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Artist and Churchill Travel Fellow, Karen Neale, shares five of her favourite destinations.

My passion is sketching and painting the world around me in my sketchbook diaries. I was awarded a Churchill Travelling Fellowship by WCMT* In 2001. I left London in April that year and travelled for five months through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, India and Nepal. During this time I completed 106 annotated, watercolour sketches recording my experience. My book 'A Fellow Traveller - A Sketchbook Journey Inspired by World Heritage Cities and Sites' is published in 2015 as part of WCMT's 50th Anniversary. Extracted from my sketchbook diary my 5 favourite places are:

1 - Venice, Italy
A little trip on the train from Vicenza where I am staying with a friend of a friend, for just a few hours in magical Venice. I could spend years getting lost down all the alleys, arriving at a canal, going back down alleys, eventually find a bridge over the canals and so on. I walked through the Jewish Ghetto, which was powerfully moving, especially with the sculpted bronze memorial pieces on the walls, and then you cross the bridge only a few metres away, but which would have meant the difference I guess almost between life and death not so long ago. More happily St. Mark's Square is still as gorgeous as ever, appreciated by thousands of tourists every day and even more pigeons! I could very happily spend a few months filling a few sketchbooks  in this fabulously, fantastical city.

2 - Matera, Italy
Matera is apparently one of the oldest towns in the world. Originating as cave dwellings built into the rocky tufo hillsides, the old town has maze like alleys and carved steps leading to different levels. During the 50s many people were forcibly evacuated due to poor sanitary conditions. But not everyone left and this now semi-deserted area is increasingly dotted with freshly painted and restored dwellings. If I had the money this would be the place where I would invest in a little cave of my own. As you wander through this magical maze, dogs appear suddenly at the top of a building, overlooking you like  furry gargoyles and welcome you to Matera in comical fashion. This is the view from Palazzo Lanfranchi, looking across to Sassi Caveoso, el Duomo on left, and San Pietro Caveoso and Madonna dell' Idris set into the rocks... all quite amazing. The mad swallows swooping overhead in eternal circles like an airy whirlpool of mirthful mayhem - wonderful.

Picture credit: iStock

3 - Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul - a completely captivating city. All the history and magic conjured up by its evocative namesakes of Constantinople and Byzantium, are completely alive and kicking in this modern city.  Cups of chay at every corner (my idea of heaven as those who know me will testify) and the bazaars are the endless resource and paradise of any homemaker.  Best breakfast ever in Bayolu area, of creamy eggs and vegetables. Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, the Bosphorous and this is just to begin with - Istanbul has got the lot. Getting lost in the wonderful and bizarre Grand Bazaar is an experience not to be missed and it is sketcher's paradise overload. People here  are wonderfully friendly and keep me plied with water and Turkish tea, which is most hospitable. I may drink the bazaar's Turkish tea reserves dry though, as I could stay here for decades. You can just about buy anything here I think, for a price, and the antique pewter, copper and gold don't come cheap!

4 - Arg-e-Bam, Iran
Arrived yesterday from Kerman across the parched and remote desert to apparently three million palm trees forming the oasis around the town of Bam. The modern day city now lies outside the walls of the ancient city Arg - e Bam. The whole adventure to Bam has been quite magical, staying at Mr. Akbah's little guesthouse and made to feel so at home  Met some wonderful people in Bam and discovered that Iranian sense of humour is very similar to British - very dry with a hint of wit and sarcasm. The citadel is quite out of this world and completely compelling, and one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen, even while drawing this at well over 40° early in the morning, melting away in my long black oven of a dress. The only inhabitants now in this amazing ancient city are the restoration workers, the ladies at the teahouse in the gatehouse to the citadel (great cooked eggs!) and the odd inquisitive lizard and bird.
POSTNOTE - Although badly damaged in the 2003  earthquake, Arg-e Bam is being gradually and sympathetically restored.


5 - Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu - Ancient history is fresh and youthful here, as stone Buddhas and Incarnations, stupas and other edifices nestle in amongst the washing lines and 'Internet access here' signs.  Medieval and modern life combine in a wonderful vibrancy in some amazing characteristic Nepalese adaptation. The apparent randomness of the religious and secular buildings belies a wonderful complex and intricate network. In every 'chowk' (residential courtyard/ marketplace with business enterprises mixed in on the lower floors) are stupas and Buddhas or even temples, which you can often glimpse from the street. It is a maze of delights. Although with as much poverty, if not more proportionally than India, it has a much gentler, calmer pace here and every which way you turn, there is some little architectural or ancient monument gem set right within the every day life and bustle of this capital city, and Durbar Square is seemingly strewn with shrines, temples, statues and the rest - it is a spectacular place, pure inspiration  for architects and town planners I think... Monkeys and mosquitoes making mischief, a monkey climbed one of the roofs and threw down tiles, smashing on the ground, whilst the mosquitoes simply concentrated on me!

POSTNOTE - So much has been destroyed in the devastating earthquake earlier this year and so much help is still needed in the aftermath to rebuild lives and basic shelter, let alone buildings which have stood for centuries....  

My sketchbook was my passport to people and places. When standing or if lucky, sitting somewhere for several hours, simply drawing with just a black biro, I became a part of that place for a time. Sketching erodes cultural and linguistic barriers, as a picture and the process to create it can be universally understood. People were so friendly, informative, inquisitive and afforded me great hospitality. Humanity in its heritage and a journey of a lifetime.

A Fellow Traveller; A Sketchbook Journey Inspired by World Heritage Cities and Sites by Karen Neale (published 2015 by Karen Neale Art) can be ordered directly via www.karenneale.co.uk 
  


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