I also finished reading Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, which I actually posted about yesterday. It’s a tremendous book, and following my Heir to the Jedi excitement of last month, I feel on something of a Luke kick. Perhaps surprisingly, there aren’t that many stories that really showcase him, though, so I’ve resumed by reading with Darksaber, which will feature here soon, no doubt!

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t really been playing many games lately. In fact, I haven’t done so at all this month! Perhaps explaining the somewhat rushed game day blog yesterday. I’ve arranged for another game of X-Wing on Friday, though, so if nothing else, there’ll be that to look forward to.

There hasn’t really been a great deal of news on the boardgame front lately – not that much that interests me, at any rate. Except, perhaps, for this:

Call of Cthulhu Mark of Madness

FFG are churning out the Call of Cthulhu deluxe boxes, that’s for sure! The Hastur faction’s box, looks like a lot of exciting stuff will be coming from this one when it arrives in the autumn! I enjoy running Hastur/Silver Twilight, so definitely looking forward to this one!

FFP have a new ad for the upcoming Caverns of Cynder expansion for Shadows of Brimstone, which is looking really nice! Only one new enemy for the world, though apparently the hellbats from the Jargono box will be usable as “lava bats”, so that’s interesting.

But yeah, otherwise it seems to have been a quiet time on the game front lately…

2015, Day Two: Awesome

So here we are in the future! Well… How has 2015 been treating you so far? I hope you’ve been enjoying this fresh new year, anyway! Despite some dreary weather yesterday, today has been really quite glorious in my little corner of the UK, which I’m hoping is a good sign for the year ahead! I also finally took possession of the penultimate kickstarter game I’ve been waiting for…

Fallen

I haven’t played it yet – heck, I’ve only unwrapped the cellophane and sorted out all of the cards – but it looks absolutely incredible! Not sure when the game is going to hit retail, but on the basis of the look of the game, I’d recommend you keep your eyes on the official site for news of the release! I’ve already profiled the game once, last summer, but once I’ve managed to get in a game or two, I’m sure I’ll be back with some more useful thoughts!

I have been playing lots of Shadows of Brimstone so far this year – in fact, I’ve played a game every day of this year so far! Another kickstarter game that was profiled last summer, I had a couple of games before the festive season, and didn’t really feel the love. However, those were one-hero jaunts into the mines only; I’ve now used the full rules, including bringing the Targa Plateau into things, and the deeper immersion that results has led to my quickly becoming enraptured with this game!

Still unpainted, of course. I can’t decide if I’m going to bother though – so far, it’s clear that having just grey minis isn’t impacting on my enjoyment at all, but also I have far too many Necrons awaiting my attention, I just don’t know whether I’ll be able to get round to it any time soon! Doesn’t help, either, that I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since before Christmas…

 

Shadows of Brimstone

I’ve taken my Gunslinger and Bandido through the first two scenarios, which have both been an absolute blast – my Bandido is now even on the first true rung of the leveling-ladder! So I’m hoping that this is the real start of something truly awesome! No doubt I’ll also be writing more about this game once I’ve truly gotten to grips with it all!

Which brings me onto writing in general, something that I’d like to do more of in the coming months, at least! I enjoyed last year’s efforts with my three short Star Wars stories, and I intend to add to their ranks very soon with at least one more that is in the planning stages…

It’s not really a resolution, but I finally got round to using my Chinese tea set on Thursday, something I bought for myself back in Christmas 2011. I’m a very big lover of tea, of course, so this is quite the adventure for me! So many loose-leaf teas to try! The inaugural cup was Formosa Gunpowder, which I am going to hesitatingly say didn’t live up to expectations. There’s plenty more that I have yet to try, anyway!

This, though, is something of a resolution. I don’t think I’ve really explored it on here yet, but I absolutely adore the island of Anglesey, which I’m fortunately only an hour-or-so away from by car. I went a few times last year, notably for a jaunt along the south-east coast to Beaumaris and Penmon, but expect to see more in the coming year as I investigate bits I’ve never before been!

Oh, it’s shaping up to be a heady year already…

My trip to Conwy

Welcome back folks! What started as a day trip to Anglesey has turned into a trip around all four of Edward I’s castles in north Wales! For day three, let me take you around Conwy.

Conwy Castle

Perhaps the most arresting approach to any town in Britain, this is the sight that greets you on the way in to the town. Amazing stuff!

I’ve written two similar blogs already this week – Beaumaris and Caernarfon – but I don’t feel that I’ve done the subject of the Conquest of Wales much justice. Well, I won’t go into it here, but I will at least sketch in some info for you. Llywelyn the Great reigned as Prince of Gwynedd and Lord of Snowdonia from 1199 to 1240. He was married to the daughter of King John, but his expansionist foreign policy brought him into frequent conflict with England. However, he was recognised as Prince by Henry III, his brother-in-law.

Llywelyn left his kingdom in turmoil when he left his lands entirely to his youngest son Dafydd, disinheriting his illegitimate son Grufudd (under Welsh law at this time, land was inherited by all children as a partition). Dafydd immediately imprisoned Grufudd at Criccieth and consolidated his power from Llywelyn’s castle at Deganwy. Henry III then decided to intervene, however, and supported Grufudd. In 1246 Dafydd died, and the castle at Deganwy was captured by the English, who made it a mighty seat of power in the area, establishing a town in its shadow.

The castle at Deganwy was destroyed by Grufudd’s son, Llywelyn, in 1263, as he led a campaign to expel the English from his ancestral lands. In 1267, Henry III accepted Llywelyn as Prince of Gwynedd, in return for Llywelyn’s homage. Henry died in 1272, and was succeeded by his son Edward I. Llywelyn begged off attending the coronation, then repeatedly refused to pay homage to Edward. Things probably could have been handled better, of course, insofar as Henry had requested Llywelyn pay him homage, but Edward demanded it. In what can easily be imagined as a towering fury, Edward launched a concerted attack on Llywelyn, with forces coming from Chester, Montgomery, Carmarthen and by boat to Anglesey. It didn’t take long for Llywelyn to surrender at Aberconwy Abbey in 1277.

The terms of this surrender were to confine Llywelyn to Snowdonia, and to ensure they were kept, a massive programme of castle-building began, with fortresses being put up at Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth and Aberystwyth. Edward granted land to his lords across most of north wales, and further castles were built at Denbigh, Holt, Chirk, Ruthin and Hawarden. It was a misguided attack on the latter by Llywelyn’s younger brother Dafydd in 1282 that sparked the second campaign of Edward I, with an even larger army intent on ending the Welsh problem once and for all. Llywelyn was killed at Cilmeri, and Edward established his forward command post at Aberconwy Abbey in March 1283. It was from here that the capture of Dafydd was led, and evidence suggests that Edward had initially planned to make Conwy the administrative centre of his power in Wales, though ultimately it was Caernarfon that fulfilled this role.

Conwy was planned from the outset as a castle and town, and the initial planning stages began even before Dafydd’s capture and execution. Building work was incredibly swift, with the curtain walls being built within the first two years of construction. By 1287, both the castle and town walls were complete, at the cost of £15,000 (over £12.5m by today’s standards).

Conwy Castle

The castle has the most complete interior of any royal castle from medieval Britain, including the royal apartments in the inner ward, and the hall in the outer ward.

During the rebellion of 1294, Edward and his queen Eleanor of Castile stayed at Conwy while the English response was carried out. This is apparently the only known time that the king stayed at the castle. Of course, he was soon off fighting up in Scotland, anyway.

Conwy Castle

The town that sprang up around the castle was intended for English habitation only, and until the Tudor period, Welshmen were forbidden from entering any of the English towns in Wales, much less from trading with them. There are few surviving buildings in the town from this early period, though Aberconwy House is a typical medieval merchant’s house.

The town walls encircle an area of 22 acres and run for 1400 yards in a virtually unbroken circuit, with three fortified gates and twenty-one towers placed at regular intervals:

The Mill Gate
The Mill Gate

Not far from the massively-fortified Upper Gate is the site of ‘Llywelyn’s Hall’, a timber-framed structure that originally stood flush to the town walls, and is marked now by the only section of wall with windows built in. The hall was moved to Caernarfon in 1316 as a symbolic show of domination over the Welsh, but has long since vanished.

The entire project of building is really crazy when you think that, firstly, it was finished in four years, but also that it was being built at the same time as Caernarfon and Harlech Castles over on the west coast! An awesome amount of manpower and materiel was needed for this project, which really goes to show just how powerful the medieval monarchy was!

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle was the first of the four royal castles of Edward I that I visited, nearly seven years ago now, and it is probably the one I’ve been to most since. It’s definitely worth a visit, with a stroll along the town walls to finish! Marvellous!

Conwy Castle

My trip to Caernarfon

Good afternoon everyone! Following on from yesterdays Anglesey antics, I spent the day today at Caernarfon, the centre of Edward I’s castles-of-Wales complex. And what a castle it is! I haven’t really visited this place in six years, so was quite overawed!

The modern town of Caernarfon sits directly on the banks of the Menai Strait in a location that is positively brimming with legend. Settle down, for I’m going to tell you a story…

Macsen Wledig – perhaps better known by his Latin name Magnus Maximus, a later Emperor of Rome – had a dream of a beautiful maiden in a distant land. When he awoke, he sent his men to scour the world for her, and she was eventually found in Segontium, just outside modern Caernarfon. Macsen is so overjoyed that the maiden, whose name is Elen, loved him in return that he made her father king of all Britain. However, in Macsen’s absence, a new Emperor seized power. Macsen, with an army led by Elen’s brother Conan, marched back to Rome and regained his throne, and in gratitude he gave Conan land in Gaul, modern-day Brittany. As for Elen, she became a Saint, often credited with road-building across Britain.

What a lovely tale! Well, at any rate, the story – together with the remains of the Roman fortress at Segontium – proved to be a very evocative symbol of the status associated with the site. While the Normans had built a motte-and-bailey castle here, it had been in Welsh control since the early twelfth century. There is some documentary evidence that the Princes of Wales, while more comfortable at their llys than a castle, also spent time here.

As mentioned in my Beaumaris blog, Edward I was very big on symbolism. Well, the whole medieval world was to a large extent – that’s why heraldry was invented. But anyway. A site associated with the Emperors of ancient Rome, as well as rich in the native Welsh tradition, he didn’t waste any time in making it the administrative and judicial centre of English Wales following the successful subjugation of the Welsh in 1283.

The whole history of the Edwardian Conquest is absolutely fascinating, and one that deserves its own blog, really. So for now I’ll just stick to Caernarfon. Work began around 24 June 1283, with the king and queen arriving the following month. By the following year, it is believed that the massive Eagle Tower had been completed to at least first-floor level.

Caernarfon Castle

The castle was planned and built alongside the neighbouring town, and by 1285 the town walls were largely complete.

Work on the castle continued throughout subsequent building seasons, and surviving documents indicate that expense was almost seen as no object. By 1288, however, expense dropped off noticeably, until 1292, where it ceased. The guidebook tells us that the entire project up to this time cost £12,000 – over £11m in today’s prices. However, by this time the town-facing side of the castle hadn’t really been built properly, largely because it was defended by the town itself.

However, in 1294, rebellion broke out. By the Statute of Rhuddlan issued a decade earlier, Caernarfon had been made the centre of English government. As such, it was the prime target for the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn. Records relate how the walls were ‘thrown down’ and the castle building site was torched. The English response was brutal, and work began immediately on re-fortifying the town – expense accounts suggest that half the town walls had indeed been demolished in the attack.

Building continued apace for the rest of the century, with the distinctive horizontal banding in the curtain walls that was a deliberate echo of the walls of Roman Constantinople. Edward turned his attention to Scotland as the fourteenth century dawned, and work on all of his Welsh projects stalled until the victory at Stirling in 1304.

In 1316, the timber hall from Conwy, known vaguely as the ‘Prince’s Hall’, was dismantled and brought here, where it was reassembled at the Great Hall within the castle (seen as foundations on the right, above). Another gesture pregnant with symbolism – the hall was the traditional centre of a stronghold and the place where the king dispensed his justice. By bringing Llywelyn’s hall to Caernarfon, Edward made his new castle the seat of justice for Wales as well as making it impossible for the Welsh to rule themselves anymore.

By 1330, it seems that the fabric of the castle and the town was largely complete, to the extent that it stands today. Total expenditure is given by Cadw as no more than £25,000 – over £23.5m in modern terms. For the next two hundred years, Caernarfon Castle continued to be the administrative centre for Wales, and the town was off-limits to the native Welsh.

According to legend, following the defeat of Llywelyn at Cilmeri in 1282, Edward I attempted to pacify the Welsh resistance that had continued by offering the natives a prince ‘borne in Wales and could speake never a word of English’, before showing his newborn son Edward to the assembled crowds at the castle in April 1284. Well, whether that scene actually happened or not, Edward did indeed bestow the title of Prince of Wales upon his son and heir in 1301, as well as the earldom of Chester.

Edward I confers the title of Prince of Wales upon his son
Edward I confers the title of Prince of Wales upon his son

Since then, the eldest son and heir of the reigning monarch has been declared Prince of Wales, though of course, with some exceptions. Edward II did not declare his son, the future Edward III, as Prince of Wales; when George II’s son Frederick died after a tennis injury he made Frederick’s son George the Prince. Also of note, Richard of York had himself made Prince of Wales in 1460 in order to secure his succession to the incapacitated Henry VI. It wasn’t until 1911, however, that a ceremony at Caernarfon was instituted, when George V made his son Edward the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII). Again in 1969, Elizabeth II invested her heir Charles as Prince of Wales, at the famous televised event for which the slate dais was installed in the upper ward. The castle has an exhibition of the Princes of Wales, including the specially-made throne and stool for the occasion:

Caernarfon Castle

So there you have it! Caernarfon Castle in all its imperial pomp and splendour! It really is a fantastic castle, the photos in this blog really don’t do justice to the scale of the place. I was particularly surprised at how easy it is to get lost within the wall passages, though that may say more about my sense of direction than anything else. Perhaps more than any other castle in Wales, it still gives the impression of might that it was originally designed for. Go on, go visit it!

My trip to Anglesey: Penmon

It’s a double feature! Part one of today’s Anglesey trip featured an excellent visit to Beaumaris Castle. I followed that by a trip further east along the coast, to Penmon.

Penmon Priory

Penmon lies to the east of Beaumaris, and is notable for the long history of its church, which stretches back to the sixth century AD. Founded by St Seiriol, a friend of St Cybi who founded Holyhead on the opposite end of the island at this time, the early monastery was attacked by the Vikings in the tenth century, before the current buildings were established in from the middle of the twelfth century. Shown above is the chancel, which is a significantly later addition, but the tower, transepts (one of which is on the right in the picture) and the nave are all dated from the original Augustinian house.

St Seiriol's Well St Seiriol's Well

No great saint would be complete without a holy well, of course! St Seiriol’s Well was used, as were most holy wells, for reputed healing properties until at least 1811.

Penmon Priory

The monastic buildings at Penmon Priory include the refectory, or dining hall, as shown above. The building to the right in the above photo is the dovecote, which post-dates the suppression of the monasteries. The Jacobean landowner Sir Richard Bulkeley, with a mansion just outside Beaumaris, had the dovecote built sometime after 1600. The Cadw guide tells us that, in the days before farming had advanced to keeping animals fattened all year, doves and pigeons provided an important source of meat in the winter months.

Penmon dovecote

The monuments at Penmon also include a number of crosses, now kept in the Priory itself, which date to the time of the Viking invasions:

Penmon Cross

Penmon Priory

I really like Penmon. The close-siting of the monuments of a small monastic community gives a really strong impression of what life must have been like in these early Christian foundations. The remote location serves to add to this feeling, too – much better than the St Cybi monuments, which are within the town centre of Holyhead.

Penmon

Just a little farther on from the Priory, there is a fantastic reminder of Anglesey’s rich industrial past. The Flagstaff Limestone Quarry was originally operating from around the 1830s, though limestone had been quarried at Penmon much earlier, as Beaumaris Castle was made out of the stuff.

Flagstaff Quarry

A small confession, here: I love industrial archaeology. While I think I will always be a medievalist at heart, nevertheless I find the remnants of our industrial past simply irresistible. The remains of the Flagstaff Quarry buildings can be seen from the coastal road on the approach to Penmon, and I was ridiculously excited once they caught my eye:

Flagstaff Quarry

If I ever get round to writing travelogues of my previous trips to Anglesey, first on the list will be last year’s trip around Cemaes-Bull Bay, where I came across the ruins of Porth Wen brickworks and was almost faint with joy! Truly, truly magnificent!

Flagstaff Quarry

I think what excites me so much about industrial remains is the fact that everything we see had a working purpose to it. As much as one can say that every inch of a castle is intended to be a defensible structure, or an abbey is intended to glorify God, things like these massive banks of lime kilns here made things. People worked here, and they made stuff. It’s just really, really exciting to be among such buildings!

Flagstaff Quarry

I have spent a lot of time in quarries – there’s a massive limestone quarry not that far from where I live – but I can’t pretend to know a lot about what I’ve seen here today. The Royal Commission site tells me that there is a crusher house still standing, which could potentially be the structure above – that would certainly explain the chutes coming out of the walls, if not the chimney as a means of powering the rollers – but I don’t know.

Flagstaff Quarry

What I do know, however, is that this place was awesome! And so picturesque, too!

Flagstaff Quarry

Leaving our industrial past behind momentarily, however, we come to the final stop on this tour: Penmon Point.

Penmon Point

This is really what drove my trip today. I’d seen a lot of this view over on twitter for a while, and had been wanting to get up to the island to see what it’s like for myself. Pretty damn amazing, I think you’ll agree! The island to the right in the above pic is, of course, Puffin Island, once home to possibly the largest colony of puffins in Britain until a plague of rats reduced their numbers. The island was the site of another monastic foundation of St Seiriol, who is said to be buried here. There are apparently ruins of a church on the island, but it is strictly off-limits due to the bird-breeding programmes.

Penmon Point

So there you have it, an excellent tour along the eastern tip of Anglesey! It’s well worth a visit, and on an excellent day like today, you really ought to get out there and see the sights!

Penmon Point

My trip to Anglesey: Beaumaris

Beaumaris Castle

Hello everyone, and welcome to another trip-focused blog! Being off work this week, I’ve got several trips lined up, beginning with what turned out to be an absolutely incredible trip to Anglesey! I love that island so much it’s untrue, but with perfect weather, it was just grand! So let me share some snaps with you of stage one: Beaumaris!

Obviously, any trip to Beaumaris these days almost has to include the famous castle. Built from 1295, it was the last of the four great fortresses constructed by Edward I in an ‘iron ring’ around the Snowdonia strongholds of the Princes of Gwynedd. By the time work had begun at the castle, the last Prince, Llywelyn ap Grufudd, had been dead for thirteen years, and the Edwardian invasion of Wales pretty much successfully concluded, but revolts throughout the final years of the thirteenth century showed a need for visible English dominance still.

Beaumaris was the only castle Edward built on Anglesey, its location chosen expressly for the purpose of supply by sea. The Welsh town of Llanfaes that already existed at the site was seen as the most prosperous in the whole of Wales, benefiting from its location on the main route between Chester and Holyhead, and beyond to Ireland. It was also the final resting place of Joan, the daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth ‘the Great’.

102_0143 102_0144

That the town was also built on a marsh was of little consequence to Edward – the need for symbols of might and dominance was never far from his mind, so placing his castle here was the natural choice. Before work began, however, the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant relative of Llywelyn the Last, broke out across English-controlled Wales. This revolt is most startling to me because it was led by a chap who had once been on good terms with Edward. Anyway, at one point the revolt razed the incomplete castle at Caernarfon, and the sheriff of Anglesey, Roger de Pulesdon, was lynched. The revolt was brutally quashed by the English, and it was perhaps in response to this that work was ordered to begin immediately at Beaumaris.

Beaumaris Castle

The castle was built on flat, open ground, which is probably why the architect, Master James of St George (see picture below), was able to make it the almost-perfect concentric fortress that it is. For years, the English had been building castles in Wales in this manner, perhaps most notably at Rhuddlan and Harlech, but at Beaumaris, the example is really quite stunning.

Edward I and Master James of St George

The castle was built speedily, with stone quarried from nearby Penmon, and within about ten weeks or so, there was enough standing for the records to describe the king as staying in thatched buildings ‘within the castle’ here. Some pretty amazing records survive, showing that the castle was costing about £270 a week to build in the first season, and was projected to run around £250 a week throughout the 1296 building season.

Beaumaris Castle

However, almost as soon as the conquest of Wales was considered complete, Edward turned his attention north to Scotland, and began waging wars up there. The consequence was an increasingly tight budget for all of the royal castles in Wales, and the records show that labourers and other workmen were leaving the site in droves because they weren’t being paid. As 1300 loomed, expenditure on the castle was virtually nonexistant.

Beaumaris Castle

The work was resumed early in the fourteenth century, but on nowhere near the scale that it had been taking place earlier. The primary focus was to secure the site, and complete the curtain wall circuit across the north and west (shown above). The reason for this was a commonly-held fear that the Scots might join forces with the simmering Welsh and attack the castles of north Wales. While the curtain walls were completed, work on the castle was eventually halted around 1330.

Beaumaris Castle

As an incomplete castle, Beaumaris has a peculiarly squat appearance in comparison with the other royal castles of Wales. No turrets here! The outer curtain towers were left at pretty much single-storey, and the work continued just long enough to secure the towers of the inner ward around a storey higher. A survey of 1343 estimated costs to bring the castle to completion at £684. This work wasn’t carried out, evidently.

Beaumaris Castle

But that doesn’t detract from the fact that Beaumaris is a superb castle, and is justly referred to as a perfect design. For years now, I’ve thought of Aberystwyth as my favourite of the Welsh castles, but walking around Beaumaris today, it makes me think that I may have to revise that opinion! An excellent day out – you should all go! Now!

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle

I bought a new camera

Welcome to my latest blog, a little bit of odd jollity for a Saturday! You know you love it.

It’s been another exciting week, as you may have seen from my blogs posted over the past few days. Perhaps the most exciting event was finishing the Thrawn trilogy, which is always good. In case you hadn’t picked it up by now, I’m a really big fan of Tim Zahn’s work! This morning I finally got round to the short story Heist that was published in the Star Wars Insider magazine. A prequel of sorts to the novel Scoundrels, which I read just before Easter, it features the ghost thief Bink Kitik and her sister Tavia on a job. It’s all pretty standard stuff, nothing earth-shattering or anything, but it’s a good tale, and well worth it if you can still find it.

The most exciting thing to happen this morning, though, was the massive delivery of another of the huge ships for the X-Wing miniatures game: Tantive IV!

 

This ship really is huge! Remember the last one that arrived? Well this one is even bigger:

X-Wing Tantive IV
“Look at the size of that thing!”

Wedge may have been referring to the Death Star, but it still holds true here! It does look pretty spectacular, I have to say. Of course, as I mentioned last time, sadly I never get to play this game nowadays, so there’s no telling when I’ll ever get to actually give this a go, but hopefully soon…

I bought a new camera last week as well, it’s about time as I’ve had the last one for about six years now. I popped over to Anglesey, which is one of my absolute favourite places in the country, to give it a proper try and whatnot, but no sooner had I got there than it began to rain. Gah! But I did get some good shots at Red Wharf Bay:

Red Wharf Bay

Red Wharf Bay

Ah, marvellous!

Remember Yig, the new Ancient One in the expansion for Eldritch Horror that I received just over a week ago? Well in addition to reading the classic Lovecraft Call of Cthulhu the other day, I also read the Curse of Yig collaborative tale. It’s a pretty good story, actually – unlike quite a few of the Lovecraft tale I’ve read, this one feels very much like a modern horror story when we come to the end. The tale of a couple who move out west to start a new life, where they encounter the local stories of a snake-god who punishes anyone who kills the indigenous snakes, it very much reminded me of the sort of horror films that begin pregnant with expectation, and culminate in something truly horrible at the end. It’s available in The Horror in the Museum, a collection of other collaborative stories, definitely worth investigating! Especially for fans of the many Cthulhu-themed games.

 

 

 

Some cracking news this week, the Carcassonne android app has been updated, and finally we have some of the expansions! Not all of them, sadly, but hopefully this will be the start of seeing more available soon!

It’s a bank holiday weekend in the UK here, and as per tradition, it’s been pouring with rain all day. Also as per tradition, I’m having a bit of a boardgame weekend with that old favourite, Arkham Horror! Stay tuned for more on that soon!

My trip to Milan

Ah, here we are again! For my fourth blog, I’d like to reminisce with you good people of the internet about a trip I took to Milan last year. Sigh! It was a really good trip!

The Duomo of Milan
The Duomo of Milan

I’d never been abroad by myself before, but after constantly hearing it broadens the mind, and suchlike, I decided I wanted to make good on what had been a years-long desire to visit Italy, by going to the city with the highest density of English speakers in that country. So off I trundled, and despite the terror of being in a foreign country where I knew nobody and could just about get by in the language, it was a really great time!

Milan is an old city, with as rich a history as any other of the renaissance centres of Italy, though because of that rich and varied history, the city doesn’t look like Florence, or Lucca, or Bologna. Instead, what struck me most when I arrived was how much the city reminded me of London, with a lot of big, stone buildings that makes the experience almost like a walk down Whitehall.

However, renaissance Milan still survives, not least in the Castello Sforzesco.

Castello Sforzesco, Rivellino di Santo Spirito Castello Sforzesco, Cortile DucaleCastello Sforzesco, Piazza d'Armi Castello Sforzesco

The Castello is now an art gallery and museum, but it still looks pretty awesome!

The city was an independent duchy until the sixteenth century, when it became a Spanish possession. Following the War of the Spanish Succession, however, it was ceded to Austro-Hungary, and during the eighteenth century – the Age of Enlightenment – rebuilding has created the look we see today.

Arco della Pace, initially intended to commemorate Napoleon's entry to the city
Arco della Pace, initially intended to commemorate Napoleon’s entry to the city

Teatro alla Scala, the 'cathedral of opera'
Teatro alla Scala, the ‘cathedral of opera’

Piazza Beccaria - Cesare Beccaria was a key figure in Enlightenment Milan
Piazza Beccaria – Cesare Beccaria was a key figure in Enlightenment Milan

The centrepiece of the city is the Duomo, the Cathedral of Milan. Started under the Visconti Dukes of Milan in the fifteenth century, the white Carrara marble that fronts the church and gives it such a stunning appearance today was added for Napoleon Bonaparte’s triumphant entry into the city in 1805 for his coronation as King of Italy. Emerging from the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele into the Piazza del Duomo had a really stunning effect on me, I must say!

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the world's first purpose-built shopping centres
Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, one of the world’s first purpose-built shopping centres

Piazza del Duomo, looking towards the Galleria
Piazza del Duomo, looking towards the Galleria

The Duomo
The Duomo

I met a Canadian chap in the Piazza, who was also travelling alone and was overcome with relief to meet someone who also spoke English! Ah, marvellous! The Duomo is free to enter, but remember that Italy is a staunchly Catholic country, and here the army were guarding the entrance preventing access to anyone inappropriately dressed – they turned one woman away in front of me because her skirt ended above the knee. Inside, the building is surprisingly dark, but I have no pictures because I couldn’t find anyone to buy a photography permit from!

There are more churches in the city than just the Duomo, of course. The most impressive, I found, was San Lorenzo alle Colonne, just a short walk from the Duomo.

San Lorenzo alle Colonne
San Lorenzo alle Colonne

The rear of San Lorenzo alle Colonne. Public executions used to take place here in the middle ages.
The rear of San Lorenzo alle Colonne. Public executions used to take place here in the middle ages.

San Lorenzo alle Colonne - the Roman columns
San Lorenzo alle Colonne – the Roman columns

The name comes from the columns that run in front of the church, which were brought there when the church was built in the fourth century from either a Roman temple of bath house. The Roman connection with Milan is actually quite strong – in the late third century, Maximian built his palace here when the Empire was split, with Diocletian ruling from Nicomedia (in modern-day Turkey). The ruins of the palace were discovered during the second world war bombing of the city.

Maximian's Palace, Milan Maximian's Palace, Milan

Maximian's Palace, Milan
Maximian’s Palace, Milan

Lots of history to be discovered here! I run a history-centric blog on Blogger, where you can read more about the history of the city if you’re interested!

Unfortunately I’ve not been back to Italy since – I suppose it’s a combination of nervousness and a distressing lack of funds. But it’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately, partially the reason for writing this blog, and I hope that I can get back there soon – certainly to revisit Milan, as a start!