York: People and a pastry

My last day in York dawned bright and blue-skied, a welcome sight after my wet Wednesday, so I was up, checked out and ready for a cruise on the Ouse (pronounced ‘ooz’ peeps – just to explain my rhyming turn of phrase) only to find that all trips for that day had been cancelled…due to flooding.

Hmmmm…

So I wandered around the Yorkshire Museum Gardens for half an hour – to make the most of the sunshine (in case it disappeared)…

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…before deciding to head into the Museum itself.

The Yorkshire Museum turned out to be my favourite thing-to-do of the trip – and that’s in a trip full of great things to do. I loved walking through the early years of York – or Eboracum as it was originally known – reading about its people and each era’s way of life. I walked in the steps of the Romans then uncovered some Viking and Anglo-Saxon treasures…

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….before meandering to the Normans (from 1066) and into the reign of King Richard III (during the late 1400s). There was so much to pore over and read about as I wound my way through all of these exhibits. It was fabulous.

And that wasn’t all. The museum had a fascinating exhibit on Extinction. Did you know that 99% of all species that have ever lived are extinct? The exhibit began with an overview of the Five Mass Extinctions and how they happened. What followed was a range of cases displaying fossils from each period which brought each extinction chapter to life – here are just a few:

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The story ended with a showcase of the conservation efforts aimed at some currently endangered species as well as examples of where re-introducing species had not worked. It all led to the final question of the exhibit: ‘Should we just let nature take its course?’. It was a thought-provoking note to end on.

After a bite to eat, I decided on a slightly more modern turn for the afternoon and headed over to Treasurer’s House. The property is tucked away behind York Minster and was donated to the National Trust by Frank Green in 1930. Green was the son of a wealthy industrialist and although he did not always restore faithfully ‘to the period’, the house is a testament to his passion for architecture and antiques. It was also the Trust’s first fully furnished property.

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I spent a pleasant hour or so admiring and reading about each of the rooms and the house’s grand visitors which included King James I and the future King Edward VII.

I also enjoyed learning about Frank Green’s vision for the property. His vision was incredibly specific, so much so that his gift to the Trust came with a condition – that the house would always be displayed as he’d left it. One example: While he had lived in the house, he’d had studs placed in the floor to ensure that the furniture was always positioned exactly where he wanted it.

This practice is still adhered to more than a century later.

This might seem to be – okay it is – the legacy of a control freak but what I ended up seeing was his home exactly as he lived in it and not some version that had been tinkered with over time. It poses a number of interesting questions about the restoration of historic properties and how far this should go before they move away from being ‘original’.

I had a couple of hours before my train back to London and I could think of nothing I wanted more than a return visit to Betty’s Tearooms. I lingered leisurely over some home-made soup and then all but inhaled the most heavenly vanilla slice I have ever eaten. Seriously peeps, I do not have enough words to express just how delicious it was. Needless to say it was my favourite thing-to-eat for my entire stay.

Then it was back to the hotel to collect my bag before trundling back across Lendal Bridge to the train station.

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A sunset-kissed farewell from York while standing on Lendal Bridge

So that ends my marvellous minibreak in York. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’d especially love it if this series of posts has inspired you to go and discover its treasures for yourself. Please let me know if you do…

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My four York posts:

Photo tour: A walk in York

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

York: Amus-(eum)-ing myself

York: People and a pastry

York: The tower, tour and tearooms

As a history buff and fan of the city break, a visit to York has been on my to-do list for quite some time (okay, since I moved here thirteen years ago). So in March, I finally got my act together, booked a bed and a spot of breakfast for a few days and hopped on a train for the two hour journey north.

I had three days to spend and a list of things I wanted to do. The weather managed to mix it up too – bursts of sunshine book-ended drizzle, rain and even a flurry of snow. But it was blue skies that beckoned as I got off the train, bouncing off bobbing yellow daffodils and brushing the distant Minster tower with soft light. So I checked into my hotel (Marmadukes Town House Hotel), dumped my stuff and headed out to explore.

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I spent the last few hours of daylight wandering through the walled city’s cobbled streets and when the light finally faded, I found a cosy spot at the Lamb and Lion Inn (right under the old City Gate, Bootham Bar) to prepare my plan of attack over a quiet pint of something local.

It was a full three days – a wonderful mix of history, curiosities, architecture and breathtaking views – and I have so much to share with you. So I’ve split my York warblings into three Armchair Tours to cover the things I loved about each day.

Here’s Part One…enjoy!

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Photo tour: A walk in York

I went to York for three days in March. It’s a city that’s absolutely chock full of history – which I love – and is wonderfully walk-able – which I also love. Quite frankly, I’m astounded that it’s taken me thirteen years to get there.

True to form, the English weather prevaricated between gloriously crisp blue-sky days and a grey drizzle that bordered on menacingly unfriendly from time to time.  Needless to say there were lots of layers-off-layers-on moments as I adjusted to these changes. But that did not stop me doing loads of great stuff and taking oodles of photos.

To whet your appetite for the posts to come, I thought I’d share some of the pics that take me back and even now, take my breath away. Enjoy!

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Lisbon: A big day out

The story so far: Lil Chicky and I managed a six day rendezvous in Lisbon at the beginning of October. We ate, walked, did a little shopping and took squillions of photos – here’s another installment of our adventures.

After a couple of days squeezing a whole lot of value out of our 48 hour HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) bus ticket, we decided to venture farther afield and let someone else take the reins. Cue Andre from Portuguese for a Day tours who collected us from our apartment on a bright blue-sky Monday morning and drove us to the mountain village of Sintra.

For those of you who don’t know, Sintra is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape site set amidst the cool woodlands on Serra de Sintra about a 30-40 minute drive from Lisbon. It’s the site of many royal summer palaces featuring a range of architectures and this makes Sintra a really delightful and interesting day out of Lisbon’s hurly burly.

This was Lil Chicky’s first trip so she wanted to see and learn ‘lots’ whilst I went to Sintra as part of a tour back in 2002 – our then group spent time at the National Palace of Queluz but got very little time in Sintra itself so I was keen to see something different and take a little time to relax. With Andre’s help, we got all of that and more.

After a pleasant drive, full of getting-to-know-you chat as well as discussion about the area and the day ahead, we found ourselves on a shaded winding road, climbing up the mountain through Sintra itself and onto the Parque da Pena.

The park is absolutely huge and you could spend at least a day exploring all of its nooks and crannies but our focus was the spectacular Pena Palace. This summer palace was built for Dom Ferdinand II, consort of the young Queen Maria II (and cousin to Prince Albert who married England’s Queen Victoria) and is situated over the remains of a Hieronymite monastery found on the site in the 15th century.

There’s 15 minute steep-ish uphill walk to get to the palace but it’s absolutely worth it – we walked all over it and also around it, getting some fantastic views from the ramparts.

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These panoramas were taken on my phone on the way up. Inspiring, yes but I found myself wondering throughout the visit – and since – how on earth could I represent the wonderful-ness of this place.

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L to R: View of the entrance archway from the ramparts; beautiful blue and white tiles cover this part of the building; I captured this quiet moment on the way into the palace itself.

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There’s an absolute cornucopia of amazing colour and texture around every corner.

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There were stunning views from everywhere but I especially loved this view of the coast through the Moorish arches.

Wandering around outside the palace is included in the park entrance fee but we also paid a few extra euros to go inside.

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The palace interior was a bit crowded and warranted a bit more time than we had but was full of delicate detail, reflecting Ferdinand’s interest in the arts. But all of these trinkets take an awful lot of dusting…

We met Andre back at the entrance after 90 minutes and as we drove back towards Sintra, we had a chat about what to do next. But it was as we drove past Quinta da Regaleira and heard Andre’s stories about the eccentric millionaire with masonic connections who had it built in the early 1900’s that we were sold. So it was back out of the car and with map in hand, we spent an hour exploring the symbols of religion and the occult scattered amidst the web of shaded paths.

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Andre had told us about the network of secret tunnels and the Initiatic Well so we headed towards the Portal of the Guardians (top left) and entered the tunnel (top right). After a short walk we emerged at the Initiatic Well (bottom left) then climbed down the narrow spiral stairs to capture the view from the bottom (bottom right).

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A further wander around the gardens yielded a view of the country house, or quinta (top left), many towers and turrets nestled amidst the trees (top middle and right), the lake of the waterfall (bottom right) and a grand mosaic fountain near Leda’s Grotto (bottom left).

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Before we headed back to meet Andre, we visited the tiny chapel nestled under the trees not far from the quinta itself.

We were feeling pretty hungry after this visit so Andre took us to a great place in Sintra called Adega das Caves where we sat outside and enjoyed a beer and some local fare – my cod fritters were delicious!

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L to R: The blue tiles of the post office building – you can see the Adega das Caves entrance under the balcony; an interesting merchandising display overlooking our lunch position; driving past the Sintra National Palace.

Before leaving for the drive back to Lisbon, we stopped at Piriquita to stock up on Sintra’s claim to pastry fame (and Andre’s favourite Portuguese pastry) – the pillow-y travesseiro – so we had a little something sweet for the three of us on the way back. (I did not get any photos but there are great descriptions/photos provided in a blog post by Leigh and Lucy from their visit back in 2013.)

We started the meandering drive back to Lisbon along the coast, stopping first at Cabo da Roca.

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Cabo da Roca is the western-most point of mainland Europe and lines up very nicely with New York on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We stretched our legs, took some photos…and had a giggle at some of the tour groups milling around.

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Probably entirely innocent but it did look a bit like a bus for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunnies

And then it was back into the car for the drive past the beaches of Guincho and Estoril, and a 20 minutes leg stretch in Cascais before heading to one of Andre’s old haunts to enjoy a quiet moment watching the waves and savouring our travesseiros.

(As we drove in, we surprised an older couple necking in their car much to their embarrassment. Andre had told us he used to come here and drink with his mates so this was a great opportunity to tease him about what else he might have gotten up to.)

And with that the day was done and less than an hour later, we were deposited back at our apartment tired, windswept and absolutely thrilled with our Big Day Out.

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Andre from Portuguese for a Day Tours with his two happy customers at Cabo da Roca

Andre (and partner Filipa) are two enterprising locals running small group tours that showcase the country they love. Andre’s passion and knowledge was evident from the start and we had plenty of opportunities to shape the day as we wanted as well as relying on Andre’s recommendations about what we might enjoy. For me, it was a lovely way to revisit this area and enjoy a little local cameradie. I know Lil Chicky would join me in strongly recommending that you give them a try vs some of the larger operators offering similar tours in the area.

But don’t just take our word for it – you can also see what others thought here and if you fancy finding out more, here’s a link to the Portuguese for a Day Tours website.

And don’t forget to stay tuned for more from Chicky Tours Unlimited’s adventures in Lisbon – there’s more coming soon…once I sort more of my photos.

The joys of Spring

After last weekend’s blast of ‘summer’ and a weekend spent topping-up my vitamin D levels, I was all set to embrace a week of glorious weather. I had a rummage through my ‘clothes-not-in-season’ wardrobe in the back room and wore dresses twice…which also means I got my bare legs out. (Disclaimer: no passersby were blinded by said bare legs.)

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A pretty frock always makes me feel like Spring has arrived and the week continued to deliver splashes of sunshine-y colour.

On Thursday, I was walking back to the office after popping out to the bank. The sun was dipping in and out behind the clouds and I was enjoying the warmth on my shoulders every time it emerged. Suddenly, I saw this appear on the footpath in front of me…

I let out a ‘wow!’ – yes, I said it out loud – and started looking around to work out where it all had come from – much to the amusement of the less excitable people sitting nearby. I finally looked up to see the coloured panels on this building’s roof…

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…and thought how clever and delightful this was. It really made my afternoon.

Then Friday saw three of us skipping our regular supplied-at-work lunch to purchase some vittels for an impromptu picnic in the park opposite the office.

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Sitting on the grass in Victoria Tower Gardens – a pretty nice view for my part.

There were clusters of people scattered everywhere and sitting on the grass, enjoying the sun and admiring the view was a great way to cap off a truly Spring-like week.

Inspired by all of this Spring-iness, when I got back to my desk I made an appointment to have some new nail polish applied on Saturday…but by the time Saturday rolled around, Spring appeared to have ‘unsprung’ with the expected top temperature dropping to just 11C. So while I got my paws prettified as intended…

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This is O.P.I.’s Flamenco Pink for anyone who feels inspired to follow suit

…afterwards it was off for a) a bowl of soup and b) a scrumptious cappuccino to ‘warm me cockles‘.

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A real treat: an hour in my local cafe to read – I’m really enjoying Ferney by James Long at the moment – and sip excellent coffee.

You’d think that after living here for 12 years I’d not be so surprised by this meteorological u-turn but there you go…in any case I spent a delightful hour ensconced by the window, reading and people-watching.

One of my regular weekend chores is meal planning – aka how many quick meals I can prepare for during the week to prevent snacking on cheese and biscuits the minute I am in the door – so as I left the cafe, I decided to pick up some fresh veg on the way home.

There are a few Eastern European-type grocers on my way but I always visit the same one. I like to buy local, these guys were there when I first moved to Finchley and I like to be a regular customer. And as the quality is always good, I’ve never seen any reason to defect to any of the others that have opened (and for some, closed) over the last five years.

Anyway, I was unpacking my purchases at home and picked out the receipt from the bottom of the bag. I normally just throw it away but something made me glance down the list and I laughed out loud.

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Now that’s my kind of tomato!

And that brings us back to Sunday again. The sky is blue and although it’s not the dizzying heights of the 26C we had last weekend, the patio is flooded with sunshine so it’s out with both the washing and my good self to soak up whatever Spring has deigned to offer.

Until next time, here’s wishing you all the joys of Spring.

Finding Wonderland

It was wet and grey in London yesterday and if it hadn’t been for some existing plans I would have been perfectly happy to curl up at Gidday HQ on the comfy couch. But the British Library beckoned and so just after lunch, friend Aussie-K and I stepped out for some literary loitering.

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It was our first visit to the library. Yours truly has been here twelve years and until yesterday, had only managed a passing acquaintance last year by way of a talk at the conference centre next door. Given how much I love literature and reading, I am delighted to have ticked this visit off my London bucket list and to have moved from ‘I must’ to ‘I have’ at long last.

And what, I hear you ask, made me get off my backside and go?

Well, Wonderland of course!

2015 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s a story that’s been told in a myriad of formats and iterations over the years, its other-worldly characters and trippy plot making it the subject of much interpretation and debate. I saw Robert Douglas-Fairhurst interviewed about his biography on Carroll – The Story of Alice – last year (which I am currently reading) and the Library has been running a temporary free exhibition which closes in April. So we entered the fray and hustled – with what felt like hundreds of half-term families – along the cabinets and displays.

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The front part of the exhibit was taken up with a series of twelve (or was it thirteen?) decorated mirrors featuring quotes from Alice in Wonderland whilst in a rather cramped section at the rear, there was an opportunity to learn about the author himself, his real-life Alice (who happened to be a brunette rather than the blonde we’ve come to know and love) and see the ways in which this famous story has been communicated over the last 150 years. It was interesting – however the area was poorly-lit with little opportunity to linger and I found it difficult to read all of the information and look at the details of the books and manuscripts on display. I’m not sorry that I spent the time to shuffle through and see it but it’s just as well it was free otherwise I might have been a little put out!

It seemed a shame to leave after such a short visit and as it was still raining outside, we meandered across to the Library’s permanent exhibition, Treasures of the British Library.

Now THIS was my Wonderland and I spent quite some time poring over…

…drawings & notes from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo…

…musical scores from as early as 1050 and from geniuses like Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach (just to name a few) as well as a page of Puccini’s scribbled stage directions for his opera Madame Butterfly and a touch from the modern era, a burst of scrawled lyrics for The Beatles’ hit ‘Help’…

…pages and pages of penmanship from literary giants: 16th century greats like Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson, acknowledged classics like Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and even a little something from Ian Fleming, the man behind James Bond – who you could argue is one of the 20th century’s most iconic literary creations – and his short story, The Living Daylights…

…sacred texts, beautifully illustrated, from as early as the 4th century and from a  variety of religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddism…

…and one of the four Magna Carta documents dating back to 1215 which was sitting right alongside the original papal bull that annulled it just 10 weeks later.

It was absolutely awesome – in the true sense of the word – and these were just the highlights.

And after such a deluge of inspirational history, it was time to venture back out into the real weather, make a damp and concerted dash past St Pancras Station…

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…and around to the YumChaa Cafe in Granary Square for a warming hot chocolate and a slice of apple and apricot loaf…

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All in all, it turned out to be the perfect way to spend an inclement February afternoon in London.

My Backyard… Building Blocks

Today I was reading an interesting piece on Fevered Mutterings on what constitutes ‘travel’ and the premise that we tend to think about the packing of a suitcase, backpack or even overnight bag as an activity inextricably linked to travelling. 

When I think of travel, I think of going from point A to point B (which is the definition that comes to my mind given the Transport for London website exhorts me to ‘travel by foot’ for a portion of most of my journeys) but this is not a vision that will keep me going in the depths of winter darkness. Thank goodness Mike Sowden suggested that redefining travelling as ‘venturing somewhere new’ means it is right under our noses – that ‘travel *is* our own backyard’.

And last Sunday it was my own ‘backyard’ that I ventured out into to have a gander around Old London Town. I’m not sure that under normal circumstances, I would be up for an architecturally themed stroll on a wintery Sunday morning but I enjoyed Blue Badge Guide Paula’s trek around Shardlake’s London so much last September that it was an easy and enthusiastic ‘yes’ when the flyer came through for her guided walk through Post-War City Architecture

So we started at Barbican tube station and followed Paula – and her post-war story – through the City of London. Here’s what we saw…

Standing outside Barbican station on a crisp January morning

Following the bombing raid on London on 29th December 1940, much of Greater London was flattened. But contrary to wider plans, the City took its own view of its rebuilding and commissioned architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon to create urban villages for the working class…


The Golden Lane Estate was originally positioned outside the City boundaries until ‘re-zoning’ brought it into the fold – perhaps that explains why a 2 bedroom apartment here goes for around £680,000.
…and the more affluent inhabitants of the City.
The Barbican Estate was opened in 1969 (that makes it as old as me) and stretches over a 40 acre site. It contains more than 2,000 flats, of which a 2 bedroom version will set you back about £900,000. Oh and check out the upside looking windows top right.

We then ambled around the back of the Museum of London, took a quick peek at the Pedway System (a scheme based on raised pedestrian walkways which never really took hold) then crossed London Wall to Wood Street.

Traditional building blocks adorn the home of the City’s Police Force (yes, a separate force from that of Greater London). Standing with your back against the wall will give you a great view of the tower reflected in the building opposite.
The tower of St Alban stands in the centre of the street in stark contrast to the architecture around it and here the Norman Foster designed 100 Wood Street forms a geometric backdrop to Christopher Wren’s deft touch. But walk through its checkerboard frontage and you’ll find a veritable oasis. Soaring windows angled outwards bring light into the old churchyard and provide space for the old plane tree’s leafy boughs.
Next it was a trot down Gutter Lane to emerge on Cheapside – crossing the road, we found ourselves standing in One New Change with this rather spectacular view…
The dome of St Paul’s pierces the sky right opposite One New Change. Thirteen ‘views’ of the cathedral are protected by the London View Management Framework which prevents the construction of any buildings which may impinge on the view. There’s even a protected view from Richmond Park’s King Henry’s Mound several miles away.

We headed out of One New Change and down to Bank Junction where the architectural contrasts abounded again.


This is No 1 Poultry: the street, like those around it (Milk Street, Bread Street) named after the market produce originally sold here. The building, designed by James Stirling for Peter Palumbo, carves a ship-like post modern silhouette against the sky and has caused much outcry from those – including Prince Charles – whose more conservative sensibilities it offends.
Turning from the post-modernist perspective, we found more traditional architecture clustered around the junction with the Royal Exchange (top left) and the Bank of England (bottom left) dominating the view.

We headed up Cornhill, our guide Paula setting a brisk pace…

The Leadenhall Building (the ‘Cheesegrater’) looms above the stone buildings along Cornhill while St Michael’s doors (right) are tucked a few neat steps back from the street.

…and came to a stop on the corner of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe, finding ourselves both surrounded and dwarfed by edifices of steel and glass…

The famous Lloyd’s of London ‘inside out’ building (right) was designed by Richard Rogers (who also designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris with Renzo Piano) on the site of both the previous Lloyd’s building and before that, East India House. The construction style (called Bowellism) is notable for having its interiors – stairwells (spirals), restrooms – the boxes behind the piping which contain electrical and water conduits –  and air conditioning ducts easily accessible to ensure that building never need close due to any malfunction of its ‘essential’ services. This 1986 building was Grade I listed in 2011 much to the chagrin of Lloyd’s (the listing means that the building cannot be changed in any way) so the insurance company’s ‘overflow’ will be moved right across the road to…
…the Cheesegrater (official name The Leadenhall Building). Situated at 122 Leadenhall Street, this building is nearing completion and is expected to open in Spring this year.

And not to be outdone, just a stone’s throw away stands The Gherkin.

The Gherkin‘s official name is the Swiss Re Building – or that’s what previous owners Swiss Re insisted on. Another Norman Foster design and completed in 2003, 30 St Mary Axe was built on the site of the former Baltic Exchange which was damaged in a Provisional IRA bombing in 1992. I thought it seemed rather fitting that The Cheesegrater is within arms reach of The Gherkin…

And with that, it was a short walk to Bishopsgate and the end of our tour. Almost 3 hours (including what Paula likes to call a ‘warming coffee break’ at the Costa Coffee halfway point).

I strolled back towards Moorgate tube station filled with excitement at what a dynamic and fascinating city I live in. The time had flown by and I was so glad that I had dragged myself out of bed and braved the chill to explore this amazing ‘backyard’ of mine. I kept gazing around, wondering about the stories of the buildings that loomed over me and as I reached the intersection of London Wall and Moorgate again, I couldn’t help but take just one last parting shot.


The old and the new right next to each other again.

I don’t know their story. But I am sure it’s fascinating.