Visit my Facebook page for current news and events in Europe

Rather than clutter up the blog page with the (mostly) European news that interests me, I’ve started posting links to stuff on the Facebook page. Check in periodically to find out about events, cultural news and the occasional cute animal story.

Latest May news – the US may set up passport controls at Schiphol! One way to trim the lines in the US.

May 2015 – you need a travel card just to ENTER Rotterdam train station! Dutch farmers are growing barley for Scotch whisky; a list of Prague parks to enjoy.

March and April 2015 – a push for a transport and visitor pass for Netherlands; new attractions and an annual battle reenactment in Prague; a look at Dutch Easter; new features added to tours of Blenheim Palace (aka the “palace” in the new TV show The Royals).

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London Tube bank holiday schedule – 23-25 May 2015

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures; not much going on AND the STRIKE that was planned which would have affected National Rail services has been CALLED OFF. Click here to see how lane closures along Victoria Embankment, among other locations, will foul traffic for the rest of the year. Fun fun fun!

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network for the next six months.

Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

District line – all weekend – Aldgate East to Dagenham East and Turnham Green to Richmond closed

Hammersmith/City line – all weekend – no service between Liverpool Street and Barking

DLR – Saturday and Sunday – no service from Bow Church to Stratford

London Overground – service disruption all w/e – Willesden Junction to Richmond. Also an early closing on Sunday night (22.00) between Stratford and Gospel Oak.

London Trams – Elmers End to Arena is closed on Sunday and Monday and the stretch between Reeves Corner and East Croydon is shut between Saturday and Tuesday.

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Sorry – I’m too lazy to spell these out any more. There’s a parade in Chelsea on Monday, the Cut in Southwark is closed for the next couple of weeks and a road race in central London on Monday.

Reminders –

Mile End station closed all three days (Central line)

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line)- exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

 

 

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London Tube updates – 16-17 May 2015

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Click here to see how lane closures along Victoria Embankment, among other locations, will foul traffic for the rest of the year. Fun fun fun!

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network for the next six months. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

District line – all weekend – Turnham Green to Ealing Broadway closed

Jubilee line – Sunday only – 11 am late opening on the stretch between Waterloo and Finchley Road

Piccadilly line – all weekend – Acton Town to Uxbridge not running

Victoria line – all weekend – no service between Seven Sisters and Walthamstow Central

London Overground – service disruptions on Sunday only – Sydenham to West Croydon; Willesden Junction to Richmond. Also a late (10.15 am) opening between Clapham Junction and Wandsworth Road.

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Sorry – I’m too lazy to spell these out any more. Central city disruptions include a march on Monday afternoon in the Whitehall / Trafalgar Sq / Northumberland Ave area. Hang outside with a beer at the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland and watch it all go by!

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line)- exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

 

 

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Fun facts about London’s black cabs

Courtesy of cabbieblog.com … for some reason, I did not find a button for simple reposting, so click on the link and enjoy!

Black cab facts

 

 

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London Tube updates – 9-10 May 2015

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. V-E celebrations will add to the activities and probably contribute some traffic snarls. Click here to see how London Westminster will mark the 70th anniversary of WWII’s end in Europe.

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network for the next six months. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

District line – all weekend – Aldgate East to Bromley-by-Bow

Jubilee line – all weekend – West Hampstead to Stanmore

Metropolitan line – all weekend – Aldgate to Harrow-on-the-Hill

Hammersmith/City line – all weekend – Liverpool Street to Barking

London Overground – service disruptions on Sunday only – Queen’s Park to Watford Junction as well as Willesden Junction to Richmond. Late starts affect lines from New Cross Gate to West Croydon (opens at 9 am), Sydenham to Crystal Palace (opens at 8.30 am) and South Tottenham to Barking, which won’t start running until noon.

DLR – Stratford to Poplar closed all weekend

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Sorry; I’m too lazy to spell these out any more.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line)- exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

Royal Oak station (Hammersmith & City line) – closed until mid-May.

 

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London Tube updates – 2-4 May 2015

Here’s the link with information on this bank holiday weekend’s Tube closures. Just a couple of glitches on the city center fringes on Overground and DLR. Wow!

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network thru August 2015. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

London Overground – no service on Sunday only – South Tottenham to Barking, New Cross Gate to West Croydon, Sydenham to Crystal Palace.

DLR – Crossrail work all weekend means closures between Bow Church and Stratford

There are also a bunch of works issues on the National Rail. Click here to see those.

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Sorry; I’m too lazy to spell these out any more.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line)- exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

Royal Oak station (Hammersmith & City line) – closed until mid-May.

 

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Some online resources on gardens in the south of France

In response to a reader request for recommendations on gardens in the south of France, my only home resource, Secret Gardens of France, listed mostly private properties, almost all of which were near Lyon or farther north, so I did some research online.  The best websites I found were these…

for Provence near Arles

a comprehensive list for southeast France, with interactive maps

a comprehensive list for southwest France, with interactive maps

I like the last two because the Google maps show where the gardens are, making it easier to know which are closest to whichever town you may be headed for.

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London Tube updates – 24-26 April 2015 and marathon info

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. City center running as normal BUT –   the London Marathon is on Sunday between Greenwich and the Mall beginning at 7 am and continuing until 7 pm (but keep an eye out for the slowest competitors; 12 hours may not see everyone done).

One stray bit of good news is that the Hammersmith flyover work is complete, so road traffic there will return to the normal snarl.

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network thru August 2015. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

Bakerloo line – Sunday shut between Queen’s Park and Harrow & Wealdstone

Central line – no weekend service from White City to West Ruislip/Ealing Broadway

London Overground – no service on Saturday – Kilburn High Road to Euston; Sunday closures – Wembley Central to Euston, Clapham Junction to Kensington (Olympia) as well as between Gospel Oak and South Tottenham.

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Sorry; I’m too lazy to spell these out any more.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line)- exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

Royal Oak station (Hammersmith & City line) – closed until mid-May.

 

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London Tube updates – 18-19 April 2015

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. A really quiet weekend although there are ‘events’ all weekend around Whitehall which could make for road clogs.

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network thru August 2015. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

Central line – Queensway to North Acton

Northern line – no service Sunday between Tooting Broadway and Morden

London Overground – no service on Sunday between South Tottenham and Barking

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Sorry; I’m too lazy to spell these out any more.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line)- exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

Royal Oak station (Hammersmith & City line) – closed until mid-May.

 

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London Tube and National Rail updates – Easter w/e 3-6 April 2015

Here’s the link with information on the Easter weekend’s Tube closures. Another mostly quiet weekend for those who want to use the system.

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network thru August 2015. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

There are multiple service outages on Easter weekend on National Rail. Click this link for more info.

Jubilee line – Friday thru Sunday – Waterloo to Wembley Park has no service. Easter Monday, Waterloo to Stanmore is shut.

Metropolitan line – no service until Tuesday between Aldgate and Northwood/ Uxbridge

DLR – Canning Town to Beckton is down on Saturday and Sunday

London Overground – closures Friday thru Sunday – Highbury & Islington to Shadwell as well as between Sydenham and Crystal Palace. Also, a late (8.30 am) Sunday opening on the line from New Cross Gate to West Croydon.  Complete closures on Sunday between Queen’s Park and Watford Junction as well as the stretch between Camden Road and Stratford.

Check the TfL link for some outages around Croydon on the London Trams. Trams? Dint even know they had trams. Wow.

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

FYI, the Barclays / Boris bikes are now branded with Santander; instead of blue, they are red. This and their logo popping up all over the world as they devour other banks, I wonder… is this how Spain dragged itself out of austerity? Much as I love Spain, I’m still not convinced that central London is safe enough for a cyclist.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station – exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

 

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London Tube updates – 21-22 March 2015; accessibility improvements

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Another mostly quiet weekend.

See the Hot Link on this blog page for planned closures on the London Transport network thru August 2015. Click here for the latest info on accessibility improvements to London’s public transport.

Jubilee line – late Sunday opening (11am) between – Waterloo and Finchley Rd

District line – no service this w/e between Earls Court and Wimbledon

Emirate Air Line (cutesy name for the cable car over the O2 arena) – has been closed since Monday and won’t reopen until this Monday, the 23rd.

London Overground – weekend closures – New Cross Gate to Crystal Palace/West Croydon. Also, no service on Sunday between Willesden Junction to Camden Road via West Hampstead and a late Sunday opening (13.15) between Camden Road and Stratford.

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

FYI, the Barclays / Boris bikes are now branded with Santander; instead of blue, they are red. This and their logo popping up all over the world as they devour other banks, I wonder… is this how Spain dragged itself out of austerity? Much as I love Spain, I’m still not convinced that central London is safe enough for a cyclist.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station – exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!) I only hope I remember this if I’m in London before they’re done mooching around replacing those lifts.

 

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London Tube updates – 7-8 March 2015

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Weekend work is cranking up. Check here for the latest info on a possible strike action late Saturday, 7 March thru early Sunday morning.

See the Hot Link for planned closures thru August 2015.

Jubilee line – Saturday closure – Waterloo to Wembley Park; Sunday closure – between Waterloo and Stanmore

District line – no service this w/e between Turnham Green and Richmond

Metropolitan line is down between Aldgate to Harrow-on-the-Hill both days

London Overground – weekend closures – New Cross Gate to Crystal Palace/West Croydon; Gospel Oak to Stratford; Richmond to Willesden Junction. Also, no service on Sunday between Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction as well as from Highbury & Islington to Dalston Junction.

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station – exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!)

 

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London Tube updates – 28 February – 1 March 2015

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Not much going on but there are some major changes coming up. In addition, ticket windows are being shut but it’s unclear if this is a permanent change or just long-term temporary. The first ticket windows that were taken out of service were Queensway (one of my more frequently used stations, though I don’t use the window to top up my Oyster card), S Wimbledon and Shepherds Bush. Check the ‘major changes’ link above for more of these.

I’ve also added a Hot Link to the blog for planned closures thru August 2015.

Circle line – Gloucester Road to Aldgate via Embankment – no service this weekend

District line – Earl’s Court to Embankment/Kensington (Olympia) – no service

London Overground – weekend closures – Highbury & Islington to Dalston Junction; New Cross Gate to Crystal Palace/West Croydon; Stratford to Gospel Oak.

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

Reminders –

Tottenham Court Road station – Central line trains will not stop here until early December 2015.

Covent Garden station – exit only until early November 2015; westbound trains will not stop here on weekends (keep on confusing those tourists!)

 

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London bus strike on Tuesday

Terrible way to kick off the new year… skipped the Tube updates for this past weekend. Click here, however, for the latest on the bus strike set for tomorrow.

 

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current updates for London Tube – holiday season 2014-15

The Christmas holidays usually mean reduced services; click on the link here and hover your mouse over the colored blocks to see the Planned Works for Christmas week/end.

In general – see LIVE STATUS UPDATES – maybe load it into your smart phone?

Everything is running normally until Christmas Day when the whole system is shut. Beginning on Boxing Day, see this link with the latest news with the following highlights.

Waterloo/City as well as London Overground have no service at all on Boxing Day.

Circle line – Edgware Road to Aldgate via Victoria is shut between 26 and 30 December 

District line – Edgware Road and Embankment to Ealing Common/ Richmond /Wimbledon / Kensington(Olympia) between 26 and 30 December BUT all stations between Barons Court and Acton Town will be served by the Piccadilly line

Jubilee line – Waterloo to Finchley Road closed between 26 and 30 December

DLR – Canning Town to Beckton closed on Friday, 26 December 

Piccadilly line – Rayners Lane to Uxbridge is down on 31 December – revelers be advised!

Hammersmith/City line has a midday shutdown (10 am thru 1530 pm) on 31 December to enable the line to run all night. Wheee!

So far, the only closure on the 3-4 Jan weekend is on the Central line between Marble Arch and Holborn.

The Winter Wonderland Christmas market in Hyde Park means roads are closed inside the park through Sunday, 4 January.

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Click here to see disruptions for London Overground 

Reminders –

Arsenal station is closed between 27 and 30 December

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Pilsen, Czech Republic – a European Capital of Culture 2015

From Prague Post. A roundup of events in 2015 to celebrate this European Capital of Culture. Early May will see a celebration of the liberation of Pilsen (Plzeň) 70 years ago. The city’s festival website shows what’s going on and when.

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Euro news from Prague Post – drink more cava

Not only did Prague Post publish photos of their tree lighting in Old Town Square – making me pine for the trip I took to see their Xmas markets a couple of years ago (see Facebook page) – they also reviewed three of my favorite Spanish cavas! Delicious, loads of teensy bubbles and at a supremely affordable price point.

As a matter of recommendation, though, my current favorite (not on the list in the link) is the Brut Nature produced by Juve y Camps. On my visit to Freixenet in 2010, I was introduced to this drier-than-brut designation. Hard to find in the US until recently, Natures are becoming more popular. If you are a fan of brut, you should seek out this no-added-dosage stuff, also labeled as brut zero. Another benefit – no dosage means sugar free (well, technically up to 3 grams per liter is allowed, as opposed to 6g/l for regular brut) and no nasty chemical sweeteners in sight!

Happy Holidays!

 

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London Tube updates – holiday season 2014-15

The Christmas holidays usually mean reduced services; click on the link here and hover your mouse over the colored blocks to see the Planned Works for Christmas week/end. Everything is running normally now (yahoo) until Christmas Day when the whole system is shut. After that, all lines are back up again except for a week of limited service on the Circle, District and Jubilee lines.

The Winter Wonderland Christmas market in Hyde Park means roads are closed inside the park through Sunday, 4 January.

Lane closures in Vauxhall area (Clapham Park Rd) until 22 December for gas mains work. Also on Victoria Embankment between Northumberland Av and Horse Guards Ave thru 20 December. Stay well away!

Road closures and disruptions listed here.  Snag spots include Tottenham (Saturday), Barnet High Street (Sunday), Wandsworth (Sat and Sun), a march on Saturday afternoon around Whitehall and Downing St and rally. Elizabeth St will be shut all day Sunday for its annual Christmas market.

Reminders –

Bond Street – Jubilee line is serving this station again; work finished ahead of schedule!

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014 (?)

 

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London Tube updates – 29-30 November 2014 and possible strike on Monday

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Not much going on with the exception of a possible one day strike on Monday, 1 December on the Northern line.

Central line – Woodford to Epping shut both days

Bakerloo line – Piccadilly Circus to Elephant & Castle – late opening from 11.00 am – on Sunday only

District line – Aldgate East to Bromley-by-Bow closure on Sunday only

Hammersmith/City line – Moorgate to West Ham also only down on Sunday

London Overground – Sunday closures – Sydenham to Crystal Palace and Gospel Oak to Stratford.  Clapham Junction to Kensington (Olympia) is out all weekend.

Areas where various events will likely create bottlenecks and traffic snarls include something all day Sunday around Wimbledon Broadway,  Twickenham on Saturday (England v Australia rugby match), Holloway Rd northbound closed all day Sunday.

The closure I’d want to investigate is Princes St near Moorgate between 8am Saturday and 8am Sunday “for filming”. Hmmm…

The Dartford tunnel closed overnight Saturday and traffic diverted and other issues at the QEII bridge and Junction 31 on the M25. (Isn’t the M25 always a mess? Will anyone notice if things are a bit worse?)

The Winter Wonderland Christmas market in Hyde Park means roads are closed inside the park through Sunday, 4 January.

Lane closures in Vauxhall area (Clapham Park Rd) until 22 December for gas mains work. Also on Victoria Embankment between Northumberland Av and Horse Guards Ave thru 20 December. Stay well away!

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

Reminders –

Bond Street – Jubilee line trains will not stop here until early December 2014.

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014

 

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Rolling along with London’s Bond exhibit

I came to the James Bond films a little late in life. Much as I loved Roger Moore as The Saint back in the 60s, I didn’t really latch onto Bond until Pierce Brosnan took over.

That said, I sought out a fascinating exhibition in London called Bond in Motion this past summer. It has a wide variety of vehicles of all kinds as well as models, storyboards and loads of other props used in the James Bond flicks, all presented with relevant video clips showing the various cars, boats, alligators, cycles, etc. in action. The audio program is worthwhile for adding factual tidbits – such as just which and how many super-expensive cars were actually destroyed in various movies or the fact that 3D printers created scale-model Aston Martins for Skyfall so they wouldn’t have to blow up any real ones that time.

The exhibition runs at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden through March 2015.

Here are a couple of the flashiest stars – I’ve always had a soft spot for Rollers.

Cubby Broccoli's Rolls used in A View to a Kill

Cubby Broccoli’s 1962 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud used in A View to a Kill

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Goldfinger's 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom

Goldfinger’s 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom

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London Tube updates – 22-23 November 2014

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Not much going on…

Metropolitan line – Aldgate to Northbridge and Uxbridge shut both days

Jubilee line – Waterloo to Wembley outage – Saturday only; Waterloo to Stanmore is down on Sunday only

London Overground – Sunday late openings – Clapham Junction to Wandsworth Road northbound opens at 8.15, South Tottenham to Barking opens at 11.00.  Stratford to Gospel Oak is out all weekend.

Areas where various events will likely create bottlenecks and traffic snarls include Twickenham on Saturday (England v Samoa rugby match),

The Hammersmith flyover will be closed overnight between Wed and Thurs, 26-27 November.

The Winter Wonderland Christmas market in Hyde Park means roads are closed inside the park through Sunday, 4 January.

Lane closures in Vauxhall area from Monday until 22 December for gas mains work. Also on Victoria Embankment between Northumberland Av and Horse Guards Ave thru 20 December. Stay well away!

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

Reminders –

Bond Street – Jubilee line trains will not stop here until early December 2014.

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014

 

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Foyles spiffy new London bookshop

I went looking for a book that Waterstone’s didn’t have on my last trip to London. Traipsed up Charing X Rd to Foyles – the first time I’d been there since 1990 with Mom. The old location had a giant sign in the window to the effect that their new location was a couple of doors down on the same street. I’d been so deep in thought I’d walked clean past it. About face to the new digs and, if you’ve ever been to the old Foyles, you won’t recognize the place!

The bad news – didn’t find the book I wanted. The good news – Foyles feels much less intimidating than it did on that first visit and I expect I’ll stop in again. I remember feeling back then that finding any particular book was as much a matter of luck as diligence. At the new shop, I commented on the amazing transformation to one of the clerks and asked if this meant that it would be easier to find the books. He thought for a moment before replying, “Probably not”. Ha!

Atrium at Foyles new bookshop

Atrium at Foyles new bookshop

 

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London Tube updates – 15-16 November 2014

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Due to all the events for Remembrance weekend, TfL is recommending use of public transport.

Bakerloo line – not running from Queen’s Park to Harrow & Wealdstone Sunday only

Central line – White City to Ealing Broadway and West Ruislip – closed both days

District line – Aldgate East to Upminster down both days

Jubilee line – Waterloo to Finchley Road outage – Sunday only

Hammersmith/City – Moorgate to Barking section is out both days

London Overground – Saturday closure between Clapham Junction and Kensington (Olympia). Sunday shutdowns – Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction, Queen’s Park to Watford Junction, Stratford to Gospel Oak. Weekend outages – Highbury & Islington to Shadwell, Surrey Quays to New Cross and Sydenham to Crystal Palace.

Areas where various events will likely create bottlenecks and traffic snarls include Marble Arch / Oxford St  mid-day on Saturday for a march and rally, Regent St between Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses all day Sunday, Whitehall mid-day on Sunday.

Lane closures in Vauxhall area from Monday until 22 December for gas mains work. Also on Victoria Embankment between Northumberland Av and Horse Guards Ave thru 20 December. Stay well away!

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

Reminders –

Covent Garden – normal services have resumed. Hooray!

Bond Street – Jubilee line trains will not stop here until early December 2014.

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014

 

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Neolithic Orkney 1 – the Ness of Brodgar and Maeshowe

Blognote – In the interest of shorter blog posts to cater to ever-diminishing attention spans (not least of which is my own!), here is the first of several posts about the Neolithic sites on Orkney.

With all the known settlements and stone monuments sprinkled around Orkney and the grand expanse of its mostly undeveloped geography, it should be no surprise that more are still being discovered/uncovered. The Ness of Brodgar, unearthed in 2003, promises to be the largest and quite possibly the oldest Orcadian gem yet (3500 BC) – older than Skara Brae  (3200 BC) and even older than that most iconic of stone heaps, Stonehenge (variously dated between 200 and 3100 BC). A huge sprawl of what may be a temple complex, it sits more or less at the center of a two mile long string of other Neolithic sites between the lochs of Harray and Stenness. The dig is only worked on for a couple of months each year, possibly due to funding issues – the weather ain’t all that bad – or perhaps to minimize disruptive levels of traffic since it’s on private property – and had closed up for 2014 only a few days before my visit, hence this one (slightly blurry) photo from the bus as we lumbered past. A side note – the property where the Ness lies belongs to Ola Gorie, a jewelry designer I’ve admired for more than twenty years. Who knew?

Ness of Brodgar archaeological dig

Ness of Brodgar archaeological dig

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Just down the road and around the corner from the Ness is Maeshowe, a grass-covered multi-chambered Neolithic cairn sitting at the center of a banked ditch and dating to around 2800 BC, based on similarities to other datable structures nearby. The interior walls are decorated with a whole raft of (relatively) recent Viking graffiti – 12th century AD. Even more intriguing is the probability that another, much older structure lies beneath these chambered stones. The Viking graffiti – runic writing and a teensy animal called the Maeshowe Dragon – were carved into the rock walls when Vikings broke into the tomb to shelter from a nasty snowstorm. (If you click on the link at the top of this paragraph, make sure you also click on the link there for the translations of the runes – many are on the order of “Kilroy was here” – too funny!)  The entrance to the central chamber is a 30-plus foot long stone-lined passage, about 4 and a half feet high. This is the only way in, the hole in the roof where the Vikings entered having been sealed up, and it’s a looong, slow scuttle to make doubled over, Igor-like. Even if people were much shorter when this tomb was ‘new’, it must have been a (literal) pain inna neck to enter. The main chamber is about 15 ft by 15 with a ceiling of around 12 feet and the runes crawl horizontally and vertically up and around the stones. The sunlight streams through the entry passage to light up the interior especially during the winter; the most direct light comes in at sunset on the winter solstice.

No photography was allowed while we were inside, hence the need for the links. The drawing of the dragon (also called a lion) below is taken from one of the descriptive panels near the entrance.

Maes Howe tomb

Maes Howe tomb

 

drawing of the Maes Howe dragon

drawing of the Maeshowe dragon

One final thought – I suspect this site is not included in the usual day tour of Orkney from the Scottish mainland because it is really, really tiny and can only be seen at pre-booked times using the site’s own guide, something to consider if you plan to take an escorted tour – make sure you check which sites are included. It would be impossible to cram a busload of tourists into the space in one go and having to split into multiple groups would make it hard to fit Maeshowe into the usually tight schedules of bus tours. It would also likely prevent anyone else from getting in, given that entry to the site is only once per hour.

I’m thankful to Lance, a fellow travel blogger (and a terrific storyteller, btw; you should visit his blog), for alerting me to the value of this spot, else I might’ve missed it. As things turned out, I spent a couple of nights in Orkney on my own and booked a local taxi to take me to Maeshowe and a couple of other sites I still wanted to visit. Yes, that was expensive, but my time was limited, so the cab waited for me a couple of times, only leaving once to take another fare and returning after I called for a pickup.

Look for additional posts with more Orcadian must-see locations coming soon, I hope.

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London Tube updates – 8-9 November 2014

A new announcement regarding road improvements and possibly increased safety for cyclists.

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. Due to all the events for Remembrance weekend, TfL is recommending use of public transport.

If you’re in town on Saturday evening, try to catch the fireworks on the river between Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges.

Bakerloo line – not running from Queen’s Park to Harrow & Wealdstone Saturday only

Central line – Woodford to Epping closed both days

London Overground – Saturday closure between Queen’s Park and Wembley Central. Sunday shutdown – Stratford to Gospel Oak.

Areas where various events will likely create bottlenecks and traffic snarls include Tower Hill (Remembrance events all weekend), Battersea & Brockwell Parks (Saturday afternoon) Westminster and the City (Lord Mayor’s show all day Saturday), Whitehall and Parliament St on Sunday for Remembrance events.

Lane closures in Vauxhall area from Monday until 22 December for gas mains work. Stay well away!

Road closures and disruptions listed here.

Reminders –

Upper Holloway station – closed Sunday

Covent Garden – Exit only until mid-November 2014. Also, on Saturdays and Sundays, westbound trains not stopping.

Bond Street – Jubilee line trains will not stop here until early December 2014.

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014

 

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London Tube updates – accessibility and contactless payment

Here is the newest info on accessibility changes to the Tube system.

Transport for London is continuing to roll out support for contactless bank cards for fare payment. Here’s the link for the latest on this topic. Although the website says that Amex has contactless cards, I rather think these must be issued at high annual fee levels in the USA. American Visa and MasterCard may not have this option so may not work. No problem; I’ll be sticking with my Oyster card.

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London Tube updates – 1-2 November 2014

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. I apologize for skipping last week’s notes; I’m sure no one missed it.

Bakerloo line is not running from Queen’s Park to Harrow & Wealdstone from Wednesday thru Sunday

Circle line – Gloucester Road to Aldgate via Embankment closed both days

District line will be shut between South Kensington and Aldgate East as well as Turnham Green to Richmond – both days

London Overground has a weekend outage beginning Thursday between Queen’s Park and Wembley Central. Regular weekend shutdowns – Sydenham to West Croydon; Willesden Junction to Richmond.

London Tramlink has no service between Mitcham Junction and Ampere Way until Sunday

Over the next week or so, portions of Oxford St will be closed so Xmas lights can be installed. Wow!

Bus schedule changes described here. Headache areas include Twickenham, Ally Pally, Blackheath as well as Waterloo Bridge (some sort of filming there) and the (annual FREE) Motor Show on Regent St between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly. Meep meep!

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Avoid the roadworks on westbound North Circular Rd from late Friday thru early morning Sunday.

Reminders –

Embankment – Bakerloo and Northern line train service is back.

Covent Garden – Exit only until mid-November 2014. Also, on Saturdays and Sundays, westbound trains not stopping.

Bond Street – Jubilee line trains will not stop here until early December 2014.

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014

 

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Rotten news in Barcelona – visit and spend soon!

From the NY Times.

Rent control is ending for hundreds of small shops and putting the Barri Gòtic and other neighborhoods in danger of becoming just another cluster of modern chains. The Old Town parts of Barcelona are what make it such a lovely destination, but even if the buildings keep their ancient facades, I’m not looking forward to seeing the same-old same-old retail names above the doors.

If/when you go to Barcelona, seek out these ‘mom & pop’ shops before they’re gone. If they’ve moved to less glamorous surroundings, track them down and provide some custom!

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London Tube updates – 18-19 October 2014

Here’s the link with information on this weekend’s Tube closures. NOTE: The Tube strike scheduled for next week has been called off. This was last week!

Bakerloo line is not running from Queen’s Park to Harrow & Wealdstone on Sunday

Work on the Central line closes stops between White City and Ealing Broadway /  West Ruislip all weekend

District line will be shut between Barking and Upminster as well as Turnham Green to Richmond – both days

Jubilee line – late opening 11am on Sunday from Waterloo to Finchley Road

London Overground has a Saturday outage between Willesden Junction and Richmond. Sunday shutdowns – Camden Rd to Richmond; Queens Park to Watford Junction.

Over the next week or so, portions of Oxford St will be closed so Xmas lights can be installed. Wow! Additional road closure info is here.

A trade union march for pay increase takes place on Saturday between 10 am and 4.30 pm, affecting traffic between Embankment, Trafalgar, Piccadilly and Hyde Park. Rally to follow at Hyde Park.

Road closures and disruptions listed here. Avoid the roadworks on westbound North Circular Rd from late Friday thru early morning Sunday.

Reminders –

Embankment – Bakerloo and Northern line trains not stopping until early Nov 2014.

Covent Garden – Exit only until mid-November 2014. Also, on Saturdays and Sundays, westbound trains not stopping.

Bond Street – Jubilee line trains will not stop here until early December 2014.

Gloucester Road – Piccadilly line trains not stopping until mid-December 2014

 

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A labor of love in wartime – The Italian Chapel, Orkney

Orkney is known for its Neolithic monuments and settlements, but the islands also have their fair share of WWII history and associated sights.

One of these is the Italian Chapel on the tiny island of Lambholm in the southeast corner of Orkney. Built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII, its shell is a pair of prefab metal Nissen huts (aka Quonset huts in the US). The Baroque style entry masks the hut’s shape but once inside, the half cylinder of the shelter is obvious. The trompe l’oeil painting on the interior surface completely transformed the cold, impersonal shack into a sublime if tiny place of worship. Even standing up close, it’s hard to believe that the walls are painted plaster and not ceramic tiles. Two painted windows imitating stained glass flank the Madonna and Child above the altar, the colors even more vibrant with light streaming through the small windows. The artist, Domenico Chiocchetti, was one of the POWs who got permission to build the chapel rather than help fortify naval barriers, a breach of the Geneva Convention, btw. Other prisoners were skilled in ironwork or did electrical work. The POWs were shipped elsewhere just before the chapel was completed, but Chiocchetti stayed behind to finish the job. In 1964, he presented a set of carved wooden Stations of the Cross to be added to the chapel. He died in 1999.

A new chapter in the story of this hallowed place is that three of the (14) Station wall carvings were stolen this past August, only a couple of weeks before my visit. I’m not aware of any particular value attached to the images taken; I’m assuming they were simply the ones that came off the wall most easily. What I didn’t know until validating facts for this post is that the door had been kicked in a few months before, so the August theft was the second attack on the church in only a few months. The Pope had sent a blessing to the chapel on its 70th anniversary in May; a few days later the door was vandalized. It makes me wonder if the chapel might have been unviolated had it stayed under the radar. No way to know.

The artist’s daughter is working to get replacement plaques – the wood carver who created them is still alive – but unless the thieving perps are found and punished appropriately, I suspect the chapel will need a guard, at least for the near term. It seemed a good reason to put a few extra coins into the donation box.

On the one hand, Orkney seems miles and miles away from the ‘real’ world, with its acres and acres of open farmland rolling down to the water in all directions. On the other, nasty incidents like the theft described above prove that there are jerks even in this apparent paradise. Even so, as with every other place I’ve been, there is more to fill a second visit and I’d love to go back. It feels the perfect place for an artist or writer or photographer to hole up for a few creative weeks. Or perhaps when the archaeological dig at Ness of Brodgar opens again in mid-July they’ll need a tea lady? That I could do.

Posted in All Suzanne's travels, European art, Orkney travel, Scotland | Tagged , , | 3 Comments