Visit my Facebook page for current news and events in Europe

Rather than clutter up the blog page with all 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.

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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

==

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

===============

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.

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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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A Robert Louis Stevenson tribute

Just about the only benefit of my staying in the Corstorphine area on Edinburgh’s outskirts was this statue across the street from the house and a few steps from the Western Corner bus stop. (The only other worthwhile attraction in this part of town is the Edinburgh Zoo, which I’d visited on a recent trip).

Stewart and Balfour Kidnapped

Stewart and Balfour Kidnapped

The figures represent Alan Breck Stewart (a real person) and David Balfour, characters from Stevenson’s novel,  Kidnapped. The spot where this monument by Alexander Stoddart was erected – and unveiled by Sean Connery in September 2004 – is near where the two men parted company at the end of their adventures, by the gate to a modern but since demolished (2010) distillery HQ.

The moral? Don’t assume that just because you’re far away from all the highly promoted sights doesn’t mean there’s nothing to discover. Even the most nondescript location can yield a surprise gem. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

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Thoughts on Europe from a departure lounge

Nothing too deep or complicated; just remembering where my head was at while waiting to board my flight from Edinburgh to Berlin last month.

The overhead flight board displayed a list of departing planes. Oh, the places you can go if you fly from Edinburgh Airport…

Belfast, Dusseldorf, London Heathrow, Berlin, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Milan, Heraklion, Southampton, Shannon, Corfu, Palma, Istanbul, Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Birmingham, London Stansted, Brussels, Nice, London Gatwick, Sunburgh, Stornoway, Kirkwall, Manchester, Norwich, and these were all on planes leaving in the space of an hour or two.

I didn’t bother to make note of places outside Europe, I just drooled (mentally) and sighed, thinking of all the places I’ve yet to visit and wondering how in hell I’ll find the time to see them all, no matter how I get there.

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London Tube updates – 27-28 September 2014

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

Chancery Lane station will be shut on Sunday only.

Circle Line is down between Gloucester Road to Aldgate via Victoria. Similarly, the District line will be shut between South Kensington and Aldgate East

London Overground has an all weekend outage between Surrey Quays and Crystal Palace/West Croydon. Multiple outages on Sunday – Clapham Junction to Kensington Olympia; Camden Road to Willesden Junction via West Hampstead and from Gospel Oak to Barking

Regent Street will become a traffic-free zone on Saturday. This will foul up bus services in the area for a marketing event sponsored by the NFL. Probably too much to hope that the effort will be a bust.  Also – nighttime roadworks will shut Regent St southbound from 22:00 on Sunday until 06:00 on Saturday 4 October each night,

Southwark will be the site of an overnight event – 5 pm Saturday into midday Sunday for a charity walk. This will alter bus routes around Southwark Park and Old Billingsgate.

Reminders -

Putney Bridge set to reopen on 26 September (tomorrow)

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 set for all-night weekend service – September 2015

From London Independent, but will look for more info from TfL.

I’m looking forward to experiencing this development in London’s (possible) evolution to a 24/7 city, at least on weekends. Night buses will presumably still be a big part of after-hours transport, but I imagine a lot of people will take advantage of these new late Tube trains so they don’t have to make a mad dash for the last train of the night, clogging platforms and cars though there was a certain festive energy to that experience on occasion.

According to BBC News, we can expect 6 trains per hour on much of the Piccadilly, Central, Northern, Jubilee and Victoria lines. Sounds a tiny bit like oversupply, but I suppose I wouldn’t want to stand around on an Underground platform for more than 10 minutes at 3 am.

The Express newspaper notes that this expansion will coincide with the Rugby World Cup – an event I’m hoping to see bits of – and not some wussy near-match like USA v Almost Anybody. Been there, done that, not interested.

Rugby or no, let’s all hop on the late Tube bandwagon next year; maybe pubs will expand their hours as well. Cheers!

 

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Rooms and their views – summer 2014

While I try to sort out all the fotos and stories from my summer trip, I figured I’d post something slightly out of the ordinary from my usual stuff… these are the views from some of the rooms I called home in Orkney, Berlin and London.

At first I thought I would just post all the window shots but most of them are truly unremarkable, especially the view of the super narrow alley in Edinburgh that didn’t even produce a decent image. My room at the B&B in Inverness was more interesting than the view out the window but for some reason none of the photos came out (outdoor setting not working in low light maybe). The tiny room was all chintz, frilled pillows, 50’s style wallpaper and varnished pine trim. This could have been the owner’s daughter’s old room, it was that cozy and adorable.

OK. So forget about the photos I’m not posting. On the other hand…

The Ferry Inn, my Orkney accommodation in Stromness, gets my vote for most dramatic room’s view of the ferry port. The ferry that crosses the Pentland Firth to Scrabster on Scotland’s north coast anchors here overnight; the hotel was just across the parking lot. The ferry looked sort of magical, all lit up, ready to head off again in the morning.

North Link ferry asleep in Stromness

North Link ferry asleep in Stromness

Time for a change of country /city. I’ve been to Germany a couple of times on previous trips but Berlin was a new adventure and lest there be any doubt that I was in Germany, one glance out my window would fix that – a lighted, revolving Mercedes logo atop a nearby office tower. Sheesh!

Berlin view sponsored by Mercedes Benz

Berlin view sponsored by Mercedes Benz

Finally, London. Every time I return to this busy, crowded, still very European metropolis, I feel I’ve come home. This time, I stayed in an ordinary IKEA-furnished room in one of the dorms at the London School of Economics – Northumberland House. The location was absolutely ideal – right across the street from the Sherlock Holmes pub and barely a two minute walk from Trafalgar Square, one of my favorite public spaces. The view from my ninth floor room included a red brick tower that I never managed to locate at street level. The unseen but definitely heard bonus for this place? Big Ben’s hourly chimes wafting in the window. Heavy sigh.

London mornings almost always start out sunny

London mornings almost always start out sunny

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