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A convent-like experience

Finding accommodation in Oslo isn’t difficult. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses to choose from. Finding reasonably priced accommodation though, with breakfast and free Wi-fi included, is  a different matter entirely. I knew what part of town I wanted to stay in so, on the advice of a friend, I booked myself into the Gjestehuset Lovisenberg.

IMG_6616 (800x600)It fascinated me on two counts. One, it was a former training hospital for nursing nuns. The walls are lined with old black-and-white and sepia photos of the graduating classes, decked out in their habits and wimples. I was half-expecting to see an apparition or three during my stay, but given the price of a pint, there’d be no staying up on the surfboard after 40 pints of stout. And two, it provided a sanctuary for Jews during the Second World War. Situated in the midst of a hospital area, I had to wend my way home through the grounds, skirting the psychiatric unit, passing the MS unit, and giving a nod of recognition to the meningitis unit. It was a little peculiar to say the least. I’m more used to skirting bars and restaurants when traipsing back to my hotel than medical clinics.

IMG_6612 (800x599)At about €100 a night, the single room with private bath was the same as a double (and no single supplement – seems like Norway doesn’t penalise the unwed) so I splurged. Rooms were clean and basic, almost sterile. Toiletries supplied amounted to a single bar of soap – no shampoo, body lotions, cotton buds, or any of the niceties I’ve come to expect on my travels. Obviously vanity of any sort was not encouraged. It was a couple of days before I noticed I had no TV either. But I did have a chapel on my floor.

IMG_6535 (800x589)The abundance of holy pictures, angels, and other religious iconary may have made some a tad uncomfortable, but I was in my element. It was as close as I’m ever likely to get to living in a convent.

Breakfast was eaten in a silence that approached reverence – and again, I thanked the Lord for local knowledge because without it, I’d never have known to put the Kaviar cream on the hard-boiled egg, or to eat the herring with cucumber slices or to try the brown cheese with mackerel.

My one complaint was that my Thunderbird wasn’t compatible with their Internet so I had to collect my emails separately – a right pain in the proverbial. Yet the flip side was that this drove me out… to find other wi-fi in the area and discover other places in the locale. My conclusion: this part of town is convenient, well serviced by public transport, has good bars and restaurants, and were I to get ill…. I’d be well looked after.

The new 19th?

Golfers everywhere refer to the clubhouse as the 19th hole. The last place of refuge. A place to celebrate their victories or drown their sorrows. Back in the day, when I was no stranger to fairways and bunkers and talked animatedly about birdies and eagles, I, too, enjoyed a tipple and the accompanying reflection at the 19th.

On a roadtrip recently through northwestern Hungary, we’d booked ourselves in for a night at the Forest Hills Golf and Country Club. While the English translation of the website leaves a lot to be desired, I caught the essence of what was on offer and for once didn’t cross it off my list of options because no one took the trouble to check the grammar [and you know how difficult that was for me….]. That it was a reasonable €65 pn B&B wasn’t the deciding factor either. What swayed me  was the fact that it had its own chapel  in the grounds. This I had to see.

I had visions of golfers invoking the protection of St Andrew, the patron saint of golf, before teeing off, perhaps even asking him to favour them over their matchplay opponent or praying that their mixed partner would be on form. The idea of providing a pit-stop for prayer before the first tee or after the last green had me completely intrigued.

The history of the place (or what I could glean from the website) dates back to the post-war years when the owner moved from Budapest to the nearby village of Bakonyjákó. Building a golf course was a dream project… one he made come true. Kudos due for that alone.

 The chapel itself is tiny – but does the business. It was built to commemorate the birth of his son and stands in the grounds near the clubhouse. I’d had visions of a restored ruin so although it wasn’t quite what I’d expected, I’m glad we made the choice we did. The staff were lovely – I felt completely at home and would happily have stayed a week. They’ve managed – one and all – to hit on just the right amount of attention and are very much on the ball. The food was excellent. It even inspired me to add gnocchi to my culinary repertoire.

 

 

 

 

I counted six others at breakfast; it wasn’t a packed weekend. But apparently the weekend before had been booked solid. Were I asked to make a suggestion or two or two for improvement – I’d add some English-language books to the library and do something to improve the WiFi connection.  Minor really. There’s plenty to do and it’s a great base for seeing the likes of Zirc and Pannonhalma. If you’re in the neighbourhood, drop by.

Dating frescos by fashion

Forget carbon dating – let’s use fashion instead.Yes, things are done differently in Malta.

Although just a fraction of the original church remains, that piece of the Santa Marija Ta’  Bir Miftuħ chapel that is still standing, 600 years after it was built, is a beautiful example of Medieval architecture. If you stand at the back of the church to the right, and look straight ahead, the arches overhead appear to fan outwards to the left. And yet, if you go to the front of the church and look back, it’s the opposite. Most peculiar

At one time, this was the second-biggest church in Malta, built in the shape of a cross in the fifteenth century. It suffered at the hands of the Turks and again  during the sieges of 1565 and 1942 (if you have the time, these two documentary videos give interesting accounts of both sieges).  During the restoration work in 1973, builders discovered a sixteenth-century fresco on the back wall. Although just parts remain, it is clearly a depiction of the Last Judgement.

Interestingly, though, it was dated   because of the type of dress worn. Not exactly the most technologically correct perhaps, but a good guide, nonetheless. In this picture, the woman’s dress is in a style fashionable in the early sixteenth century. The lily she’s holding in her hand might also tell us that she is one of the Bonici family, whose emblem is a lily. Makes you wonder how twenty-first century photos and art will be dated 600 years from now.

 

As to what Bir Miftuħ means, it seems that opinion is divided between ‘open well’ and ‘sweet-smelling’ well. Personally, the well I saw, partially covered by moss and growth, smelled sweet – so perhaps ‘open, sweet-smelling’ might be a good compromise.