DP Challenge – A Good Match

This week’s Daily Post challenge is to find things that go well together. Cookies and milk. Beach and a book. Gardens and Butterflies. That sort of thing. My idea was to post some photos from three major cities in Europe, Rome, Paris and London, that contain things that I think of when I think of those cities, things that are an  inherent part of the city without being the bleeding obvious, so you will not see photos of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum or Big Ben here.

First up: Rome.

Gelato

Gelato and Rome. What better way to enjoy a sunny piazza?

Piazza Republicca fountain

There are no end of fountains in Rome, big ones and small ones. This one is in Piazza Republicca

Here’s some Parisian sights:

Paris Metro - Abbesses (Montmartre)

Paris and the Metro, with many of them having really beautiful old signage and ironwork. This one is in Montmartre, Abbesses

Paris Metro - Odeon (St. Germain)

This Metro sign is in St. Germain (Odeon) on the left bank

Montmartre cafe

What’s more ubiquitious than a sidewalk cafe in Paris?

Then over to my favourite city, London:

Aldwych, London

Aldwych, London: While there are double decker busses all over the UK, the red ones seem so much a London sight. Red phone booths are becoming much less common but they keep them in Central London for the tourists.

Covent Garden taxi

London has thousands of black cabs traversing the streets. These days you will often see them painted bright colours or plastered with advertising but that diesel rattle is distinct.

Spitalfields Market baked goods

London is famed for its markets. Spitalfields market, in this photo, Covent Garden, Camden, Notting Hill’s Portobello Road, East End Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane (not far from Spitalfields), Borough Market (South Bank, near London Bridge) and many more

20 Best Cities in Europe: Countdown #10 to #1

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice's Grand Canal

Looking towards Santa Maria della Salute on Venice’s Grand Canal

(Last week) I posted the first 10 cities that Conde Naste Traveler considered the Best Cities in Europe (out of a list of 20). I’ve been to some and would love to go to some of the others. Heck, if I had the opportunity, I’d probably go to them all. Time and money, folks, time and money.

Here, then, are the top 10 in reverse order, with photos and notes:

10 – Venice, Italy

Conde Naste cites “meandering streets and romantic canals” in defence of choosing Venice as it’s number 10 best city. There’s a lot of argument out there against it. It’s crowded and expensive and there are a lot of cities with canals if that’s the attraction. I’ve been there once for a brief visit and it was lovely. The first day was sunny and we walked and walked. The second morning was bucketing rain and that wasn’t so much fun but it was interesting to see how St. Mark’s Square floods. They put up low tables all around so the tourists can stand on them while waiting in line to get into the basilica. It *is* very touristy but if you can go off season, it’s not too crowded.

9 – Nuremberg, Germany

Nurmemburg has a “distinct blend of old and new.” It’s an “early capital of science and invention” and now has a lot of museums and markets with some lovely medieval architecture. It’s modern claim to fame is the post-WWII war trials but there’s a lot of history here.

8 – Rome, Italy

Rome is famed for “La Dolce Vita”, the sweet life, and Rome is as much an attitude as it is an experience. Where Conde Naste cites Florence’s history as an attraction, and it is,  I’d argue that Rome is far more historic than Florence. To me, Florence is the centre of art and culture, the cradle of the Rennaissance. There was power in Florence, of course, especially with the commanding Borgia family but Rome’s power reached across much of the known world at one time. It still does if you consider the reach of the Catholic Church even if that technically comes out of Vatican City, a separate country but still considered part of Rome for most of us.

I’ve been to Rome three times over my lifetime, with gaps of almost 20 years between the first and second visit, and about 15 years between the second and third. Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain for a quick return to Rome didn’t quite work as swiftly as promised! We visited a few of the big name attractions and enjoyed walking the streets and taking in all the atmosphere. I don’t know as there’s any time to go where it’s less crowded though we did find the crowds tolerable when visiting in November.

I like Rome. It’s a very big city but it’s historic centre really isn’t that vast. The traffic and drivers are a bit manic, mind you, so keep a sharp eye out. I think, though, of the three Italian cities on this list, I do prefer Florence.

7 – London, England

My favourite city of all,  for the history even  more so than the architecture though the new modern architecture is exciting, too. A sprawling city with a massive transportation network that works ok, though a bit bottle-necky on the surface in the tourist centre. The underground can be stodgey too, with line closures. Just get out and walk! It’s full of neighbourhoods that are all different from each other and each has a totally different vibe. It really is true that you can never get tired of London. Everyone will find something they enjoy here. Another city that’s crowded most of the year but worse in summer and on holidays. We made the mistake of going to the Tower of London over an Easter one year. Even though the rain was heavy at times, the queues were long and people were wall to wall!

I’ve been to London more times than I can count on two hands and I still haven’t seen areas of it that are on my list. I’ll be back.

6 – Paris, France

For Paris to be fairly high on the top 10 list is pretty much self explanatory. Paris is a beautiful city, loaded with history, art, architecture and romance. It’s vast but the transportation network is pretty efficient. You will never run out of things to do or see and there are lots of day trips you can take as well to go further afield. I’ve been there twice and it’s a city definitely worth repeat visits because there’s way too much to take in. I have a bit of French vocabulary sticking around from my high school years and I got along more or less ok but in the tourist areas, it’s generally not a problem. Menus are usually bilingual and most staff seem to know English. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on Merci and Excusez-moi and S’il vous plait, though.

Vienna at night (photo from insightguides.com)

Vienna at night (photo from insightguides.com)

5 – Vienna, Austria

Conde Naste says it’s “Artistic, exquisite, and largely shaped by its musical and intellectual foundations”. I think that means it’s a cultural hotspot, and they have great coffee, pastry and chocolate, too! I always think of it as an elegant city and I’d like to visit to see if that’s true.

Barcelona and the Familia Sagrada towering over the city. It's been under construction for over a century. (photo from blog.iese.edu)

Barcelona and the Familia Sagrada towering over the city. It’s been under construction for over a century. (photo from blog.iese.edu)

4 – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, by the account of quite a few people I know that have been here, is a hip and exciting city with fantastic architecture in the classic “fantasy” meaning of the term. Gaudi and other modern art, museums, beaches and mountains,  it’s a hot spot and probably a bit overrun with tourists much of the time. I do think it would be a very cool place to visit.

Salzburg (photo from wannabemagazine.com)

Salzburg (photo from wannabemagazine.com)

3 – Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg’s claims to  fame are  Mozart and the Von Trapp family, It is a city with an older section on one side of a river and  19th c. newer bit  on the other. A picture book city that would be a really charming place to visit.

Lucerne in winter

Lucerne in winter (photo from myswitzerland.com)

2 – Lucerne, Switzerland
It was never really on my list of places to go but for one person. My cousin Eddie went on a cross-Europe tour with his mother about 10 years ago I think. He saw a lot of places but he told me that he loved Lucerne, with the old medieval wooden bridge and the cafes at the edge of the water overlooking it. I promised him that if I ever got there, I’d sit at the cafe and have a drink and remember him. He died about a week later.

florence Piazza signorina1 – Florence, Italy

Probably not what you expected to be the Number 1 city in Europe, right?  I get it, though. The history, the charm, the cradle of the Renaissance. Florence is a much more manageable size of a city than London or Paris or Vienna. You can walk everywhere, it’s got a world class museum or three and a stunning cathedral or two. It’s in the heart of Tuscany and I found that it had a really welcoming and charming feel in the atmosphere. I only had a day to spend in Florence at the end of a bus tour. I was tired and ready to go home but I really wished we had started the tour here instead of ending it. I would have loved to have spent more time and really would like to go back again. Rome or Venice might be the big attractions of Italy, but Florence is where you’ll really end up leaving your heart, if that’s not too cliche to say.

Here’s a slideshow of some photos I’ve taken in London, Paris, Florence, and Venice.

The whole slide show  at Conde Naste Traveler is here.

Traveling through television: Sherlock

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Occasionally, I write a few lines about a movie or tv show that has great locations, shots that make me really want to visit somewhere. In today’s blog, it’s somewhere I’ve been quite a few times and it’s not so much a case of “I want to go there” but “I want to go back there” and that somewhere is London. I know I’ve featured London before in this series of posts but if you want a really good look at the city, not just the famous landmarks but the streets and neighbourhoods, the BBC series Sherlock is excellent.

We’ve been delving into a box set of Sherlock, the BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson. It was filmed on location mostly in London with some locations in Wales that stand in for London. It was apparent right from the start that they were out and about in London itself because London has a distinctive look in spite of having a great many different neighbourhoods. You get a look at all the famous sites such as Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament (Westminster) and the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. You get to see the London skyline sometimes from a vantage point across the river to the Southbank. You watch Sherlock and Watson running through the streets of Covent Garden, Picadilly Circus and Soho at night.

Picadilly Circus from above

Picadilly Circus from above

We were part way through the second episode of Series 1 and both remarked at the same time that it was just like being back there. It’s always fun to watch for familiar views when you’ve been somewhere that a tv show or movie has used for filming and you can smugly point and say “I’ve been there”. We are enjoying the series as much for that as for the stories themselves.

Sherlock’s famous home, 221B Baker Street doesn’t actually exist in London. Standing in for it is 187 North Gower street, a bit further east, not far from the British Museum.

221B Baker Street (not really!)

221B Baker Street (not really!)

187 North Gower St.

187 North Gower St.

One of the scenes has Sherlock running through an antiquities museum. It seemed like a large place and I wondered why it wasn’t looking at all familiar. I’ve been in most of the big museums in London but it turns out that location is actually inside the Welsh National Museum in Cardiff. There are a few other spots and buildings in Cardiff they used as well including this one below, taken from the first series.

Actually a college in Cardiff

Actually a college in Cardiff

If you like London or want to go there, Sherlock is a great series to feast your eyes on the city’s streets and monuments. There are three series and only three 90 minute episodes in each. The stories are great, they’ve updated it really well. And then, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch! Arguments? Thought not.

Enjoy!

Sherlockology

Fangirlquest’s Sherlock location page

Britmovietours does a Sherlock location tour

There’s going to be a fourth series!

WordPress challenge: Face

This week, the WordPress weekly challenge is “Face”. This was the first photo that came to mind from those in my archives. It’s a little out of focus, taken through an exhibit glass case. We were touring through the Tower of London in the main White Tower where the armory is. It’s really chock full of interesting things, beautifully detailed and decorative armour for knights, kings and horses, too. You’ll also see weapons, a big sculpture of a dragon made of various weapons and shields, cannon, and other items gleaned from centuries of the iconic fortress.

This was a particularly creepy item. It’s an executioner’s mask. I don’t know if all of them wore masks, but one of them certainly did and I can’t imagine seeing that looming over you as you were about to hang or have your head removed. That’s even worse than seeing a man with a hood over his face!

Executioner's Mask. Seen at the Tower of London

Executioner’s Mask. Seen at the Tower of London

 

Traveling through the movies: London (Burnt)

BurntLondon is my favourite city and I really love watching movies that are shot there. In many cases you get the usual shots of famous landmarks but often you also get scenes filmed on London streets and markets, too. I watched a 2015 movie over the weekened called Burnt starring Bradley Cooper and enjoyed watching the exterior shots quite a bit.

The movie is about a top chef, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) who worked in Paris for a mentor, attaining two Michelin stars but ruined both his own career, the restaurant and a restaurant of one of his friends due to his addictions and diva-like temper. He cleaned up, shucked oysters in New Orleans and then came to London to get his career back. He persuades Tony (Daniel Brühl) who is running his father’s posh restaurant in a hotel to hire him back and gathers several other former coworkers as well to be on his kitchen team along with an up and coming female chef, Helene (Sienna Miller) who’s also a single mother. Emma Thompson has a small role as a psychiatrist that Adam must check in with on a weekly basis for drug tests as a requirement of his employment, due to mistrust and wariness Tony and his father hold for Adam.

In his quest for a third star, Adam proves to be as volatile as ever and since he still owes money to an old drug dealer, he’s kept on his toes trying to avoid a confrontation there as well. There is romance, sabotage and a lot of both arrogance and self pity and of course he learns a valuable lesson in the end. That’s not spoiling, that’s predictable. The movie isn’t bad and if you love food, it will really appeal.BurntLondon2I loved the exterior shots, and particularly a few of the night shots that really showed off London’s lights (though I couldn’t for certain say they were real or cgi, they did seem and feel real. I hate that about modern movies, you never really know at times if the background shots are the real thing).

London at night in the film Burnt

London at night in the film Burnt

There are some street shots that are typically London.  I try to identify streets and in this first one, the number 24 bus winds through Pimlico and Victoria station and up through Charing Cross Rd, Tottenham Court Rd and up through Camden. I think this section is probably Charing Cross/Tottenham Court area unless it’s north of Camden.

BurntLondon8

London streets with the number 24 bus

BurntLondon9

Emma Thompson and Bradley Cooper in Burnt, likely West End London

Then there are the typical shots of the landmarks. Billingsgate Market is integral to any story featuring a restaurant since buyers will go there at the crack of dawn to get the fresh fish for that day’s menu and we see exterior and interior shots.

BurntLondon7

Billingsgate Market, London

This shot seems to be taken just under or near London Bridge, with the view of Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast. Looking at the map and using Google Street view, it seems like it’s probably “Hanseatic Walk”.

BurntLondon5

Tower Bridge

And two more shots, just for placement so you know where you are. The movie plays out a few minutes before the opening credits which happen when Adam arrives in London.

BurntLondon3 BurntLondon1

Go inside the British Museum with Google

Closeup of an Egyptian Sarcophegus, British Museum, London

Closeup of an Egyptian Sarcophegus, British Museum, London

Google has done it again. They’ve sent the Google camera inside the British Museum and now you can use the Street View feature in Google Maps to visit the museum without leaving your house. It’s pretty cool, too. You can “walk” through the rooms or jump from floor to floor.  I think it would help if you had a map from the British Museum’s website, though. You can drop the little gold “man” onto a place on the museum map and there’s a series of numbers on your right that says what level you are on. If you click a different level, you find your self in a different room or gallery but you might also find yourself in a hallway or in a staircase, in which case, that map might prove useful.

Google map of the British Museum, London

Google map of the British Museum, London

It’s also possible to read a lot of the large information signs on the walls by the various displays. I think this is a great thing. I hope a lot of the major museums and sites in the world will be mapped out like this. They’ve done Machu Picchu as well. I think a site like Pompeii would be another good one to do with Street View and please, Google, do some more of the major museums and galleries in the world like the Smithsonian, the Vatican, and the Louvre.

This first photo is a screen grab from Google Street view of the Egyptian gallery with the mummies and sarcophegi. Below that are a few photos I’ve taken in the museum on visits in the past. (The photo at the top of this post is also mine, a closup of one of a sarcophegus)

British Museum Egyptian Mummies, London

British Museum Egyptian Mummies, London

Neried Monument, British Museum, London

Neried Monument, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Thrownback Thursday: London 2004

Good heavens, I haven’t posted anything for nearly a month. I’ve been away and got my travelogue finally all sorted out and will be starting to post bits and pieces over the next few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a photo I took in London on a trip in July 2004, of the chapel at the Chelsea Royal Hospital.

Christmas in London from LondonTown.com

Somerset House, London

So far, London is my favourite city. It’s probably obvious considering that I’ve been there over a dozen times. With my fiance living in Manchester, we often take the opportunity to go “down south” to London or stop over on the way back from somewhere else. Even before I met him, I had been to this world class capitol city a handful of times. As I blogged the other day, I’ve not been in London during the Christmas season too often, just a couple of times.

One of these years, that’s going to change. Currently, I get a monthly newsletter from the official London tourist website, Londontown.com and this month, it’s about fab things to do in London over the holidays, as you would expect, and there really are a lot of things to do, many of them free.

Skating in London has always been popular. There’s always been outdoord skating at Somerset House on the Thames/Strand but did you know there are also outdoor rinks at Alexandra Palace, Hampton Court, Canary Wharf and beneat the London Eye, just to name a few?

There are Christmas markets, which would certainly be a draw for me!  There are the big ones in Covent Garden and on the Southbank Centre and Hyde Park has a huge Winter Wonderland with markets, skating and events. But you know, sometimes the smaller ones are even better. I see there’s one in the Chelsea Physic Garden and I bet that would be really special.

There are special West End shows and I’d also be taking in one or two of them! It’s not all family friendly, though. I see something called Grotto Outre which looks to be a club or some kind of week long event party for adults only. I have a feeling I’m probably a bit long in the tooth for that!  It would definitely be different! I think probably Alice in Wonderland would be more my speed after all but there’s a huge list of theatre, dance and other shows.

Grotto Outre

Back to traditions, though. The cathedrals and churches have choirs and carol singing. The shops and streets of London are decorated and lit up. Shopping, oh yes, the shopping is epic if you can handle the crowds. Smaller shops and neighbourhoods might be a better bet than Oxford Street or King’s Row and you’ve got a better chance of getting something made locally or something unique.

Does all this sound like a tourist advertisement? Yeah, pretty much. But, loving London as much as I do, I could spend hours on the Londontown Christmas website making lists of things I’d love to do if I had the chance to spend a week in London in December and one day, I am determined to do it.

Christmas in London | LondonTown.com.

Black and White Monday

This is a photo that I’ve probably blogged before. It’s one of my favourites though it wasn’t always. It was a colour film photo that was drab and non-descript. When I scanned it, a few years after I took it, I played around with it in Photoshop and this was the result. I was quite pleased with it. Black and White photography can really “pop” a photo, with contrasting light and textures.

I was on a walking tour through Richmond and we walked along the Thames towards a pier. There was a boat builder just beside this where we stopped to hear about him persuing his craft using traditional methods. We later boarded a boat to sail to Hampton Court where we had a guided tour of the highlights of the palace. I really want to go back again someday and explore it all.

The Thames, at Richmond

Off with their heads

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The weather gods were not favouring us today, our last day in London. It was gloomy and forecast to rain a lot. It’s too bad we couldn’t have switched the British Museum tickets for the Tower of London tickets and gone to the museum today. That’s the chance you take pre-booking things online. And because we had tickets, we didn’t want to waste them and there is a lot to see indoors at the Tower.

Today’s mode of transportation is the Underground since it’s quite a way to go by bus. We got there (and have I mentioned lately how many damn stairs there are in this city????) and it was raining very lightly. It was before 11 a.m. but the crowds were already thronging. It’s Easter Sunday and that’s part of the reason. The other part is that the Tower of London is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Combine the two and you have epic crowds even on a rainy day like today. I can’t imagine how bad it would have been on a sunny holiday Sunday!

Because we’d had our tickets, we didn’t have to queue up to buy them. But the queue to actually get in was tremendously long. Still, that didn’t seem to take too long. Down through the gates, stop to have my handbag checked for security and we’re in. Where to start?

Waiting to get into the Tower!

Waiting to get into the Tower!

We wandered a little, had a look at the Traitor’s Gate leading out to the Thames and took in a small display on Torture machines. We went into a gift shop to escape the rain for a bit. Graham saw a couple of little souvenirs he wanted but we didn’t linger too long as it was a little too warm and a lot too crowded. Back out into the rain and we decided to head for the central White Tower, the oldest part of the complex.

When William the Conqueror and the Normans took over England, William built an intimidating wooden palisade on this spot and it was later rebuilt in stone. It was the monarch’s residence, or one of them, for centuries. The walls we see around the tower now were added over the years subsequent to William’s reign in two concentric circles around the White Tower, with guard towers and gates at various points around. The Tower has been, in addition to the royal residence, a prison, a mint, and even a menagerie/zoo.

The Crown Jewels are currently on display in one of the other buildings in the compound and the queue for that was unbelievably long. Even though this was Graham’s first visit, he was not inclined to stand in that lineup in the rain! Even though I’ve been here before, I haven’t seen the Royal Armoury in the White Tower and we were both enthusiastic about that.

Up more stairs on the outside of the White Tower to the entrance. The armouries did not disappoint! It is chock full of armour and weapons from eras as early as the 14th century forward. There are a couple of suits of armour that belonged to Henry VIII and several other monarchs. There were displays of armour for horses and even children and a dwarf. Some of it was very intricately decorated and all of it was polished to a gleaming shine. This first room was, unfortunately, not that large and with all the displays taking so much room, it was really crowded.

Up even more stairs, now we can see the “great hall” and some old Norman fireplaces. There are more displays here, more armour and weapons and lots of information boards. I really liked the Elizabethan era armour. In one area there was a display about the Executions in the Tower and it turns out there really haven’t been that many considering how much you’ve heard about it. Most of them took place from the mid-16th century to the end of it. You only had the privilege of being executed inside the walls of the Tower in relative “privacy” if you had royal blood or were particularly important. Some people that were imprisoned here were executed outside the walls on Tower Hill.

TowerArmoury ExecutionerMask

The executioner

One of the most chilling exhibits was a case featuring a “block” with a carved out nook for your head, an axe and a black metal mask that an executioner would have worn rather than a black hood as you see in films. It might not have been something they all wear but someone obviously did and the creepy thing about it was a skewed mouth with white teeth painted on it in a horrifying grimace.

Yet even more stairs led to the top floor. There were lots of weapons here, some more modern and international items. There were also some interactive hands on displays for kids. Oh and one really neat display was a huge dragon made from various bits of armour and weaponry, with gleaming red lights for eyes! Very impressive.

At the end, you have to go back down many, many stairs in a spiral staircase. There are a few more steps up and then you’re outside and must climb down to the ground. Are we tired yet? We found our way to the chapel but it seemed to be closed and we couldn’t go in and have a look there. We stopped into Beauchamp Tower where there was graffiti carved into the walls. I didn’t see it but there is apparently some authored by Guilford Dudley, the husband of Jane the ill-fated 9 days’ Queen (the one between Edward VI and Bloody Mary I)

Tower BloodyTower 1225We also had a look into the Bloody Tower, most famous as the place where the two young princes disappeared and were likely killed during the reign of Richard III. They also had Sir Walter Raleigh’s quarters set up in the Bloody Tower as well. He was imprisoned three times, finally meeting the axe in 1618. They also had a room up a narrow winding staircase where the Princes were held. Graham went up there and said it was just an empty room. He had to go out of there onto the walls to come back down so took a few photos while he was up there.

On the ground, I spied a parade of the Beefeaters in their scarlet and gold coats coming towards the corner of the green where I was waiting for him. Looked like some sort of changing of the guard except they weren’t dressed like the military guard who was standing by the guard post by the Queen’s House. That’s a half-timbered building at one corner of the Tower compound. Shortly after that, we saw another line up of a group of veterans being inspected as well.

Brightly uniformed Beefeaters

Brightly uniformed Beefeaters

Here’s a few more of our photos of the Tower and the armoury.

By now we’d had enough of being damp and wet and chilled and decided we’d seen enough for one day. Our feet agreed. We had people to meet and a pub to go to. We made our way out the exit which is along the river and facing Tower Bridge.

The pub we are heading for is called the Doric Arch, a little pub just outside the Euston train station. You must go upstairs from the ground level, though. And the toilets are down stairs from the ground level, meaning you have two flights to go down and back up if you need the loo. *sigh* Anyway, our friends arrived a little later and we had a lovely few hours in the nice, warm pub. They didn’t have pear cider but they did have Kopparberg apple cider so I had that and it was very good, as well. The food there was really wonderful. My beef pie was hot and full of big chunks of meat and mushrooms with lovely hot gravy.

Finally it was time to leave. We said goodbye to our mates and caught a bus two stops up Euston Road to Warren St. Station next to the hotel, picked up some sandwiches in Tesco for later on this evening and tucked up in the hotel where it was warm and dry! We made tea and coffee and spent our last evening together.

Monday was an early start. I had booked an airport transfer service for 7:30 so it was too early for the hotel breakfast, which started later on weekends and holidays. Graham headed to the train station and I to Heathrow where I got breakfast after I checked in, amazed that my suitcase wasn’t overweight! Picked up a few items in duty free and waited for my gate to open. The Luggage Gods favoured me and my bags arrived with me.

Another holiday ended and another one always in the works to be planned.