A Viennese whirl – Our day trip to Vienna

Dear readers,

As promised, we have one last post for 2017 for you, and we have chosen to write it about our day trip to Vienna. We took this day trip while on holiday in Bratislava at the start of December last year, as a chance to see two different cities and their individual takes on Christmas celebrations. We have already discussed this aspect of the trip in our last post however, so for this one we will be focusing on the sights we discovered in Vienna that can be visited at any time of year.

DSCF1374

Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capital cities in Europe, and a short one-hour train journey will whisk you from one to the other. The trains run every half hour, from the central stations of both cities, Bratislava Hlavná stanica and Wien Hauptbahnhof. The tickets are reasonably cheap as well, which makes it the perfect excuse for a day trip if you are holidaying in either of these cities. There is also an add-on that can be purchased with your ticket that allows you to travel on all of Vienna’s inner city public transport on the day of your train ticket, which I would highly recommend buying. We were staying in Bratislava so it was Vienna that we would be travelling to, and which we needed to cram into one day. So for that reason we had to stick to the main sights in the city centre, as we wouldn’t have enough time for too much travelling about.

DSCF1364

Our first stop was St Stephen’s Cathedral, the largest church in the city and a true icon of Vienna. The cathedral was almost destroyed at the end of the Second World War and it had to be rebuilt during the years that followed, although such a great job has been done that you wouldn’t notice without being told. The building is very Gothic in style both inside and out, and it is definitely not as ornate and decorated as you would expect a catholic cathedral to be. You are given a few choices if you would like to take a guided tour of the cathedral, with tours covering the bell towers, catacombs, and the main cathedral body available. We chose to take the lift up the North Tower to the Pummerin, the bells of the cathedral. The views of the city from here were incredible, as well as being able to see the bells up close.

DSCF1388

We then went on a bit of a self-guided walking tour of the city, as we made our way to the next stop that we had planned. There’s always something interesting to see in this wonderful city, such as the carillon clock that we discovered, so it really is worth walking between places whenever possible, especially if you go around Christmas time when the whole city seems to be decorated for the occasion. Our destination was Hotel Sacher, in order to indulge ourselves with a traditional Sacher-Torte. This is a chocolate cake with dark chocolate icing and apricot jam, invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. It has now become a Viennese icon and a culinary speciality of the city, and Hotel Sacher has become a tourist mecca for this reason. Luckily there wasn’t much of a queue when we arrived, and we were soon seated inside and served our Sacher-Torte and drinks. It’s not much different to any other chocolate cake, but it was still very tasty and a great experience. The restaurant area of the hotel is beautifully decorated and makes a perfect setting to enjoy tea and a cake. I also managed to converse with the waiter using my limited German, and I even seemed to be mostly understood!

DSCF1400

The rest of our trip was centred around visiting the Christmas markets, which are fortunately all located next to the most famous sights of the city. The first we went to was at Maria-Theresien-Platz, which for 11 months of the year is a landscaped square housing some of the city’s biggest museums, most notably the National History Museum and the National Art Museum. During December however, the whole area is taken over by a large Christmas market, although it is still possible to see the magnificent statue which stands as the centrepiece of the square. This statue is of empress Maria Theresa, surrounded by four horsemen, and it has stood in this spot since it was unveiled in 1888. This whole area is filled with beautiful and important buildings, and on our way along the Ringstrasse to the Rathaus we passed by the Austrian Parliament Building and the Burgtheater, both very impressive and wonderful to look at.

DSCF1411

As I mentioned, our next stop was the Rathaus, the city hall. This is a huge building reminiscent of the city hall that dominates the Grand Place in Brussels, and at the time of our visit it was also home to the largest Christmas market in the city. Parts of the building were open in order to house some of the market stalls, but we weren’t able to explore further than this. All I can really say is that it is a magnificent building, and the perfect backdrop for the Christmas market. Looking like something out of a fairytale, it really does complete the Christmas scene.

DSCF1413

Lastly we went to Belvedere Palace, which was completely unplanned and we just happened to stumble across it as it was near the metro station that we needed. We were certainly glad that we did though, as it was a fantastic place to finish our tour of Vienna. The palace is spread across the back of a large lake, and this creates a wonderful scene especially at night when the palace’s lights are reflected by the water. Likewise it was home to its own Christmas market, although much smaller in scale than the those at the Rathaus and Maria-Theresien-Platz. This really had to be a fleeting visit for us, in order to catch our train, so we only had a quick look around the market, but the palace façade is beautiful enough to have made the detour worthwhile. We’ll certainly take time to visit here more thoroughly when we come back to Vienna at some point, but with only a day to spend here it really did have to be a bit of a whirlwind tour! So for now, there’s nothing left to say other than to wish you all a happy and prosperous 2018!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

You may be planning the last details of your New Year’s celebration around the globe, and so are we. We are going to welcome 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, but we thought we could not skip our post this fortnight, so we decided to give you our recipe for half day in Vienna.

We usually try to do a mix of conventional and unconventional places, but for that we will take you on our next trip to the Austrian capital city. I have always wanted to visit Vienna, and Mr Wander had a great idea including it in our trip to Bratislava as the two cities are extremely close to each other, just over an hour train journey between the two. As we told you already in our previous post, our visit was mainly focused on Christmas markets and we visited a few more bits around them but, considering that Mr Wander already talked a bit about the rest, I will just focus on the two places that were my not-to-miss.

As soon as we arrived, we took the metro to St Stephen’s Cathedral, Stephansdom by its Austrian name. This was one of the two spots that I didn’t want to miss. It is obviously one of the city’s icons, with its façade and its rooftop, but for me it was something else. I often plan my visits around novels that have marked my life or simply that I liked, and Vienna makes no difference. This time you may have a bit of a hard time to find the book I am talking about, as it an Italian historic book that is out of print if I am not mistaken. It is called Grandi peccatori, grandi cattedrali and it talks about some of the main Catholic churches in Europe and how behind these majestic buildings there are stories of big sins and big sums of money paid by powerful people to clean their own souls. In the case of St Stephen’s, the sinner is actually the architect of the bell tower who made a pact with the devil to be able to complete the job in time.

Well, I was extremely excited about seeing this place and the locks that cost the guy’s soul. The cathedral is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic due to the four major projects between the XII and the XV century, but there has been a church in the same place since the first centuries of the Christian era. The tour takes you to the roof where you can enjoy the sight of the city from the heights, see the famous bell known as Pummerin in the north tower, and have a close sight of the tiled roof that is one of the emblems of the city. The current version of the coloured tiles feature two eagles, symbol of the Habsburg family, one with the Austrian flag and the other with the Viennese flag. It is extremelly cold and windy if you go at the end of November, but it is worth it.

The main entrance, known as the Giant’s Door, or Riesentor, features a fossil bone found during one of the enlargements. This part belongs to the original Roman church and it is basically all that is left of it together with the two Roman towers.

The second place I wanted to visit was the Hotel Sacher. I know Vienna is much more than that, but with only a day there and almost all the time dedicated to Christmas markets you have to make choices. I have said more than once that places with a big fame are usually not up to expectations, but let me tell you that the Hotel Sacher still keeps its original elegance and quality. You may have to wait for a bit as it is quite popular and there usually is a queue, but it didn’t take us too long to have a table, probably because we arrived between lunch and afternoon tea and quite a few tables left at once. The hotel is famous and high range, so you may feel a little intimidated wearing travel clothes, but you will soon see many others like you. The prices are not at all prohibitive as you may expect, which was a nice surprise. The menu gives you quite a choice, especially considering that almost everyone goes there for the Sacher-Torte, and you also have a good selection of drinks, many of them chocolate based. I was really positively surprised by the whole experience, the place lived up to expectations and everything was delicious. Definitely make it a stop in your list if you are planning to visit the city.

Hoping to go back soon with more time on our hands, I will now leave you here as it is almost New Year’s Eve and Kuala Lumpur awaits us.

Stay tuned,

Ms Lust

Advertisements

‘Tis the season

Dear readers,

Well it’s that time of year again, and the festive season is well and truly upon us. For some of us the build-up to Christmas Day brings images of endless days of present and food shopping, for some it conjures memories of wonderful feasts and indulgence, we all have our own personal take on what Christmas means to us and how we like to celebrate it. In the Wander&Lust household we choose to enjoy the more traditional activities and events that are part of the Christmas period, while trying our best to avoid the pitfalls of over-commercialism and over-eating (although we are not always 100% successful in that!). That means we prefer to go to a Christmas market rather than spending our evenings trudging around vast shopping centres, and a carol concert or a Christmas play opposed to watching the same old repeats on TV. So for this post we thought we’d share with you all our favourite Christmassy places that we have visited over the last couple of years, both locally and while travelling in other countries.

DSC01139

Christmas markets – Bratislava

Christmas markets have blossomed in popularity over the last ten years or so in the UK, however in continental European countries the Christmas market is a long-running tradition and an important part of the festive celebrations. With this in mind we booked a short break to Bratislava last year, to coincide with the opening days of their Christmas markets. Although we had both been to similar markets in the UK, this was going to be a new experience for both of us. We also planned a day in Vienna to see the markets there as well, and to compare them with one another.

There were two big markets in Bratislava, one in the main square and one running along one of the roads close to the river, as well as a number of smaller ones dotted throughout the city. The markets seemed to be aimed more towards food and drink rather than shopping, although there were still a few stalls selling handmade arts and crafts. As such they seemed to act more as a meeting place rather than a shopping destination, and they were usually full of groups of friends that had met for lunch or dinner. Always keen to experience new cultures and traditions, we indulged as much as we could (all in the name of research of course!). We usually started at one of the many drinks stalls where, alongside the traditional mulled wine and Glühwein, there were a multitude of options for some festive spirits. Hot punches and wines were available in all manner of different flavours, mostly fruit based, as well as ciders and hot spiced spirits such as rum and brandy. Best of all were the mugs that these drinks were served in. Each stall had their own uniquely shaped or decorated (or both) mug which was either included in the price of the drink as a refundable deposit or could be bought separately for a small fee. We couldn’t help ourselves and had to keep each different one that we found, and we now have quite a collection at home!

20161127_162543

The other stars of the show were the food stalls, which were mostly quite similar yet with each having quite extensive menus. Never entirely sure what we were ordering, we tried almost everything that was on offer and we were at no point disappointed. There was a whole range of meats available in bread rolls, from hog roasts to traditional sausages and grilled steak. Soups and stews were also a common sight, as well as something similar to a potato pancake called zemiakové placky which are fantastic with cheese. Our personal favourite was one of the desserts available, trdelník. This is basically dough wrapped around a spit, then grilled and covered with your choice of topping such as cinnamon, sugar, or nuts. Due to the way it is cooked, the finished product is cylindrical and hollow, and commonly now filled with a range of fillings from whipped cream to nutella and ice cream. These were freshly made to order and absolutely delicious warm, they certainly helped against the cold weather!

All in all the atmosphere was excellent, with everyone enjoying their favourite treats from the market, and the markets looked like scenes from Christmas cards, especially when it snowed! The wooden cabins were all decorated with lights and tinsel, and the old city hall provided the perfect backdrop to the market in the main square.

Christmas markets – Vienna

Our day trip to Vienna wasn’t planned to be for visiting Christmas markets, but to see the main sights and attractions of the city. As it turned out, every single tourist attraction and important building seemed to have its own market and it was inevitable that we would spend the day visiting those as well. We will come back to talk to you about the sights and sounds of Vienna in a forthcoming post, but for now I’m going to focus solely on the Christmas markets we found there.

The first market we came across was situated around St Stephen’s Cathedral, and it was immediately obvious that these markets would be very different to the ones we had gotten used to in Bratislava. With the exception of the mulled wine (which was served in even cuter mugs!), the food and drink available had changed to a more Austrian/German offering. Pretzels and bratwurst were the order of the day here, and we were soon indulging in both! There also seemed to be a lot more arts and crafts on offer as potential presents and decorations, in particular traditional wooden items. But we weren’t in the mood for shopping just yet, we still had a lot more sightseeing to do, so after a quick look around the stalls, and a pretzel and hot Glühwein to keep ourselves fuelled, we left for our next stop on our tour of the city.

DSCF1412

The next market we came across, apart from the odd stalls that were dotted all over the city, was at Maria-Theresien-Platz, a square nestled between two of the city’s major museums; the Natural History Museum, and the Art History Museum. This market is a lot bigger, with a greater range of products available. It is still very traditional although there are signs of commercialism creeping in, with sweet stalls and tacky souvenirs finding their way into the mix. The best bit about this market is the setting. All of the markets we saw in Vienna were situated alongside the most beautiful buildings, and this was no exception. Sitting between the two identical museum buildings, and with the statues and fountains of the park providing a wonderful greeting and breaking up the lines of cabins, it was hard to keep your concentration off of the surroundings. The whole area was adorned with lights and decorations, and with traditional Christmas music in the air it was impossible not to get into the festive spirit. Again we still had plenty to do, so after our obligatory Glühwein tasting we set off for our next stop.

We spent the rest of the day sightseeing but, once the night had drawn in and everywhere had started to close, we decided to have a look around Vienna’s biggest Christmas market, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt found in front of the Rathaus (city hall). This market is huge and the atmosphere is wonderful, partly thanks to it being busy but not crowded when we were there. The Rathaus is lit up and provides a spectacular backdrop, while the decorations and lights of the the cabins finish this fantastic scene.

DSCF1411

 

The first stalls you are likely to come across are the Glühwein sellers, and it is impossible to resist, especially once you see the mugs it comes in and if it is as cold as it was there for us! From here you will see a great variety of stalls as you head towards the Rathaus, and you’ll find even more inside. There is certainly a better selection of goods on offer than at the other markets, however the sheer size of it guarantees that there will still be a fair amount of repetition. The traditional stalls are all here as well, selling the decorated gingerbread hearts and wooden crafts that this region is so famous for. Again it’s not all strictly traditional, and the pick ‘n’ mix sweets and souvenir stalls have found themselves at home here as well.

There is certainly enough here to keep you busy and interested for a good hour or so, and once you’ve had your fill of shopping there are endless possibilities for food and drink. We opted to have a bowl of soup, where the bowl is a large hollowed-out bread roll, but there is so much to choose from that you’re sure to find something to fit your appetite. And as for drink, well the Glühwein stalls will look after you in this respect, with plenty of other options such as hot spiced rum and schnapps if Glühwein isn’t to your fancy.

20161129_183716

Before we left Vienna and made our way back to Bratislava, we found time to visit one last market. This decision was made more for seeing the building rather than the market, as it was situated in front of the beautiful Belvedere Palace. The market itself wasn’t huge, maybe of a similar size to the one at St Stephen’s Cathedral, but it serves its purpose and the opportunity for one last cup of Glühwein before we left was a welcome one. There wasn’t really anything here that we hadn’t already seen at the other markets, it’s more aimed at capturing attention from visitors to the palace rather than the main draw itself. Still if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a quick detour to see it.

Christmas markets – UK

This year we’ve been visiting a few Christmas markets in the UK, and I have to admit that they are on general a little disappointing. There is usually very little reason to describe them as traditional or authentic, as it seems to me that they are the same market stalls that can be found at markets all year round, with a bit of tinsel and decoration to make them seem Christmassy. It is possible to find a few unique stalls and products however, and it is still worth going for the chance of finding a gift that is a bit different to the norm.

The one market that stood out for me is the one at St Albans, which has been running for a number of years and is now fairly big compared to most in the UK. It is however very popular and can get quite crowded, especially if you go on one of the last Saturdays before Christmas as we did! This market seems to have focussed more on local and artisan traders with handmade products that cannot be found elsewhere, and there didn’t seem to be too many stalls selling the same tut as you usually find. It’s actually the first UK Christmas market where I have bought something other than mulled wine or food! Added to this is the main reason that we went on a day that we knew was going to be busy and crowded, and that is the carol concerts held in the nearby cathedral. Held on the hour, every hour, on one Saturday during the market’s trading period, this year it fell on 16 December. It’s a wonderful chance to not only see the cathedral, which is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain, but also a great way to escape the crowds for a little while and enjoy some traditional Christmas carols. This carol service has been running for ten years now, and I imagine it will be going for the foreseeable future.

Stately homes

A lot of the stately homes in the UK are closed to the public over winter, while cleaning and restorations are taking place. Some however do stay open all year round, and some open for just a few days during this period for special Christmas-themed events. Most of these give the chance to see the homes decorated for Christmas and some also provide the chance to see what life would have been like at Christmastime during the home’s heyday.

This year we have taken advantage of these events and we went to Holkham Hall in Norfolk for their candlelight tours. The house has been decorated from top to bottom and the tour consists of a guide taking you around the home and giving information about the decorations, as well as how the rooms would have been used during Christmas when the house was still used as a residence.

DSC01109

The main entrance and reception hall is simply stunning, with the grand staircase adorned with Christmas trees and lights. From here we were guided into the rooms of the house, with each having been decorated according to individual themes. The first had a nautical theme, to reflect the home’s location and history on the North Norfolk coast. There was also a Mexican-themed room, a Russian-themed dining room, a woodland walkway, as well as rooms themed around wonderful creations such as huge gingerbread houses and flower arrangements. Every room has something to offer, from the nativity scene in the chapel through to a room containing a huge Christmas tree and a plethora of presents underneath.

DSC01124

 

The tour culminated in the kitchen, which was last updated in the Victorian era, where some Christmas desserts of the period were on show. With two volunteers dressed as Victorian cooks on hand to tell interesting stories about the dishes in front of us, it was an excellent and informative ending to what had been a wonderful tour of the house.

Christmas plays

Christmas is a busy time for theatre thanks to the ever popular Christmas pantomime, but Christmas theatre doesn’t stop there. With plenty of other Christmas-themed plays out there, you can be sure to find something to go and see if, like me, you’re not a fan of pantomime. We stumbled across a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed by a local youth theatre group, which had been retitled as A Midwinter Night’s Dream and given a wintry twist to it. Although I was a little sceptical at first, it turned out to be a fantastic performance and a wonderful night out, certainly better than the Christmas plays we used to put on when I was at school!

20170127_202403

We also found another local production, this time of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, held in an abandoned church in a nearby village. Although this performance actually took place after Christmas, the setting and the excellent acting brought the Christmas atmosphere rushing back. The story is a Christmas classic itself, with many adaptations and versions out there, and they did it proud with their performance of a traditional version of the story.

So have a look and see what’s on in your area, local productions are a great way to discover something new and usually a lot lighter on the wallet than a West End show! We’ve found a number of local groups now that always deliver great entertainment, and we think it’s a perfect way to celebrate the festive season.

I hope you have enjoyed reading our take on the Christmas period, and that you may have been inspired to see what events and activities may be on offer in your area during the festivities. All that’s left for me to say now is to wish you all a very merry Christmas, and that it is everything that you are hoping and wishing it to be. We’ll be back for one last post before the new year, stay tuned!

Merry Christmas,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

Many people who have met me in the last few years believe that I am a Scrooge who hates Christmas and would like to abolish it, but this is quite far from reality. I have nothing against Christmas, I just don’t like consumerism and presents. But then there are many things about Christmas that I find sweet and pleasant. Christmas markets are one of those things and, although sometimes they may look as part of the industry of compulsive shopping and they are starting appearing everywhere, they usually still keep their traditional taste in the countries where they first appeared. Let’s see if I can take you around a few that I have visited.

IMG_1283

England

Winter Wonderland – London

As I am from Sardinia, when I was a kid they were not at all a thing in my region and I actually had my first contact with them when I arrived in the UK. London has a few famous Christmas markets and the most known of all is definitely the one in Winter Wonderland. This is an amusement park that takes up a good bit of Hyde Park starting on the last week of November and up to the first weekend in January. Roller coasters, haunted mansions, and an ice skating rink are among the attractions you can find in the park, but then you have a wide area dedicated to food and drinks, with a few big tents in which to enjoy your mulled wine and your German sausages. The food stalls are also scattered all around the amusement park while the wooden houses with the artisanal objects are usually all gathered around the entrance next to Wellington Arch.

It is nice to visit but prepare yourself for long queues for drinks and an extremely washed out experience, it is more of an amusement park than a Christmas market and there is no authenticity in it.

Covent Garden – London

Once again, a bit of an impersonal market, here you will find more stands with the usual objects and less food stalls as the location is already partly a food court. I would recommend to have a walk around as the decorations are always nice and you can enjoy some nice music performances while there.

Huntingdon

This market was on just for three days last weekend but it was a nice way of starting our season. It was located in Market Square with some exhibitors also inside the Town Hall. Due to the reduced size, there were not many repeated stands of the same thing but some very interesting ones, from the local spirit company to the stand with bags and accessories made from recycled tyres. We had a quick walk through it and we enjoyed our sandwich and mulled cider and I definitely enjoyed how different it was.

Peterbourough

IMG_1418

I have to admit that the website makes it sound a lot better than it actually is. If you visited Peterborough (or if you read our post), you will know that the cathedral is actually separated from the rest of the city centre and that the gates close in the evening so you cannot access the area. The market is just outside the cathedral’s gates and wrapped around a modern, cone-shaped Christmas tree that looks like it’s made of baubles. There are very few stalls, about ten in total, but the products seems quite good, with winter clothes and artisanal products such as woodcraft, beers, liquors, Russian dolls, and cheese. There is the unmissable stall with German bratwursts and mulled wine. Well, thumbs up for that, they will ask you to repeat your order five times because they can’t remember it, but the food was nice and the wine very tasty!

St Albans

Yesterday we spent the day in St Albans and that is why we are posting this on a Sunday, but we couldn’t avoid adding one of my favourite markets to the list. I had visited it once before as I was in town for a business lunch. There I met a translator from Germany and we decided to go back to the station together but first we walked through the market. We had a glass of mulled wine and she said that it was not bad, and if a German person gives the approval to mulled wine is a guarantee for me! So, when Mr Wander asked if I wanted to visit the market and go to the carol service in the cathedral I saw that as an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The market occupies the park between the cathedral and the shopping arcade and offers not too many stalls but with good quality products. You have the usual ones with sausages, with doughnuts, with chips, and with pork and stuffing rolls, the one with mulled wine and cider that also sells pints of beer because we are in the UK. Luckily, there also was a stall with roasted chestnuts, the most Christmassy thing to have when shopping (at least for me). Then we had a walk around the artisanal products and we found some very nice cheese and homemade jams and chutneys and you have a few stalls dedicated to personalised Christmas decorations. As a bonus, on Wednesday and Saturday you also have the town market and plenty of choice there as well. As we love cheese, we got some more from a very nice Italian man that had a huge variety of products, including a few Sardinian types of pecorino.

As I said, yesterday was also the day of the carol service in the cathedral and we popped in for the one at 3 p.m. The cathedral is huge, as you would expect, but it fills up completely for it.

IMG_1424

Bratislava

If you read our previous post about Bratislava, you will know that our trip there was focused on Christmas markets and we were not disappointed. The city has a few markets in its main squares, each with their peculiarities.

Main Square and Frantiskanske Square

This is probably the main one due to its size and the location. You have the majority of the stalls in the Main Square but then Frantiskanske Square is just on the side and the markets basically join in one that is L-shaped. Here you have a great choice of artisanal objects, food and drinks. This is your chance to taste all the traditional Slovak food: Lokše (thin potato pancakes that look like crêpes and can be sweet or savoury, the one with poppy seeds is quite typical), cigánska pečienka (chicken or pork meat, served on a bread roll with mustard and onion), other things to have on your roll are klobása (sausages) or hermelín (grilled cheese that is served with cranberry jam), langoš (deep fried raised dough, it comes with several toppings but one of the most typical is sour cream), Mastný chlieb (a slice of bread with fat, and you can add onion to it),  kapustnica (traditional soup with sauerkraut and spicy sausage), zemiakové placky (potato pancake that looks like an omelette), strudels (you have plenty of flavours, but again the one with poppy seeds is quite typical), trdelník (sweet pastry shaped as a cylinder and covered in sugar and cinnamon, cocoa, coconut, you choose), oblátky (round wafers that can be plain but are usually filled with different flavours in the markets), korbáčik (plain or smoked cheese shaped like strings), and plenty more. Of course, with the cold you will also fancy some mulled wine, varené víno, or punch, punč, and you can find countless flavours in the different stalls: Plum, cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and elderflower are just part of those we tasted!

  IMG_1433   IMG_1434   IMG_1437    IMG_1444    IMG_1435 IMG_1436

Old Town Hall’s court and Primacial Square

Next to the Main Square, this market is smaller with some stalls around the square court of the old town hall and you need to make sure that you check it out as well for more food, drinks, and handicraft. More stalls are then located on the other side of the courtyard, in Primacial Square. On the way back to the Main Square, make sure you get your kiss when passing under the mistletoe!

Hviezdoslav’s Square

This one is not too far from the Main Square and is also quite big. Located in the square facing the Reduta Bratislava Concert Hall and it is mainly dedicated to food and drinks with few other stalls. Here you can also see a tent with trained birds of prey. The trainers tell you some facts about the animals and their behaviour, and you can hold them and take pictures with them. We skipped this part but it is nice for kids to learn more about these animals.

Bratislava Castle

Last year was the first year that the Castle hosted a Christmas market and this was a bit small and less traditional with modern gazebos, and it closed a bit earlier than the rest, but definitely it was nice to sip a bit of mulled wine while walking around the snowy grounds of the castle!

Vienna

Vienna Christmas Market on Rathausplatz

One of the most famous ones in Vienna, this market is located in the park in front of the City Hall and offers you all the traditional food and drinks you can expect, and plenty of artisanal objects. You also have an ice rink and you can take a break from the cold going inside the building, where you have toilets and a busy café.

You will find plenty of places to have any kind of food and we took our chance to try gulasch im bröt, the soup served in a bread bowl. You have several soups to choose from and make it your main meal as it fill feel you up!

IMG_7139

Christmas Village Belvedere Palace

We visited this market at the end of our day in Vienna, just before getting on the train, and it was extremely quiet, but it definitely is the most impressive one, as you have to walk a long way in the park to reach it and you have the majestic fountain in front of you and the market between that and the beautiful building. The market itself offers a few nice stalls with original objects and the usual ones with food and drinks but it is simply beautiful to see.

IMG_7147

Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz

Once again, the market gets its fame from the location. Three important museums open in the square, the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum in two identical buildings mirroring each other, and the Modern Art Museum in what originally where the Imperial Stables. The products are the usual ones you expect but it seemed to me that they are mainly focused on Christmas decorations with many stalls dedicated to them.

Stephansplatz

We visited the St Stephen’s Cathedral as well, but that will be the subject of another post. Around the cathedral, though, you have a small market where you can warm yourself up with a bit of Glühwein and a freshly made Brezel of your choice.

 

DSCF1380                                          DSCF1379

Stately homes

As you may know if you read our posts about stately homes, many of these manors close for winter, but most of them also plan special opening days during the Christmas season. This year we decided to visit Holkham Hall for the candlelight tour and the house really was a magical place. The owners definitely plan ahead as they travel to Europe for a Christmas fair in January and buy new decorations every year both for the house and to sell in the gift shop, and you can see how the house transforms for the season.

unnamed

The main staircase was all golden and brown coloured as it was dedicated to autumn, but then you proceed to the first room where the theme is the seaside and you have a beach hut and trees decorated with seagulls and whales. The two chimneys have Santa Claus and a mermaid stuck while they try to escape. Following the tour, you have the statues gallery decorated as an enchanted wood and a few rooms with different Christmas styles: A Mexican-themed room with palm trees and beach chairs, a peacock-themed room with green and blue decorations, and a four-metre tall Christmas tree with red and white decorations before you catch a glimpse of the chapel with a real size nativity and then pass to the lower floor. Here, you have a few gingerbread sculptures from the past years guiding you to the kitchen.

unnamed (1)

In the kitchen, the table is set for a Christmas meal with a few Christmas puddings. In the olden days, Christmas puddings had charms like the French and Spanish Christmas desserts, and the lord of the house decided that all guests had to have one and asked for them to be tied to a ribbon. Before being rushed out (see blurry picture), we had the chance to pull one each. I say rushed out because that was the main thing of the tour, the house was beautiful, but the guide was extremely rude and cold, rushing everyone about and being annoyed about answering questions; she even rushed the ladies impersonating the cooks in the kitchen while they were trying to explain the traditions. Thumbs up for the house but definitely a low score for the organisation, if 15 minutes gap between tours is not enough, don’t be greedy trying to book as many tours as you can, just allow a proper experience, you are charging £18 after all!

Well, this is all for this year’s list but, especially if you are going to Bratislava and Vienna, the best advice we can give you is: go with an empty stomach, a big bag, and dirt-proof gloves. The bag is for the mugs the mulled wine comes in, as you can get your money back if you give them back, but you almost always end up keeping them, and you will be constantly trying food and your choices are either to make your gloves dirty or to freeze your hands if you eat without them! Merry Christmas,

Ms Lust

Wander & Lust’s Australia

Dear readers,

For this post we’ve decided to do something a little different, and while we are both writing on the same subject, we are describing different places. This is because we have decided to write a post about our favourite places in Australia, a country that we have both spent a considerable amount of time travelling around, albeit before we started travelling together. Australia is also the country where we first met, on a tour of the Red Centre, which you can read all about in our post here. So, as we spent our time travelling around different parts of the country, our choices for our favourite places are naturally different also. I’ve always had a list in my head of my top five places in Australia, which are, in no particular order, Sydney Harbour, The Blue Mountains, Katherine Gorge, Uluru and the Red Centre, and The Whitsundays. They are all very different to each other and I’ve never really had a definitive favourite, so I have decided to write this post about The Blue Mountains as it was the first of these places that I visited, and one of those that I have visited the most.

DSCF3107

The Blue Mountains National Park is in New South Wales, approximately 80 kilometres from Sydney. The national park covers over 1,000 square miles, and it is a section of the much larger Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The area is actually a large plateau that has been intersected by erosion from rivers, and not a mountain range as the name suggests. As such, the prominent features of the area are large flat plateaus divided by deep river valleys, all of which have been covered in thick vegetation. This made it a formidable barrier for the early European settlers in Australia, and it wasn’t until 1813 that the area was first successfully crossed and the lands to the west opened up for settlement. Rich resources of coal and shale were also discovered in the Blue Mountains, and activity soon started to extract these resources from the environment. The desire to settle and farm the land to the west of the Blue Mountains, coupled with the mining activity within the area, resulted in the origins of the roads and infrastructure that allow access to today’s visitors. Easily accessible from Sydney either by road or by train, the Blue Mountains is the perfect destination for a day-trip or weekend away from the city.

Whenever I had a weekend free, or even just a day, the Blue Mountains was always right up there at the top of my list of options. It is such a contrast to the city environments of Sydney or Newcastle, and a fantastic place to get in touch with nature. Despite it being a hugely popular tourist destination, it is still easy to find peacefulness and tranquility, and an escape from busy city life. Even from Newcastle, where I was living, the area is easily and cheaply accessed by the NSW train network, although it isn’t the quickest and takes about four hours each way. So I was quite happy to jump on a train to Katoomba, via Sydney, and spend a day or two hiking and exploring the area, and I’m also happy now to show you the wonderful places I found.

The Three Sisters

DSCF3138

This is the most famous and iconic Blue Mountains landmark, found just on the outskirts of the township of Katoomba. The Three Sisters are a rock formation of three pillars that have been carved from the sandstone by erosion, which now overlook the Jamison Valley. They are particularly striking as they catch the light from those typical Australian sunsets, and unsurprisingly this is when the lookout is busiest. Despite this, the lookout at Echo Point has been built large enough to accommodate this surge in visitors and never seems too crowded. Still, if you are looking for a bit more solitude and tranquillity, then it’s better to go earlier in the day. The lookout also provides a stunning view of the Jamison Valley, and I always found looking out into that vast wilderness very relaxing. It was always nice to just stand there and listen to the calls of the local wildlife, it’s far enough out of town that urban noise isn’t much of an issue here during the quieter times of day.

DSCF3131

If the view alone hasn’t quenched your appetite, it is possible to get up close and personal with Meehni, the first of the three pillars (her sisters are called Wimlah and Gunnedoo). Just behind the information centre is a walking track that takes visitors, via another lookout, to the Giant’s Staircase, a set of over 800 steps that have been carved into the rockface to take visitors down to the valley floor. Just a little way down the steps is a short raised walkway which ends at a small platform perched on the side of Meehni, and this is your chance to touch and feel the rock for yourself. You then have the option to either carry on down to the valley floor to walkways at the base of Scenic World (more on this shortly), or to retrace your steps back to the information centre and Echo Point.

Scenic World

Also just on the outskirts of Katoomba is Scenic World, another popular tourist destination. Here you can choose between three modes of transport (or do all three!) to explore the valley floor and nearby Katoomba Falls. The Scenic Skyway is a cable car that travels across the valley past Katoomba Falls, allowing a unique view of the waterfall that isn’t possible any other way. The Skyway also has a glass floor giving more unique views of the valley floor and the forest it holds. The trip across the valley is fairly short, after which you then have the choice to disembark and walk back or to continue on the Skyway for the return journey.

IMG_20170908_145230

Following this, the other two activities have been built to transport visitors to the valley floor and back up again. The Scenic Railway is your best bet for getting to the bottom, the steepest passenger railway in the world with an incline of 52 degrees! It really does feel like you are about to be lifted from your seat as you head down the steepest sections, and it was hard not to end up hanging onto the net covering the carriage as it sped through the trees. The train has been upgraded since I visited, the new train now has a fixed roof and seats which can be inclined through 20 degrees so that visitors can make the experience more or less terrifying to satisfy their thrill-seeking needs! Once at the bottom, and when your heart has stopped racing, there are walkways which take you around the valley floor and explain what it would have been like here during the mining days. The railway is also a relic from the mining activity here, originally constructed to haul the coal and shale up that had been mined out of the valley. These walks are also a great chance to get close to the local wildlife, in particular the elusive Lyrebird which can be spotted rummaging in the undergrowth. To get back up, the last of Scenic World’s options is the Scenic Cableway which is another cable car that takes visitors back to the visitor centre. On the way up it passes a large outcrop of rock quite closely, and allows one last chance for some spectacular views of the Jamison Valley.

Grand Canyon Track

DSCF3212

The Grand Canyon Track is a reasonably challenging walk that winds its way around the valley floor near Blackheath. It begins at Evan’s Lookout, which is worth a visit anyway for the views across the Grose Valley, and meanders for about four miles alongside Greaves Creek. The walk is definitely not for the inexperienced, yet not too challenging to deter most walkers and the rewards are certainly worth the effort. It really feels like you have been transported back to prehistoric times as you make your way past, and sometimes through, the dense vegetation that has flourished in the damp environment.

DSCF3207

Probably due to the amount of time required to complete the walk, allow at least four hours, there aren’t many other walkers about and I think I saw more wallabies than people on my hike! This adds to the feeling of isolation and tranquility, and it’s easy to form a good connection with nature here. Along the way there are a number of waterfalls and overhangs to further ignite your imagination and intrigue, and the creek is never too far from the track. Climbing back up to the lookout at the end of the track is easily the most challenging part of the walk, make sure you’ve saved some energy for this!

Wentworth Falls

DSCF0459

The last place on my list is Wentworth Falls, a spectacular waterfall near to the town of the same name. An easy walking track provides access to the waterfall from the car park, with fantastic views of the waterfall plunging into the valley below from Fletcher’s Lookout, about halfway along the track. The surrounding rock has been eroded in such a way that has created a natural amphitheatre, with the waterfall centre stage as the main attraction. Carry on to the end of the track, and here it is possible to get very close to the falls. A series of cascades that precede the waterfall itself lead into a natural infinity pool, all of which can be accessed and enjoyed to your heart’s content. If you’re lucky, you may even find some yabbies in the river as I did! The views of the river disappearing off of the end of the cliff are simply breathtaking, not to mention the cascades and the views of the valley as well.

DSCF0474

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of The Blue Mountains, and that it may have encouraged some of you to visit this wonderful place. I wish I were still able to visit whenever I wanted, as there is so much more to this area that I have yet to explore, but I am sure we will visit again next time we are in Australia and tick a few more items off of the list!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear readers,

As Mr Wander said already, this is a bit of a different post from our usual. Maybe because we are a bit nostalgic of Australia or maybe because we want to share a bit about our time before Wander met Lust, we decided to write a post in which we talk about different places, our favourite place in Australia. I have to be honest, for me it is extremely hard to choose my favourite place in this wonderful country, although I guess my soft spot for Uluru will make my heart slightly favour this place over all the rest. As we have already talked about this magical place in one of our previous posts that you can read here, I thought I would tell you about the city that was my home for three months: Adelaide.

Brighton beach (5)

Adelaide is the capital of South Australia and it was named after King William IV’s wife. The territory chosen for its settlement, near the River Torrens but not close enough to the sea, was criticised but its founder, Colonel Light, had a clear plan, he wanted a rectangular layout with perfectly perpendicular streets and he wanted the city to be completely surrounded by parklands. This plan is perfectly visible even now that the city has grown outside the parkland ring.

After a month in Sydney and one in Melbourne, Adelaide was my last chance to find a job, but I have to admit that I didn’t work too hard to find anything until then. Once we arrived in South Australia, my partner found a job in Gay’s Arcade and introduced me to his employers. I was lucky enough and they hired me as well, so we both ended up working there for a few months. The Arcade is quite interesting with nice places to eat and shopping, and the Caffè L’Incontro where we worked is a nice place to taste some good quality Italian food if you are around.

I was lucky to spend the end of summer and beginning of autumn in Adelaide and I could enjoy its beaches a bit and its parks a lot and I am totally in love with basically everything. The city itself is easy to cross on foot, probably only taking 30 minutes at the most from one corner to the other. The transport is quite nice as well, with a tram crossing the city vertically and arriving to the beach in Glenelg. Other nearby locations can be reached either by train or by bus, with also long distance connections by train, bus, and plane.

IMG_0240

There are so many places I would like to talk about, please forgive me if I end up talking about all of them on a very long post! Let’s see a bit what the city centre and its surroundings have to offer.

Museums

  • South Australian Museum. This museum is extremely interesting, with some very different exhibitions. From time to time they offer tours of specific sections and I was lucky enough to get into one and learn a lot about Aboriginal culture, not just through artifacts but also through language facts, which are always interesting for me. There are some recordings of lost languages as well and it is sad but wonderful to be able to have that kind of proof.
  • Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. This art museum promotes Aboriginal art and gives space to contemporary artists who mix traditional and modern techniques to express the wonderful culture of the Kaurna, the people of Adelaide. The name of the museum comes from the name the Kaurna used to call the Adelaide plains, the land of the red kangaroo.
  • Adelaide Botanic Gardens. A beautiful mix of flora and architecture, this park is, in the website’s words, “a living museum” and it is jaw-dropping. You can have a self-guided tour with the information available online or you can join a free tour that is on almost every morning at 10:30.
  • Adelaide Gaol. Adelaide is one of the few Australian cities that has no convict history, but the old jail is still worth a visit, on a normal tour or, I guess, for a ghost tour, if we consider that the prisoners executed there were also buried in the grounds of the jail. No longer in use, The Gaol is still a modern structure because, after all, the city was only founded in 1836, less than two centuries ago. It is not far from the city centre, but you may want to add it to your bike ride, as you can hire free bikes in Adelaide, here you can find all the information you need on Adelaide free bikes.
  • Aboriginal walks. The original culture seems still very strong in Adelaide and several activities can guide you to learn more about the Kaurna people and their culture. You can find some information here to take part in one of the walking tours, or you can do a self-guided tour by following these instructions to follow the steps of the Kaurna people.

Parks

  • Belair National Park. My favourite place to go to after a few hours of work, this place is half hour by train from Adelaide and it is nice for walking and exploring with different kind of tracks, but you also have a wide space for family activities, barbecues, horse riding, and celebrations. The access is free and allowed during daylight, although once I took the wrong path on my way back to the station and I found myself at dusk a couple of metres from a red kangaroo. They are cute and all, but wild kangaroos grow a lot taller than those you find in parks, which are also often females and therefore smaller. It was impressive and he was as startled as I was I guess, but he didn’t move at all, and rightly so, I was in his house. Let’s just say that after that evening I remembered exactly when to leave.
  • Hallett Cove Conservation Park. Another incredible park in the suburbs of Adelaide is Hallett Cove, inhabited for centuries by the landowners, the Kaurna people. Many artefacts were found and are now in the museum, but the park is not only famous for its archeological importance. Discovered by chance by a farmer who was looking for his sheep, the park is of great geological importance of different eras. Dating back to 600 million years, some rock folds are all that remains of an old mountain range.                                                                                          Hallett Cove Park (15)More recent but of inestimable value, is the Permian glacial pavement that dates back almost 300 million years, when Australia was united with Antarctica. This pavement shows the presence of the glaciers and their retreat. Last but not least, the Sugarloaf is a mountain that looks exactly like a sugar mount, hence the name. Its layers, now exposed by the erosion of the winds, tell the whole story of the area and the geological changes. This park is easily reached by bus and a short walk from the bus stop.
  • Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit. Mount Lofty is part of Adelaide Hills and what is left of the mountain range created in the Precambrian era that we have seen in Hallett Cove. Its summit is quite popular for its views of the city and now includes a modern café and visitor centre and some television towers. The walk from Waterfall Gully is also quite popular and a steep 4 km return hike. If you are not too confident of your capacity to complete it, you can do what I did and just reach the summit by bus and walk down. As I said, it is quite steep and you notice that even on the way down because your muscles will have to make a good effort anyway. The waterfall is worth the hike and it is a nice spot to stop and have a snack while you watch the wildlife going about.
  • Morialta Conservation Park. One of the most known parks in the area, Morialta is not only famous for hiking but also for climbing. Only 10 km away from the city centre, it is easily reached by bus. The park is also part of the same mountain range as Mount Lofty and has three falls and Fourth Creek and its name comes from the Kaurna word meaning “ever-flowing”. The views are incredible and the scenery is breathtaking to say the least, especially from the top and seeing the whole drop. I went in May when the rain has not given the falls all their strength and still I loved it!
  • Port Adelaide or Semaphore. Not really a park, they are nice coastal suburbs that can be reached by bus and offer the usual beach activities with a plus for my taste: boat tours of the bay and the chance to see the dolphins. Nearby is the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and it is a nice experience. It is not guaranteed that you spot these beauties during the trip but it is interesting to see the uses of the harbour and to learn a bit more about the area. Of course, when we spotted some dolphins on our way back we were all a lot happier.
  • Himeji Garden. This small Japanese garden is inside the city area and it is a present from the Japanese city of Himeji when it became Adelaide’s sister city. If you have visited other cities’ Japanese Gardens such as the ones in Sydney (or in Japan, of course!) you won’t be too surprised but this garden is quite beautiful in its simplicity and definitely worth a visit.

IMG_0239

Extras

  • Hahndorf. Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, this town is one of the top tourist attractions in the area. Built by Prussian emigrants, it guards its original architecture and has several restaurants serving German cuisine. I stopped at the German Cake Shop for strüdel and I highly recommend it, not only the cakes are scrumptious and all the food looks as good, but the place is also extremely nice, crammed in cuckoo clocks and decorative plates and beer steins. You will feel like the place is going to fall over you but it is also cozy at the same time. Walking about in the town you will find some extremely curious shops and attractions such as the fairy garden, try to make the most of your visit!
  • Glenelg. It is another suburb of the capital and a beach town. Close to the city, it is at the end of the tram journey from the city centre and it has quite changed over the years. I have to admit that I mainly went for the beach and nothing else, but the town is quite modern and vibrant and offers much more to see and to do. Just a geeky addition: Maybe you know it has been named after the Scottish name, but have you noticed that the name is palindrome? Yes, you can read it from both sides and it reads the same!
  • Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary. This park is currently closed but I am glad to find out that it will reopen in 2018. It was my favourite place and I used to take the bus to Aldgate, as I had no car and no other way of reaching it, and then walk for 45 minutes. I have to admit it was worth the effort every time and I ended up making friends with a grey kangaroo that was extremely cute, you can see our farewell chat here. The first time we ended up there it was because it is supposed to be one of the few places in Australia where chances to see a live platypus are around 75%. Platypuses are quite shy and not easy to spot, and I have to admit I was not successful at the first try, but the park used to offer a night package with accommodation, dinner, and walk at dusk and then we spotted them. The package was a great experience, sleeping in cabin in the woods, having a nice meal at the restaurant and being able to enjoy the park before opening time the morning after, not to mention waking up and finding a wallaby on your doorstep at dawn. Yes, the kookaburras were quite noisy but it is a fair price to pay. I hope the new owners keep the spirit of the park and I can’t wait to repeat my visit and, maybe, meet my kangaroo friend once again!

Now, dear readers, I am too nostalgic and I have to leave you or I will end up booking a plane ticket to Australia, but stay tuned!

Ms Lust

Our side of London

Dear travellers,

One year ago, we were just coming back from New Zealand and for me it was finally the chance to show my London to Mr Wander. There were a few places that I loved and a few from where I used to chat to him while relaxing on a stroll. Little by little, we managed to tick the list and we want to share our favourite spots with you. London is so big and full of offers for things to do to suit everyone, and you can find countless lists. If you are visiting for the first time, you may still want to do the usual things and I am not going to tell you not to, although in all my years here I still haven’t been to some of the not to miss places and I don’t feel like I am missing anything.

Museums

The main museums in London are free and you can spend hours in them. The temporary exhibitions are separate and you have to buy the tickets. The Natural History Museum is my favourite because of all the animals and natural things to learn. The building itself is nice and, when at full capacity, the main entrance is mind-blowing, with the giant skeleton of the diplodocus welcoming visitors before they meet Darwin on the main staircase. Dippy, as it is called, went on tour for a while and the building is undergoing some refurbishment, so at the moment the visit may be slightly disappointing. Also, there were talkings of replacing Dippy with the skeleton of the blue whale that is currently in one of the rooms. The plan is to sensibilise visitors on the species that are in current danger of extinction. Maybe, this will be what will greet you when the refurbishment is over. The section with stuffed animals is interesting although slightly disturbing. Due to the change of laws since taxidermy started, most of the specimens on display are fairly old and faded because of the long years on display under strong lights. One of the most recent is the panda near the cafeteria, a famous guest of the London Zoo, Chi Chi, that was stuffed when she passed away in 1972. 

If you happen to be in London on the last Friday of the month, do not miss their Lates. After regular closing time, part of the museum opens again at 6 p.m. and you can enjoy a drink while walking around the rooms in a dim light and have a slightly quieter experience. Another chance to see the museum under a different light is Behind the scenes tour. This visit will take you through the Darwin Centre and you can see some of the specimens not on display, such as the giant squid and specimens collected by Darwin. You need to book for this visit but it is definitely worth to do it.

The NHM is in South Kensington together with two other major museums, the Science Museum and the V&A. I am not a science geek, therefore I have never enjoyed the Science Museum too much, but I would still dedicate it a bit of time if I were you, most of the people I know love it and totally recommend it. The V&A is a difference story. I have not visited for the first three years, I was not curious at at all, and when I finally did, I regretted my previous decision. The museum is incredible, with splendid artwork from Asia that will totally seduce you. I had the chance to be invited to a talk after closing hours and those ceramics and silverware in dim light are incredibly beautiful, and so is the building itself.

I am not a big fan of the British Museum and I know that it is a debatable opinion, but I can’t think otherwise. The building is beautiful from outside, but once inside it feels completely different, too open, modern, and too similar to a warehouse. The collections are impressive, that is not the problem, but something is not right, those high ceilings give an idea of openness and space that is not actually reflected on ground level, the museum is too crowded, constantly, and feels oppressive. The Rosetta Stone is not to miss but easily missed. The symbol of translators, it is always surrounded by so many arms with phones trying to focus from every angle that it is almost impossible to see the stone. The same is said for the Egyptian section, it is hard to walk through and it feels as we were about to knock some precious artefact on the floor. They are basically all behind glass but the feeling is there nonetheless. If you have seen the Egyptian Museum in Turin you won’t miss too much.

The National Gallery is probably the most accessible because it is in Trafalgar Square. It is absolutely worth the visit. It covers some of the main artistic currents and it is a pleasure to walk in, both for the building and for the art exposed. Some paintings are the most famous and are always surrounded by many people with smart phones again, but most of my favourites are not among the most wanted, so I am lucky. One of my favourite paintings of all time is Leonardo’s Virgin of the rocks and for that there is no chance, cornered as it is in a small room, it is luckily big enough to overlook smartphones and reaching arms. The same can be said for Van Gogh’s section. I have often claimed Raphael as my ancestor, a bit joking but not with a bit of hope that the common surname and region of origin may mean something. Well, uncle’s paintings are often surrounded by enough quiet for me to always enjoy at least Pope Julius II’s portrait. As I love Caravaggio’s work and it is too dark and gloomy, I usually don’t have to fight too much so pop in to enjoy his masterpieces and say hi to Saint Jerome in the same room. You know, he is the patron saint of translators, I feel a visit is the least I can do when I am there. 

On the actual square, there are a few permanent things to see and a few that change, like the sculpture on the fourth plinth. For a long while, I remember a ship in a bottle, then a blue rooster. Currently, it shows a sculpture called Really Good by David Shrigley.

Walks

Embankment is my favourite spot, for a long time I went back there in the evenings to walk along the Thames and relax. It was a sort of therapy to reconcile with the city because, no matter how hard the day had been, the immense beauty of the landscape could soothe me and would remind me of why I loved the city. Start at Westminster station or Charing Cross and walk along the river on the north side, seeing the London Eye on the other shore. Reach the boundary dragons and then walk back a little to then walk up to Strand and pop in to the Twinings shop in 216 Strand, a narrow shop that has been there since the XVIII century and offers a wide selection of teas and coffees, tasting and recipe ideas, and some classes to be booked in advance. You can buy single bags of many varieties and find some exclusive ones that are not available in shops. You won’t regret it!

As I said, I love walking along the river, and the other shore is equally good, just more crowded. If you prefer, instead of starting at Westminster Bridge, walk a bit along Embankment before and cross on the following bridge to avoid the crowds around the aquarium and the London Eye. You should arrive just in front of some of the restaurants and, if you keep walking, you arrive at Waterloo station. There are so many things to see and beautiful spots to capture in your photographs along this side. You can walk up to Tower Bridge and get a few good shots of all the landmarks around there: HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge itself, and the Tower of London. At the moment, you also have some open bars near the bridge and if the weather is good you can enjoy a drink there. You will always also find a soft ice cream van and the little kiosks that sell caramelised peanuts, my favourite treat during the long London walks. 

IMG_5674

I have to admit I walk a lot, so maybe you don’t have to follow all my suggestions if you get tired very easily. If you are an explorer, instead, remember that it is said that you can walk around all London just hopping from one park to the other. Well, I have done a fair bit of that starting in Hyde Park, from Marble Arch or Wellington Arch, and ending up either in Hammersmith on one direction or in Vauxhall on the other. If you want more ideas, check out this article with some great walks. I have done most of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk and I love it.

Walking or not, there are two things I would tell you to visit in Earl’s Court if you are a fan:

Doctor Who’s Tardis is just outside the station, behind a kiosk. It is not open to visit (you would get lost), but you can take a picture before the Doctor leaves again;

– Freddie Mercury’s house in Logan Place. You cannot visit it, you can just see the wall with the love messages and the flowers. I cannot explain why, you just need to have grown up with Queen and will understand. I have been there several times and met nice people and bitter neighbours, but I love going back. As last time with Mr Wander we didn’t take a picture, here is a shot from 2015.

Tower of London and Ceremony of the Keys

The visit to the Tower of London is definitely worth it despite the high price of the ticket, but it takes a long time. If you decide to go, give it priority because it will take up most of the day. I am not a fan of jewels at all, and all those displayed there, all at once, are quite disturbing, but there are so many more sections of the tower that have so much story behind them, that it makes up for it. An alternative visit you can do is the Ceremony of the Keys. You can do both, as they are pretty different from one another, but you really need to plan the second one a lot better and in advance. The first time I went, it was not that known and the waiting list was three months, but last time I checked it was over a year!

It is something that stayed as it has been for hundreds of years, which means that photography is not allowed but that you can enjoy it fully. The Tower used to be a castle, then a prison, and is now a museum with incredibly valuable items to be preserved. Every night, the tower is locked by the guards and a small group of people is allowed to watch from a small distance and escorted by one of the Yeoman Warders. The protocol hasn’t changed apart from the monarch’s name and it is humbling to witness it. Before and after, the guide will explain a bit about the history of the tower and of the main (free or forced) visitors. That part is the same that you also have for the day tour, but the rest is nothing similar to it or any other tours. 

Check availability and save your confirmation because you will lose it if you have to wait one year before you use it! The ticket is free and there is just a small booking fee to pay online.

Food and drink

Don’t worry, this section won’t be an all Italian list, not only I am not a big fan of Italian cuisine over the rest, but I am able to cook fairly decently myself, therefore I prefer to have Italian food at home or in Italy and to enjoy other flavours when in the big city. If you follow my Instagram, you will know that I am a big fan of British pubs and their food, therefore I will give you my top three places in London.

It is no surprise that my favourite pub is along the Thames and near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the views are among the most beautiful you can have (and London is not short of them), the food has always been good, and they even accept bookings for groups. I never had problems when I tried to celebrate something there. Oh, wait, I haven’t given you the name yet! I am talking of the Founders Arms. On the side of the Tate Modern and a short walk from St Paul’s through the Millennium Bridge, the pub has an interesting menu that has changed a few times since the first time I went, and a good choice of beers; you won’t find my favourite, but their stout is not bad either. If you book, the table will be inside, but if you find available tables outside just go for them, few things beat relaxing with a pint looking at the beautiful skyline. Even I willingly sat outside for dinner in winter, that says it all!

If you are in the centre and fancy a bit of Irish atmosphere, my second favourite pub is your place: Waxy O’Connor’s. Just next to Piccadilly Circus, this pub is a huge wooden maze with several levels, countless steps, and furniture that recalls a gothic cathedral (including a confessional!). I booked there a few times as well, and it takes a while to find your table when you arrive, both because no one has any idea and whomever is sitting there usually takes the signs away hoping to be able to keep the table. The pub usually gets pretty busy and you will struggle to enjoy your drinks if you don’t have a table. The prices are what you can expect in central London and the food is average, I just love the actual ambiance and decor of the place, especially the huge tree climbing several levels along the staircase.

If you are going for a more elegant night, the Madison is the place for you. It is the sort of place where you won’t be allowed in if you are wearing trainers, so plan your outfit accordingly if you are thinking of going there. The prices are not scary as you can imagine for a rooftop bar overlooking St Paul’s. You have the main bar and restaurant with sofas in front of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, the terrace with the incredible views, and another bar with no seats inside mainly to serve the terrace.

Now a few tips before leaving you:

– Register your Oyster card (or your contactless card if you pay with that instead) on the TfL website or you are likely to be charged extra. I have used my Oyster all the years I have been living in London, but now I only go once every 6-7 weeks and I use my contactless card. Before registering, Mr Wander and I got charged different amounts a few times, but the refunds were immediate when we finally remembered to register.

– Walk or use the bus when you can. At peak times, some stations are so crowded that it takes ages to even reach the train, let alone getting on it. Also, some stations are so huge that you may end up walking for almost ten minutes inside the station itself, so you may as well do it outside.

– It may seem obvious but few people seem to keep these two things in mind: use bags that you can close and remember to fasten them against rain and pickpockets, and stand on the right and walk on the left in escalators.

Looking forward to our next trip to London to discover more places, stay tuned!

Ms Lust

***

Dear readers,

When we were originally planning our return to the UK, it seemed like the obvious choice that we would return where Ms Lust had been living previously, London. As it turned out, this wasn’t to be the case, and we ended up living in Cambridgeshire instead, but we still travel down to London regularly to see friends. I’d never been a fan of London, it has always seemed too crowded for me, but I have to say that I have enjoyed it a lot more having Ms Lust to show me around her favourite spots. So, here are some of our favourite places that we have visited in the past year in London, in no particular order.

20160829_142202

National Gallery

This was the most recent of our visits, and was only decided upon in the spur of the moment, on the tube on the way there to be precise! We were travelling to London for some chores and to meet friends, but we had a few hours spare in between to fill. As we were going to be near Trafalgar Square anyway, the National Gallery seemed like a good choice. I’m not much of an art aficionado and I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it that much, however I was very mistaken and the two hours we spent there just flew by. I’m glad I had Ms Lust with me to act as my guide as the place is like a maze, I would definitely have been lost in there for days if I had been on my own!

I’m not going to try and describe the works that are there, as I would only end up embarrassing myself and it’s probably better if you look it up or, even better, go and see it for yourselves. Anyhow, I’m sure Ms Lust will provide a brief commentary on the main masterpieces. To begin with, it seemed to be just portrait paintings, mainly of a religious vein, which were not too dissimilar to those that we had seen in the Vatican City and not really my taste in art. I’m more of a landscape art fan and happily these types of paintings began to feature more and more as we worked our way through the museum. The museum is set up so that if you follow the suggested route, you will be working your way through history and the associated periods and styles of artwork. We missed the first section and possibly a chunk in the middle, but we still managed to see at least two-thirds of the museum in the couple of hours that we spent there. I was also quite glad that it wasn’t too busy, despite it being a rainy Saturday during the school summer holidays, and there was only a few crowds of people near the most popular artworks, such as the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci. Elsewhere there was plenty of visitors, but it was quiet enough that you could still make your way around the museum in comfort. If you’re looking for something to do for a couple of hours, whether on a rainy day or just to fill some time, I’d definitely recommend giving the National Gallery a go. Who knows, you may even surprise yourself like I did!

Natural History Museum lates

20170224_204149

The Natural History Museum has always been on my wish list of places to visit in London, and when I found out about their late night openings I was even more determined to go. Occurring on the last Friday of every month, the museum stays open beyond its usual closing time and the doors aren’t shut until 10pm. I’m still yet to have visited the museum during the daytime so I cannot make any comparisons between the two, all I can say is that it was a lot more relaxed and quieter than I would expect it to be during the day. Drinks and snacks are available for the evening session, which adds to the relaxed atmosphere as people stroll around the exhibits whilst enjoying a glass of red.

Our visit was just a little too late to be able to see Dippy the Diplodocus before he embarked on his nationwide tour, and his temporary replacement, Hope the Blue Whale, had not yet been given her new home. Nevertheless there was still plenty to see and do and we ended up spending a good couple of hours exploring the museum, and we now have a perfect excuse for a follow-up visit! It isn’t quite Night At The Museum, but it’s close, and it’s a fantastic way to meet with friends for a drink or two and hopefully learning a few things along the way.

Ceremony of the Keys

20160808_155443

Until only recently, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where in the city you would find the Tower of London, so I certainly had never visited before. Almost as soon as we had decided that we would be leaving New Zealand and returning to the UK, Ms Lust jumped on the internet and started looking into booking tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys. This ceremony is an ancient tradition that has taken place here since the 14th century, in which the keys of the Tower of London are brought out for the gates to be locked for the night. Nowadays it is possible for members of the public to witness the ceremony taking place, and a limited number of tickets are made available each day. The tickets are free (with just a small booking charge applicable) however it is necessary to book well in advance, especially if you are planning to include it as part of a holiday to London. We booked in July 2016 and the earliest tickets we could get were for February 2017, the website currently advises that the ceremony is fully booked for almost a year!

The ceremony is not particularly long, the entire event takes just over 30 minutes and includes some storytelling about the tradition, and it takes place entirely outside, so it is necessary to wrap up warm and to be prepared for rain (this is the UK after all!). I won’t go into describing the ceremony itself too much, photography is not permitted in order to preserve its heritage and uniqueness so I think describing it in detail would be just as damaging, all I will say is that it is a wonderful experience and a taste of true ‘Britishness’. Reputedly one of the oldest surviving ceremonies of its kind, having been enacted every night for over 700 years, you won’t find many more chances to witness history like this.

20170207_221525

As we had booked tickets for a weekday and had to come to London after work, we only had time to arrive in time for the ceremony itself. Due to the nature of the ceremony, all the guests are subsequently escorted out of the Tower of London via a side gate at the end so I still need to come back one day to visit properly!

Hyde Park

We’ve been here together a number of times now, for a variety of reasons, but the most important reason for mentioning Hyde Park comes before any of those. It was a photo that Ms Lust took in Hyde Park, while enjoying a day off work, that really ignited our existing friendship and led us to where we are now. I was still living in New Zealand at this point and it was from this photo that we started chatting a lot more and I eventually convinced her to come and join me. The rest of this story has already been told, you can find it here if you need to fill in the gaps!

Ever since my first trip to London with my family when I was young, Hyde Park has always been my favourite of London’s parks. I’m not sure if it’s the size that impressed me, the variety of landscapes, or both, but whatever it was has stayed with me and, if anything, is stronger now than it has ever been. The park is vast and provides an excellent area for walking, running, cycling etc., while the kiosks beside The Serpentine are great places to grab a quick lunch to enjoy by the water. There really is something for everyone here, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for an hour or two.

Battersea

Battersea always conjures up two images in my head, the power station that became a national icon after the campaign to save it from demolition, and Battersea Dog’s Home which found fame as one of reality TV’s early stars. Despite this, I had never been to Battersea or even seen the power station from across the river, so when Ms Lust asked me to choose where we should go in London one day, Battersea sprung to mind. After a bit more research we discovered that Battersea Park is also well-renowned, so we added that to the list as well.

After getting off of the tube at Vauxhall, and taking a few clandestine photos of James Bond’s London office, we opted to walk along the river to Battersea. This turned out to be a mistake, as the power station is currently being redeveloped and a lot of the walkway has been closed due to the associated construction work. Forced to walk through back-streets and housing estates instead, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the power station. Swathed in scaffolding and construction site fences, while the famous chimneys battle with cranes for air superiority, it’s certainly no longer the symbol of industry that it once was. Destined to become expensive apartments and a swanky new shopping complex, a small part of me wishes Fred Dibnah had had his way all those years ago. In my mind this wonderful building should have been turned into a museum, preserving its dignity and honouring its past, not degraded into becoming a showpiece for the privileged few.

We continued on to Battersea Park, however after our long walk to get that far we weren’t in the mood for exploring too much more. So we sat for a little while by the lake and had a bite to eat before catching a bus back across the river. The park was pleasant and seemed to be a popular place to visit, but Battersea had already been ruined for me and I won’t be hurrying back there any time soon.

Waxy O’Connors

We’ve been to a number of pubs in London but this is the one that has really stuck in my mind. An Irish bar located in Soho, this place is truly unique. The inside is a maze of bars, rooms, and staircases, all appearing as if they had been carved out inside a tree. I would not have been at all surprised to have seen a few Hobbits or Goblins enjoying a drink, it really did give the impression that it is straight out of a movie. I’m again thankful for having had Ms Lust as my official guide, it is possible I could have been lost here for days as well! We only stopped for a quick afternoon drink, however I would love to come back here for St Patrick’s Day, the atmosphere must be incredible.

Tardis

DSCF1823

For all the Doctor Who fans out there, London is home to a must-see. Amongst all of London’s quirky police paraphernalia, such as Britain’s smallest police station on Trafalgar Square, remains one of the last few surviving police call-boxes. That’s right, if you want to see a real-life Tardis all you have to do is pop over to Earl’s Court, and take a short walk out of the tube station. I was expecting it to be more popular than it seemed, anticipating a small queue of fans waiting for a photoshoot, but we were the only ones there that seemed to be even vaguely interested in it. Definitely worth a quick stop or a detour if you are in the area.

That’s all for now, but with more trips to come there’ll be additions to the list in the near future.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!

Dear readers,

It has been almost a year now since we returned to the UK from New Zealand, and in this time we have spent many wonderful weekends and holidays exploring the island that we now call home. The bank holiday weekends are a perfect opportunity to venture a little further away from home without having to take any extra days off from work, and this post is all about our trip to Portsmouth and Winchester during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in May. It was only about a week before the actual bank holiday that we realised that we hadn’t yet booked anything, and I quickly went about searching for places we could visit. Originally we set our sights on Durham, I had found available accommodation and knew that it is a beautiful city to explore. However, on the very next day, the news headlines were full of stories claiming that the bank holiday weekend was set to see some excellent sunny weather, and the weather forecasts were all similarly upbeat. So that was all it took, the plans were quickly changed, and we found and booked accommodation in Portsmouth instead, ready for our first British seaside weekend. Unfortunately, with about two days to go, the outlook changed and it seemed that the prospect of an early start to summer had been a little optimistic. The weather forecasts, as they invariably do, had made some swift u-turns and were now predicting a very wet weekend. Still, it was now too late to change our plans again, so we prepared for the worst and devised some plans for making the most of the weekend.

20170528_185644

A final check of the weather report before we left home showed that the wet weather wasn’t due to hit the south coast until mid-afternoon, so we had a brief window to try and fit in as much “seasideness” as possible! A trip to the British seaside could never be complete without tucking into some fish and chips on the beach, ideally without being washed away! As we would be arriving around lunchtime, that looked like the perfect way to start the weekend. After much research, a suitable fish and chip shop had been found and we made a beeline straight there after having checked in at our accommodation. Only a short walk to the seafront, it gave us plenty of time to arrive at the beach before the storm, which was now visibly approaching on the horizon. Although I’ll never turn down the opportunity to have fish and chips anywhere, it always seems so much better at the seaside. I’m not even sure that the quality of the fish is any different, it is the smell and sounds of the sea that just makes it seem like a more authentic experience. Juggling the tasks of eating and guarding your food from greedy seagulls, accompanied by the soundtrack of screams from individuals brave/stupid enough to go into the sea, brings back so many memories from my childhood, and I was extremely happy to be able to now share this experience with Ms Lust. We managed to finish our lunch on the beach without any sudden downpours or unwanted attention from the local seabird population, but it was now very clear that the rain wasn’t far away.

South Parade Pier was just a couple of hundred metres further along the beach so we decided to head there for another British seaside tradition, the amusement arcades. Happily we are both suckers for the two-penny machines and we were content to spend an hour or so playing with these while the weather battered the coast. Once we had become bored of the amusements, we ventured back outside to find the rain still coming down heavily. As there was an ice cream shop conveniently located next door, and under the same canopy so there was no need to go out into the rain, we popped in here for an ice cream, we were determined to stick to seaside traditions even if the weather wasn’t! It was clear by the time that we had finished our ice creams that the rain wasn’t likely to stop any time soon, so we donned our waterproofs (another British tradition, never leave home without them!) and walked back to where we were staying. Both tired from the day spent travelling and a heavy lunch, we ended up falling asleep for a few hours and were delighted to find the sky a lot less foreboding when we woke up.

Up until this point, having spent all of our time in the suburb of Southsea, Portsmouth hadn’t felt any different to me than just another generic British seaside town with nothing to really set it apart from anywhere else. However, as we walked along the seafront to Portsmouth harbour, and its plethora of bars and restaurants, it was clear to see that I had been wrong. The first glint of hope had come as we walked past Southsea Castle, a coastal fort dating back to the 16th century. We didn’t have time to visit the castle but the walk past was pleasant enough for it to stick in my memory, the surrounding parkland provides an excellent distraction from the nearby reminders of the tackier side of the British seaside. The real treat was still yet to come, and as Portsmouth’s harbour came into view I immediately realised I had been too quick to judge. The area has clearly been recently modernised and redeveloped, into a vibrant waterside complex. There are bars and restaurants everywhere, but not in any way overwhelming, and the most impressive of these is the Spinnaker Tower, which must have incredible views from the viewing decks and restaurant at the top. We also weren’t able to enjoy this ourselves as we had a dinner reservation to get to, and the weather still wasn’t great and would have limited the view, but it is definitely something I would like to do if we went back to the area. As I said, we had reservations, at the Loch Fyne restaurant. Being a national chain and fairly well known, I won’t go into too much detail about it, all I will say is that we had a fantastic meal and would definitely eat at Loch Fyne again whenever we get the chance.

After dinner, we went for a bit more of a stroll around the harbour before deciding on a suitable place for an after dinner drink. Although we weren’t too sure whether it was a pub or a brewery from its outside appearance, we decided on The Old Customs House and we couldn’t have made a better choice. The exterior was fairly plain and unimpressive, hence our confusion, yet the interior felt more like something that should be found in a stately home. A large double staircase greeted us as we entered and we made our way through to the bar. The bar area is separated into a number of rooms, each resembling a library or a drawing room. The room we chose had only four tables in it, with armchairs and stools dotted around, which made it feel very cosy and homely, and it was the perfect place for a relaxing, after-dinner drink. As we left, we had to decide whether to walk back to our accommodation and brave the weather, or to see if we could figure out where and when to get a bus back. In the interests of simplicity we decided to walk, and fortunately it only rained lightly during the half hour or so that it took. We took a more direct route back, through Portsmouth’s university area, which gave an interesting insight into the nightlife of Portsmouth. I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but it actually seemed like a really cool place to go for a night out, and there didn’t appear to be much trouble or fighting going on. Certainly not what I had anticipated from a naval town such as this!

The following day, we decided that we had probably seen the best of Portsmouth already and that, as it still wasn’t ideal beach weather, we would head to Winchester after having had breakfast. We looked up where would be best for breakfast in Portsmouth, and on arrival to The Parade Tea Rooms the queue suggested that it had a well-earned reputation. Unfortunately, the food didn’t live up to the hype and I can only really judge it as satisfactory, certainly not anything to write home about. This wasn’t helped by being seated directly under the air conditioning and next to a very loud, large group, and we were quite happy to be leaving once we had finished eating. Refuelled, we then hit the road again and made the 50 minute journey to Winchester, of course taking the more scenic route through the South Downs National Park.

DSC00275

On arriving in Winchester, we found somewhere to park and set about exploring the city. There are a number of suggested self-guided walking tours of the city and we initially began with one of those. The first stop was the magnificent Winchester Cathedral, which houses the equally magnificent Winchester Bible. Believed to have been commissioned in 1160, it is considered to be the greatest Bible ever made in England. Each page features vivid, detailed illustrations and historiated initials, although the illustrations were never completely finished. At the time of our visit, the area of the cathedral where the Bible is usually housed was undergoing restoration, and a temporary home for it had been provided. It was still possible to see the Bible behind its glass casing, and some of the most colourful and impressive illustrations had been recreated on wall banners around the room. Its new home, when completed, will provide visitors with even more information about the Bible and a better viewing platform for it, while the Bible itself is also undergoing restoration and rebinding.

The cathedral’s other claim to fame is that it is the final resting place of Jane Austen, she passed away in July 1817 after travelling to Winchester to seek medical help. At the time of her death, she was mostly unknown as a writer and many of her novels were still yet to be published. Because of this her funeral was a very low-key affair with only four attendees, and her original gravestone makes no mention of her writings. This has now been resolved with a brass plaque on the wall opposite her grave, paid for by her nephew in 1870 from the proceeds of his memorial to his aunt. Above this, a stained glass window was also erected in her memory in 1900, which was paid for by public donations.

The one feature of the cathedral that has really stuck in my mind is the crypt, one of the earliest sections of the cathedral which would have been built in the late 11th century. The crypt itself isn’t open to visitors, but there is a small viewing platform which can be reached via a few stone steps. You are then presented with an eerie scene, as a sculpture of a man looking into his hands has been placed in the middle of the crypt. Due to the cathedral having been built on land which is very prone to waterlogging, the crypt often floods during rainy periods and the water can reach as far up as the waist of the sculpture. Fortunately it was dry when we visited and it was possible to see the full extent of the crypt, despite the rain that had scuppered our beach plans! In the early 1900’s, the cathedral was in danger of being completely destroyed due to it’s waterlogged foundations, and is only standing today due to the immense efforts of a diver named William Walker. Brought in to help with work to underpin the cathedral’s foundations after large cracks started to form throughout the cathedral, he spent six years working underwater to excavate the existing foundations and to place concrete sacks to strengthen and seal them. Only once he had completed this task could the water be pumped out and further work completed to safeguard the cathedral from subsidence and subsequent collapse. In honour of his efforts, there is a statue of William Walker in the cathedral along with his diving helmet.

DSC00283

On leaving the cathedral, we had a quick walk around the Dean Garnier Garden. Situated just beside the cathedral, it was a pleasant distraction for about fifteen minutes but as neither of us are particularly horticulturally-minded we didn’t linger for too long. We continued our stroll and then came across Wolvesey Castle, also known as the Old Bishop’s Palace. Built for one of the old Bishops of Winchester, it has now been reduced to ruins and is in the care of English Heritage. Entry is free and there are some information panels dotted about to help understand the functions of each room. There isn’t too much to see here, but it’s definitely worth spending an hour to visit.

Following this we felt that we had managed to see the major attractions in Winchester, so we continued our walk along the river until it brought us back into the city centre. All that walking had given us an appetite, so it was definitely now time for lunch! We found a nice pub for lunch, which was then followed by a final walk through the rest of the city centre to bring us back to where we had parked the car.

DSC00299

So that basically brings us to the end of our trip to the British seaside. Unfortunately it wasn’t as ‘seasidey’ as we would have liked, but I think we’ve both been in the UK long enough now to not rely on the weather too much. We still managed to have a great weekend despite the rain, and I’m certainly looking forward to returning to this part of the country again at some point, hopefully with the sun shining!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

A very famous Italian song says something like “winter at the beach is an concept that the mind cannot conceive”. I find my strength in water, but I have never understood the beauty of visiting the seaside in winter and I have always quoted this song to those that claim that the beach in winter is extremely romantic. If you go to the beach, you need to be able to dive, snorkel, pretend you know how to do synchronised swimming, and all those things of the same style that tell everyone that you are an adult only according to your passport.

With this introduction, please feel free to ask what on earth I had in mind when I suggested to go to the seaside for May bank holiday when I knew it was going to rain. The answer will be that I have no idea. The previous week was incredibly hot and that, in a Sardinian brain, equals going to the beach, and so we did. We packed our flip flops and sandals, our strapless tops and dresses (or whatever Mr Wander’s version of that is), and we drove down to Portsmouth for the weekend to have a full British seaside experience. Of course, that also includes torrential rain. Anyway, let’s not go that far yet.

As usual, Mr Wander took care of the booking and found one of the best places we have been in so far. According to AirBnb, it was a lucky find as it is usually booked. The room was huge, with a very tall but comfy bed and all one can wish for, namely a dresser with mirror and a majestic bow window. The bathroom was tiny, more reminiscent of the ones that you find in a boat than of anything else, but it was brand new and with a decent size shower enclosure, so no problem at all. There was also a small separate kitchen with all the essentials and, in hindsight, we should definitely have had breakfast there, as the place we choose was disappointing to say the least.

As we arrived just before check-in time, we just left the car there and left for exploring. Lunch was sorted, if we want to say so, as we were planning on having fish and chips on the beach just before the storm. We headed to the Southsea roundabout where our research said we could find one of the best fish and chip places in town. Well, all I can say is that:

IMG_9103

While waiting for the food, just in front of the shop is a mural with the map of the city. it is an interesting project that was unveiled in 2012 and uses the technique of the trompe l’œil (literally, trick the eye). From a balcony at the top, a few people unroll a map of the city with some of the business listed. Around the map, more characters that are famous for the city (the founder and other renowned people), pop in from the windows or the street. Some important British people, such as most recently Henry VIII and Robin Hood, are painted in the likeness of Portsmouth residents. I say most recently because the peculiarity of this mural is that it is an ongoing work of art, with characters and places added every year.

We got our lunch and we headed to the sea, as the sky seemed to be holding off for the moment. We had time to enjoy our fish and chips while trying to understand what the huge platforms were that we could see offshore, but we had to leave soon after as it was starting to rain. We went to the arcade, the seaside quintessential attraction. We tried to win a cuddly toy, we played at the 2p machines for a while, and we left with some tokens in our pockets that were not even enough for a Chupa Chups. At this point, it was raining without mercy and we just walked next door to have a handmade ice cream at the Ice Cream Emporium. We chose it because we didn’t want to get wet but we didn’t regret it. The place is tiny, with a decent choice of flavours. All in white and aquamarine tones, it is decorated with ropes and boat-like gizmos that make it quite happy. At the back there are a few tables in perfect 1970’s American diner style. We could have probably stayed there for a while longer but the rain was not showing any sign of wanting to end soon, so we gathered all our courage and left anyway. We were less than 10 minutes walk from the accommodation and we tried to be as fast as we could. We were a bit tired after the trip and the undesired shower and we just fell asleep for the whole afternoon. We may have not explored too much, but we woke up to a sort of clear sky.

We decided to try our luck again and we walk to the harbour for dinner, also because we wanted to see a bit of this island city. Oh, yes, do you know that Portsmouth is the UK’s only island city? We hadn’t planned any cultural visit, we are not ashamed of admitting it, but now we feel we should go again for a bit of visiting rather than just relaxing. We just went for a walk along the coast and had a glimpse of the castle while walking to Gunwharf Quays. We had booked a table at Loch Fyne and we had plenty of time. The Quays are pretty distinctive, as they are modern and crammed with restaurants and pubs, but the most surprising feature is the Spinnaker Tower that makes you feel like you are in Dubai for a moment. Almost in front, is a huge figurehead from the HMS Marlborough. This figurehead represents the Duke of Marlborough and was used on the ship built in the second half of the XIX century. After being the flagship of the fleet for many years, the ship passed to be used for training engineers and then for the Torpedo School. When the ship was broken up in 1924, the figurehead was placed in its current position and, with the Spinnaker Tower on its side, it provides a perfect shot in perspective.

I have to admit that I often avoid restaurant chains and I usually prefer to go to local pubs. Probably because I have worked in a few places of this kind and I know that quality doesn’t come automatically with the name of a chain, I’d rather try small businesses and independent restaurants. For this reason, I had never been to any Loch Fyne in all my years in the UK. I am glad I trusted Mr Wander this time, because we had a really nice dinner. As it had stopped raining and it was not supposed to start again before 10 p.m., we wanted to sit outside, but we had to go inside anyway for dinner, and that was the only downside of the night, I would say. Before actually ordering for dinner, we had a Spritz outside enjoying the nice quiet between storms.

The dinner was good in general, but I have to say that my happiness arrived with dessert. By rule, you know, I don’t trust pubs that don’t offer sticky toffee pudding, but I am more flexible with restaurants, they can offer Eton Mess instead. Well, they did and I loved it, the cream was simply scrumptious! Mr Wander opted for whisky instead, in preparation for our tour of Scotland.

After dinner, hoping for a longer truce from the weather, we went for another drink at the Old Customs House, a pub just in front of the restaurant with a huge terrace and also plenty of space inside, definitely our choice as it was starting to become quite chilly. The building was used as the administrative headquarters of HMS Vernon until the late 1980s and dates back to 200 years earlier. When it was acquired by Fullers, it was not refurbished until 2012, when it went through a massive renovation in record time. As it is now, the place shines without having lost any of the old style fashion. With a huge double staircase to go to the toilets and a few small rooms with comfy sofas and armchairs apart from the main rooms with the bars, the pub makes you think of one of those gentlemen clubs that you imagine when reading Sherlock Holmes adventures. The atmosphere, together with their selection of beers, made us immediately agree that we made the right choice, judge for yourselves:

IMG_9847

The walk home was not bad, even if it started raining, as it was not much. Despite the cultural offer, we were not keen on staying in Portsmouth the following day after breakfast, and we decided to go to Winchester. Before leaving, we stopped for breakfast at The Parade Tea Room and we regretted it quite a lot. The place was full with a queue at the door but, as everyone was waiting for big tables, we could sit down immediately because they had one for two people. After all my work in restaurants I should have known better: If a place is full, don’t stay, the service and food will be bad. I didn’t listen to my experience and we ended up with a horrible breakfast. The room does not receive enough fresh air, therefore the air conditioning was trying to compensate by blowing cold air in the corner. The result was that the quality of the air was still bad and we had to eat with our jackets on. The wait was as we were told but the food was far below average. I had the vegetarian breakfast and the sausage was dry and tasteless, probably reheated a few times, definitely not fresh. The toasts came already buttered, which is a horrible habit. I understand you don’t want to waste your butter by putting some on each plate, but I don’t want butter on my toast, so I should be informed and given the choice. The egg was dry and overcooked. The cutlery was dirty, with old food stuck all over it, and after changing two knives and a teaspoon from the self-service desk, we gave up. To complete the picture, the need for tables was so bad that they were obviously trying to take stuff away as soon as possible to make people leave. Overall, definitely a thumbs down and I place I would never suggest!

We drove to Winchester without really knowing too much because, as I said, we didn’t really plan to go there. The place was a great surprise, I loved it very much and I was quite relaxed at lunchtime when we chose a pub that seemed not too bad but, as the rest, seemed to have suffered from a shortage of staff during the bank holiday. The main feature of the city is the Cathedral without any doubt, and a visit to it won’t disappoint you in the least. The cathedral is undergoing some major refurbishment but even with some parts being closed, it still takes your breath away. Pure Gothic style, the building dates back to XI century and is the longest Gothic Cathedral in Europe. The stone vault is more recent as it replaced the wooden ceiling in XIV century and it creates an incredible perspective that goes from the main nave to the choir, a beautifully chiselled wooden structure that, at the time of our visit, was used by the Danish choir for practice for the evening concert. We sat for a while, listening to them, before resuming our visit. Several famous people are buried in the cathedral, but no one deserved in my eyes more interest than Jane Austen. The author moved to the city hoping to find a solution for her condition but passed away soon after and was buried there. Her nephew, later, dedicated a plaque to her recognising her talent and her work.

One of the most important features of the cathedral is the Winchester Bible, a precious copy of the Bible in four volumes that dates back to XII century. Written by a single scribe, it was decorated by several artists with illuminations, which are decorations made with gold and silver leaves, and precious stones. For the fact of being the largest and best preserved example, the specimen is extremely precious and it is kept in special display cases that keep constant temperature and light. To protect the volume on display, photography is not permitted, but you can find out more about it and the rest of the cathedral on their website. The Bible is usually on display on the right side of the transept but that area is currently closed for refurbishment and the book now has its installation on the left, near the crypt. Here, a modern exhibition features a life-size statue of a man looking at the water in his hands. The crypt gets submerged during rainy months and offers a peculiar mirror effect.

Next to the cathedral and offering a beautiful view of it, there was a monastery and what was the monks’ dormitory is now the Dean Garnier Garden, a walled garden maintained by volunteers and open to the public. A short walk away from the cathedral is Wolvesey Castle, also known as Old Bishop’s Palace, a medieval castle that was the residence of the Bishop of Winchester for a few centuries up to the English Civil War. The building doesn’t exist anymore and the ruins of the ground floor are now an English Heritage site that can be visited for free. As the ruins are near the river, a short walk along the water will take you to the city centre again and took us to our late lunch at about 4 p.m.

That was all for our first trip of the year to the glorious British seaside and we are still waiting to repeat the experience. I am actually longing for some sea water on my feet but the weather doesn’t seem keen to cooperate. Will we be able to repeat before we go to Cornwall? Stay tuned to our profiles to find out!

Ms Lust

Stately homes and castles – part 1

Dear travellers,

We were planning this post for a while, but we were not sure how to shape it. As we have several visits still planned and we didn’t want to cramp too much information all in one post, we decided to split it into a series and to post as we go so to say.

I guess you have already seen our general post with the links to all the openings. I have to admit that we didn’t go to any of the first openings as these usually are very crowded, and also we have been busy on other trips for most of the spring, so we are now trying to fit in as much as we can before some of the homes close for winter. But let’s go back to our main subject and start with our first visit, for this post we will have little paragraphs divided as usual in two points of view. Please, follow us in our tour!

Kimbolton Castle

DSCF1837

We’ll start with the closest to home, which for us is Buckden Towers, located in Buckden, Cambridgeshire. Replacing a previous wooden structure from the 12th century, the current brick building dates from as far back as 1475 although some parts have been added more recently. Looking like a cross somewhere between a castle and a stately home, it must have been a formidable fortress when it still had its original moat.

There have been many notable visitors to this site, many monarchs included, and this area has a lot of connections with Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. This is where she was first held during their famous divorce before being moved to nearby Kimbolton Castle, which we will get to shortly. Unfortunately the building is not open to the public, however the grounds are open every day during daylight hours and it is free to enter. The coaching inn next door, The Lion Inn, dates from a similar period and it is entirely possible that King Henry VIII may have stopped here for a drink during one of his stays at Buckden Towers! Still providing accommodation and refreshment to travellers and locals alike, I would highly recommend The Lion Inn for lunch, dinner, or just a drink if you are in the area.

Kimbolton Castle, Catherine of Aragon’s next and final home, is unfortunately not as accessible. Currently owned and used by Kimbolton School, the building is only open to the public on two open days held during the year, usually one in March and the other in November. As it spends the vast majority of the year as a school, the interior of the building is understandably lacking in the fine art and treasures that you would normally expect to find in an English stately home. However that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit, as the volunteers that organise the open days provide some very interesting insights into the history of the house, both through guided mini-tours and informative displays. Some of the rooms of the house also warrant a visit even without any artefacts to bolster their appeal, most notably the chapel, the courtyard, and the Headmaster’s Office (originally the room that Catherine of Aragon was kept in). Unfortunately the weather wasn’t being too kind when we visited, and we weren’t able to fully explore the grounds without risking an unexpected shower. I’m sure we’ll be back for another one of their open days to finish off the tour!

***

This stately home, as many of them do, has an interesting history. It was originally built as a Norman castle but nothing of that remains today. The actual town of Kimbolton was built as a marketplace for the castle and still thrives. The Tudor castle that was built afterwards had some famous guests, Catherine of Aragon being probably the most known. The current building partly saved the building the queen lived in but has mainly been rebuilt and is now a school. It usually opens a couple of times a year and the volunteers are eager to tell you everything about the history and the ghosts!

On the left of the entrance, where is now the Headmaster’s office, were Catherine of Aragon’s chambers. The Queen, who was married to Henry VIII for 24 years, never accepted to be called “Dowager Princess of Wales”, the only title that the King would accept for her as his brother’s widow. Before being confined to Kimbolton, she stayed a few months in another building very near to us, Buckden Towers.

Going back to Kimbolton, as I said, the building is quite modern and keeps evolving with the times in order to provide an adequate environment for the students, and several of the rooms have been modified. The old servants area still presents some of the old features, including some old windows, although some that were external are now part of the internal walls due to the extensions added to the building. In the internal court, some of the hooks for the buckets used to extinguish fires are still visible but are now just part of the decorations.

Do not miss one of the next opening days:

Sunday 5 November 2017, 1-4pm

Sunday 4 March 2018, 1-4pm

Burghley House

DSCF2003

The first true stately home that we visited, Burghley House is a grand mansion just north of Peterborough. Built during the Elizabethan period of the 16th century, it is a very good example of the large homes of this period. The house is still lived in today by the Cecil family, so not all of it is open to the public however there is still a large number of rooms that can be viewed. The tour of the house starts in the kitchen, which has been recreated into a scene of life in Tudor times. From here you are taken upstairs and through the main body of the house. The rooms that are open to the public are mainly state rooms used by guests, most notably the rooms that Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria used on their visits to the estate. As would be expected, the rooms are furnished beautifully and filled with many fine artworks and artefacts, although it has a more functional atmosphere than more extravagant places such as Waddesdon Manor.

The tour of the house didn’t take as long as expected, as not all of it is accessible, and we then went to explore the grounds. Originally designed by Capability Brown, a famous landscape designer of the time, the grounds are extremely vast and impressive. The highlight for me was the river and bridge at the rear of the grounds, a very pleasant setting which would have been perfect for a picnic. We didn’t explore the grounds as much as we would have liked, so we’re already planning a return visit! Fortunately a ticket for here is valid for the calendar year, so it gives plenty of opportunities for visits.

***

One of the most incredible examples of an Elizabethan house is definitely Burghley House. Built in the XVI century, it still conserves its original exterior. The family who built it, the Cecils, still live in the house but a big part of it is accessible for the visit. While you walk through the rooms, called by their colours, you can learn about the famous visitors who stayed in them, including Queen Victoria, both when still a princess and after her coronation, and Queen Elizabeth I.

The works of art in the house are incredible: Hundreds of paintings by great European masters such as Caravaggio just to name one, frescos that cover entire rooms floor to ceiling, ornaments, furniture, everything has an inestimable value. What I can say, and you can understand by looking at the pictures, is that it feels quite cramped, as if the room were to fall on the visitor. Of course, I had that impression especially in the kitchen, which is full of copper tins everywhere and, after living in my Sardinian home, I am immediately disturbed by these objects. The fact that there was a real-size copper turtle as well definitely didn’t help.

One thing that I definitely loved was to see all the bells for the servants. As a big fan of Downton Abbey (we will come back to that soon), I can’t help but remember the opening every time I see the panels with all the wires and bells. They are not just in Burghley House, of course, but they were in such a peculiar position in this case that they stay in my memory as iconic. Walking out of the kitchen, we are soon in a small, dark room that then leads upstairs; the walls are covered with wood panels, and the bells run all around the walls just over the wood. Standing under there makes you feel amazed and trapped at once, as if they could start ringing and you were forced to start your day of work. A few flights of stairs, the first one still covered with wooden panels and then more elegant, all stone and with round arches, take you to the chapel and then all the main rooms.

As one who doesn’t like gardens, I have to admit that Burghley House’s gardens are beautiful. Not just walking along them to see the beauty of the building from outside, but the gardens themselves. there is a river along them and they are immense. They were originally built by Capability Brown, an eminence of the time, and now include also the Garden of Surprises with fountains, sculptures, water shows, and a little maze. They are something not to miss.

The ticket gives you access to the House for the whole year and a 50% discount on some other listed buildings, which is not bad. The Christmas market is very famous, so we are looking forward to go back again a few times before the end of the year!

Hedingham Castle

20170409_135658

This one is slightly different to the places above, as the purpose of our visit was not for exploring. My cousin had her wedding here in the spring, and in my mind she couldn’t have chosen a better, or more interesting venue. The most well-preserved Norman keep in England, it is the embodiment of all those castles we used to draw when we were kids. Four square walls with some battlements on top, this is a true castle that was built for function rather than show. Still a formidable fortress to this day, it’s easy to see how it has managed to survive for so long.

As I said, the exterior is fairly plain. The few windows it has are small and give little insight into the goings-on inside, and the only real feature is the steps up to the entrance. Once inside however, it is a completely different story. Obviously it has been dressed up a bit for the wedding, yet I could see how it would have been impressive nonetheless. With the exception of a few modern amenities such as flushing toilets and a bar, it still feels like a Norman castle inside as well. There are three floors that are still accessible to the public, each containing a large, singular room. We would be using all three during the course of the day, much to our delight! The first room you enter is the reception room, which is the middle room of the three. This is where we found the modern creature comforts, the other two floors are purely medieval. A large room with chandeliers and a few artefacts here and there, it is a good introduction for what is to come. For the ceremony we went upstairs to the Great Hall, which is like something out of a movie. A huge fireplace, a balcony at the rear (from which the ring-bearing barn owls came from), and ancient weaponry on the walls, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Robin Hood himself had gatecrashed proceedings! It really is a beautiful setting for a wedding ceremony, but my favourite room was yet to come.

After the ceremony, we made our way down to the bottom floor which is home to the banqueting room. This room is everything you would expect a medieval banqueting room to be, right down to the metal goblets provided for our drinks. There was none of the usual round tables dotted around a room found at most weddings, here there are three long tables stretching the length of the room. As such there is no head table either, and it was a really nice touch for my cousin and the rest of the wedding party to be seated in the very centre of the room. The darkness caused by the small, high windows only added to the atmosphere, and I’m glad that the artificial lighting was also kept low. Again, I couldn’t think of a better place for a wedding, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first medieval banquet (of many I hope!!).

The castle isn’t just used for weddings, and it is possible to visit when there isn’t a function being held here. I would thoroughly recommend it, especially when one of their many medieval-themed events are taking place.

***

A bit of a different experience has been our time in Hedingham Castle, as we were invited there for a wedding. The difference in this experience is not just due to my personal opinion on wedding ceremonies, although it is part of it. This castle is a private property that is owned by the heirs of the family that bought it in the XVIII century. The family lives in the country house also in the grounds and the keep is the only surviving part of the castle that was built in the XII century. Visits are limited, on their website it seems like they open on Wednesday and Sundays or, as in our case, you have access when the building is hired for events. These help financing the building maintenance, which is not supported by any institutions and it is paid for by the owners.

Going back to the building, it is surrounded by wonderful gardens and a lake. The tower has four levels:

– The lower level, where the banqueting hall was installed in this case. This part has access from one side of the tower through a huge portal which made it easy for the catering to install the marquee and reach us at the tables. In the case of the wedding, all the table was dressed in style, with metal goblets and Venetian style masks, which was a detail that completed the picture.

– The two levels above were probably the Guardroom and the Great Hall. An external staircase grants you access to the Guardroom, where seats and the bar were installed. From here, access to both the lower and the upper levels is granted by my nemesis, the spiral staircase, which is even less loved when wearing a tight dress and 10 cm high heels. I guess I am glad I didn’t drink too much!

The Great Hall is dominated by a majestic chimney. Although all the rooms follow the same plan, the fireplace in the Great Hall, with a cuirass and two axes over it, is quite a sight. A balcony runs along the sides of the rooms at another level granting a privileged position to those looking down at the Hall. In our case, the ceremony was officiated in this room and we had the plus of a bird of prey diving into the hall to entrust the rings to the best man. It was a perfect fit to the surrounding and an incredible surprise.

The location is impressive, definitely worth a visit, and we wish we had more time and more comfortable shoes in order to wander around the gardens, but the ceremony added some details that made the visit quite exquisite, definitely not what I was expecting by a wedding. Due to the restrictions on visiting days, plan your visit wisely but definitely give it a shot!

Lyveden

DSC00492

Ah, the stately home that could have been! The dream of Sir Thomas Tresham, Lyveden New Bield was designed as a summerhouse for entertaining his guests. Unfortunately the construction was hindered by his poor financial credentials, and the fact that he spent a lot of time in prison due to this. However construction continued until Sir Thomas’s death when, realising that they would now never be paid, the workers downed tools and the estate has been left in this unfinished state ever since. This makes this building rather unique in that in original inspection it would appear to be ruins, however it doesn’t take long to realise that the building is actually in very good condition despite never being completed. This was the first National Trust home that we visited, and I have to say that they have done an incredible job preserving this site. Every single thing about the house and the grounds is in such good condition, it feels like the workers stopped work only a few days prior to your visit. It really is incredible that this building has remained so intact despite not even having a roof or floors, and that it has stood for so long without damage. Most complete stately homes and castles of this age aren’t in such good condition!

As I mentioned, the construction was halted before walls had been completed, and the roof and floors had yet to be started. From the outside it is easy to see how the house would have looked if it had been completed, but it is a different story once you head inside. Entering through what would have been the servants’ entrance (the main entrance required steps which hadn’t been built yet), it is hard to imagine where you are and what each room was designed for. The house was designed in a cross shape which means that a lot of the rooms are very similar to each other, and their lack of furniture or other adornments means their functions are not obvious (with the exception of the kitchen where the fireplace and larder were obvious features). This is why I would highly recommend the audio tour that the National Trust provide as part of the entrance fee. Highly informative, it gives a fantastic insight into the history of the house and explains what each room was intended for. This makes it a whole lot easier to imagine how it would have looked if completed, and Sir Thomas’s dream starts to come alive.

After exploring the house, it was time for a walk around the grounds. Again these have been preserved to the exact state that the workmen would have left them in. Seemingly closer to completion than the house, yet there are still obvious signs that it was abandoned. The most obvious of these is the moat. Three sides of the moat had been finished, which then ends abruptly where the fourth side should have been. Strolling through the grounds, with the help of the audio guide, really gives an insight into the mentality of Sir Thomas Tresham and the motives behind his dream. As with all stately homes, it was driven by ego and showmanship. The summerhouse was to be his masterpiece, and every aspect of the grounds had been designed to showcase the house for his guests’ admiration.

I really enjoyed exploring Lyveden New Bield, as it gives you the chance to admire the building rather than being overwhelmed with all the treasures inside. It was really interesting to find out the story behind it as well, and to be able to see Sir Thomas’s vision. If you do visit here, make sure to bring your imagination with you! Oh, and also leave some time for a cream tea at the National Trust café on-site, you won’t regret it!

***

The start of our National Trust membership in June was celebrated with a hike in the Peak District and a visit to Lyveden New Bield. This building is unfinished and yet the visit is extremely interesting. Not too far from us in Northamptonshire, the estate was the dream and ruin of the Tresham family. Ruined by the taxes requested from the followers of the Catholic faith and by the participation of some members of the family to the Gunpowder plot, the Treshams never finished the construction of this home.

Although inside it was never completed, the external walls are still perfectly standing as they workers left them when they abandoned the project after hearing of their employer’s death and understanding that they were never going to be paid for the job. The audio guide takes you through the rooms and makes you imagine what is missing and how the house, once completed, would have hosted guests and parties.

The walk through the grounds is both interesting and pleasing, with the guide explaining the projects of the original owner through the messages to his workers. The National Trust has recreated what was in the original design, planting the same fruit trees and keeping alive the decorations that were thought for the amusement of the guests. We went on an extremely hot afternoon and some comfortable shoes and insect repellent are a good idea, but even with ballerinas you can enjoy the visit without struggling.

Two highlights of the visit: The red kite flying over us during our visit and the National Trust café. They seem two bizarre things to list together, but it was a sweet sight to see the bird of prey cutting through the perfectly blue sky while we were enjoying our cream tea in the garden surrounded by little finches that were trying to make the most of all the crumbs left on the tables by the scrumptious scones. After this visit, we already thought that our membership had paid off, and we still are on the same page!

Waddesdon Manor

DSC00003

The most recent of our visits was to the National Trust owned Waddesdon Manor, a Rothschild family home which is truly unique. Commissioned and built in the late 19th century, it was purposefully designed to be reminiscent of a French château. Perched on top of a hill in the Buckinghamshire countryside, it manages to look completely out of place yet perfectly presented all at once. This really sets it apart from all the other stately homes in the UK, most likely the reason why it is one of the most visited National Trust properties. It is recommended that you book in advance as tickets are numbered, and each is allocated a specific entrance time to the house. We only booked a day or two in advance and there was plenty of time slots left to choose from, but I would suggest booking as far in advance as you can to avoid disappointment.

The house is on top of a fairly steep hill, with the visitor car park situated at the bottom. There is the option to take a free shuttle bus up to the house, or to take a walk along one of the many walking tracks through the grounds. We opted for the sensible option, and decided to take the bus up and then to take the downhill walk back! The shuttle bus drops visitors off at the North Fountain, with an incredible view of the house through the grounds. We had arrived a little early to enter the house, so we took a short walk around the grounds and discovered the aviary. This building is more reminiscent of the period in which it was built, a very Victorian style structure housing many species of birds that I had never heard of before. The most famous of these is the Rothschild’s Mynah, named after Lord Rothschild. Most of the species here are critically endangered and some are even extinct in the wild, and although it isn’t ideal for them to be in captivity it is reassuring to know that the birds here are being used in breeding programmes to help reintroduce them to the wild.

After our short walk it was time to enter the house, and it doesn’t take long for the decadence of this place to be apparent. Starting in the Oval Hall, there are three options for which route to take. There are volunteers to help lost visitors and to keep everyone heading in the same direction, and fortunately we had an audio guide to direct us as well. The audio guide can be purchased with the tickets, or it can be downloaded for free onto a smartphone (although it would seem that it does need to be smarter than my phone!). Every single room is chocked full of treasures in the form of artwork, fine furniture, pottery, and many other very expensive artefacts. Most of the furniture and collections are from the French Renaissance period while the artwork is mostly of English origin, combining in what has become known as the Rothschild style. As the house is no longer lived in, the vast majority of the rooms are open to the public. There are many drawing rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms, all filled with precious items. This was a place built solely for entertaining and as a showcase of their wealth, and this is evident everywhere you look. The house is so extravagant that Queen Victoria actually requested to stay here on numerous occasions. She was also taken by the fact that Waddesdon Manor was quick to install an electricity supply, and she was fascinated by the electric lighting in the house.

After exploring the rooms, including those favoured by Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, and other notable guests, it was time to head back outside to continue exploring. There are a couple of other buildings that are open to the public and included in the entry ticket, the stables and the powerhouse. The stables feature a courtyard with a cafe and ice cream stall, and at the time of our visit part of the stables were open for an art exhibition. The powerhouse was originally used to control the electricity supply of the house, and the original equipment is still in place along with the small electric elevator that had also been installed in the house. Now the building is also used to show short videos explaining the background of the property, worth ten minutes or so to view them if you have time. After this our explorations were finished and it was time to head back to the car park. As we had walked quite a long way around the house and through the grounds, our original plan was abandoned and we opted to take the bus back to the car park. They are very frequent, and just too convenient!

On the way to Waddesdon Manor we had noticed signs for a number of other National Trust properties nearby, so we decided to try and fit one more in while we were in the area. The perfect choice seemed to be Ascott House, a Tudor building that had also been a Rothschild family home. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it in time to enter the house, but we were able to view it from the outside and to explore the grounds. Certainly not as grand as Waddesdon Manor, Ascott House has a more homely feel to it. Reminiscent of all those houses we imagine from Shakespearean plays, it is also very well-preserved. The grounds are large, yet not grand with only a few sculptures and fountains located in hidden gardens around the periphery. The main area of the grounds is a large open space more familiar to parklands rather than stately homes. I would love to be able to tell you more about it, but you’ll just have to wait until we can go for a more timely visit, or visit for yourself!

Well, that’s all the visits we’ve managed so far, but you can be assured they will be plenty more in the best future. So stay tuned for part two!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Another beauty in the list of the National Trust, Waddesdon Manor has a completely different story. This building was created from scratch at the end of the XIX century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild who wanted his own French château in the middle of the British countryside. Thought to be a showcase for his art collection, the manor grew with the times, both with additions to his original plan and with improvements to adapt with modern times, being one of the first places to install electricity (for great amusement of Queen Victoria when she visited) and to have a lift. The collection keeps growing with more additions in the present time, and Waddesdon Manor goes through deep cleaning every winter when closed, a cleaning that follows the rules established by the Baron’s sister.

The tours follows a very organised path and is easy to follow, and when you buy your tickets online you are suggested to download the app with the audio guide. We followed the suggestion and it is a great idea, you can choose what you listen to and see the images and videos on your phone in a very handy app with lots of extras. The furniture is incredible, with real art pieces in every room. The care for the objects is extreme and many pieces of furniture and fabrics in general are covered with fine nets to preserve them from further deterioration. The paintings and the clocks, in particular the big musical clock in the conservatory and the elephant clock, are definitely the most beautiful objects in the collection for my taste, but you can find many fine porcelain objects and full sets of plates that will astonish you as well.

The gardens around the manor are definitely reminiscent of the ones in Versailles, often cited as an example. In the grounds you also have a few interesting diversions. First of all, the Aviary, with cages with different birds, all set in a semi-circle with a fountain in the middle. Another interesting part is the Power House, a small building with a screen with information about the activities such as the wine nights and the foundation activities, the old power units and the original lift. About the wine nights, the manor produces some fine wines and organises dinners and wine tastings for all tastes and prices, have a look at their website for the dates scheduled up to the end of the year. Further away in the grounds are the Stables. You know my issue with horses, but this place is not used as stables anymore, it is instead partly a café and partly a small exhibition centre for modern art. I fell in love with these dresses showcased there!

DSCF4355

The carpark is located at a certain distance from the manor but shuttle buses run every 7-8 minutes to take you to two stops, the actual building and the stables. You can also choose to walk back, but you will have a fair share of walking in the actual house and in between places through the woods if you want. That’s what we did and we were glad for the bus there and back.

Near Waddesdon there is another National Trust place, Ascott House, a Tudor house with extensive artistic grounds. Unfortunately, we arrived late for the last entry (or on time to be more precise) and we didn’t get in, but we had a walk around the grounds to enjoy the views and the fountains. I guess we should plan a wine and cheese escape to Waddesdon Manor soon and combine it with this visit.

There are so many other splendid buildings in the UK, symbols of luxury and squanders of the old times, but many of them are living a second golden age thanks to foundations and trusts and are actually working in different ways for the community. This second half of the summer should be pretty busy again and we can’t wait to tell you more about our next visits, we have some special ones already booked, stay tuned!

Ms Lust

WPC – Bridge

Dear readers,

It’s time once again for the weekly photo challenge, and this week’s topic is ‘Bridge‘. Having just come back from our trip to the Isle of Skye for Ms Lust’s birthday (which you can read all about here), it seemed too much of a coincidence not to include a photo of one of the many beautiful old bridges that are to be found on the island.

PSX_20170706_123129

However, it’s unlikely that anyone will be going to Skye just to see the bridges, as the landscapes themselves are the main draw and the bridges simply add to the aesthetics. 

That’s not quite the case for my next subject, which is also my favourite bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge may not be the main attraction in Sydney Harbour, as it is next to the famous Sydney Opera House, but it certainly was for me. 

PSX_20170706_122908

This is the first photo (of many!) that I ever took of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, after having walked through the city in order to see the Sydney Opera House. I hadn’t even given the bridge a moment’s thought, but as soon as I saw it dominating the views of the harbour I was instantly awestruck. Ever since then, this has become my favourite place in Sydney and I always try to visit no matter how short my stay in Australia is. 

PSX_20170706_122045

This photo was taken during Vivid Sydney, a light festival which sees many of the city’s famous sites being lit up at night. At this time of the year, the bridge really does live in the shadow of the opera house, which is lit up with colourful artwork projected onto the famous sails. However, the bridge does get a light show of its own and it is still a part of the festivities. The bridge’s time to shine comes at New Year’s Eve when it becomes the showpiece of Sydney’s New Year’s firework display, and then it really does get a light show to be jealous of!

PSX_20170706_121608

I couldn’t find any good quality photos of the bridge during the firework display, so I chose this one of the last sunset of 2012 forming a beautiful backdrop for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I never get tired of this wonderful view, and I can’t wait for our next visit to Australian shores and to this fantastic piece of engineering.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

As a translator, the concept of the bridge is something important. For those of you who don’t know, the etymology of the word “translation” is the latin for “bearing across”, and a bridge is the perfect image of what a translation does, because it bears the meaning of a text from one language to the other. It is not surprising then that, when I needed to clear my thoughts while living in London, I would go walking from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge and just make sense of things, or at least try to.

1

Tower Bridge is impressive both from a distance and from up close. If you are lucky enough to be walking on it when a tall boat is passing, you can see it opening in front of your eyes. You can also visit it and walk through the history of its construction. I enjoyed the visit a lot and I even managed to look like I am not regretting standing on the glass floor on top of the road!

         IMG_4832     IMG_4835

 

In our post about Rome, you may have noticed not only my love for the city, but also how strongly I feel the internal contrasts of this capital. There could be many examples of this, but just think of how the metropolis, capital of the Italian State, contains in itself another capital city, actually a city-state, the Vatican City. Many bridges are famous and impressive in the Eternal City, but the sunset starting to paint Saint Peter in pink behind Ponte Sisto makes this spot and this bridge one of my favourite sights of our trip.

IMG_7601

Thank you for travelling with us, see you soon!

Ms Lust