Wednesday 20 May 2015

Another Army Started

On my last day in Toulouse. The course finished at midday and as the taxi weaves its way through the narrow one way streets back to the hotel, I see out the window a shop with its windows full of model soldiers. The place is within easy walking distance of the hotel, so how can I resist?

It is a small shop filled with cabinets of painted 54mm figures of all periods on the left hand side, but on the right are several shelves stacked up with box after box of plastics figures; Perrys, Warlord Games, Victrix, Fireforge, Wargame Factory and more. There front and centre were two boxes of Perry Wars of the Roses figures. Now I have been considering a small WotR force for some time. Always the impulse buyer, they are in my bag now. It is just as well that I only have carry-on luggage on this trip because the temptation was great!

Then had to spend the next two hours wandering around other shops to buy something for my wife to "balance the books".

So another army started...

Sunday 17 May 2015

A Visit to Carcassonne

As readers may have gleaned from my previous post I have some time in Toulouse. Leaving Stockholm at mid-day on Friday, I arrived at Toulouse via Munich at around 6:00 pm and was at my hotel half an hour later. This is my fifth time in Toulouse so I know the town centre reasonably well. After a quick stroll around some favourite haunts I found a restaurant in Place Capitole for dinner and had my favoured Maigret du Cannard and a large beer. Feeling a bit under the weather as a result of a bit of a head cold I took it easy on Saturday, but on Sunday decided to take the train to Carcassonne and have a look at the castle there.

The 10:49 train got me into Carcassone just after 11:30.  What had been a cold and overcast moring had brightened and warmed up considerably. I have been here before and could remember the way clearly from the station to the castle and the Cité, which is a walk of perhaps 2 kilometres. Before too long I had arrived at the Pont Vieux, or Old Bridge across the River Aude, which dates back to the 14th Century and for 500 years was the only link between the Cité and the Ville Basse (lower or new town)

Here I get my first real view of the Cité on the heights beyond. From here it has a sinister look to it, its walls, towers and turrets darkly silhouetted against the bright eastern sky.

Built on the foundations of a Roman fort the Cité dates back as far as 925AD, but was restored to its current state by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853, and was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.  

There are two entrances to the Cité, the Porte Narbonnaise, on the northern face, or the Porte d’Aude (or Barbican)  on the southern face. I chose the latter because it was the nearer gate, the path to which starts near the Church of Saint Gimer, also rebuilt by Viollet-le-Duc in 1859. The path ascends a steep slope to a level of perhaps hundred feet or more above the surrounding countryside, and on top of this height stands the Cité with its three kilometers of double ring walls and 52 towers.

Above, approaching the Baribican from Saint Gimer and, below looking at back the gate from the inside 

Entering to town it is a maze of  narrow cobbled streets that are lined with shops and bars. Place Marcou, near the Porte Narbonnaise, is crammed with colourful umbrella covered tables from the bistros that were setting up for lunch. 

On the southern end of the town stands the Basilica Sainte-Nazaire et Saint-Celse, that could trace its foundation back to 925, rebuilt in its current Gothic style between 1269 and 1330. Elements of its earlier Romanesque style is evident in its vaulted nave, while stunning stained glass windows light the interior and gargoyles guard the exterior. 

On the western face, overlooking the river and the approaches to the Barbican, stands the Donjon of the viscount. Commenced in 1120 and remodelled in 1229 this beautifully preserved castle features courtyards, chambers, a chapel and a museum. From the ramparts the view across the tiled roofs of the town and of the surrounding countryside is superb.

The entrance to the Donjon

The view from the ramparts with Saint Gimer in the foreground

On the ramparts 

The interior of the Donjon 

I had a nice bit of lunch in one of the bistros, at a much lower price than I was expecting, and washed it town with a couple of glasses of rosé while sitting in the sun (not bad considering there had been a high percentage chance of rain forecast) before making my way back slowly through the old town (although being a Sunday there was not much open) to the train station where I took the 3:30 train back to Toulouse, arriving there at around 4:40. 

It was an easy and pleasant way to pass the day. It is starting to cool down now and tomorrow is a busy day, so I think a cassoulet is called for tonight.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

A Visit to the Swedish Army Museum

I am in the northern hemisphere on business at the moment. I left Auckland on Tuesday night for the first leg, an 11 hour haul, to Los Angeles. The flight was pleasant enough and I got some sleep thanks to a sleeping pill. I was quite shocked though when about 45 minutes out from LAX I could see a vast amount of debris in the water. It extended as far as I could see out of my little porthole and it took us about fifteen minutes to clear it, so it must have extended somewhere between 75 and 100 kilometres wide. This was the debris from the Japanese Tsunami still drifting around the  Pacific Ocean and seeing it is rather sobering.

After a two hour transit in LAX it is back on the plane for London and another nine and a half hour sector, made more tolerable by a business class upgrade. No sleeping pill this time, so a chance for a couple of pinot noirs with dinner, finished off with a matching pair of cognacs to follow. I much enjoyed watching Barry Linden again. I also spent some time more productively by proofing the draft of my Spichern/Froeschweiller book.

I had another transit in London of about four hours amid the cellphone obsessed hordes (is their life really that vital) before I embarked on my final sector to Stockholm where I spend two nights before I head off to Toulouse for four nights.

Unbeknown to me, Thursday is a public holiday, so I ended up with an unintended day at my leisure. My hotel is fairly central which meant that within easy walking distance were the key sights of city centre, the old town, the Royal Palace, the Parliament buildings, the Nobel Museum, the Opera House, Gustavus Adolphus Square, the King’s Garden, several stunning cathedrals, the waterfront, and much more. I captured most of these in a walk of just over a few kilometres from the hotel, but the most important spot for me was the Military Museum.


Now you need to understand that I have been developing an interest in the Great Northern War so here was an opportunity not to be missed. It is a great museum. There are many superb exhibits of flags, weapons uniforms and equipment, and highly recommended to any visitor to Stockholm.

Below, the museum building from the road

Outside the entrance to the building is a row of gun barrels, bronze guns to the left and iron to the right. 

Below, the bronze barrels drifting off into the distance

There were lost of manequins and life sized dioramas

Below, these three chaps are charging right towards you as you enter their room
Below a Napoleonic gun crew

A Russian Napoleonic Jaeger taking aim at the battery above

French and German WWI

A Prussian Guardsman from the 1840s

Below, the uniform of Swedish infantryman and a musician of the Great Northern War

Hussars of various types

Some of the guns on display - I was surprised by the size of these two 3lb guns.

I even saw the Royal Guard parade with a full band.

Saturday 2 May 2015

Fields and Other Terrain

have been in a state of self-imposed austerity while we save our cash for a major overseas trip later in the year. So there were no gaming purchases in March and April. I haven’t been completely idle though and have completed a number items from the lead pile that have been around for years – some Franco-Prussian artillery, Italian Bersagleri and a few WSS command figures.


I have also been busy on a few items of terrain. Later in the year we will hold our annual wargames weekend away (actually it is almost a week away now), and I am running a Russo-Japanese War game. I was looking around for some ideas for the terrain for that game, wanting to make it as visually appealing as early-WWI the game I did last year (below).


I wanted to run the game based loosely around the fighting in the Yalu Valley in 1904, so I set about some research on the web. First I looked at Google Earth, but today the whole area is heavily industrialised, so apart from showing that the Yalu meanders through a wide valley that rises abruptly to mountains, this was of little use. Google images turned up a number of historical images that showed some agricultural activity in a largely unpopulated area.


Then I remembered that when we had travelled in China in 2009 and 2010 I noted that most of the farming activity, the large communal farms excepted, were small subsistence level operations, with a few home field of mixed crops. Although our travelling had been well to the south of Manchiria, it gave me food for thought. So I started searching on Google for images of rural China. I found this great image, showing a farm with lots of small fields with diverse crops. The surrounding hills give the type of terrain I want to achieve.


This got me thinking and I quickly decided that I needed some small fields, some cropped, some not, and some partly harvested. Between the fields would be som rough, scrubby terrain. I also decided to make a few paddy fields, even though I don’t know that rice was a particularly big crop in that area,


Here is what I came up with. First is a plain haystack.


Then a party harvested wheat field

Then a ploughed field

Finally the first of three paddy fields in its various states of construction:


The basic form

The basic form painted

With some rice planted. 

The  empty area to the right will be where I will put some water, but since there will be several paddy fields, I want to do all of the water in a single hit.

What I haven't managed to resolve is how to create the fields of what was the primary crop of the region, Kaoliang - a millet like crop that grows to ten or twelve feet tall.