London Tube info 2017 Palm Sunday and Easter

TfL (Transport for London) sends out a weekly email listing outages, strike updates and other information related to weekend works on public transport around the city and sometimes beyond. This travel blog got so cluttered with these that I stopped posting individual updates. Please click on the links here for the latest… You may also want to add the TfL apps (look on Google Play and Apple store) or Twitter links to your phone so the most current info is at your fingertips.

Please note than when you click on the Status Updates link on the TfL site, it may start you on the real time tab a good thing if you’re already out and about. There are also tabs for the weekend and “future” which allows you to key in particular date/s.

There are no closures on the main Tube system for 8-9 April Palm Sunday w/e.  There are some disruptions east of city center on the DLR, Overground and Trams. The biggest logistical headache could be the two rugby matches on Saturday, the 8th — one is Bath v Leicester at Twickenham; the other is Saracens v ‘Quins at Wembley. Bring your earplugs for the post-match singing on the Tube!

Advance information for Easter weekend of 14-17 April 2017 (locals know that the Monday is a bank holiday, giving TfL an extra day to mess up their services).

Easter travel services around London       Easter services (or not) on National Rail

strike updates for National Rail on 8 April

London TfL / Overground service

London Transport this weekend        London for the next 6 months

Tube strike latest(not currently applicable)

@Traffic news (twitter)                       @Bus updates (twitter)

Hologram Easter bunny in colors of the Tube lines. Cute!

TfL Easter bunny

 

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New offerings from Tours International for 2017

In addition to the terrific tours of Europe for military, historical, literary and garden buffs, take a look at these new listings. Click on the Tours Int’l link under HOT LINKS! to the right for a complete catalog. Some tours, such as the Reformation tour listed below, are advertised as group tours but it might be possible to join an existing group as a single traveler or pair if you asked — you may need to clear it with the group leader rather than the tour co. Go for it.

500th anniversary of Martin Luther and the Reformation

TV themed locations from The Crown and Downton Abbey

200th anniversary celebrating Jane Austen

Posted in England, European festivals, General magpie travel, Germany travel, News from Britain, UK, UK news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aliens captured!

Lazy me. I AM working on a couple of other posts but it takes time, especially if there are more than one or two photos to add. Until then…

I came across this photo taken at a local autumn fair and had to chuckle (a rare occurrence in the USA these days). I don’t even know why these aliens were corraled like this, other than possibly needing to restrain them from floating around the area where they were hanging out until they could be either sold or claimed as prizes for winning some midway-type game. And what does it mean if it’s a purple one?

Hope they give you a laugh, too.

aliens corraled

aliens corraled

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Duke and Baron – Scotland’s Kelpies

A few years ago, a TV news item introduced me to Andy Scott, a Scottish sculptor working in metal who has created more than a dozen gorgeous works, most of which are installed in various outdoor locations in and around Falkirk, Scotland, near Glasgow. The focus of the news item was the unveiling of Scott’s latest work, two gigantic horse heads called The Kelpies, named for the aquatic horse-type creatues of Scottish myth.

The TV bit said a pair of small scale replicas or maquettes were touring the world and would be making a stop in New York. As it happened, I timed my visit to NYC on the day of the annual Tartan Day parade. Falkirk was marching, proudly carrying a banner depicting the Kelpies. I don’t always look for signs telling me where to travel next, but this seemed an obvious nudge to put Scotland on my list so I could track down the “real” Kelpies and, if I was really lucky, see some of Scott’s other works. These equines were slightly larger than life but one of them included a small metal stick figure standing at the base, craning his neck up at the kelpie, giving the viewer an idea of the massive scale of the full-size silvery steel beasts. Even these mini-horses were gorgeous and majestic and somehow magical. Horses have that effect on me. I could have stood there looking at them from all angles for hours had my schedule permitted. See my April 2014 post for more on these “little” guys.

I made plans to stay in Edinburgh for a few days then planned to rent a car and GPS so I could drive to Falkirk on my sculpture quest. There is an official Andy Scott Sculpture Trail in and around Falkirk; sculptures are on school grounds, inside traffic roundabouts and in other locations. I wasn’t sure how many I’d be able to find and, if found, get photos.

As it turned out, I cancelled the rental car, not because I had any qualms about driving on the other side of the road – I’ve done that several times quite comfortably – but because I decided I had not left myself enough time to crawl out of Edinburgh, get lost and found and locate the Kelpies and still make it to Edinburgh airport for my flight to Berlin. Instead, I traveled to Falkirk by train and found Dave, a local cabbie, at the station who could take me to the Kelpies and bring me to a few other local attractions along the way (separate post for these).

August can be cool in Scotland and there was chilly rain on and off. Luckily, the rain had gone by the time we arrived at Helix Park where the Kelpies reign. The park is very flat and covers something in excess of 800 acres, so you can see the Kelpies rising from the plain long before you’re actually standing alongside. Like the Empire State Building in NYC, however, the scale is hard to wrap your brain around until you get “up close and personal”.

canalside Kelpies, Helix Park

canalside Kelpies, Helix Park

This was only a few months after the initial unveiling in April 2014, so the Visitor Center consisted of a trailer with nothing inside except a single desk, a ticket seller and a sparse selection of literature. I chatted with the fellow who told me the town was completely unprepared for just how popular the Kelpies were becoming. They had produced postcards but couldn’t keep them in stock. He said this one attraction had awoken Falkirk to the fact that they now had a tourist industry on their hands.

Duke and Baron

Duke and Baron

Modeled on two Clydesdale draft horses named Duke and Baron, these massive metal equines carry the same names and stand 30 meters tall, each weighing some 300 metric tons. It’s difficult to project the scale of these critters until you stand next to them even with a photo like this one. Something about feeling the sheer mass of these incredible artworks.

Duke

Duke

 

Baron

Baron

I hustled out to the sculptures to catch the guided tour. Of course, it was possible to walk around the figures on my own, but the paid walk included the chance to go inside one of the heads to see how it was put together. Absolutely amazing!

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Unfortunately, I missed out seeing Andy Scott’s other sculptures but none are as gigantic as the Kelpies and there was almost no time before my train back to Edinburgh. I gave a Scott Trail brochure to the cabbie in case he wants to create a Scott tour to his taxi business, at least until someone sets up a coach tour. Falkirk has some claims to fame for locals but Duke and Baron have put this little-known town on the tourist map practically overnight. You must go!!

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London’s Roman amphitheatre

OK. This Roman ruin has very little left of it compared to the smaller-than-Colosseum structures in Arles, France or Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Those at least are complete; this one would require almost complete reconstruction and the removal of the entire Guildhall complex. Ain’t gonna happen. What we do have are the underground remains of an arena in the lower level of the Guildhall Art Gallery within the boundaries of the City of London. Really just parts of the foundation and plumbing and a lot of sand. Some remnants are stone, others are wood beams displayed under floor-mounted glass. Old, though. Very, very old. First century AD-type old. And there’s no admission charge.

Interestingly, if you didn’t know where you were headed, you might think that the 15th century stone Guildhall Great Hall would be the place to go. Not so. This Roman formation was only recently discovered (1985) while the art gallery was being worked on; it’s completely counter-intuitive to look for Roman ruins under the most modern building in the square. The Great Hall functions as town hall for the City of London, so a constant dribble of tourists going in and out just to look at the ruins would complicate the decorum in the Hall for those going there to conduct business, assuming we’d be allowed in at all.

Guildhall Art Gallery

Guildhall Art Gallery

Computer projections helpfully reproduce the ancient seating areas; the ceiling is quite low when you come down to it (pun intended) but even with these visual aids, it’s difficult to imagine the expanse of the place when you consider that there was room for 7000 spectators. The link at the start of this para has the full width photo I thought I’d taken. It’s sooo frustrating when my brain remembers things that didn’t even happen! The ruins are a tiny fragment of the original structure. Sadly, my visit was so close to closing time there was no time to explore anything else in the gallery’s collection/s. Perhaps next time.

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To get a better feel for the size of the place, go back outside to street level and look for a curved line on the pavement of the Guildhall courtyard. This is incomplete as well but gives a much better indication of the size of the amphitheatre. I’m assuming the entire extent of the amphitheatre’s foundations may never be exposed… not likely to get permission to go rummaging around underneath the Guildhall premises.

Amphitheatre footprint - aerial view Google Earth

Amphitheatre footprint – aerial view Google Earth

I wish  had gotten a photo of this black outline but when I visited it was after dark on a damp December night and the circle runs so close to the buildings it was impossible to make out on the slick, wet pavement at night.

The church of St Lawrence Jewry occupies the southern side of the Guildhall complex – below left of the circle in the Google Earth photo. I’ve added this photo simply because I liked the lighted tree in front and also because, depending on which direction you’re coming from, it’s likely you’ll come upon this church before you curl left around it and see the Guildhall. A good landmark to keep from missing the spot.

St Lawrence Jewry

St Lawrence Jewry

One sheepish note on the photo below – I must have been feeling the damp chill more than I thought, given the blur I managed to add to the photo before clicking the button. Nothing like a smudgy photo to prove this is a strictly amateur travel blog, eh? For those of us who didn’t know there were things like these, it’s a post marking the boundary of the City of London within the larger metro area more commonly called simply “London”. Note the City’s coat of arms near the bottom of the bollard.

City of London boundary marker

City of London boundary marker

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Posted in All Suzanne's travels, England, European museums, London travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

London Fire 1666

The Museum of London has a terrific exhibition commemorating the Great Fire of 1666 on its 350th anniversary. I took loads of photos but they didn’t do the show justice. The story needs more than just a couple of photos or maybe they just need to be better photos. So I’ll apologize now for the very small number of pics in this post but I’ll also recommend that, if you can, see the exhibition for yourself.

I have a few images of the most graphic element in the show – a very clever relief map showing where the fire started relative to the size of London at the time and how much it spread. The map is shaped like a large loaf of bread to represent the baker’s shop where the fire started. The map blackens slowly where the fire spreads across the city over the course of several days. It began in the early hours of Sunday, 2 September and burned pretty much unchecked until it finally abated on Wednesday the 5th and was brought under control on the 6th. The three pictures compress the endless loop of the display but the constant growth of the black blotch of fire was so mesmerizing I ended up watching it several times.

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The exhibit included relics recovered from the fire – furniture, glassware (most of this just pieces, either shattered or melted), metal elements from buildings, singed books, a charred tomb figure, even a wall fragment with several panes of stained glass from a pub, if my memory is correct.

stained glass 1666

stained glass 1666

 

Reproductions were displayed of proclamations from the king – Charles II as it happens (supposedly one of the guys in my family tree): one set up markets on the outskirts of the city to be supplied with food to keep people fed, another refuted a rumor that a French army was attacking the city to stop rioting and a third letter was issued to raise funds for the rebuilding of London.

royal proclamations

a royal proclamation

 

Something I’ve always marveled at is the way exhibits mounted in the UK are both very interesting and fascinatingly comprehensive. I’m thinking of stuff beyond regular art museums which are always and everywhere more full and elaborate than my attention span can sustain nowadays. Instead, whether it’s a large museum with an important show like this one or just a group of rooms in a small city or town telling the story of the places’s beginnings and development to the current day, the Brits manage to present their history in a thorough and engaging way. Of course, my being an Anglophile and Europhile and history nerd may explain my enjoyment of these shows; not to mention that my own stories are often of the long-winded variety.

The Museum’s website shows the exhibition running through mid-April, 2017. If this subject sounds at all intriguing, plan to get over to the City and take in the show!

Posted in All Suzanne's travels, Archaeology in Europe, England, European museums, London travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Santons in Metz

If you’re a fan of Peter Mayle and his wonderful stories about Provence life and culture then you may be familiar with santons. The word means “little saints” and refers to handmade clay figures dressed in old style traditional dress and come in a few sizes, you might even say pocket size. The first santons date back to the French Revolution when churches and nativity scenes were banned. Over time, the cast of characters has expanded to the point where an entire village can be created. When I visited Provence several years ago santons were not on my radar so I didn’t go driving around the coutryside looking for santonniers who sell year-round. This distinctive craft is kept alive by families who for generations have created the butchers, bakers and other artisans, folk going about their daily tasks as well as the farm and forest animals – all of which now populate Provençal fireplace mantels or tabletops at Christmas time. These scenes of village life are fascinating and much more interesting – to me, at least – than the typical grouping in the stable with just a couple of sheep and the three “wise guys” as we called them when we were kids (I want to say that label came from a stand-up comic’s routine in the 1960s but can’t find any proof). The miniature figures populate a village completed with the addition of houses, shops, bridges and other structures.

So. Anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find a chalet at the Christmas market in Metz, France selling santons. Metz is in Alsace, so not a region where you’d expect to find santons. Mesmerized by the display of so many figures, I spent several minutes paging through the laminated catalogue at the stall to see what figures were available and to ask for them properly. It took a while to make up my mind. I didn’t want to start my little bunch with the baby in the straw but getting a mini-town started could be costly, even if I chose the smallest size figures which only cost a few euros each. Just look at the all the different figures you can get to populate your ideal little community!

Santon chalet at Metz Xmas market

Santon chalet at Metz Xmas market

 

 

In the end, I decided on a few pieces to get my village off the ground and which would also be something of a scene that could tell its own story. The female figure is “une fille de joie”. She seems to be taking a break between customers. I’ll leave it to your imagination to infer her occupation. The black cat – just because I have one at home; the wild boar is an iconic forest critter in Provence known as “un sanglier” and the bridge was just a way to complete the scene.

My Santons

My Santons

 

Perhaps I’ll fill the background with bits of model train scenery… maybe do that next year. So… what do you think? Non-traditional for sure but I’ve always preferred to blaze my own path. Joyeux Noël!

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New tours from Tours International for 2017

Take a look at the new tour offerings from Tours International – the folks Dad and I traveled with back in 2002 (the Normandy beaches) and who gave Dad, by his own admission, the best trip ever!

I keep the main website for TI on the right –> see under HOT LINKS but here are their newest…

500th Anniversary – the Reformation  (this is a group tour offering and the newest in the Christian tour category)

TV tour – the Crawleys et. al. (this is an individual tour, one of several in the TV and film location category)

I’m not exactly sure if individuals can sign up on group tours. In the case of our 2002 tour, Dad & I expected to travel with other people unknown to us, so it may only be a question of keeping the head count manageable (and “separate checks” when billing). Just ask!

Posted in All Suzanne's travels, General magpie travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Xmas rats on my dashboard

I know, this barely counts as blog-worthy but hey, it’s timely, no?

These two critters came from IKEA many years ago. They started life sitting on the top of my office cubicle and, somehow, somewhy, they began getting dressed up for various holidays. When the job went bye-bye, the rats relocated to the dashboard of my car. They are still getting dressed up… with coordinating colored pipe cleaners wrapped around their tails. No idea of their gender; they don’t even have names.

This is a foto from last year – note snow in background. Happy holidays from the rats and the Magpie!

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dashboard rats

dashboard rats

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Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, not really travel | Tagged , | 11 Comments

St Norbert beer truck – photo

OK. I’m gonna try something new. My desire to blog has been pretty much non-existent for more than a year. Not what I envisioned when I started the thing and no real excuses to offer by way of explanation.

Sooo… in an effort to turn over a new travel-writing leaf, I will try posting photos with minimal text. I can easily find myself writing more when my butt is in the chair and I’m staring at the computer screen, but the tough part is getting into that position in the first place!

Here’s my first photo-post…

Cross the Vltava River in Prague either on foot or by metro to Malostranská. Outside, cross the street and take the #22 tram uphill to the Pohořelec stop. From here, trudge up the hill some more, looking for the high stone walls that lead you to Strahov monastery. (The two libraries in the main building became famous as locations in the BBC Musketeers series – see separate post, December 2015).

Near this entry and before you get to the main monastery buildings is a small beer garden where you can get yummy food paired with some terrific beer. One of the best coming from this tiny brewery is St Norbert.

norbert-beer-truckWords to live by and they obviously deliver!!

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London Tube closures 8-9 October 2016 and Tower Bridge

Remember – You can always click on the Planned outages link on the right for up-to-date weekend information when no current blog post appears.

Long-term traffic issueTower Bridge is closed to all traffic for the rest of the year (well, 30 December, technically). Gotta keep everything in good nick – and it sounds like they really will be working on everything. Alternate routes are signed for London and Southwark bridges. Have fun!

The weekend looks to be somewhat annoying in central London — Here’s the link for what is (or isn’t) happening on the Tube.

Circle line is completely shut both days. Painful.

Equally disruptive, District line from Embankment all the way to Dagenham East.

Hamm’smith/City line has no service between Liverpool St and Barking.

Track work on DLR will mean no service from West Ham to Woolwich Arsenal.

London Overground has a bunch of closures on the w/e – check the link above. Note, too, that the stretch between Gospel Oak and Barking is out of service until February 2017.

Sunday will see no service on TfL Rail (the new Tube extension from Liverpool St) between Stratford and Shenfield.

Road closures and diversions are numerous – late night roadworks in Chelsea, the usual traffic snarls around Wembley and Twickers for matches.

Most of Sunday will make for headaches in Central London due to a half-marathon. Click here for more info.

 

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some updates on London transport – 2016

I found this article embedded in one of the TimeOut emails I get.

Don’t think the report that buses are getting slower is either news or useful – who takes a bus to save time? – but the announcement about a new Hopper ticket (2 buses within an hour for £1.50!) is great news and I’ve been waiting for ages to hear about a new date for late-night weekend Tube schedules (to begin 19 August on the Central and Victoria lines – for those too lazy to click on the above link). Too bad that wasn’t in place last year when I got back from two weekend Rugby World Cup matches after 1am and had to flag a cab at premium prices.

Click here to see the most current info on accessibility.

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London Tube closures thru 14 August 2016

Remember – You can always click on the Planned outages link on this blog page for up-to-date weekend information when no current blog post appears. (I just reposted that link; forgot to change the 2015 link to 2016).

Circle line is shut along the northern edge of the schematic map along with parts of the Metropolitan and Hamm’smith/City lines. Click on the link here for more closures, including disruptions on the Tram and Overground systems which have been going on all week.

There is a long term closure on the stretch of London Tram from Wimbledon to Dundonald Road until October sometime.

The only station closure at the mooment is –

Lambeth North station – closed until mid-February 2017.

Road closures and diversions are numerous.

 

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London Tube closures 2-3 July 2016

Remember – You can always click on the Planned outages link on this blog page for up-to-date weekend information when no current blog post appears.

The weekend looks to be somewhat annoying in central London — Here’s the link for what is (or isn’t) happening.

Circle line is shut between Hammersmith and Tower Hill via King’s Cross / St. Pancras both days.

Similarly, line closure on Hamm’smith/City from King’s Cross / St. Pancras to Barking as well as between King’s Cross / St. Pancras and Barking on the Metropolitan line.

District line has no service between Turnham Green and Richmond but only on Sunday.

London Overground has a couple of closures – Gospel Oak to Barking on both days; Willesden Junction to Richmond is down on Sunday.

Sunday will see no service on TfL Rail (the new Tube extension from Liverpool St) between Liverpool Street and Stratford.

There is a long term closure on the stretch of London Tram from Wimbledon to Dundonald Road until October sometime. Also the stretch from Reeves Corner to East Croydon is down this weekend.

Ongoing station closures are –

Holland Park station is closed until early August.

Paddington station Bakerloo line trains not stopping until mid-August.

Road closures and diversions are numerous – central London, Battersea, Chiswick and Blackheath. Wimbledon and Southfields will be the usual Fortnight mess until the 10th.

 

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A day trip to Mostar

I’ve been working on this post on and off for a couple of years and could have sworn that I’d posted it already. Oops! I also confess that it’s longer than more recent posts; in any event, here it is.

In 2012 (see? told you), I booked a package tour to Croatia and Slovenia. I arranged my itinerary so I could squeeze in a quick visit beforehand – on my own – to nearby Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina (aka B-H). Rick Steves’ TV program made this destination look both exotic and approachable and it’s a popular day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia, where the package tour started. I’m not exactly sure what I expected from Mostar but I came away with mixed feelings, something that’s never happened to me before or, at least, not to such a great degree. Maybe, just maybe, I finally found myself at the edge of my comfort zone.

A travel office near the cruise port in Dubrovnik had day tours to Mostar. The tour bus picked up a handful of us tourists the next morning at the Hilton Imperial near Pile Gate in the Old Town, a short downhill walk from my B&B. After a couple of other pickups, we were off.

The bus made stops at a roadside refreshment area in Neum, the only Bosnian town on the Adriatic and also at Počitelja small Bosnian village on the road to Mostar; both subjects of a previous post. The border crossing was an interesting experience – there are few “real” such crossings in Europe any more though the migrant/refugee crisis is changing that in some places. Since this was before Croatia joined the EU, there were four border encounters on the round trip – each country with its own station and guards, though my passport was only stamped once (better than none at all). So anyway…

After the pitstop/snack buy in Neum, we left the coastal highway and headed inland, to Počitelj, approaching Mostar from the south. We passed acres upon acres of farmland which looked stressed, perhaps from a drier than normal year and with no additional irrigation apparent. The few houses, gas stations and other buildings were widely scattered, adding to the feeling that this was an economically depressed part of the world, even if the olive trees and grapevines had at least some cash crop potential.

The name Mostar comes from a word meaning “bridge keepers” (mostari) and there was a wooden bridge here across the Neretva River long before the first stone bridge was built.

war damage still widespread in Mostar

war damage is still widespread in Mostar

A local guide met us in Mostar to give us some history, take us around the Turkish / Muslim Old Town and introduce us to the restored Old Bridge. The guide pointed out a large piece of bombed-out concrete wall partly hidden behind scrubby trees and straggly vines across the street from the (completely rebuilt) Franciscan monastery on the western (mostly Catholic) side of the city. The war-bruised rubble used to be the movie theater, destroyed during the last war. Keep in mind that when people in any part of the old Yugoslavia talk about “the last war”, they are not talking about WWII – they’re talking about the period between 1991 and 1995 when different regions of that crumbling nation sought independence not just from the old regime, but from the incursions of other former Yugoslav republics. Mostar does, in fact, have a new movie theater. It opened in 2011. More than fifteen years to rebuild the movie house! By contrast, the rebuilding of the bridge took only seven years, from 1997 until 2004. Priorities. I suspect that the EU funds contributed for rebuilding the iconic bridge seemed a better (more public?) investment than bringing back the movie house. More than 15 million dollars had been spent repairing physical damage sustained during the Bosnian war by 2012, but there is still so much left to do and 15 million, frankly, sounds like chicken feed, even in this region where money buys -or should buy – much more than in other parts of Europe. >>>> I’ve since learned that much of the damage remains because ownership of various properties has not been resolved (the Bank of Yugoslavia is gone and with it, mortgages and other records) and because, as so often happens when large amounts of money move around, not all funds for rebuilding were accurately accounted for and used as intended. An oft-repeated tale with all-too-predictable results. This map of B-H showing population distribution shows, at the very least, how fragmented the country remains – and, given the division in Mostar itself, how even the map is oversimplifying things.

Franciscan church, Mostar

Rebuilt Franciscan church and monastery, Mostar

 

From the monastery, the path to the Old Bridge snakes past a long bazaar of small shops lining narrow cobbled streets. Rugs, copper coffee sets, household goods and brightly colored clothing, blue and white glass charms to ward off the evil eye – all grabbing your attention, tempting you and slowing your progress. Keep moving, folks and shop later!

Mostar Old City Kujundžiluk or Coppersmith Street

Mostar Old City – Kujundžiluk or Coppersmith Street

The restored Old Bridge, the centerpiece of the Old City, looks bigger on television than in real life; things always seem larger on TV somehow. The bridge arcs between two huge piers. When the bridge was first built by Mimar Hayruddin in 1566, during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, it was an engineering marvel, given its dimensions and the use of a single, semicircular load-bearing arch but its success was treated with pre-emptive scepticism – the architect’s funeral plans were made ahead of the bridge’s completion, so unsure was the sultan that the bridge would stand after the scaffolding was removed. Luckily for the architect, those funeral plans went unimplemented.

approaching Mostar's restored Old Bridge

approaching Mostar’s restored Old Bridge

Only 13 percent of the original stones were usable for the rebuilding job; the rest came from the same local limestone quarry. The 16th century bridge was reinforced with an ancient mortar made from egg whites and goat hair; the new mortar was a more modern mix applied only where mortar was used on the original bridge. I find myself wondering why they couldn’t “stick” with the eggs and goat hair – have they lost the recipe? The stuff obviously did the job – the bridge withstood 19 months of bombardment until finally giving way under relentless fire on 9 November, 1993.

The surface of the bridge’s walkway is not a TV highlight, but it’s the one bridge feature that stuck in my memory as I crossed the bridge. The slope is steep and slick; raised blocks of stone set into the surface provide traction. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I crossed the bridge mostly looking at my feet, rather than the views. The handrail helped. And I was there on a dry, sunny day. Hard to imagine what it’s like to cross the bridge on a cold, rainy night, especially while carrying shopping bags or after a spell of serious drinking! (Of course, the locals probably already know just how long a stride so they don’t trip… or fall… or slide home).

rugged footing on Mostar's bridge

rugged footing on Mostar’s bridge

At only eight years young, the bridge gleamed in the sun. The cafes and bistros along the Neretva River’s eastern side are perched as high as the bridge. These are some of the best spots to snap a picture while you grab a snack or a Turkish coffee.

Mostar bridge seen from the north

Mostar bridge seen from the north

A constant attraction on the bridge are the jumpers – young men prepared to leap from the top of the bridge into the river more than 60 feet below for (a lot of) euros. There were only a couple of these brave and crazy guys the day I was there. One was preparing to jump, not having collected enough money for the deed – supposedly around 50 euros; to be sure, the collection routine lasts much longer than the jump itself. Another fellow was down on the river bank, splashing around in the water to get used to the temperature. The water can be cold enough to stop a heart on some days, according to our guide. Nutsy. Just nutsy.

The cobbled streets and tiny shops of the old town soon gave way to more modern streets and buildings. The souvenir stalls continued, but in between were restaurants and other small businesses. A tiny outdoor market was selling clothing, fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and olive oil. This was early afternoon, so it was hard to know how bountiful the market would have looked early in the morning. Except for some tables near the street, the market was kind of empty. This part of Europe is far enough south to have a lengthy growing season but, as I mentioned at the beginning, the surrounding farmland looked to be strugging, so maybe even the agriculture has yet to recover adequately from the war. Or maybe this wasn’t the main market; Mostar has a population in excess of 100,000, so perhaps this little setup may only serve the locals working in the town center. (There were several better-stocked roadside stands along the bus route, likely more for the benefit of the tourist buses than locals).

Mostar's outdoor market

Mostar’s outdoor Tepa market

Our walking tour of Old Mostar complete, the guide announced we could go off on our own or continue with her to see a restored Turkish merchant’s house. I went along to the Turkish house with several others.

Turkish house courtyard Mostar

the  Turkish merchant’s house gracious courtyard, Mostar

A modest wooden gate opened onto a courtyard paved with rounded white stones, laid in circular patterns. A metal fountain tossed water into the air at the center. The stone walls along both sides of the courtyard reached to the roof, providing shade for the benches below at different times of the day. The timbered house was set back from the gate, an open air loggia at the front of the upper story, roof timbers exposed to view. Inside, rugs covered the floors.

Family photographs and pictures of Mostar hung on the white plaster walls, carved furniture filled the small porch and interior rooms. The ceilings were lower than we are used to, adding a feeling of coziness. The entire property filled a footprint not much larger than a typical two-car garage. Inside, rooms were furnished as they might have been long ago.

Turkish house bedroom and clothing

Turkish house bedroom and clothing

Mostar Turkish merchant's house - a fresh air pantry

Mostar Turkish merchant’s house – a fresh air pantry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back from the Turkish House, I came to the new cemetery just a few yards away on the next street. This little space had been a public park before the Bosnian war but during the conflict snipers made access to the regular cemetery farther away impossible, even at night. The park became the final resting place for the war dead. Headstones glare whiter than white in the blazing sun of midday. Most are simple columns, others are a fan or flower shape. I have yet to discover the significance of this shape of headstone though I gather they are uniquely Muslim. For once, the web doesn’t seem to know everything. Doing the math on the dates of birth and death showed that most of these men died in their teens or twenties, barely out of boyhood; only an occasional 30 or 40-year-old. All died between 1993 and 1995. And they are still here, a sobering punctuation to the stunning weather the day I visited.

The new cemetery in Mostar's Old Town

The new cemetery in Mostar’s Old Town

On the subject of comfort zones – even more disturbing than this little graveyard was the view westward from its gate. Atop the heights of Mt Hum, on the Catholic side of the river, sits a huge cross. I’ve read one report saying that the cross was erected on the spot where the (Catholic) Croat forces shelled the streets below. No knife twisting going on here, right?

Cross overlooking Mostar as seen from new cemetery

Cross overlooking Mostar as seen from the Muslim cemetery that was once a vest-pocket park

Much more enjoyable was my souvenir shopping at the coppersmith’s. Our guide noted that the family there were respected local artisans. One of the guys in our group also went inside, looking at the copper coffee sets. I’m not a huge caff-fiend and besides, lovely as these were, day one of this multi-week trip was not the time to add large souvenirs to my luggage. (Don’t you just hate it when practical considerations horn in?)

Copper plaque of Mostar's bridge by Adnan

Copper plaque of Mostar’s bridge by Adnan

Adnan is a third generation copper artist and looked to be in his thirties; much of his work was the flat, slightly raised scenes of Mostar’s Old Bridge in various sizes and there were also Turkish coffee sets on simple trays. Most of the wall art was round, but I liked a squared one, about 8 inches across. Perfect for the suitcase. Adnan was working on a plaque while I was there; he said it took about 3 hours to produce one, hammering the sheet copper to take the shape of the relief mold underneath. The picture was simple but iconic. A banner at the top says Mostar, Adnan’s name is at the bottom along with the year the plaque was made. A minaret towers above in the background. Look closely and you’ll see other dates – the left pier is marked 1566, 1993 is stamped in the water and the pier on the right says 2004. Birth, death and resurrection or, at least, hope.

Folks in Turkish costume were handing out menus for their restaurants and I figured I would look these over and pick one when I was done sightseeing. The place I chose was Restoran Sadrvan. It was easy to find when I decided I needed to eat, the outdoor seating area was shaded and inviting and I was intrigued by the Turkish clothing the staff wore.

When they told me there was a wait for the outdoor tables but not for the inside tables, I decided inside was fine. I was checking my watch by now, wanting NOT to hold up the bus by being the last one back – an annoying (to the tour guides) habit I’ve been succumbing to of… LATE). My table faced the doorway to the patio, so it was almost as good as sitting under the vines and the wasps were inspecting the food and wine outside more than in. My waiter recommended the Mostarian sahan, a sampler plate that was very satisfying. If you click on the restau link above, go to Local Dishes. It’s #54.

Coffee and Turkish delight

Coffee and Turkish delight

A Mostar lunch

A Mostar lunch

 

The perfect accompaniment? A bottle of           Sarajevsko beer.  Very, very good stuff. If Dad had still been alive, I probably would have brought home a can or bottle for him. I ordered the Turkish coffee which, though thick, was no more bitter than an espresso. The little cube of Turkish delight was the perfect last bite. Travel tip – it seems that you need to make eye contact with your waiter to bring him to your table. Closing the menu as we do in the States to signal readiness to order seems not to mean anything.

Made it to the bus on time – the restaurant was only a block from the Franciscan church where the bus was waiting. Whew!

Note – while validating some facts for this blog, I came across an article describing the social and political antagonisms preventing Mostar’s two stage companies from operating within the same building. Granted, the article is two years old but for Bosnia, that’s barely yesterday. A visitor won’t necessarily pick up on continuing antagonism; paid guides and other locals working in tourism-related jobs are anxious to point out a place’s good points and that’s probably for the best. It takes longer to heal emotional scars than to restore buildings and replant trees but even without any obvious animosity, there was an air of unease, possibly aided by the sight of a used syringe on the ground near our waiting bus or maybe just a side effect of my first visit to a non-Christian place.

Here is an account of another traveler’s visit to Mostar. I also recommend Rick Steves’ reflections on Mostar from his book Travel as a Political Act. Steves’ observations better articulate the feelings I struggled with on the bus back to Dubrovnik. Both the articles in the two links above were written by folks who spent more time in Mostar than I did but they expressed similar feelings to my own about B-H in general and Mostar in particular.

Mostar is working hard to attract visitors, not just with the Old Bridge, but by sponsoring music and theatre festivals and by setting up the Mostar Tourist Quality Project. Someone understands that getting the word out in the travel and tourism spheres will improve the local economy and help to heal the wounds of war.

Even if you’re just coming for the day, eat a meal, buy some locally produced souvenirs and tip your tour guide. It all helps. I didn’t bother to barter for the copper plaque. Maybe I could have. Like trying to recover VAT, I figure that leaving all the money I spend where I’ve spent it will do more good than saving a bit of money (in whichever currency) for myself.

All in all, I am very glad I chose to see Mostar instead of Montenegro (the other day trip the US travel agent recommended over Mostar). Comfort zones are meant to be exceeded.

Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, Balkan Europe travel, Bosnia travel, Europe food & wine | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BA short haul to charge for food

I know people who fly British Airways regularly, mostly trans-Atlantic.

Be aware though, folks – BA’s short haul flights won’t include food, so keep your sterling handy or bring your own snacks. I’m tempted to advise bringing high-aroma foods (I’ve read recently that highly aromatic own-food on planes is making other passengers grumpy, though bringing your own curries and tacos happens even on flights with food included in the price of the seat). Come on! Besides, will it REALLY ruin your entire day – or week – or trip – just because the person next to you is chowing down on a Big Mac or a tiffin box? Pull-eease!

Posted in Europe from the air, General magpie travel, News from Britain, travel advice, UK | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Best day on planet earth

What follows is my submission to the Rough Guides travel writing contest. The bolded title is one of three themes we could choose to write about. The piece itself is 492 words. The max allowed is 500 words, the min, 450.

I have no illusions about winning. Actually, I hope I don’t win anything. Expectations and all that. I used the competition as a way to kick myself in the butt to start blogging again. It remains to be seen whether it results in a resumption of my travel writing. You never know.

My best day on earth

Everybody’s best day on earth is different. For a beach person, it’s being stretched out on a Caribbean beach. If you love mountains, the view from atop Mt Kilimanjaro or the gorgeous, ever-widening panorama as you ride a gondola into the Alps could define your perfect day. Snorkeling the reef along Costa Rica? Having the absolute best seat for Formula One or the World Series? Surfing in Hawaii? If you want to stay home, perhaps lazing around in the backyard is your idea of bliss but my best day happens traveling far away from home.

I can’t fit everything into just a single 24 hour day. I’m not trying to be coy. My most perfect day consists of travel experiences collected mostly in Europe and there are so, so many; too many to fit into just the one day. Oh well. Here is one day’s scenario, a patchwork of experiences culled from thirty years of travel.

Morning is a cello concert at Sydney Opera House; a hike along the glacial lake depicted on almost every postcard of Banff in Canada; a delectable meal of grilled mussels on a New Zealand beach. These are some of the first bits Scotch-taped into the album of my best day on earth. Then I discovered Europe. How many people do you know fell in love with London not while standing outside Buckingham Palace or gawking at Westminster Abbey, but just queuing up at Customs and Immigration at Heathrow? Nutsy. Absolutely nutsy and wonderful.

At noontime of this best day I’m stepping into Barcelona’s stunning Sagrada Familia church, stained glass windows splashing ribbon candy colors across the floor. Next, I’m being flung around on the dragon roller coaster at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, followed by a trip to Mostar in Bosnia that takes me way out of my comfort zone. A group tour of the Normandy beaches with Dad in May, 2002 ended up being just the two of us as everyone else cancelled in the after-fear of 9/11. Orkney’s archaeological treasures, the floral excesses of Keukenhof’s bulb festival, the amazing sound-enhanced videos projected onto Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate during the Festival of Light and the tsunami-seeming winter surf on Iceland’s west coast fill the rest of the afternoon and early evening.

Dinner is at an outdoor restaurant in Brussels’s Upper Town. I’m eating chicken with morels, drinking chilled white wine. It’s a dripping hot spring evening and I’m able to communicate with the waiter using only French. Mind you, my French is pretty pathetic, but at least he speaks French back to me and not English.

Luck adds to the day, too. I find a nothing-much hotel in Provence at the last minute, very late one summer night and find Arles just outside my window next morning!

This day began three decades ago, the sunset beyond Dubrovnik’s harbor is breathtaking, the Night Watch walking tour of Zurich has run almost past my bedtime. (One of) my best days on earth.

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Bolshoi Ballet – Spartacus 2016

This is not, strictly speaking, a travel post. I went to the movies near home recently to see a ballet but enjoyed the broadcast so much I decided to blog about it. See… my two favorite performance disciplines are live theatre and the ballet. This was both, the Bolshoi Ballet performance of Spartacus broadcast live via satellite from their home theatre in Moscow. OMG!

This ballet has been around since 1968 but somehow I’d managed never to come across it before. Perhaps the Bolshoi holds performance copyright or something. If so, satellite broadcast is the only way to see it other than, say, DVD – assuming it’s available. It has been a staple of the Bolshoi repertoire every year since and, now that I’ve seen it, it ranks near the top with other superb ballet stories, along with Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Le Corsaire. My favorites are those with the most exciting (and, of course, physical) male roles which requires me to mention my all-time favorite – Rudolf Nureyev – in pretty much anything he ever did, including a surprising (non-ballet) turn as the King of Siam in a traditional 1989 production of The King and I. Doesn’t matter that Nureyev danced with the Kirov Ballet (rather than the Bolshoi) until he defected in 1961. He was an ethnic Tatar/Cossack with a personality demanding attention. What I mean is, both ballet companies tap into the same well of talent, passion and – for that part of the world – ethnic type which generates huge amounts of strength, fire and passion. Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union in 1961, long before Spartacus had been created, let alone performed, so I don’t know if he ever danced the role but, man, if not, we all missed out!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand – the Bolshoi’s 2016 Spartacus. It’s an ancient tale of Imperial Rome with blood and gore, guts and glory, revenge, love and sex – all the Roman vices, if not virtues. Lots more people know the story from film (1960 starring Kirk Douglas – OK, so I’m dating myself) and TV (2010-2013 on cable TV) than from the ballet, I’m sure. Enjoyable as these other renderings are, they can’t compare to this production by the Bolshoi with Aram Khatchaturyan’s music and choreography by Yuri Grigorovich. All these art forms demand suspension of disbelief but I think ballet exercises the imagination in a way that spoken or sung media doesn’t and that’s the magic for me.

The images here are from an Italian source, as is the trailer link farther down the page.

The story is epic, the staging monumental even though spare – this is ballet, not opera, after all. Dancers need SPACE. The vertical space at the Moscow State Theatre seems to go up and up forever; it demands dancers who can fill the air with their presence else they’d seem like ants scurrying about a tiny hill. Mikhail Lobikhin dances Spartacus with gobs and gobs of strength, ferocity and bravado, devouring the gigantic stage in his solos with Nureyev-like leaps – a feat no other dancer has ever duplicated, in my humble opinion – though Lobikhin comes pretty close at times.

Crassus, Emperor of Rome, captor of Spartacus et. al. and so the pre-eminent baddie, is danced by Vladislav Lantratov – cruel, arrogant, completely self-confident – until Spartacus bests him in single combat and then (horrors!) spares him. In addition to a terrific makeup job, he has the perfect Roman profile – strong chin, classic nose and cropped hair in tight ringlets completely replicating the faces you see on Roman coins and statues and golden military dress that might have been stolen from Mordred in Excalibur.

One of the biggest difference between Spartacus and other ballets is the stage time given to the large male corps de ballet. Sure, there are female leads and bunches of girls* as prisoners and whores but it’s the boys* who really carry the tale. Some scenes and bits of the choreography even reminded me of the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story which were lifted and tweaked from the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet, of course. *  Note – in the ballet world, the terms are girls and boys. There are other, more familiar terms such as dancer for males and ballerina for females; maybe these other words are simply considered less insulting (more PC?) to outsiders.

The Bolshoi broadcasts are introduced from the stage by Katerina Novikova, the chic woman who heads up the Bolshoi’s Press Office. Her comments are delivered in Russian, French and English. This time, she also conducted interviews during the intervals with Vladimir Vasiliev, the originator of the Spartacus role in 1968 (and a contemporary of Nureyev) and a woman named Aberkhaeva whose notability I missed since I was making notes on things for this post. Can’t Google her, either – maybe I spelled her name wrong?

Stories from the interviews – Vasiliev said the original idea was to have the boys who played Spartacus and Crassus swap roles on different nights but after opening night, the public’s imagination was imprinted with the casting so they weren’t able to exchange parts. He echoed a thought I’ve heard from lots of performers that playing the bad guy is lots more fun than being the good guy. Aberkhaeva told a story about the 1968 Soviet censors identifying scenes in the ballet that could not be presented – too sexy, too provocative, too whatever. Choreographer Grigorovich told his dancers to cut the ‘offending’ scenes for opening night but dance everything as rehearsed for all subsequent performances. Gotta love that!

Tracking down representative videos online is complicated. There are trailers and individual scenes from this production, most too short to do the ballet justice. So far, the best one is a less-than-one-minute trailer for this production. I watched many of the others but this 2016 production has a life and a passion that surpasses all the others you will find online.

A couple of side notes – watching dancers milling about in the background during the interviews. Most were wearing sweatpants or sweaters to keep from tightening up but one guy was wearing a teddy bear mascot/pajama-type costume that looked hilarious though I’m sure it kept him toasty from head to toe. Crassus strutted casually around in his bright red UGGs. The scrim that separated upstage from down allowed upstage to stay dark until the lights were brought up on tableaux of figures that would come to life in the next scene. The scrim was raised to form a giant basket rather than being hauled up completely out of sight. Normally, this would just be an interesting bit of scene design (a subject I studied and participated in at university) but what made me notice it was an identical net arranged in exactly the same way back in October, in Prague. I was there to experience that city’s Sound and Light festival called Signal Fest. This magical fishnet hung in the air outside the Rudolfinum concert hall and changed colors projected on it from behind. A minor artistic connection to another medium.

Rudolfinum blanket at Prague Signalfest 2015

Rudolfinum blanket at Prague Signalfest 2015

 

Posted in European art, European music, not really travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Piccadilly line 1 day strike – 23 March 2016

Looks like the 1 day strike on the Piccadilly line is going ahead today. It will start at 21.00 on Wednesday, and continue until 21.00 on Thursday. TfL says that the trains will run until 22.30 on Weds PM – presumably because trains will already be in motion.

The news release from London Tube is as follows…

“Drivers on the Piccadilly line who are Tube union members are currently planning to strike from 21:00 on Wednesday 23 March for 24 hours. If the strike goes ahead, there will be no Piccadilly line service from late evening on Wednesday and all day on Thursday 24 March. Although the strike begins at 21:00 on Wednesday, Piccadilly line services will be running until around 22:30. Please complete journeys on the Piccadilly line by this time, or travel earlier if possible.

Services on other Tube and Rail lines, the bus network, and river will run as normal but are expected to be busier than usual. Roads in west and central London are also expected to be busy.

If you are travelling between Heathrow airport and central London, please use Heathrow Connect and Heathrow Express services to/from Paddington station.

Extra buses will be provided to help Londoners get around. Buses do not accept cash. Please use contactless payment or Oyster, or a Bus & Tram Pass ticket. Contactless is the same fare as Oyster and you can find out more about it here

The Piccadilly line is expected to run a Saturday service on Friday 25 March, as part of the Easter Bank Holiday arrangements. Details of Easter engineering work can be found at tfl.gov.uk/easter

Please check before you travel and visit tfl.gov.uk/tube-strike or follow @TfLTravelAlerts,@TfLTrafficNews and @TfLBusAlerts on Twitter for the latest information.”

Good luck!

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London Tube closures – 19-20 March 2016 and possible 1-day midweek strike

A late posting, so anyone who cares already knows about some of this…

All closures are in place for both days – Circle Line – entire line; District Line – Tower Hill to West Ham; Hamm’smith/City – Kings X/St Pancras to Barking; Metropolitan Line – Kings X/St Pancras to Aldgate. Also Liverpool Street to Shenfield is shut on TfL Rail.

Check the link for specific issues with London Overground.

Click here for bus schedule changes and here for road closures and diversion, some of which is duplicate info from the bus stuff.

As for the strike, this would be a 24-hour action on the Piccadilly Line starting at 21.00 on Weds, 23 March 2016. I’ll post a separate notice if this changes.

Anyone planning to use SouthWest trains to get to the Boat Race on Easter Sunday should know that the stretch between Clapham Junction and Barnes will be by bus. Probably means hitting the road early would be wise.

Click here for TfL Easter updates and here for National Rail.

Finally, a long-term notice – Holland Park tube station is closed until early August 2016.

In case I get lazy and fail to post more for next weekend (entirely probable) – Hoppy Easter Everyone!

 

Posted in European festivals, General magpie travel, London travel, News from Britain, UK news | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tours International for 2016

Even though I have this tour company on my Hot Link list in the right-hand column, check out a few of their newest tours for 2016.

Shakespeare Tour  in April – one of 6 literary tours on offer

Downton Abbey in September – one of 9 Film and TV-themed tours, along with Sherlock and Wolf Hall.  There used to be a film and TV location map put out by British Tourism but that was 20 years ago and the interest in visiting filming locations has exploded with  the increase in productions and the word-of-mouth / screen of social media.

Richard III  – one of 15 history tours available

Tours International has several other categories of group tours and they will also set up private tours.

Explanation (of sorts) – I’m not compensated for singing T-I’s praises (worse luck), this is the outfit Dad and I booked for our May 2002 Normandy Tour (search ‘Normandy’ for the 3 posts I wrote describing our adventure). A terrific experience; I’d love to take more of their tours myself.

Posted in All Suzanne's travels, England, Europe's gardens, European museums, General magpie travel, London travel, UK news | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

old but helpful Dutch rail card news

The old paper tickets are obsolete on Dutch trains. Now you need a smart card, called the OV-chipkaart. Similar to NYC’s Metro card or the London Oyster and Travel cards, these can be bought as either single use or multi-use, reloadable cards. Next time I get to Amsterdam, I’m gonna check this out. I bought some paper tickets at Tourist info across from Centraal station last year, so there may be a ticket machine there for us wandering foreign types.

Another wrinkle on this change – you may need a card to even get onto the platform. This is already being rolled out near Utrecht… forewarned and all that…

Note – I found out about this 2 years ago, so there may be even more changes that have been implemented by now, especially with the refugee flood. Just click on the chipkaart link above for the latest news!

Posted in Amsterdam travel, BeNeLux, General magpie travel, Netherlands travel, News from Europe, travel advice | Tagged , | Leave a comment

London Tube update – early for Easter 2016

OK OK, so I haven’t been posting the all-important weekend closure schedule for the London Tube in … well, a long time. The world hasn’t ended but it may be time to get back into the habit. Remember, blog visitors, that you can always click on the relevant Hot Link when there’s no specific posting.

Even so,  in the interest of pretending that I need to know this stuff for my OWN travel, here is the latest on plans for work (work??) during Easter WEEK – meaning from Friday, 25 March thru Friday, 1 April. Be careful on that last day – it’s April Foo’s Day (sic)! There may also be scheduling issues on National Rail during the 4-day extended weekend, many on Saturday only, so check the link.

Also, I’ve added a new Hot Link for the Road Works schedule for 2016.

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Spinning on Milan’s bull

So… here’s the deal…

In the center of Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a gorgeous 19th (!) century high-ceilinged open-air covered shopping mall opposite the Duomo, there’s a mosaic of a prancing bull. According to popular myth, you should place your right heel on the bull’s balls and spin around three times (without falling on your face). This is supposed to bring you luck, or maybe grant a wish, or maybe guarantee a return to Milan – take your pick.

No, I wasn’t inclined to do it but there were loads of people who were; at least one guy even set up his camera to get himself on film. 

spinning on the bull in Milan

spinning on the bull in Milan

What I found even more hilarious was the fact that the bull’s jewels are effectively gone, replaced by a great gaping hole in the floor, big enough to drop a tennis ball into – not the sort of ball to impress a cow, even if fuzzy and bright yellow. Guess he’s just a steer now.

Balls all gone!

Balls all gone!

If nothing else, it shows just how thick the concrete is beneath the mosaic floor.

 

Posted in All Suzanne's travels, European art, Italy travel | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Visiting Richard III in Leicester

If you are an Anglophile and/or history buff (both of which I am) and you haven’t read The King’s Grave, by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones, put it on your reading list. Ever since Richard III – or what was left of him -was uncovered in a Leicester city parking lot in 2012, the discovery has intrigued me and I enjoyed this exciting account of the whole story immensely. The book’s chapters alternate between recounting Richard’s life and times and telling the modern tale of theory, documentation, fund-raising, permissions and ultimate discovery.

Before I’d reached the last page, I was determined to ‘visit Richard’ in Leicester. Let’s not quibble about whether he should have been interred in York Minster instead. His memorial stone in Leicester Cathedral and final resting place in the church’s crypt below is a damn sight more fitting for this last English king killed in battle than the barely consecrated pit where he’s spent the past 520 some-odd years. Besides, much as York might have a claim, they’ve already got plenty of visitor income; Leicester – not so much. It’s just too bad his feet weren’t found along with the rest of him, probably destroyed during previous building works in Victorian times.

Apologies for some of the crummy images; put it down to my excitement! Note the white roses at the base of the statue below. I’m assuming it was the back-up location because the Cathedral didn’t want rotting roses lying all over the memorial inside the church.

projection showing Richard's bones

projection showing Richard’s bones as found

 

Leicester Cathedral

Leicester Cathedral

 

Richard III statue with York roses

Richard III statue with York roses

 

 

Richard's memorial stone

Richard’s memorial stone in the chancel

 

 

 

Richard's morning view above the altar

Richard’s morning view above the altar

 

 

Here is a short video from the BBC of the cortège which brought Richard to the Cathedral last year.

My photo of the funeral pall didn’t come out, but here are links to the designer and the textile. Note that there are two designs, on opposite sides of the piece. Wish I could have included a stop at Bosworth field but the head cold that was settling in for a long stay shortened my day. Next time.

One last thought – one of my all-time favorite books is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Though a work of fiction, it spins a terrific tale – the main character, while laid up in hospital, tries to figure out the fate of the princes in the Tower and what role Richard did – or didn’t – play in that event. Written in 1951, but intriguing all the same. I expect I’ll be rereading it soon.

Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, Archaeology in Europe, England, UK news | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Strahov Monastery libraries

Taking baby steps to get back into blogging…

Fans of BBC Musketeers should recognize these places. In that series, these two rooms play parts of King Louis’s palace. In reality, both are libraries or ‘halls’ at Strahov Monastery in Prague, CZ.

When I first began thinking about destinations for my most recent trip in October, I found a few resources online that named and located various buildings and gardens used in the Musketeers series. Most of these were scattered around Czech Republic and, except for a couple of Prague streets, so far away from each other that I couldn’t come up with an efficient way of visiting them. Soooo, I made do with Strahov. (This post is only concerned with the two rooms used in the Musketeers).

Religious material is kept in the Theological Hall where a collection of globes lives, some dating from the 17th century. Books and other items related to the arts and sciences are in the Philosophical Hall. This seems astoundingly open-minded to have scientific subjects in a monastery at all given all the famous controversies involving Galileo and Copernicus et. al. but many specimens in the cases in the outer hallway  – bugs, birds, plants – may have been considered uncontroversial and perhaps much of the book topics deal with these. Even so, I’d like to have a clearer picture of the timeline of rejection /acceptance of scientific theories in the Catholic church. That’s just me; it takes nothing away from the magic of the Musketeers.

The monastery has had its home here since the 12th century but the buildings and interiors in their current state date mostly from the 18th century, slightly anachronistic for the TV series. Some of the bookcases were gifts from Marie Antoinette – an interesting connection to French history given that the Dumas story is set in Paris!

Theological Hall, Strahov Monastery

Theological Hall, Strahov Monastery

The monastery is open to the public all year and includes a museum of miniatures and a beer garden which serves good food and their own beer, reputed to be the best in Prague (more on these to come, I hope). If you want to visit the monastery, know that it sits even farther uphill than Prague Castle. For both these attractions, take the #22 tram from Malostranská and get off at the Pohořelec stop. There’s still an uphill walk of a couple hundred yards from there but it’s better than hiking all the way up from the river.

Philosophical Hall, Strahov Monastery

Philosophical Hall, Strahov Monastery

One other note – there are lots of other exhibits in adjoining hallways but you can only stand at the doorways to take photos of these rooms. The actors and crew for the Musketeers had to wear special protection over their shoes when filming to protect the floors and, as I recall, were not allowed to touch anything in the room.

Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, Czech Republic, Eastern Europe, European art, European museums, Prague travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Tube updates – holiday season 2015-16

The Christmas holidays usually mean reduced services for all public transport in and around Londontown; click on the link for a spreadsheet overview of the week ahead —  Planned Works for the holiday week. Closures and off-normal service schedules begin at 20.00 Christmas Eve when the whole system will go dark. On Boxing Day, the Tube will start up again but there will be no London Overground service until the 27th.

Good news for drivers, though – the Congestion Charge in central London will be suspended from Christmas Day; restarting on Monday, 4 January. Makes you want to drive into London just for that, yes?

Here is the usual schematic for Tube disruptions. Circle, District, Hamm’smith/City and Metropolitan lines are affected, mostly between the 26th and 30th December. London Overground and TfL Rail will also see some closures.

Click here for Network Rail changes smack on the holidays affecting travel to some airports (Really? who was in charge of THAT scheduling?)

Road and bus traffic will have some “issues” around Elephant & Castle, Swiss Cottage, Aldgate, Victoria. The New Year’s parade and fireworks will make for some headaches in central London on the 31st and 1st.

Lastly – in case I don’t manage to shake off my chronic laziness – there is a Lumiere light festival in January from Thursday 14 until Sunday 17 January when stations and roads in the West End and King’s Cross areas will be busier than usual each evening. For more information, visit tfl.gov.uk/lumiere.

Reminders – no long-term station specific closures to report at the moment but the new year hasn’t started yet. Give it time.

One last thought – Life is uncertain so EAT! DRINK! BE MERRY! Skip the gym for now; it can wait until next week!

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Tattoo – a corruption of a Dutch phrase commanding a pub to close for the night so the soldiers can be sent back to barracks. The word also was used to allude to military music practice and now refers to elaborate and exhilarating musical performances by military groups. This is an incomplete and utterly dry-sounding description of a widening variety of musical productions around the world, though the spectacle started in Europe, mostly cultivated by British groups and the most famous is probably the one held in Edinburgh.

For three weeks and a bit each August, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo fills the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle with a spectacular nighttime display of bagpipes, drums and horns, kilts and tartans, dance performances and an imaginative succession of images projected onto the Castle exterior to fit the theme of the performance oat that moment.

Performance dates of the Tattoo overlap with the Edinburgh Festival, so if you plan ahead, you can experience both in a single visit to the Athens of the North. Each of these events lasts about three weeks, so the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the Tattoo also see much of the main Festival. In 2014, the Tattoo ran from 1-23 August and the International Festival 7-31 August. There are also other parallel festivals throughout August which may begin and end on different dates. Mind you, Edinburgh seems to be working hard to become a city of year-round festivals of all kinds, so you could probably find some massive citywide event going on almost any time of year.

I’d been to the Edinburgh (International Arts) Festival on my second trip to the UK in 1990. Later visits to this city were in other months and the only reason the Tattoo came onto my radar in 2014 was that I planned to be in London the first week of September. I backed up into August to plan some activities and destinations beforehand. It seemed this would be my best chance to see the Tattoo. Did I mention that I can listen to bagpipes all day? Maybe it’s my Scottish roots or perhaps it’s just that I didn’t grow up hearing them 24/7. Whatever. Love ’em.

The Castle Esplanade is normally uncluttered except for a clutch of parking spots but during Tattoo month, tall bleachers form three sides of a giant rectangle with the Castle entrance forming the fourth side, video screen and stage entrance. Because I left my travel decisions so late, I had very few performances at all to choose from and only a couple with cheap-ish seats. Somehow, I wound up buying a top ticket at the end opposite the Castle gate. Small consolation – the price included the fancy program booklet. In the end, the section I was in was absolutely the best place from which to watch the Tattoo. I was in the top row but above me were a few rows of VIP seats, each with a program and lap blanket in one or another tartan (hmmm… I just realized that these might be very much tied to who was sitting in which seat… as in clan). These fancy seats kept dry beneath a clear canopy. Well-dressed folks eventually filed into that area, including at least one bona fide Special Guest. I doubt these ‘special’ seats were available for purchase on the website – more likely house seats for various upper class attendees. Our night’s special guest was a Vice Admiral or similar, smart in his dress uniform. He sat in the center of the row immediately above me about ten yards away. Performers either saluted him or sent a representative up the steps with some sort of gift. All part of the pomp, a spotlight shone on our Guest at the important moment and he duly rose to return the salute or accept the gift. Impressive.

One thought kept recurring – pipes and drums do get the blood going; the right rhythm, a catchy melody and corpse-waking volume have enticed men to sign up and march off to battle for centuries… too many centuries and too many battles. Thrilling and distressing at the same time but forget all that for now and let the music stir your peacetime blood and keep you a bit warmer on a chilly, drizzly night.

Anyway… the Tattoo last year corresponded with the overall marketing theme for Scotland in 2014 – Homecoming. Pipe bands and groups of other performers came not just from Scotland but from (former British Empire holdings) now Commonwealth nations. There were groups from South Africa, Singapore, Malta, New Zealand, Tasmania, Canada, India among many others. When I first looked at the program and saw these notations, I thought I would be snoozing through some of the bagpipe-less entries. Not at all. The presentations filled the space with mesmerizing pageantry and the projections on the Castle walls tied it all together. For me, the pipe bands were still the best part; the massed grouping of all at the end was spectacular, capped by several minutes of fireworks and a rendition of Auld Lang Syne that included all of us spectators singing along and joining hands with our seatmates. I’m not usually inclined to join in with that sort of happy-clappiness, but this time it felt perfectly right; a terrific end to a phenomenal evening.

The folks responsible for getting the most money from the spectators do know their audience. I bought the 2014 CD which had been produced earlier in the month – a special addition to my collection of pipe music. Haven’t ordered the DVD. I was there, after all. In person. Live. I rather think no DVD, no matter how well-engineered, could reproduce that experience, especially since I don’t have a huge HDTV.

You should go. In the meantime, enjoy the slide show, keeping in mind that these are only a handful of photos from all the performances presented. I apologize for the vague captions; I think the performance order may have varied from the program sequence; can’t remember if the lone piper gave us Scotland the Brave or Auld Lang Syne.

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xx

Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, European festivals, European music, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A charming evening in Radovljica, Slovenia

In the spirit of hoping to please some of you who are bored rigid with the steady diet of nothing but London Tube closures, I finally completed this post from a couple of years ago to keep you interested until I can do more…

It’s been a couple of years since I traveled to Croatia and Slovenia (and more than a year since my last decent blog post), but some of my most pleasant travel memories are from places in those two countries. Here is one…

One evening when dinner was not included in the tour package, we were offered an optional extra – dinner at a small, family-run restau in the town of Radovljica, not far from Lake Bled in Slovenia. [Note: I signed on for all the optional extras, figuring they would be unique, unmissable adventures]. In this case, it was also easier than doing dinner on my own or trying to figure out who to hook up with for the meal since so many folks were friends already.

Our bus dropped us at one end of the compact main street, allowing us to stroll past the buildings, fountains and churches on our way to dinner. Twilight was settling in, everything looked to be shut for the night, but light from some shop windows added a warm glow to our walk.

I heard no commentary from our guide but Slovenian tourism websites helped me put names to things. Here’s a guide to the slide show below…

Šivec House is a restored 16th century house now an art gallery as part of the Radovljica Municipal Museum. A statue of a boy carrying a book bag and a picture of a woman commemorates Josipina Hočevarjevi, a19th century local woman who had her fingers in a number of business pies and put the profits towards grants for girls’ education (plus ca change…) among other good causes. Thurn Manor is a mid-20th century addition to the town. It contains the apiculture (beekeeping) museum; beekeeping is a very popular activity in Slovenia, going back centuries and is characterized by the folk art of brightly colored beehives found throughout the alpine foothills. Sadly, we didn’t get to see any of these beehives so I had to make do with a postcard. St Peter’s church gleamed even in the half-light.

I forgot to make a note of the name of the restau and searched online without success for a long time. Googling the town, several similar-sounding and -looking places popped up but even after trying to match photos from the web with my own, I couldn’t do better than a weak “maybe”. See, there is Gostilna Kunstelj, Gostilna Lectar and a few others. I thought they might be some sort of chain but Gostilna is simply the Slovenian word for “bar”. Ah. Finally, the Radovljica pages in a Slovenian tourism brochure had some listings. Aha! Gostilna Kunstelj was the one where we ate. OK. Where was I?

We went first to the cellar to taste some of the house’s wines – a Merlot which I’d’ve liked to take home and a surprisingly nice Pinot Grigio (a white that always seems watery to me) – along with bread and smoked klobasa sausage. A short family history related by one of the owners, some accordion music – which continued much of the evening – and finally upstairs for the meal. Barley soup, veal, sausage roll with mild grated horseradish, mashed potatoes and a lightly brined sauerkraut much milder than the German style with white wine that I usually eat at home. More red wine, then an apple-poppy seed strudel for dessert that my Slovak grandma might vaguely have recognized, even though she was born hundreds of miles to the north in Slovakia. A modest meal but very satisfying.

The evening was clear and slightly cool and the town took on a magical air, maybe more so than if we’d visited during daylight. I could easily visit again.

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k

Posted in All Suzanne's travels, Balkan Europe travel, Eastern Europe, Europe food & wine, Slovenia travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Schlepping around Europe October 2015

Sorry, Folks! Once again, I was too cheap to replace my crummy tablet with something more useful so I’m having to rely on hotel wi-fi, which is sometimes excellent (last week in Zurich… gotta love that Swiss precision and efficiency!) or else really not deserving of the advert (London!)

Other than that, my time away has been very enjoyable, though I’m becoming acutely aware that I’m not in the kind of shape I used to be in for all this walking. Not to mention climbing around the top of Mt Pilatus – which is not the Herculean task one might think. Two gondola rides to the top and then a walk ’round the summit before climbing, I don’t know, a couple hundred steps to the tippy top? And in dense fog, too. Even if you’re not in the Alps, Switzerland is verrrry steep. I swear the cows need to have two legs shorter than the others to navigate the vertiginous hillsides. They were just starting to come out of the mountain pastures for the winter when I was there on one of the day trips provided by Best of Switzerland.

London visits bookending time in Zurich have been different from other trips, too. TWO (count ’em, two) Rugby World Cup matches, each outside London so I bought tickets which included round-trip bus, else getting there and back – once to Newcastle and once to Cardiff would have been a pain. The second, yesterday, was in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium, arguably one of the great rugby temples in the world. Attendance in excess of 72,000. Yikes! The hard surfaces of the structure made the raucous crowd sound even more like a rock concert. On each occasion, I found out just how waterproof (actually… beerproof) my shoulder bag/s were.

Also met an old friend for a visit to the Royal Academy and the current Ai WeiWei exhibition. Phenomenal, thought-provoking stuff. I’m still thinking about how he has physicalized his thoughts and feelings about political topics, not least of which is his six cubes of shadow boxes. Inside each is the same space – his room when he was detained by Chinese authorities for (I’ll say it) no good reason. Each diorama shows him in a different part of the space, whether eating, sleeping or in the toilet and always accompanied by two silent guards standing within arm’s reach. Absolutely bizarre conditions, making his personal resolve all the more amazing.

Now I’m headed for Berlin and their annual sound and light show, with colorful projections and matching music and other audio to accompany it, all being projected onto the public buildings. Looking forward to it. After that, headed to Prague where they will be doing the same sort of thing later in the week. With luck and a continued modest level of strength, the plan is to spend a few days in Milan, seeing the Expo, the Duomo, maybe the Last Supper if I can get a ticket (buffet style?) before returning to London for several days.

The budget hasn’t gotten completely wrecked yet, so I’m hopeful I won’t have to whip out the credit card/s except for hotels.

I’d like to promise more soon, but I can’t be sure.

Posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, England, European art, European museums, London travel, Swiss travel | 2 Comments