Posts tagged ‘Tourism’

April 15, 2011

Paris- Tout Seul!


Spring time near Parc Monceau

In the mighty pursuit of self-improvement, I’ve been taking intensive French courses for the past 4 weeks at the Alliance Française in London. They closed for a two week holiday starting 11 April, and upon learning that there would be no leçons for yours truly, I pinged a friend living there and a trip materialized.

I had lots of plans of my practicing my French, but more importantly, this trip represented four days mostly on my own. I’d do all the stuff I wanted to do for exactly as long as I wanted to do it.

Did I actually do it all? No, not even close.

Monday:

Mondays Wander (click to enlarge)

The first day, I took a 520a Eurostar, arriving Gare du Nord at 850… the things we do when the crazy early tickets are much less expensive! I met Olga at her office near the Champs Elysées to collect the keys and headed up to her digs, right near the Parc Monceau.

After settling in, I headed North and West and wandered around Montmartre with my camera, taking in the Cemetery and Sacré Coeur before heading to my planned lunch destination: Café Burq, on Rue Burq, at Darren’s suggestion. Unfortunately, the café was closed, but I managed to get my Croque Monsieur fix in around the corner at a local spot.

More evidence of Spring

I wandered back home for a bit, attempted a nap and then headed out to meet Pinar near Etienne Marcel. We had a nice walk and a drink along Rue Montorgueil and enjoyed the sunshine next to St Eustache.  I was back home by 10, awaiting the return of a late working Olga and watched Law & Order SVU en Français. I suspected I was coming down with a cold and wanted to ensure I caught up on sleep.

Even on this first day, I couldn’t help but notice how much I felt that living in London has changed me. For starters,  I kept walking on the left. I was initially a bit taken aback by the number of people who spoke to me, either asking for directions or for the sake of conversation, as I think I could easily spend a week walking around London without being spoken to by anyone. Even in shops, you are always greeted, which really is nice, even if it felt a bit alien. I think one makes a lot of observations when alone that normally go missed when in company.

Tuesday:

Musée DOrsay

Day II I set my sights on an ice cream cone and got to it via a scenic route. I left the camera home, deciding that I’d rather have my books.

Tuesdays Wander

I kicked off my walk by heading to the Musée D’Orsay, which I ended up skipping because it had a huge queue in front of it. I ended up writing off most of my museum plans for this trip, as I couldn’t justify being inside during  good weather. I can see fine art in January, after all.

After wandering by lots of galleries in St. Germain, I stopped into a café, right across from la Durée. This seemed like a good turn of events, yet the epic fail of the day continued when, as a settled my bill, a mob of 30-40 students came and completely surrounded the palace of macarons. I decided to come back later and contined my walk all around St. Germain, including to see the chuch that it is named for and walking along the namesake blvd.

My Andouillette

Heading towards the Quartier Latin, I chose a restaurant from my guidebook as my lunch destination. Christophe is a little spot on Rue Descartes, right next to L’ecole polytéchnique. The service was charming, and even my impressive French was tolerated. I ordered the special, an andouilette. The waiter asked if I knew what I was ordering and gestured to his gut, and I said yes, as I recalled reading that  Andouillette was a sausage encased in the pig’s intestine. What I didn’t realize is that it also contains a lot of pig intestine. The dish arrived, and well, I made it through about half, which was my plan given that I’m out and eating quite a bit! The flavor was extremely strong, and it is a bit hard to shake the smell, but I’m happy I tried it. While it was probably the only andouilette I’ll ever order, I’d definitely eat at Christophe again.

The prize.

Still on track for ice cream, I headed over to Île St Louis to Maison Berthillion, which was closed through 22 April. WTF? Fortunately, Île St Louis really should be called  Île Berthillion, as quite a few places sell it, even when the mothership is unavailable. I became the happy consumer of two scoops of some very tasty ice cream. I went with vanilla and praliné au citron et coriandre. The latter was possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Over the bridge I went and back home after nearly 10 miles. I was feeling really tired, which furthered my suspicions that I was developing a cold. I ignored them, and watched Wheel of Fortune on TF1. Le Roue is a bit different in France. The host has a dog with him, or at least did for the two episodes I saw. Incentivized by an opportuinty to practice speaking,I  eventually relented with a pharmacy trip.  The trip was a success, and I returned home with this head stuff and this throat stuff.  Then, I dropped into the cafe on the corner, Millesimes,  for dinner. I had an excellent tatin de tomate, and really the whole experience was lovely barring the wanker from LA who wouldn’t stop talking at his newly found Aussie companions. I don’t know if it’s that Americans speak much more loudly than the French or that my ear was quick to cling to the words of English speakers. I fear the former is true.

Wednesday:

Wednesdays Wander

Happiness is a Trip to Stohrer.

Wednesday, I woke up feeling solidly miserable, and after I failed to squeeze in a bot more sleep, I wandered out into the city, heading down Boulevard Hausmann to Le Printemps in search of some lovely La Durée macarons for my lovely host. Choosing macarons is hard work, in that one really wants two of each, as if preparing to survive a great flood. Shopped up, I continued down the Boulevard as it changed names, dropping in for a slice of quiche at Le Brébant, right near the Grandes Boulevards métro stop.

After that, sick or not, i knew i had to achieve my goal of a pastry at Pâtisserie Stohrer, Paris’ oldest patiserrie. (Stohrer was the pastry chef at Versailles before opening this shop in 1730). I opted for a pain aux raisins, which i blissfully consumed outside of Église St Eustache before a trip to Centre Pompidou.

By 4 o’clock, i was wiped out and went back to the flat to crash. I ended up staying in for the night, and sadly, I cancelled my dinner plans with Pinar. Not exciting, i know.  The highlight was watching a Lifetime movie dubbed into French, Le Pacte de Grossesse, aka: The Pregnancy Pact. I can’t help but think that Lifetime movies should stay in the States where they belong.

Thursday:

Thursdays Wander

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Thursday, I was feeling much better, and ventured out with every intention of making the most of my last day. I started out (after a pain au chocolat, of course) by taking the Métro to Bastille for a wander around le Marais and through le Place des Vosges.

Heading south from there, I found myself at Pont Marie: a gateway to the now renamed, “Île Berthillion”. Naturally, I had to go over that bridge and have more ice cream. This time, I complemented the praliné au citron et coriandre with a bit of le pistache.

Inside the Cathedral

Next stop was Île de la Cité, where I visited le Cathédrale Notre Dame. It’s free to enter, which is nice, but it’s a bit overwhelming to take it all in amidst numerous tourists and a lot of advisory signage. It is extraordinary to see.

Suffering at Pierre Hermé

From there I headed across Pont St Michel to head back to St. Germain in search of more macarons, this time at Pierre Hermé.  I think I may have to add, “maracon picking” to my list of hobbies, as it really is fun. I very unFrenchly tried a few of the macarons in a nearby park before heading west along Rue Grenelle, past the Musée des Armées, to le Parc du Champ des Mars and of course, the Eiffel Tower.

Le Tour Eiffel

I’d never seen the Eiffel Tower up close, as every time I’ve been to Paris, it has always  been with people who have already done it. So, I walked right underneath it. I’m not sure if I would have bothered going to the top if I had sufficient time to do so. I think I like walking around too much.

So, from there, I began my journey back to my home for the week, as there was a possibility that my host would be out of work in time for an early supper. Unfortunately, such wasn’t meant to be, so I dropped in for another quick bite at Millesimes before heading to catch my Eurostar home.

January 25, 2011

A Day in Bath, UK


At the baths

Taking a very brief break from London, we recently headed to the city of Bath for the day. While Darren had encouraged an overnight trip, I was confident that we could make a reasonable dent in Bath’s offerings in a day, especially given that it’s a mere 90 minutes by train from London. I may have been mistaken, under normal circumstances.

The Abbey & Baths

In addition to being home to ancient Roman baths, Bath also offers natural hot springs, beautiful architecture, loads of museums, and is one of the most picturesque cities in England. The volume and mix of museums is impressive; from the Jane Austen museum to the Herschel Astronomy Museum to the Postal Museum.

Our first stop after arriving in Bath was the Roman Baths, the building of which started in 60-70 AD and evolved throughout the site’s use to the present.  The wikipedia  Roman Baths page is definitely worth a read for more background).

I think my favorite part were the curse tablets found at the site. On these small tablets,  one would convey a curse upon another who had wronged them. Many of these related to stealing offenses and the tablets would, in some cases, list all of the persons suspected. These tablets were thrown into one of the pools so the Gods could act upon them.

For Drinks Only

We then headed out in pursuit of lunch, dropping in at Bath’s smallest pub, The Coeur de Lion. Lured by the promise of local Abbey Ales and the pub’s lovely front window, we abandoned our original and well thought out plan for lunch at the Lime Lounge.

This, friends, was a mistake. While this pub was a cozy spot to hide from the rain, the food would have qualified as a 1.5 at best if subjected to the rigours of the Quest for Sunday Roast. My fries actually tasted bad! Darren focused on the mash component of his bangers & mash.

Denied at Herschel

Deflated from lunch, we headed to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. En route there, not a single joke was made about how Herschel discovered Uranus. Really. Unfortunately, when we finally found Herschel’s house, we learned that the museum was closed for the rest of the month. Little did we know, this would not be the only time this happened.

The Jane Austen Centre

We then headed over to the Jane Austen Centre, located near one of the houses that Jane occupied during her lifetime.  The center offers a twice hourly presentation, and while the exhibits were nicely presented, the presentation was by far my favorite part of this museum of sorts. The presentation was largely biographical and talked about Austen’s life and how her family, and especially her seven siblings, are believed to have influenced her writing.  I learned so much!

The Royal Crescent

Heading through lovely, residential areas, we headed towards the Royal Crescent, a row of thirty Georgian houses that have been used as a backdrop in numerous films and is considered one of the finest examples of this sort of architecture in the UK.

Denied at Holburne

Around this time, I started to think that a sticky toffee pudding was necessary, but this was put off to see the Holburne Museum, located on the other side of the river. Our trek through the rain proved pointless as when we arrived giant banners advised us that the gallery would be closed until spring.

It seems to be a commonly held fact among the English that tea fixes everything, so we did the only reasonable thing: go for tea.

Sally Lunn's

A quick google for, “best tea shoppe bath”, brought us to Sally Lunn’s. Located in Bath’s oldest house, this was exactly the sort of place we were looking for. It smells wonderful! Lunn is famous for inventing the aptly named Sally Lunn Bun, which is a variation on the sweet and fluffy Bath Bun.

Naturally, we ordered Sally Lunn buns with our tea and enjoyed them very much. Even before adding jam or clotted cream, the buttery version delivered to me was fantastic.

So much to do...

Spirits were restored, and while we agreed to consider an earlier train back than our planned one around 8pm, we decided to check out another museum en route: The Postal Museum.

The Postal Museum is located in the basement of a post office.  While the staff was helpful, there’s not much to this museum. It’s actually smaller than my flat. While it did have a nifty old machine for perforating stamps that one could play with, the post office cat promised by the visit Bath site was disappointingly Fur Real and not a taxidermied cat with a story. I did enjoy the Queen Mum’s pigeongram (sent via carrier pigeon, really.)  sent in the mid-1980’s celebrating the museum’s opening.

so buttered!

We did the best we could. We’ll have to go back, I think… maybe when more things are open!

I’d definitely go back just for the awesomely buttered Sally Lunn bun.

January 24, 2011

Things to See When Visiting London, Part II


View from South Bank

Part II has taken me a bit longer than planned. It seems January isn’t really inspiring me to leave the house or encourage guests much!

1. Starting off at Trafalgar Square, you can head into St. Martin in the Fields, where you can do brass rubbings in the crypt.

2. Next up, it’s England, so you have to have tea. While many of the hotels serve high tea, it’s very pricey, so if you’re willing to embrace something a bit less formal while still sconetacular, here are a few suggestions for a casual tea:

Treats in the Window at Bea's

Tea isn’t just about tea. It’s also about scones, clotted cream, jam, and if you’re a tea overachiever, it may mean finger sandwiches and pastries too. Tea overachievement should be reserved for when you don’t have dinner plans.

Liberty

3. Liberty of London: Founded in 1975, this very traditional, yet trendy department store is housed in a Tudor building constructed from timber which had previously constructed two ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan. (Needless to say, I was surprised to learn this from a sales associate last time I was there!). Liberty is filled with tiny rooms of beautiful things, and it has a mighty haberdashery section, which may be why I consider it a place I would have liked very much to take my grandmaman, but at the same time, it would please my trendiest friend.

4. Ride a London Bus – First seats, Upper deck:  One really can’t come to London without riding a double decker bus. Even if you don’t want to listen to the Smiths the whole time, it’s the most cost efficient way to see London at £2.20 cash or around a pound on your Oyster Card. If sightseeing is your goal, try to board where the route starts, as this will make snagging one of the front seats on the upper desk much easier.

View of Oxford Circus from the 55 bus

My vote for choicest routes and the sights you’ll see:

1. The number 11: picks up behind Liverpool Street Station:

  • Bank of England
  • St. Pauls
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Big Ben
  • Parliament
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Victoria Station Area
  • King’s Road, Chelsea

Alternatively, you can take the 9 or the 15, both of which have “heritage routes” on which the old Routemaster buses run. The heritage routes are abbreviated routes, focused in central London

2. The 15 starts at Tower Hill, next to the Tower of London:

  • St. Pauls
  • Trafalgar Square

3. The 9 goes from High Street Kensington to Trafalgar Square:

  • Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Harrods: The food hall is dreamy, and the customer service throughout is fantastic.
  • Hyde Park
  • Green Park
  • Picadilly, and Picadilly Circus
  • Trafalgar Square

5. A walk around Hyde Park’s Serpentine:

The Serpentine in Summer

My love of walking around the token, big grassy space in a city may be due to living in major cities for the last 16 years, but I really do enjoy it.

If it’s Christmas time, the Hyde Park Christmas Fair runs through the month of December, and is worth a visit as well. This picture was taken in the summer which is probably the best time to go, weatherwise. There’s a nice little cafe at the eastern end where you can sit outside and have a drink, or there are plenty of folding lawn chairs for rent all around the lake.

*Special thanks to my friend Elisabeth, during whose recent visit a number of these pictures were taken.

December 2, 2010

Things to See When Visiting London, Part I


The London Eye, Southbank, Big Ben, & Parliament

Each time we have visitors, I tend to draw a blank as to what we should go and visit. It seems that nearly three years of living here has made me completely take the place for granted.

So, in the interests of not doing that, here’s the first of what I expect will be several posts on a few must sees, all under the London Tourism category. You can view all of these places on a google map here.

St. Bartholomew's

1. The Priory Church of St. Bartholomew: This church may look familiar to movie buffs, having appeared in a number of films, but the really interesting bit about this church is its  history. This 12th century church was founded by Rahere, a courtier, after he had a vision in which St. Bartholomew told him to build this church in London. Rahere traveled to London from Rome, and asked the King for the land on which to build his church. The request was granted, and Rahere then recruited volunteers to build this church, completing it in 1123.

2. The Postman’s Park: This tiny park around the corner from St. Paul’s was named for the Post Office that once occupied the land. Its most interesting bit is the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Created in 1900, it contains ceramic tiles recognizing those who lost their lives while saving another. Watts tried to obtain funding to support his

Tiles in Postman's Park

project, but unable to do so, the memorial is largely self-funded. The tiles are beautifully painted, and the stories expressed are at times, matter of fact, other times, seemingly poetic. Watts died in 1904, and his wife, Mary, carried it out after his death. The latest addition was in 2007.

St. Paul's

3. St Paul’s Cathedral: St. Paul’s has a varied history. To those of my generation, the most familiar memory may be the wedding of Diana and Charles. This Wren designed cathedral was the 5th to occupy the location under the same name, and opened in 1697. Wren’s models alone cost £32,000 in today’s terms, according to Wikipedia. To view the entire cathedral and crypt, there is an admission charge, but one can also just have a peek from the back for free. The restaurant in the crypt is new, and while I’m sure the food is lovely, I’d advise saving your appetite for Mary le Bow (next).

4. Lunch  in the  Crypt of St Mary le Bow Church: While there are a number of catherdral and church crypt restaurants, Cafe Below (formerly, “The Place Below”) remains a favorite.  This restaurant’s locally sourced menu of comfort food is an excellent escape on a cold day,  one can dine in the crypt itself or outdoors (summer only). I believe the restaurant has been there for a while, as it never smells crypt-y. This Wren-designed church is famous for its bells, and the term, “Cockney” was historically used to describe a person born within the audible radius of the Bow Bells.

Leadenhall Market

5. Whitecross Street Market: If you have any room left, is also worth a wander. Thursdays and Fridays are home to the Specialty Food Market.

6.  Leadenhall Market: Harry Potter fans will recognize Leadenhall as the entryway to Daigon Alley, but for the rest of us muggles, it offers some excellent lunch venues and spots for shopping that are filled with City workers, taking a break. After wandering through the market, you might as well go look at the adjacent Lloyds Building, which looks nothing like anything in Leadenhall. You can visit the interior of Lloyds during September’s Open House week.

Borough Market

7. The Tower of London: It goes without saying, really. After wandering through the tower and through the Crown Jewels, have a pint at the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered, around the courer.

6. Borough Market: head across London Bridge to visit this mighty food market, which supports retail sales Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. In addition to the many stalls selling vegetables, fruits, cheeses, breads, etc, there’s also a cooked food section which is great fun to graze through. As regular readers may recall, I’m very fond of the grilled cheese from the raclette stall behind Southwark Cathedral.

7. Wander along the Southbank: It’s pretty. Often there are fairs on.

8. The London Eye: see London in half an hour! The views are beautiful, and the slowly moving capsules/pods are fixed, so it’s not scary. It’s pricey, but you can get a better deal by advance booking your tickets on Last Minute.

The View North from Hungerford Bridge

9. Walk across the Hungerford Bridge and check out Gordon’s, London’s oldest wine bar. While there is outdoor seating in the summer, there’s only seating in the 17th century cellars when the weather turns cold. Ladies, this is not a place to wear complicated shoes, as the cellars are low-ceilinged and dark, and if you have accessibility requirements, the venue provides these notes to aid in an advance decision as to whether this venue will be suitable for you.

10. Heading West down the Strand, the Courtald Gallery is always a favorite of mine, offering a small but excellent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.


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December 1, 2010

York, England


Yorkminster and the Snow

As the end of the year draws closer, I realize that the husband and I should really be taking advantage of all the inexpensive mid-week train fares.

Among the many shopping streets

Thanks to that nagging idea and a pile of Hilton points begging to be used, we headed north to York for an overnight jaunt.

While the train took its sweet time to arrive (two hours late), we arrived with a few hours of Tuesday’s precious daylight left to enjoy.

After checking in, we headed to the Jorvik Viking Centre, a museum of sorts located on the site of a late 70’s archeological dig which yielded a number of significant finds about the Viking city of Jorvik, now known as, “York”.  The center includes a museum of archeological finds, exhibits relating to the structures that resided on this site, and an indoor gondola ride meant to provide visitors with the experience of touring Jorvik under Viking occupation, including the commerce, architecture, and even the smells.

We then headed to the Merchant Adventurers Hall, built in the 14th century by the traders who formed this organization. It remains in use today, as the organization continues to have an active membership, nearly 700 years later.

The Parkin

After having a delicious tea fix at  The Hairy Fig, a shop with adjoining tea room, we had a bit of a wander around The Shambles and surrounding streets. The Shambles is a more than 900 year old street, lined with 15th century buildings. It is currently home to shops, and was rated as the most picturesque street in the UK.

With a quick pub stop at The Swan en route, we headed to the highly ranked Melton’s, which was every bit as excellent as reviews led us to believe. The venison was lovely, but I think my favorite thing was the dessert, a Parkin. A parkin is a ginger cake, specific to Yorkshire. It reminded me of sticky toffee pudding, only gingery.

Our view in the morning.

Yorkminster's Interior

We awoke on Wednesday to find that quite a bit of snow fell whilst we were dreaming. After a quick stop for suitable footware, we headed to Yorkminster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Like many of the cathedrals I’ve seen in England, this one has been well preserved, but what I really liked about it was how, where possible, evidence of the site’s evolution was highlighted. For example, one can view the Roman era walls in the crypt, and the first apse is subtly marked.

After all that Cathedral, it was scone o’clock. My pilates instructor, Lavinia, had mentioned a tea shop, and I was about to text her for the name when I spotted a venue that simply had to be the place. Betty’s delivered exactly what we were seeking: delicious tea and sultana scones.  While we were steered towards and also ordered a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, I found that I preferred the smaller, simpler offering with strawberry jam and clotted cream.

The Messy Closet Portion of the Museum

The Shambles by Day

In a scone coma (my first), we ventured out into the snow, and had more of a wander around the tiny streets and listed buildings.

Outdoor market off The Shambles

Last but not least, we headed to the National Rail Museum, conveniently located next to the train station. I realize I am likely outing myself as a giant dork, but I love trains, and I love this museum. Between the old UK rail cars, the Royal Trains from the 1840s to present, the aerodynamic locomotives, and the Flying Scotsman exhibit,  followed by a mishmash of asset tagged stuff all stacked up on shelves and largely unlabelled, I was super happy.

While I could have happily spent another two hours, we were kicked out at two due to a private event being hosted later in the day. It may have been for the best, as our decision to leave after a quick lunch, rather than waiting a few hours for our train, meant that with the delays, we made it home as planned.

Given our 26 hours or so in York, I wish I had booked another day. I would have liked to have seen the York Castle Museum, and The Yorkshire Museum & Gardens, as a shopkeeper we spoke with stressed the beauty of the gardens. Fortunately, a return is a quick train ride away.

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November 28, 2010

Venice, Italy


Northern View from the Rialto Bridge

*Yet another delayed travel posting, this trip was in August 2010

The first thing I noticed about Venice is that it really is just that exquisite. The second thing I noticed was how this beautiful place had clearly taken the slave role in its relationship with tourism.

It was August, and the peak of tourist season. While I had been warned that the canals often smell on hot days, I never noticed. What I did notice were so many bad tzotches for sale, restaurants selling pizza with laminated multi-language menus. and so many fanny packs.

Yes, I’m a hypocrite… sort of. I love to travel, and I think that people should sieze every opportunity they have to go experience new places and cultures.

A Garbage Boat

Thing is,  I think tourism can ruin a place when it ceases to be a place where real people live.  In Venice, the real estate prices are so high, many flats are owned by foreigners. The venues aren’t open late because staff vacates the city via the last commuter trains. I only saw one supermarket in nearly a week of walking around. Where does one buy cleaning products?

Restaurants, and really, everything is extremely expensive, as it all has to come in via boat and trolley.

Thus, I found myself feeling a bit guilty, as I wandered around wishing that half, or really, all of  the people would go away.

So, some highlights…

Starting with my favorite, The Culinary:

Bancogiro's Lamb Carbonara

After a few nights of food that would be regarded as mediocre for the price point, we discovered what we nicknamed the Golden Stretch. The Golden Stretch is several restaurants, all in a row, Northwest of the Rialto Bridge.

1. Osteria Bancogiro: The best Carbonara I’ve had outside of Rome, and theirs had the unusual twist of lamb. I actually went and ordered this dish twice.

Me & Al Pesador's Almond Pudding

2.  Al Pesador: I love this restaurant, and it was my favorite. The service was impeccable and welcoming and the food excellent  both times we dined. The restaurant has no cold storage and sources all of its food daily. During our last meal, I had an almond pudding that may have changed my life. The Insalata Caprese  was the best I’ve ever tasted.

3. The restaurant next door to Bancogiro that isn’t Al Pesador: While we very much enjoyed this venue and would recommend it, go to the other two first. The food was nice, but I’m not still dreaming about it. I’ll keep trying to dig up the name

Al Merca

and right around the corner from the stretch…

4. Al Merca: (Campo Cesare Battisti, San Polo 213) is a storefront wine bar serving sandwiches, wines by the glass and wine cocktails (ex: +aperol or campari)

5. Grom: Of the many gelatos I ate over the course of the week, this was definitely a favorite, specifically the dark chocolate flavor.

Of course, there are the museums and churches: (Unfortunately for me, as with many of the museums and cathedrals, photography was forbidden, so check out the weblinks)

Darren outside of San Rocco

If you enjoy modern art, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (right) is a must see. Not only is the collection impressive, but this personal collection is located in the late philanthropist’s home.

Piazza San Marco offers the The Doges Palace was home to the city’s chief magistrate and of civic activity. It is linked to a prison, whose inmates included Casanova,  via the Bridge of Sighs. As the queues to enter San Marco itself and the tower were massive, we opted to eat gelato instead.

The Frari is definitely a must see as well. This Italian Gothic Cathedral includes works by a number of noted artists including,  Donatello, Vivarini, Bellini, Titian, and Canova; the latter two are entombed there as well. Unfortunately for me, as with many of the museums and cathedrals, photography was forbidden.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is covered in Tintoretto frescoes. Make sure you take advantage of the mirrors provided upstairs, as they make lengthy views of the extraordinary ceiling much easier.

Rialto Bridge

Other stuff:

In terms of accomodations, we stayed at the Centurion Palace, a beautiful but at times impractical hotel, located on the Southern Island. Getting to and from the airport, we opted for a combination of car service and water taxi. The water taxis are pricey, but I so enjoyed my ride to the airport on one. It seems the most efficient and easiest way to go.

View from the Water Taxi

The thing I enjoyed most in Venice, in addition to all the eating and art history was simply walking around, stepping away from the beaten path and taking the place in, admiring beautiful buildings and ornate bridges.

By the end of trip, days and days of walking left us comfortably knowing our way around, but still, I kept spotting new and wonderful architectural details about this city.

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November 10, 2010

Hastings, UK


View from West Hill

As I’m basking in having a bit of extra free time, I’m catching up on some travel notes. This trip to Hastings actually occurred back in July, so I’m only four months late in finishing this posting.

We headed to Hastings on a 915 train arriving around 11 and headed directly towards the Blue Reef Aquarium.

Hastings Snack

We were deterred only by an inquiry about Winkles and Cockles, which was immediately answered by immediate provisioning by Darren. For the record, these are like little snails. We ate, decided we collectively liked them, and remained focused on getting to the Aquarium.

The Blue Reef Aquarium has a reasonable collection, and we enjoyed our wander thoroughly, especially the sea horses.

We wandered out, nearly caved in for snack two, and wandered over to the Shipwreck Museum. If you ever wondered how a crate of muskets lost at sea might have looked after many years, this is definitely a must see. The exhibits cover several local shipwrecks and the recovered contents thereof. For the record, the Shipwreck Museum is very close to the Hastings Lifeboat Center.

It was around this time that we actually were derailed by the prospect of ice cream, but actually indulged in a beer and decided to go for lunch after a walk on the temporarily sunny beach. The restaurant we planned to visit,  Maggie’s, which supposedly has the best fish and chips in Hastings, was booked all day, so we admitted defeat and opted for a nearby option,Webbe’s. Webbe’s had a completely reasonable lunch offering, and the massive portions left us all in a bit of a food coma.

East Hill Funicular

After a mighty lunch, we went to the Fisherman’s Protection Society museum before taking the East Hill Cliff Railway, one of two funicular railways in Hastings.

The clouds cleared just for Vera & Roland.

From the top of the East Hill, we finally had our ice cream, enjoyed the view, and took an unplanned path down the hill to return to town.

The town center has lots of cute shops and restaurants, which we wandered in and out of while heading to the other funicular railway on the West Cliff.

Up the West Hill Cliff Railway lies Hastings Castle and the Smuggler’s Adventure. The Smuggler’s Adventure is a tour of St. Clements Caves, which were used by smugglers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The attraction itself is very geared for kids, with lots of games in the exhibits, but the caves are still very interesting to see.

After taking the funicular back down, we went to the waterfront, which has all the trappings of a beach town: minigolf, arcade games, rides, and of course, even more ice cream, before heading back home.

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October 29, 2010

Chicago, IL, USA


 

Sears Tower

 

As this brief stop was also Darren’s first in Chicago, I had great intentions to write about it as well. Unfortunately, I failed miserably! Our two full days went largely undocumented.

 

View from Lincoln Park

 

We had great intentions about the Architectural Boat Tour, but ended up walking from Lakeview into the city, with a nice stroll through Lincoln Park. After lunch with out friend Victoria (of Amsterdam fame), we headed to Rock Bottom to meet my friend Alberto for drinks before heading back home for dinner with the kids.

The next day, we decided to continue to eschew tourism, opting instead to head up near Evanston to accompany Victoria to return her rental car. This wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, only the rental car was a Dodge Charger, which was the most unlikely car I could imagine my dear friend driving.  Even more noteworthy was the layer of  crumbs that had struck the backseat of the car over the course of the three days or so the car was in her possession. It seems two children under the age of three are a bit like having a tornado in tow at all times; a really fun tornado with a trail of raisins and cheese sticks!

 

The Infamous Cinnamon Rolls

 

We did this on a very full stomach after hitting Ann Sather‘s like we were going to the electric chair. Darren’s decision to get the cinnamon rolls and the potatoes as his chosen sides was impressive, but he didn’t actually eat it all.

 

Alberto and I at Rock Bottom

 

For lunch we met up with our friend, Neil, at one of his old haunts, Piece. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive his message advising us to, “save room for meatball subs!” As we were still in an Ann Sathers’ coma when we arrived, we pathetically had to watch Neil eat his sub while he mocked us.

Dinner that night was at one of my favorites, Mia Francesca, and I had the extra joy of eating with lots of people I like: Victoria, her husband Troy, her brother Stephen, and Stephen’s girlfriend, Suzanne. I ate a mighty bowl of sausagey pasta, enjoyed everyone’s company, and didn’t take a single picture!

Our flight the next morning was at nine, so the fun had to end.  Maybe next time we’ll take that boat tour….

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October 27, 2010

Jacksonville, Florida, USA


Kiely and Darren with the newly acquired hotsauce

I’ve never thought to write about a Jacksonville trip. I lived there as a child for a while, and after many years, my mother decided to return there to escape the winters of New York State.

I’ve only been back a few times since my mother returned, and I often find myself in the car, nose nearly pressed to the window, trying to pick out the buildings I recalled from my childhood surrounded by so much new construction.

I decided to write about it this time because this is Darren’s very first trip to Florida, which meant a dash of tourism for a few days!

We flew into Orlando, as our closest option for a direct flight and had a 3 hour ride north to Jacksonville.  We opted to stay at a local bed and breakfast a few blocks from my mother’s, The House on Cherry Street.

The Spoils of Cherry Street!

The first thing I’d like to highlight about The House on Cherry Street is that it is the best B&B experience I have ever had – and the website pictures don’t even begin to do it justice. The house is lovely, our room was charming, the breakfasts wonderful, and the company of our hosts, Victoria and Robert, was an absolute pleasure; so much so, we found ourselves planning our next visit and encouraging Victoria and Robert to come to London.

So, that first night, we opted for one of my favorite pizzas in the US, Moon River Pizza. My mention of it clearly made an impression on Darren, who counted the minutes from Orlando until dinner.  The food is inexpensive and their pizza is consistently good and not greasy. We crashed shortly thereafter,  full of jetlag and meaty pizza.

Day II:

Deep Fried Gator Tail!

We headed out to the Riverside Arts Market, which reminded me a lot of a New York City summertime Street Fair.

The Market includes live music, a farmer’s market, a crafts market, food, and in the evening, films are screened on thewaterfront. This week’s film was The Wizard of Oz, but we sadly missed it. Darren bought BBQ sauce (above) , and we went for a walk on the waterfront before heading out towards Mayport in search of a lot of deep fried at Singleton’s Seafood Shack.

Singleton’s promises a lot of fish and a museum of handmade wooden boats, crafted by the original Singleton.  We opted for deep fried gator tail to start, and by the time the fried king fish arrived, Darren was broken. We dropped him back at the B&B for a rest, yet none of us really recovered from all the fried, so a dinner of salad followed.

Day III:

At Ripley's The Largest Erector Set Creation

Full of nostalgia, we all headed out to The Fox for breakfast. The Fox was and is a diner with a bit of an equine theme, despite the name. I regaled Darren with tales of a hated home perm which had its debut at this venue. It seems a five year old yours truly believed a perm would somehow give me Christie Brinkley hair, but instead, I had little orphan Annie hair. I remember  crying in the bathroom and trying to comb it out before we went out for breakfast, where I was declared, “cute”, by our waitress, Thelma. The good news was that the food was great, even without a perm!

Still on a mission of tourism, we headed to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US.  First, we also went to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, which I always wanted to do as a child, but somehow never did. The Ripley’s museum was fun, but for me, it was really all about the Jack Palance- narrated 1980s nostalgia. We considered a wander around the Castillo de San Marco, but given the blazing sun, decided to opt for a nice walk around in the sunshine, including ice cream and Mexican food.

Day IV and V: This is where tourism was abandoned.

Breakfast included, "Darren's Cheese"

After delicious Cherry Street breakfasts, which included “Darren’s cheese” specially sourced by our hosts,  Darren was left to work on his writing, while I spent time with my mother, catching up, learning why I’m crap at knitting, and helping her with computer stuffs. The latter seems to be the duty of my generation, explaining the mysteries of the home computer to our parents, who just want it to work.

Obligatory picture of oranges

There was a dinner out at The Brick, and a dinner at home with my mother, which included a delicious spinach tart and key lime pie. I also had the wonderful, and internet fuelled chance to catch up with one of my best friends from grammar school, Kyla,  who I sadly fell out of contact with after we moved to New York in 1986. Kyla was always incredibly artistic and I was happy to see she still is, having started her own photography business, Calhoun Clicks.

All in all, it was five days that passed entirely too quickly. We’ll just have to visit again soon!

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June 27, 2010

HK&C: Day 11: Beijing: The Temple of Heaven and 798


Temple of Heaven!

Our last full day in Beijing came so quickly!

We started the day off at The Temple of Heaven, where we ate more popsicles and saw not only the main attraction but the three temples and the circular mound.

Right about then is when the camera battery died. It figures that I carried 3 backup batteries for my dSLR for the whole trip and didn’t have a single one for the point and shoot.  It also figures that I decided not to carry the dSLR out of laziness. Oops.

We then headed to North Chaoyang to check out 798 and have some lunch. 798 is an art space, the first section of which was built inside a former factory space. Now the complex consists of many buildings housing galleries and restaurants, including a tasty Cantonese venue. We took a few pictures on Kiely’s phone, and I’ll post them someday when I have them.

The End– Me: 80, Kiely: 99

We headed back to the hotel for a bit of a break after visiting 798, as Kiely was feeling a bit under the weather. In retrospect, we now think it was just the pollution finally getting to him.  In general, we were a bit tired from so much sightseeing.

The Dinosaur is Inconsolable.

We rested and relaxed. We caved in and played Bust a Move, continuing the mighty battle started in Yongzhou.

Sadly, I lost. We probably would have played more, but the game stopped incrementing Kiely’s won matches once he reached 99.

More sadly, we watched England lose to Germany before calling it a night. Even my Bust a Move Dinosaur cried… but that may have been due to my own 19 game loss.