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Colin Melvin



Bruges is known as the Venice of the North, but the combination of canals and crow-stepped gables made it feel more like revisiting Amsterdam and the start of my transitional photographic road trip. In its calm friendliness, it also reminded me of Ljubljana.

Bruges was my last stop before returning to the UK after 30 days and 6,500km. Its medieval centre is a World Heritage Site and I very much enjoyed exploring the organic network of streets and canals. As I walked, I considered what I had gained and learned from travelling by myself for the past month. My first thought was of the Alps and Glorenza and a small poster that I had found attached to a bollard beside the Church Gate, which read – “If you want to be happy, be…”

I had the opportunity in my solitude and the contemplation of photography to see that it is not what I do but how I am that is important. That it was possible to let go of my future self and the various roles that I had been playing and simply be present. However, as I stood waiting for the sunset in Bruges’ Markt, I also recognised the challenge that this would provide. Could I really stop striving and resisting? How could I avoid seeing this as passivity?

I wondered if I still needed to travel. Perhaps I could take the constant tourist’s calm detachment and curiosity to London. Although I had reached the end of this trip,  I resolved to continue my blog as I travelled with work and otherwise, if I found something worth sharing.

It has certainly been wonderful to return to photography and a pleasure and privilege to share this and my thoughts with you. Thank you very much for reading.

Regarding the photographs below, the first is of buildings on Markt, and the second a canal view from Bonifacius Bridge, which appeared thoroughly medieval, but was built in early C20th. The third is the famous 83m high Belfort Tower, built in 1240 and the last shows the neo-gothic facade of the Provinciaal Hof.


Markt, Bruges


View from Bonifacius Bridge, Bruges


Belfort Tower, Bruges


Provinciaal Hof, Bruges


The rigour and control of winemaking in France is taken to another level in Champagne. I respect the producers and like the product and I had visited Épernay a few months earlier to mark my 50th birthday. I drove the 570km from Zurich to see another centre of champagne in Reims and to photograph its magnificent Cathedral.

I toured Pommery’s cellars and was pleased to find the space also used for art installations, which change every few months. As with many champagne houses, Pommery was founded in the mid-nineteenth century, when demand for champagne exploded, in part due to the audacious marketing of an Épernay-based producer, Eugene Mercier. At the Paris exposition universelle in 1889, which also saw the debut of the Eiffel Tower, Mercier exhibited a ‘Cathedral of Champagne’ – the world’s largest wine barrel, or foudre with a capacity of 1,600 hectolitres and weighing 20 metric tonnes. He had hauled it from Épernay with 24 bulls and 18 horses, demolishing five buildings on the way.

Walking back into town, I came across a ruined Franciscan monastery, dating from the thirteenth century, when around 4,000 monks were touring Europe. In France the order is known Cordeliers, which refers to the cord or rope which the monks wear as a belt. The symbolism is the rejection of the pursuit of material wealth (and the system for its production) and relates to the use of money belts in medieval Italy. Like the nearby cathedral, the monastery was heavily damaged by shelling in the First World War, but it was not restored. The ruins are now part of a small park with a children’s playground.

It was late afternoon by the time I reached Notre-Dame Cathedral and I took some photographs inside and then of the front elevation. I was unhappy with the overcast conditions and flat even light. As I was giving up, the sun emerged between a think bank of cloud and the horizon, seconds before it set, casting an intense, deep red onto the front of the Cathedral. With several others, I stopped, astonished. Then I moved quickly to get distance and context and took the photograph below. It is my favourite of the trip so far, with contrasting light, shade highlighting the figures and the reflected sunshine on the paving at the front.

As with the Dubrovnik wedding parade, I was reminded of the benefits of being alive to what is present, rather than trying to resist or force an outcome. That is, instead of acting clumsily on the world, I could wait for events to unfold.

The photographs below include a Pommery cellars art installation –  a pair of giant rubber boots, with the toe-cap of one in the bottom left corner and its shadow on the wall. I think the Franciscan monastery ivy looks like knotted cord. For the photographers, I used a 24mm tilt shift lens for the front view of the Cathedral.

My next and final destination is Bruges.


Pommery Cellars, Reims


Street performers, Rue Théodore Dubois, Reims


Ruines du Couvent des Cordeliers, Reims


Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims


Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims


Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims


Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims


My journey from Southern Tyrol took me through the Val Müstair, over Ofenpass at an elevation of 2,149m and through the 19km Vereina Rail Tunnel on a car transporter. Thereafter, the road wound past Kueblis and down, out of the mountains to Landquart, where I joined the autobahn to Zürich.

The following day as I explored the city, enjoying the absence of meetings and deadlines, I thought of my several previous trips to Zürich to meet clients and speak at conferences. One of these was significant in my career and I reflected on this and how my understanding had developed since.

It was 2005, the year after I founded Hermes EOS and I was invited to give the investment managers’ perspective at the International Sustainability Leadership Symposium, held in Rüschlikon on the west shore of Lake Zürich. During my session, I delivered a simple and (I thought) positive message that sustainability was just good business and the task of company leaders was to embrace this and transform their companies.

However, my presentation received a hostile reception, including from some prominent sustainability campaigners and at that moment I understood that the people most concerned about sustainability risked becoming part of the problem. That is, if we treated “doing the right thing” as a separate or opposing activity, then business would not change.

I realised that order to change companies we needed to demonstrate shared interests and change minds. Over the next decade, with my wonderful colleagues, I developed an approach to investor-company dialogue that was collaborative rather than adversarial and sought to understand and promote a vision of a more successful future for all. A true antidote to the short-termism of the financial markets.

I now call this “recognising our interdependence” and believe that in many aspects of life, when we are fighting we are part of the problem. Our difficulties often come from fear: our own and that of others. Afraid, we withdraw into tighter groups and become suspicious of those outside. It is so important that we remain open and recognise our common interests and humanity. If we recognise our interdependence and hold a vision for a larger group, then working together we can achieve great things.

The first two photographs below are the Ofenpass, looking back down the the Val Müstair and a frozen fountain in a courtyard off Fraumünsterstrasse. In the tobacconist, I like the window display and the customer’s expression. The rest have my usual themes of buildings, reflections, depth, different artificial light sources and twilight.


Ofenpass, Switzerland


Courtyard, 25 Fraumünsterstrasse, Zürich


Tobacconist, Albis Strasse, Zürich


Limmatquai, Zürich


Pfalzgasse, Zürich


Lindenhof, Zürich


A circuitous route to Glorenza took me over the Julier Pass at an elevation of 2248m. As I moved above the tree line, the landscape became stark, rugged, lunar and I recalled  the transition from forest to desert on the way to Zadar two weeks before. But this time it became colder.

Glorenza (Glurns) is a charming and very well-preserved Medieval walled town, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. German-speaking and with Italy’s only whisky distillery, it has a poulation of less than 1,000.

On my first evening I found everything closed apart from a small bar.  The owner spoke German and some Italian. My additional languages are Hungarian and French. We managed with sign language to establish that there were no restaurants open in the town and that she didn’t serve food. On seeing my disappointment, she found me a large plate of cheese, salami and bread, for which I was very grateful.

Walking back in almost complete darkness outside the town walls, I stopped to look at the sky. I identified a few constellations and then was overwhelmed by countless stars. I gazed in awe and realised that there is something in naming or categorising which limits our experience. The stars seemed to light my path back to the guesthouse, in which I was the only guest.

The next day, the friendly guesthouse owner prepared a full breakfast buffet just for me. I walked in the Venosta Valley, following the partially frozen Adige river and enjoyed the views of the mountains.

Although I have spent a large part of my career travelling alone, I had never experienced solitude to this extent. Without my usual attachments and distractions, I realised the extent of my projection on the world, which was total. I finally understood Richard Rohr’s statement – “you have met the enemy and the enemy is you” – and that it was possible fully to let go of the narrow competitiveness and fear which is so much part of our culture, because it was mine.

The first photograph below shows Glorenza with Monte di Glorenza in the background. The second has Florastrasse, named after the artist Paul Flora, who was a native of the town. The Third, the Church Gate tower which hosts an exhibition of his work.

My next destination is Zurich.


Glorenza, Italy


Florastrasse, Glorenza, Italy


Tauferer Tower, Glorenza, Italy


I left Venice in the late morning and drove to Milan and then North towards the Alps, stopping for tea with a friend from school who I hadn’t seen for over thirty years. It was wonderful to meet her again and to feel the connection and ease that come with even distant shared experience. Relieved to be off the highway and in amongst the mountain roads, I drove on with good wishes and the setting sun and arrived in Lugano after dark.

I had wanted to visit Lugano since encountering an enthusiastic resident at a conference in Zurich several years before. I was pleased and grateful to find an interesting combination of Italy and Switzerland, with excellent red wine. There is even an Italian enclave, Campione d’Italia, on the Northern shore of Lake Lugano completely surrounded by the Swiss canton of Ticino, which can be seen in one of the photographs below.

The next morning I went hiking in the Lugano Prealps. The views from Parco San Grato in Carona were spectacular and initially it felt great to be there, moving again, fresh and cold and closer to nature.

I have described my trip as “transitional and photographic” and so far there has been more photography than transition. However, the solitude of the mountains magnified feelings of loss and dislocation that I had successfully ignored since November. As I walked alone, I realised how twenty-two years of continuous employment within investment management firms had served as an attachment and a distraction, and how I had lost myself, despite pursuing a vision of sustainability for the industry in which I truly believed.

I returned to Lugano just after sunset and took some photographs of the lake as the lights came on in the buildings along its shores. The version of the photograph featured in the title above has blurred shapes and white lines from the swans and ducks swimming on the lake. (Followers reading this on email will need to click the link to see it.) The other two are taken from Parco San Grato and show Lake Lugano, the city and surrounding towns.

To deepen into my experience of transition, I have decided to go further into the mountains to visit a Medieval walled town in Southern Tyrol, which will be the subject of my next post.


San Salvatore, Lugano and Campione d’Italia


Monte Generoso, Switzerland


Lake Lugano, Switzerland


I had long wanted to visit Venice and was excited as I arrived at Piazzale Roma. I parked and took the vaporetto water bus along the Grand Canal to Rialto. Although it felt cold, I stood outside the cabin to take in the canals and buildings. The sun had just set and Venice was beautiful. Deep blue sky and blue-black water and alleyways framing the flood-lit buildings, with warm windows and still interiors.

It felt like my first visit to Cambridge, to attend an interview for a post-graduate course. After taking the overnight bus from Aberdeen, I had walked to King’s past medieval fog-shrouded colleges, with awe and joy at existing with such beauty and connection to the past. Although Cambridge and Venice continued to delight after their first impressions, neither looked quite so good again.

I arrived too late for photographs and tired, having covered 800km in two days, but I went out for dinner and to check some locations around St Mark’s Square.

The following day, I spent six hours happily lost in the maze of canals and alleys in Dorsoduro and San Polo then beside the Grand Canal and in St Mark’s Square waiting for the evening light. One day was not enough. I recalled studying Canaletto and how much time he spent in these same places. I resolved to return to Venice and to recreate some of his paintings as photographs.

As with Dubrovnik, there are more photographs than usual. The first is a simple view of San Giorgio, which I have seen many times. It is a little ‘postcardy’ but I like the colour and direction of the light and the texture in the water. The next two are intended as contemplative and I like the geometry of figures with the gondolier. The remaining photographs feature my interest in low natural light, different light sources and reflections. In the last, I am grateful to three people on the bridge who stood nearly still for 30 seconds.

I have decided to head for the Alps and Lugano, Switzerland.


Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice


Sotoportego de la Malvasia, Venice


Gondolier, Sculoa de San Rocco, Venice


Basilica di San Marco, Venice


Gran Caffé, Piazza San Marco, Venice


San Gregorio, Venice


Rio del le Ostreghe, Venice


Rio de le Ostreghe, Venice


Punta della Dogana, Venice


Bridge at Palazzina Selva, Venice


My early visits to Florence were full of wonder at its art, architecture and history. I read extensively before arriving and imagined past events being played out in the streets and squares. I sought, found and delighted in difference and maintained a state of excited otherness.

Indeed, this was my approach during 15 years of extensive business travel, until my tenth trip to Japan in late 2015, when I could no longer sustain it. As I walked through a bustling Ginza, suddenly my environment wasn’t strange. I was aware of differences but could accept them with a calm detachment and curiosity. I had become a permanent or constant tourist.

This was similar to an experience earlier that year, attending a Guardian weekend course on street photography run by the wonderful Antonio Olmos. During our first outing to Camden Lock, I struggled with my fear of upsetting people by putting a large camera in their faces. With Antonio’s guidance, I understood that if you approach the world in a worried sneaky way, “hiding behind pillars and large people”, the world will see a worried sneaky person. But if you slow down, merge with the crowd and stay present, then people will either not notice you or they will be pleased or indifferent at being photographed. This, of course, was an exercise in mindfulness.

The first two photographs below are typical of my usual style, multiple light sources, with no or low natural light, long exposures and beautiful buildings and bridges. The other two are attempts at street photography. I have edited them in black and white as the colour detracted from the narrative and connection.

My next destination is Venice and then I have a choice: do I turn East, back into Slovenia and up through Hungary and Poland, or West and North to the Alps and Switzerland?


Buildings and Arno, Florence


Ponte Vecchio, Florence


Photography, Florence


Piazza della Signoria, Florence


Before working in the City, I had intended to be a historian and so I was excited to visit Pompeii.

I had taken the overnight ferry from Durres to Bari and after negotiating tight immigration and customs, which at one point seemed would involve dismantling my car, I drove the width of Italy over the Campanian Appenines and arrived in Pompei in the middle of a thunderstorm.

The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself”, which appears in a mosaic of a reclining skeleton found in a Pompeiian villa and was famously inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, could be the historian’s motto.

History provides an opportunity to realise our connectedness and the historian’s challenge is essentially one of empathy. So we attempt to understand and share another person’s experiences and motivations, even in the most difficult and distant of circumstances, which of course is the same as knowing yourself. Explaining this challenge, Eric Hobsbawm compared the past to a foreign country and a large part of my enthusiasm for travel is the wonderful opportunity it offers for self-knowledge through encounters with other cultures and people.

The broken top of Vesuvius is clearly visible from most of Pompeii. Before the eruption in 79AD which buried the town under five meters of killing and preserving ash, the volcano showed significant seismic activity. So the inhabitants were aware of the danger, but chose to continue living there anyway,  perhaps similarly to accepting earthquake risk in San Francisco or Tokyo.

The ruins cover a vast area and they were challenging to photograph in mostly flat midday light. I was pleased to find a dog sleeping in the amphitheatre which, from a low angle, enabled a photographic joke. I found this building and the grand theatre, shops and bathhouses to be the most evocative, giving a sense of a prosperous, thriving town, with significant leisure time.


Vesuvius from the Forum, Pompeii


The Grand Threatre, Pompeii


Amphitheatre, Pompeii


View of Vesuvius, Pompeii


The journey from Dubrovnik into Montenegro was breathtaking, with massive mountains, rugged and appearing recently hewn, plunging directly into the sea. I drove around the Bay of Kotor with the sunset, rather than taking the Kamenari – Lepetane ferry. Arriving in Kotor, I could see the chain of illuminated ramparts high above the Old Town.

In the morning I climbed 1,200m to the ruin of St. John’s Fortress and a beautiful view of mountains and bay with the triangle of the Old Town below.  Kotor is another jewel, a medieval walled town, earthquake-repaired and well preserved.

Travelling gives time to think, but it also enables a switching-off of the thinking mind. There is something in new experiences which highlights or lengthens the gap between stimulus and response, enabling greater calmness and presence. As I explored the maze of Kotor’s streets, I realised that in more familiar situations, I was quicker to name, categorise and judge.

I decided to cross the Adriatic to Italy and so proceeded across the Albanian border and to Durres, to catch the ferry to Bari. Several children were begging at Durres port and I gave a young boy some coins when collecting my ticket. Whilst I was queuing in my car to board, the children were joined by a young woman carrying a baby. She and (with her help) the baby tapped on my window as I drove slowly towards the ship. I signalled that I had no more money, but she stayed alongside. My normal approach is not to give, with the thought that I thereby avoid maintaining the begging, or that the money will be misused in some way. She kept tapping and smiling. At the last moment I gave her ten Euros and as I boarded the ferry, I was surprised to feel my body flushed with warmth.

The first photograph below is of the Bay, taken in the evening on my journey to Kotor. The second is the same, but from St. John’s Fortress. You can see the triangle of Kotor below. The third and fourth, taken within the Old Town, demonstrate why I am not keen on flat mid-morning light. The last is of the Kampana Tower and Old Town Wall, with the Scurda river in the foreground.


Bay of Kotor, Montenegro


Kotor from St John’s Fortress, Montenegro


Ulica 1 (istok-zapad), Kotor, Montenegro


Church of St Luke, Kotor, Montenegro


Kampana Tower, Kotor, Montenegro


One of the more satisfying aspects of my transitional photographic road trip is not knowing where I am going more than a day or two in advance, but I had always intended to return to Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik has a magnetic energy and presence. A free city state for 500 years until the early C19th and an early abolisher of the salve trade (C15th), its wealth and strong culture were supported by skilled diplomacy and international trade.

Walking on the City walls, I passed a kiosk-owner, who was cheerfully and optimistically waiting for customers. I felt sorry as I declined his offer of coffee and returned his wishes for a good afternoon. The view was wonderful as I rounded the Old City and although heavily overcast, a bank of dark blue cloud highlighted the orange roof tiles. I considered the walls and sea and the City and its trade and how true wealth is created by moving beyond the fear of others that governs so many of our interactions.

As I completed my circuit of the walls, it seemed that the sun would emerge just before it set, so I decided to go around again. I rewarded the kiosk-owner’s optimism and proceeded with hot chocolate and optimism of my own under a brightening sky. The sun broke through ten minutes after the last entry time and I was promptly removed from the walls at a ticket control point, the occupant explaining with evidence that I was there illegally as only once around is allowed. I thanked him as he showed me out. At the western end of Stradun, I met a wedding party and parade, complete with flares, music and dancing and I was truly grateful.

The magic of dusk as the city lights come on is magnified in Dubrovnik’s reflecting marble pavement. The absence of tourists in mid January made the buildings more accessible and I worked quickly, energised by the beauty of it all.

I have included more photographs than usual, because I liked so many. I am very pleased with the rocks and misty sea (it was actually very rough). I didn’t have a tripod, so put the camera on the sea wall and held it down for the 30 sec exposure to stop it moving in the wind. The wedding parade was great, raucous with accordion music and singing. I like the way Marin Držić is connected to his environment.

My next destination is Kotor, Montenegro and then I have a choice – should I turn around and go back up the Dalmatian Coast, head North into Hungary via Sarajevo and Pécs or cross the Adriatic to Italy and make for Venice?


Wedding parade, Stradun, Dubrovnik


Stradun, Dubrovnik


Orlandov stup, Stradun, Dubrovnik


Marin Držić, Dubrovnik


West Harbour rocks, Dubrovnik


City Walls, Dubrovnik

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