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.

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London Tube updates – 11-12 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.

Bakerloo line won’t be running from Queen’s Park to Harrow & Wealdstone on Sunday

District line will be shut between Earl’s Court to Ealing Broadway, Kensington (Olympia)
and Richmond – both days

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

Piccadilly line not running between Acton Town and Uxbridge – Sunday only

London Overground weekend outage between Willesden Junction and Richmond. Saturday shutdown – Highbury & Islington to Clapham Junction/New Cross/ Crystal   Palace/West Croydon. Sunday shutdowns – Queen’s Park to Watford Junction; Sydenham to Crystal Palace; Highbury & Islington to Clapham Junction/New Cross/New Cross Gate. Early shutdown Sunday night at 22.00 between Gospel Oak and Stratford.

A half marathon through and around 4 royal parks on Sunday will mess up a whole raft of bus routes.

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 march and rally on Saturday afternoon will affect buses between Temple Place/Embankment and Whitehall.

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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London Tube updates – 4-5 October 2014

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

Latimer Rd station is closed for the weekend

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

District line will be shut between Turnham Green and Richmond both days

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

Central line‘s eastern edge is closed for the weekend from Leytonstone to Epping and from Woodford to Hainault via Grange Hill

DLR is not running between Bank/Tower Gateway and Poplar/West India Quay

London Overground has a Saturday outage between Willesden Junction and Richmond. Sunday shutdowns – Queen’s Park to Harrow & Wealdstone; Camden Road to Richmond; and Gospel Oak to Barking; late start time (8.15) on Sunday between Wandsworth Road and Clapham Junction northbound.

Click here for road headaches this weekend.

Building works will make the area around Shepherd’s Bush a mess.

A march and rally on Saturday afternoon will affect buses between Temple Place/Embankment and Whitehall.

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 surprise at US Passport Control

To some extent I expect – or at least look for – what’s different when I revisit foreign destinations, especially London. I try to spend at least a few days there very year and, at the very least, make time to see if there is new artwork sitting atop the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

What I don’t expect to change is the process of returning to the USA and coming through customs and passport control.

When I came through passport control at JFK in NY in January this year (2014), nothing had changed from previous experiences. I still filled out the blue and white Customs declaration, queued up to be seen by one of the officers who would ask a few questions, mark the form, stamp my passport and “let me in” so I could retrieve my bag from the carousel and turn the Declaration form to another officer. No big deal.

And then…

More recently, returning in September, I was introduced to the new Automated Passport Control kiosks. It was a bit chaotic – the US citizen queue and “others” queue were both dumped into this free-for-all space. One official repeatedly announced that we should step up to any machine that showed a green light. I think there were probably 20 or 30 stations, each with a computer screen and keyboard and not a green light to be seen. This was the first bit of confusion. I stood in front of a screen waiting for a green light which never came on so I tried to swim upstream looking for a green light. Finally, I saw one and was close enough to get there before anyone else. Really? (Were these things programmed by the same dolts who worked on the Healthcare website, I wonder?)

Not every US airport taking international passengers has this system installed yet; their website has a list. Essentially, each passenger has to process him or herself – sliding the passport, open to the profile page, into the reader and then answering questions on the screen very similar to the questions on the paper Customs Form but fewer of them. This may vary depending on who you are – after all, the computer knows who you are now!) Then, you must look at the screen, which has gone Skype-y and hit the button to print out your photo and a copy of the screen questions. I’m trying to remember if I also needed to add my signature; probably. To one side of the keyboard is a screen for fingerprinting non-US citizens or some other subset of incoming travelers.

Then, rejoin the queue to be processed by an actual person face to face. What surprised me was that nobody took the paper customs form so this bit may be eliminated sometime in the future. The official website in the link above says the paper form can be turned over for shredding but that didn’t happen. Tsk-tsk!

It was hard to tell how much the process was speeded up – I still had to wait at the luggage carousel for my luggage. There was a bit of a bottleneck at the forms collection point, but this may only be because I had landed at the same time as several other flights. First week of September is still practically high season for travel.

Still, the official doing the final inspection said “Welcome home”. As much as I long to live in Europe, I still love to hear that.

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Greyfriars Bobby – a grave and a pub

This is another popular attraction in Edinburgh that took me 20-plus years to track down. The red granite headstone marking Bobby’s grave has only been here since 1981 which explains why it looks almost new. Various pictures I found online of the location or positioning of the graves of both Bobby and his master, John Gray, show that elements like benches have been moved around. When I visited, there were no benches nearby making the headstone stand out – not that you could miss it if you came in by the main gate. It took me several minutes of walking round to locate it because I came in the back way from Grassmarket and Cowgatehead.

Endearing additions to the dog’s gravesite – sticks and dog toys left for Bobby. I imagine I’m not the only dog lover and former dog owner whose throat tightened up seeing this.

Bobby's grave, Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh

Bobby’s grave, Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh

Wikipedia mentions a number of alternate versions of the story, including — which of two men named John Gray Bobby belonged to, whether Bobby died earlier than claimed and got replaced by another dog to make his life sound even longer and whether Bobby was just a local homeless mutt, one of many which hung around anyplace where they found someone to feed them.

Oh, cut it out! The world will not come to a screeching halt if we choose to believe the most popular version. It might even encourage us all to work harder “to be the person my dog thinks I am”. The world could certainly use more of that sort of effort from everyone, whether you own a dog or not. OK. End of sermon.

Around the corner from the Kirkyard gate is the Greyfriars Bobby restaurant and pub. I hadn’t really eaten much this day – the place where I was staying didn’t serve breakfast and here it was late lunchtime. I also wasn’t sure what I’d end up doing for dinner because this was the night I was going to the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo at the Castle so in I went.

Greyfriars pub, Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh

Greyfriars Bobby pub, Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh

Nice smallish place and I got a table after only about a ten minute wait. I passed the time by asking the guy holding down one end of the bar about the beers on draft (draught). He recommended Deucher’s, the only Scottish beer of those. As I experienced on a previous visit, Scottish beer is… pretty dreadful. So much for the Scottish beers in this free house. Compared to the English ales I prefer, it (I really should be more charitable in my description) was like dishwater; the Theakston’s I had back in 1990 was similar. Even less flavorful than IPA and no body at all. Next time I should order a single malt to accompany the very nice chicken & Portobello mushroom pie! To be fair, there were several English beers and ales I could have ordered and if CAMRA likes these Nicholson’s group pubs I may just have chosen the only awful beer in the bar; I was just trying to support a local brewer. Ah, well. Live and learn and perhaps try again next time.

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