Magpie update – August / September 2014

In many ways, summer is possibly my least favorite season. Sure, there is no snow to shovel and late sunsets mean more time to be out and about. But, especially in terms of travel, summer is when I’m most likely to stay stateside, putter in the garden (such as it is) and look forward to autumn. Summers can be beastly hot – which for me means anything above 75F or about 23C, everywhere worth going to is likely to be super crowded with families taking advantage of school vacations to get out of town and regular folks escaping the office for some R&R with some sun added. A veritable zoo at every turn. I just can’t stand it.

This year was different, though. I blame Thomas Cromwell. Or Hilary Mantell. The latter has written two books of a trilogy regarding the former. Fascinating stories of real historical figures spun together with imagined but totally believable encounters and conversations. Each book in excess of 400 pages yet reading at the pace of one of those (much shorter) junky romance novels.

See, these books have been distilled into two plays and are being staged in London. They were originally supposed to run only through the first weekof September of this year. After a longish argument with myself over whether to get tickets – after all, they were (and are) sure to be a sellout, so maybe they would come to NYC or even get slated for satellite broadcast in theatres as many National Theatre productions have been. I could save myself a ton of money not to mention hassle and uprooting of my cats’ routine, by crossing my fingers and waiting for developments. In the end, I booked a ticket for each show for the first week of September and began to think about what sort of trip I could build around this slightly silly decision.

Once I had the ticket vouchers, there were other events that came on to my radar. For all the times I’ve been to Edinburgh, I’d never been to the Tattoo. This is a bagpipe and dance extravaganza held each year in August and it’s always one of the hottest tickets going. August. Another internal discussion ensued. If I was gonna be in the UK anyway, maybe this year would be my best shot at seeing the Tattoo. Besides – Scotland in summer is cooler than London; how hot could it really get?

As I said, this event books up fast and by the time I’d decided to go, there were only a couple of dates available and only two of those had any reasonably priced seats left. Then something really odd happened. I booked a top ticket for a different date than I had been planning. And I almost booked a flight for the same date, which would have meant missing the thing!

Anybody here see a brain missing its owner?

So, long story a bit shorter for now, if you love spectacle and particularly if you love bagpipes, YOU MUST GO!

In between the Tattoo, I added several days in Orkney, a stunning group of islands just a few miles off the north coast of Scotland and reachable by ferry in less than 90 minutes. Phenomenal group of Neolithic sites, the most famous probably being Skara Brae but for my money, the most fascinating being the Broch of Gurness. And new sites are being found all the time… I just missed an opportunity to visit the Ness of Brodgar, a huge new dig that had just been closed up for the year.

Kelpies – the full size metal sculptures whose miniatire selves came to Bryant Park a few months ago. Another stunning attraction which has singly created a tourism business in quiet little Falkirk, Scotland.

Back to Edinburgh for an overnight before flying over to Berlin. Why Berlin. Twin answer – it’s been on my list recently, to see both East and West and it had the cheapest plane ticket of any destination north of the Alps (summer, remember).

Berlin is amazing and, like everywhere else I’ve ever been, with the possible exception of King’s Lynn, a place which I could not give nearly enough time. I loved Berlin even though the guy at Tourist Info at the airport sent me to the wrong flippin’ UBahn station. Ha! I sorted that out and that extra hour on the UBahn system came in mighty handy over the subsequent days.

A five hour walking tour took me everywhere I could think of, including a big stretch of rather pathetic-looking Wall, Checkpoint Charlie (now a rather disneyfied photo-op location. I saw a poster for a sound and light show that told the story of Germany’s Parliamentary evolution, beginning in 1871 thru the present day. It was nice to be out in the evening, hanging out with a bunch other people. English subtitles (the international language of tourism) and rousing, almost Wagnerian music and lighting effects.

So now I find myself in London; still my favorite city on the planet. I’m sitting in a dorm room at the London School of Economics, with the best WiFi I’ve had this whole trip, except for yesterday AM at the Gatwick Yotel. It feels like I’m on retreat – no TV, a room by IKEA on the ninth floor, overlooking a grubby courtyard with a symphony of city-improving jackhammers gliding through the window with the breeze.

But enough of this reverie. It’s past 11AM, I’ve been rattling on since before 9 and it’s time for a break. Tickets to collect, postal envelopes to get for mailing crap home. And did I mention? there’s never been a day that was warmer than about 75F.

Who knew?

This’ll be it until I get back to the  States, but I’ll clean this up then and hope to post more… fewer words and lots of photos.

Auf wiedersehn. I think.

Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, Archaeology in Europe, England, Europe food & wine, European festivals, European music, Germany travel, London travel | 1 Comment

London Tube updates – w/e of 30-31 August

This weekend sees only a few closures -

the Chancery Lane station on the Central line is shut,

Jubilee line is closed between Waterloo and Stanmore

No service on the Metropolitan line between Aldgate and Northbridge/ Uxbridge; Piccadilly line will have some enhanced service between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge to relieve some of the aggro.

The biggest pain-inna-neck if

you’re out and about on foot, however, will be the (likely) ridiculous scrum around the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank today (Satruday). Seventy couples will be tying the knot there. Flash mob matrimony?

Sorry, no links today. Go to TfL’s website if you need more info.

Posted in General magpie travel | Leave a comment

news from Prague – summer 2014

Here are a bunch of interesting tidbits with info on what’s going on in and around Prague – for those who don’t click on my Prague HOT LINK!! Some originally noted in Prague Post.

Leave it to the Czechs to brag about a breeding program for lizards!

Something one-of-a-kindish – Whisky Live Prague in late September. (When you click on this link, there’s an irritating pop-up; click on the right-hand box to access; it’s in Czech, even though you’re on the English language page. [Bizarre! Divný!])

See the list of 16 sites in Czech Republic which are seeking UNESCO World Heritage status.

If you’re in Prague in October, check out the Signal Festival – Prague lights up!

I wonder if there’s some sort of hidden message on this one – Prague Zoo’s hippos are getting corporate sponsorship… from Hilton.

For those who don’t expect to travel to China and/or who may have missed the Terracotta Warriors when they visited NYC in 2012, two of them will be on display at Prague Castle’s Imperial Stables.

New food tours in Prague show there’s more to Czech cuisine than klobasa and sauerkraut; mind you, there’s nothing wrong with klobasa and sauerkraut!

Just opened – Letní Letna acrobatic / circus / theatre festival. Runs for two weeks and a bit.

Posted in Czech Republic, Eastern Europe, Europe food & wine, European art, European festivals, General magpie travel, News from Europe, Prague travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Tube closures for weekend of 16-17 August 2014

Here are this weekend’s Tube closures.

Metropolitan line – Chalfont & Latimer to Chesham closure between 11.30 and 17.15 both days.

District line – Aldgate East to Bromley-by-Bow and Barking to Upminster

Jubilee line – Sunday only – Waterloo to Finchley Road

Hammersmith/City line – Moorgate to Barking

London Tramlink – service outage from East Croydon to Sandilands thru Sun 17 Aug

London Overground – both days -Highbury & Islington to Clapham Junction/New Cross/Crystal Palace/West Croydon. Sunday only – S Tottenham to Barking and Sydenham to Crystal Palace. Early Sunday shutdown between Gospel Oak and Stratford at 21.30.

TfL has updated the info on the Hammersmith flyover work –  “… work is ahead of schedule … weekend closures are no longer required on the westbound carriageway. Any additional work will be done overnight. Yahoo!

The Hogarth flyover in Chiswick is down through the end of August and there’s the usual mashup at Wembley for the football.

Bus schedules and road use - Click here for road works, traffic snarls and road-closing events. Putney Bridge closure lasts until October, road works near Aldgate will mess up southbound Minories until May 2015 (lovely) and road closures in and around Piccadilly, the Mall, Whitehall late Sunday morning for a parade.

Reminders -

new – Chesham station is closed both days this w/e between 11.30 and 17.15.

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.

Paddington – Exit only from Bakerloo line until late August 2014.

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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Travel and art news from France – summer 2014

From France 24.

The Paris Pantheon has been wallpapered with some 4000 selfies by street artist JR, thru early October.

On the topic of selfies – Parisian authorities are trying to effect a sea change away from those bridge-destroying “love locks” and create a new, safer trend of special selfies. I rather think that other cities with a similar threat to their city bridges will be watching.

UNESCO has granted World Heritage status to Grotte Chauvet, a prehistoric cave in France’s Ardeche.

I particularly love this one – the French, particularly Parisians, are being asked to be less rude to the (economy-subsidizing) tourists. To be sure, Paris is a bit daunting for me – I speak French even worse than a Spanish cow (a French phrase describing someone whose French language skills are really, really bad), but I didn’t find the locals rude so much as bemused by my attempts to speak their beautiful language. The Belgians are much more forgiving; Brussels especially, perhaps because that is such an internationally polyglot city.

A stolen Matisse finally comes home.

Posted in Archaeology in Europe, European art, European museums, France, General magpie travel, News from Europe, Paris travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Random news from the Netherlands – summer 2014

A bunch of items from Dutch News. Though some of the articles came out several weeks ago, the news is still valid as far as I can find.

Mopeds, helmets and bike lanes.

A surprising find during restoration of a Dutch Golden Age painting. A self-portrait is finally vetted as a Rembrandt. See it at home – Buckland Abbey, a National Trust property.

We’re back to the tourist-marijuana issue – non-locals can be banned from coffeeshops if a town or city wants it that way. And, in a similar “how will that work” vein – a smoking ban is coming for (non-dope) cafes and bars. What if smoking dope gets banned too?

Hash Brownies? Pot-laced poffertjes?  Photo from Food Safari wordpress blog.

What to do with the Crimean gold artifacts currently on loan to a Dutch museum. The exhibit has been extended from the beginning of June thru the end of August and I really wish I could find a way to see it! It’s hard to feel confident that these pieces will wind up going back to a safe and universally agreed home – at least, not yet.



Posted in Amsterdam travel, BeNeLux, Europe food & wine, European art, European museums, General magpie travel, Netherlands travel, News from Europe, travel advice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food news from Oxford and new rail station plans

A roundup of food and other news from Oxford Mail.

Changes, perhaps not all for the best, coming to Oxford Rail Station. A more recent update from BBC news here.

Oxford Kitchen restau.  The Rusty Bicycle for great pizzas and burgers. Ooo – tea at Blenheim Palace. Yum! A great spot for brunch at Quod Brasserie.

Friday fish & chips at Hayman’s Fish Market.

Giraffe has a great brunch. I’ve eaten at the London South Bank location and can attest to the quality and interesting variety of the fare.

Posted in England, Europe food & wine, General magpie travel, News from Britain, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment