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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Belem, two hills and a valley

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

Having already booked our day trip to Sintra and our Lisbon Eats Walking Tour, we knew we had four days left to explore Lisbon itself. We are both big fans of a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus (hereafter referred to as the HOHO bus) and decided that buying a 48 hour ticket was the perfect way to get our bearings – by the end of our first day, we had managed to combine all of the things we wanted to see into some semblance of a plan.

The valley

The central districts of Lisbon are built across two main hills and the valley that lies between them. If you stand with your back to the River Tagus at Praca do Comercio, the valley lies in front of you and follows a path through Baixa, Rossio, Restauradores and the Avenida da Liberdade.

the-valley

L to R: Looking towards the River Tagus through the arch leading onto Praca do Comercio; turn around and head straight to Rossio where in the top left corner, you’ll find the gorgeous Rossio train station; a brisk 20 minute walk up the Avenida da Liberdade from the station will take you to the Pombal roundabout and this view of Praca Dom Eduardo VII.

We spent a fair bit of time here: The HOHO bus routes all start from the Pombal roundabout and stop in Rossio which itself was less than a ten minute walk from our apartment. Several times we found ourselves wandering through the streets of Baixa on our way back to the apartment and after walking for several hours each day, we were pretty grateful for this flat, easy route home.

Rossio is also the location of two of our pasteis de nata haunts – Cafe Nicola and Pastelaria Suica – and the neighbouring Praca de Figueria held a third – Confeitaria Nacional. Combined with Praca de Martim Moniz, with its cluster of food huts and outdoor tables at one end and The Mundial with its fabulous rooftop bar at the other, we had plenty of places to eat, drink and watch the world go by.

The hill on the right

Coming back to the Praca do Comercio, if you look to your right the Castelo de Sao Jorge perches atop the hill…

view-of-martim-moniz-from-castel

This is the view of ‘the valley’ from Castelo de Sao Jorge on the hill to the right. The longer stretch of green running from left to right at the top of the picture is Restauradores and the square is Praca de Martim Moniz – we stayed in an Air BnB apartment in the building where the yellow bus is. It was a great location and fabulous view of the castle from the window every morning.

…with the Alfama district cluttered busily below.

alfama-montage-1

L to R: Alfama is full of meandering passages and lots of steps; the view from Castelo de Sao Jorge over Alfama – you can just see the 25th of April bridge over the river and the Christo Rei statue on the other side. 

We spent a good couple of hours up at the castle early on the Tuesday morning. The views are absolutely spectacular and you get to see Lisbon from all sorts of angles especially if you climb up and walk around the ramparts.

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Another stunning view from the Castelo de Sao Jorge

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Clockwise L to R: View of Castelo de Sao Jorge from our apartment; entering the fort; the ramparts; the nearby archaeological site; the main entrance to the castle is a short walk up hill from Largos das Portas do Sol.

We spent the rest of that day wandering back down through Alfama, stopping to admire the wares at the Feira da Ladra (The Thieves Market) and to visit the Panteo Nacional at the Church of Santa Engracia.

fearie-de-ladre-montage

The Feira da Ladra: My vintage handbag (bottom right) was a bargain and I managed to squeeze it into my carry-on to get it home. Happy days!

panteo-nacional-montage

Clockwise from top left: The dome of the church of Santa Engracia against a bright blue sky; interior view at ground level; another fantastic spot to capture the view; eagle eye view of the interior; a moment to rest in the shade.

The hill on the left

Looking left from the Praca do Comercio you can see Bairro Alto rising up from Chiado with the viewing deck of the Elevador de Santa Justa just visible between the roof tops.

santa-justa-baixa-montage

Santa Justa views: From Baixa at the bottom (left) and of the spot we stood from the viewing deck at the top (right).

Rather than join the queue to go up in the lift from Baixa, we took an alternative – and more circuitous – route to get to the top. We caught the #28 tram from Martim Moniz early Wednesday morning, weaving through the hilly streets around the castle and down through Alfama (much easier on the legs than all of the walking we did the day before). We got off at the Biaxa-Chiado Metro station for breakfast at the nearby Cafe A Brasileira in Rue Garrett before the short walk up the hill to visit the 14th century ruins of Igreja do Carmo.

igreja-do-carmo-montage

Top left: The magnificent entrance to the remains of the old carmelite church that remain standing from the earthquake in 1755. Right: View of the site from the viewing deck of the Santa Justa elevator.

After a couple of hours here we walked straight across to the viewing deck entrance at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa and took in the stunning views from the other side of the valley.

santa-justa-montage

Left: Spiral stairs lead up to the viewing platform. Right: Yet another spectacular view across Lisbon to the Castelo de Sao Jorge on the opposite hill.

Then it was a wander through the streets of Bairro Alto before catching the Elevador da Gloria (a funicular running between Restauradores and Bairro Alto) back down to the valley again.

barrio-alto-montage

Scenes from our wanders through Bairro Alto and the funicular that transported us down the hill again.

We had been told that the time to really see Bairro Alto come to life is at night but it was pleasant to walk through the streets in the sunshine and take our time. We ended up at an outdoor cafe on Miradour de San Pedro de Alcantara eating, drinking and listening to a bit of Marvin Gaye under the trees.

Belem

And finally we went a little further afield and took the HOHO bus out to Belem. There’s plenty to see and do including…

…the Monument to the Discoveries – covered with scaffolding…

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…and the Torre de Belem, where the queue was so long, we didn’t go in.

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Thankfully we had better luck at the Jeronimos Monastery

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…where we spent a glorious couple of hours wandering through the cloisters, the refectory and the church where the tomb of Vasco da Gama lies. We took loads of photos here but it’s really difficult to do it justice. Suffice to say it is absolutely worth the visit but leave yourself plenty of time to see everything, perhaps taking a meander through the market as well as popping across the road to Pasteis de Belem for a custard tart.

So as you can imagine we had a pretty full four days and there were still plenty of things we did not see. But I hope in this and the last two posts, I’ve shared enough to whet your appetite for this wonderful city and all it has to offer.


Other posts in this series:

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.

pena-panoramas

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.

pena-palace-montage-2

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.

pena-interiors-montage

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.

quinta-tunnels

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).

quinta-montage

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).

quinta-church

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!

sintra-main-st

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.

cabo-da-roca-montage

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.

tour-bus-at-cabo-da-roca

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.

When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

pasteis-de-nata-1

It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

mercado-di-ribeiro

…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

charity-begins-with-a-view

Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

muscat-by-the-bar-lisbon

Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

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Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/

A mosey ’round Merseyside (Liverpool #2)

The story so far…

Mum and I went to Liverpool over the Easter break. On Day 1 we did a Magical Mystery Tour, took the Ferry Across the Mersey, trawled through The Beatles Story and sweated it out at the Cavern Club. It was an excellent and very musically-themed beginning to our trip but there was much more to come. Here’s what happened next.

On Day 2, we started out with a City Explorer Bus Ride to orient ourselves with the other things to see and do in Liverpool. Our guide on the bus had a traditional Liverpudlian accent which Mum mentioned was sometimes hard to understand. Speaking of Mum here she is on the bus, taking photos (a common sight when one travels with my mother) and her version of rugging up against the blustery cold wind.

Mum in Liverpool

We then spent some time wandering around Albert Dock, taking more photos…

Albert Dock

Liverpool architecture

Top: The three graces of Liverpool Bottom: View from Albert Dock

…and visiting the International Slavery Museum.

Slave museum

We spent a couple of hours here. It was a great follow up to the Sugar and Slavery walking tour that I did in London in March and I must say that I left not only shocked by the legacy of the slave trade from the 15th and 16th centuries but devastated that slavery continues to prosper in places like India and Africa (just to name two).

We topped off our more leisurely day with a nanna nap back at the hotel before a fab dinner just around the corner at Jamie’s Italian (complete with a friendly waiter who had just returned from travelling in Australia).

Our final day dawned and with a mid-afternoon departure scheduled, we decided to spend our remaining time exploring on foot with a view to visiting Liverpool’s two cathedrals en route.

The streets behind the hotel yielded some interesting ‘art’…

Street scenes Liverpool

…but we did find our way to Chinatown…

Chinatown

…before heading to our first place of worship, the gothic-inspired Liverpool Cathedral.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - exterior

It was magnificent, full of soaring arches and stained glass. I particularly loved the intimacy and quiet of the Lady Chapel and the series of windows dedicated to some of the important women in English history…

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - Chapel windows

After a fortifying coffee in the cathedral cafe, where we gazed out over the nave spotted with coloured light from the windows, it was time to head up Hope Street…

Suitcases

…to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

This is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and while it may not have the same traditional look as its Anglican counterpart at the other end of Hope Street, Paddy’s Wigwam (as it is also known) is Grade II listed. Originally the cathedral was to be the largest in Europe, planned to be on a par with St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City but after several years and millions of pounds invested, only the crypt was completed and work stopped as the money dried up.

However, it was generally acknowledged that Liverpool still needed a cathedral and so Frederick Gibberd, winner of a world-wide design competition, built the existing cathedral between 1962 and 1967. He managed to do this within both the time period specified (five years) and the one million pound budget as well as preserving the crypt which is now used for all sorts of events and concerts.

After I got over my shock at its modernity, the space and light really grew on me and after wandering through the crypt as well, I left feeling more inspired by this unconventional tribute to faith than the traditional magnificence of the Anglican Cathedral at the bottom of the hill.

There was not much time left to explore so we headed back to the hotel to collect our things and made our way to Lime Street Station to catch our train back to London – just in time! But here are a few of the other places we saw on our final foray through the streets of Liverpool…

Liverpool street scenes 2

Clockwise from top left: The Everyman Theatre stands at the top end of Hope Street opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral; The Monro Gastropub in Duke Street, a former merchant’s house built in 1765, was named in honour of the first passenger service scheduled between Liverpool and New York in 1817; St Luke’s Church was built in the early 1800s and was badly damaged in the Liverpool Blitz of 1941 – the ruins are Grade II listed; the Philharmonic Pub on Hope Street, another Grade II listed building, was built for local brewer Robert Cain at the end of the 19th century.

And so that, my friends, was our Merseyside mosey. Liverpool turned out to be a great city with plenty to see and do so I hope you enjoyed the armchair tour.

Liverpool Melodies

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted but I have a very good reason – Mum is visiting and last weekend we spent three nights in Liverpool. (Okay that’s two reasons.)

On Saturday afternoon we set off from London’s Euston Station and arrived a mite delayed after a signal failure coming into Crewe meant a further 75 minutes was added to our journey (although a retrospective bonus is that it’s also likely to yield a 50% refund on what we paid for our tickets – yippee!). By the time we walked to our hotel and checked in, we decided that dinner and an early night was the best preparation for the busy Sunday ahead of us.

Having navigated the change to British Summer Time successfully , we turned up on time at the Anchor Courtyard at Albert Dock ready to immerse ourselves in some The Beatles history on a Magical Mystery Tour

MMT Bus

The bus was hard to miss,  waiting at Albert Dock for our tour to begin.

The tour was two hours of fascinating anecdotes as the brightly coloured bus wound its way through the suburbs of Liverpool – past childhood homes, playing Fab Four classics and pausing for a few photo opportunities.

The first stop was Penny Lane, which is actually named for slave trader James Penny but more importantly was the location of the people from John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s youth that were made famous by their song of the same name – the friendly barber, the mac-less banker and the nurse selling poppies from a tray – all clustered around the bustling roundabout. We stopped at the ‘less famous’ end for our photo opp

Penny Lane

We stopped at the ‘less famous’ end of Penny Lane for our photos. On the right is our tour guide Jay Johnson, younger brother of Frankie Goes To Hollywood front man Holly Johnson.

Since we are speaking of famous song locations, we also dashed off the bus pre-downpour at Strawberry Field. Lennon’s nostalgic lyrics refer to his teenage years when this site was a hostel for young girls (a lot of whom were unmarried mothers) and he would sit in the branches of a nearby tree to check them out.

Strawberry Field

Strawberry Fields Forever and a photo opportunity for Mum

Our other two photo-opp stops were the birthplace of George Harrison at 12 Arnold Grove (below left) and the family home of the McCartney clan, now a National Trust property, in Forthlin Road (below right).

Homes

But we also paused at many other places including at the end of Madryn Street in Dingle – the birthplace of Ringo Starr – and outside The Empress, the pub around the corner which featured on the front cover of Ringo’s first solo album, A Sentimental Journey. There was also a pause outside Mendips, where John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi from the age of five until he left in 1963, and a slow pass-by the St Peter’s church hall in Princes Street where John and Paul first met in 1957.

And throughout it all Jay kept regaling us with all sorts of stories and interesting facts and before we knew it, we were getting off the bus for the last time back in the centre of Liverpool and just down the road from the Beatles-inspired Hard Day’s Night hotel…

Hard Days Night Hotel

There’s a statue of each of the Fab Four along the front of the hotel and a shop which sells lots of memorabilia. But wait – could that be a fab fifth reflected in the sign?

After a well-earned coffee and a spot of lunch, we took a short spell from Beatle-mania to honour another part of Liverpool’s musical heritage by taking a ferry ride across the River Mersey…

Mersey Ferry

The song Ferry Cross the Mersey was made famous in 1965 by local band Gerry and the Pacemakers. Our crossing was…well let’s call it ‘brisk’- one minute bright and blue-skied then the next, drizzly and damply-grey – but definitely one of the things to ‘tick off’ during a visit here.

It was then back to the Fab Four and a visit to The Beatles Story where we spent another couple of hours poring over more stories and memorabilia…

The Beatles Story

The Beatles Story down at Albert Dock is well worth a visit. Leave yourself plenty of time, particularly if you want to listen to the audio tour and read all of the plaques and snippets along the way. And if you can, pre-book tickets to save waiting in line!

After our music-themed day, what better to cap it all off than with a visit to the Cavern Club, where John, Paul, George and Ringo played more than 290 times before they hit the big time. We saw Made in Liverpool, a fab Beatles tribute act…

Cavern Club

…before heading back to the hotel.

And that, my dear Gidday-ers, was just Day 1 of our Liverpool pilgrimage. Stay tuned for more of our Merseyside exploits – the  non-musical kind -soon…

Bitter Sweet

It’s been over a month since my last historic meander so I am pleased to report that yesterday I spent a couple of hours weaving through the City’s streets in an effort to discover more about London’s connections with slavery.

We all know it happened and movies like 12 Years a Slave and The Butler have raised the public consciousness in recent years. But these have been portrayals of slavery in America and the Caribbean. When you look at these depictions and think about the inter-continental trading relationships that underpinned this industry…

…a picture of Britain is noticeably absent.

So yesterday I met with Museum of London guide Mike (yes he of my Roman fort tour earlier this year) and along with about twenty others, embarked on Sugar and Slavery, a two hour walking tour around the key British institutions involved the slave trade.

Here’s how it went.

From our meeting point at the museum, we walked down Noble Street, pausing opposite the Goldsmith’s Company for Mike’s introduction to the slave trade, before heading down Gresham Street to Guildhall Yard.

The Guildhall Yard (site of Roman ampitheatre (640x360)

Entering Guildhall Yard from Gresham Street – the Yard is built on the site of the old Roman amphitheatre.

The guilds were organisations that represented the wide variety of trades – and as such controlled the various industries – operating in the City of London. In the 17th century, Guildhall was the central seat of justice for the guilds and many a legal battle was fought in Guildhall itself.

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The Grade 1 listed Guildhall

Guildhall continues to be the administrative and ceremonial centre for the one square mile that constitutes the City of London. I remember watching Stephen Fry’s Key to the City a couple of years ago where he explored what it meant to have been awarded the ‘Freedom of the City’. He also attended a banquet here – it still seemed full of tightly-held traditions and much pomp and ceremony.

We headed out onto Lothbury Street, turned down Princes Street…

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The Bank of England, taken from the corner of Lothbury Street and Princes Street

…to reach Bank Junction where we stopped outside the Royal Exchange. The Threadneedle Street entrance to the bank loomed above us on one side and Mansion House, the official residence of the Mayor of the City of London stood across the traffic circle in front of us.

Mansion House (360x640)

Mansion House, official pad of the City’s Lord Mayor. No that’s not Boris Johnson – he’s the Mayor of Greater London which does not include the City. The current – and 688th – Lord Mayor of the City of London is Jeffrey Evans.

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A pause outside the Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange, founded by Thomas Gresham in 1565, operated much like today’s stock exchange – albeit without the technology – with traders and the city’s financial pundits going at it hammer and tongs from the opening to the closing bell. However, there was a point when it was suggested that business dealings should be negotiated outside the Exchange and so the emergence of coffee houses began.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with slavery – well, everything.

Slavery underpinned the British economy and pretty much allowed rich men to get even richer. Mike told us about one such man, David Lyle, an ‘absentee’ plantation owner who was also, by all accounts, a cruel master. It is recorded that Lyle pistol-whipped one of his slaves, Jonathan Strong and left him for dead on a London street. Strong was found by Granville Sharp – one of the first campaigners in Britain for the abolition of the slave trade – who nursed Strong and offered him work.

Legal battles ensued between Sharp and Lyle (once the latter learned that Strong was alive) with the Lord Mayor eventually pronouncing that Lyle had no claim as Strong was not ‘property’. This was the very same institution who legislated that slaves on ships could be thrown overboard – like possessions – should the captain believe his crew were in danger (eg. of starving due to provisions running out) and also supported the traders’ insurance claims to redeem losses from such activities.

But I digress.

The buying and selling of slaves moved out of the Royal Exchange (officially) and into coffee shops.

Jamaica Coffee House

The Jamaica Wine House (nee Coffee House) stands on the site of London’s first coffee house.

The importation of raw materials such as coffee and sugar flourished with this rise of informal ‘trading houses’ and a young West African could have his or her horrific fate sealed over this bitter brew sweetened with sugar.

We paused on Lombard Street near the Church of St Mary Woolnoth to hear about John Newton who, after years of trading and torturing slaves, reformed and became rector here in 1780. He gets a mention from me because along with poet William Cowper, he composed a book of hymns in the 1770s – the most famous of these ‘Olney Hymns’ was Amazing Grace…and I cannot tell you how many times I played that as a child when I started learning each of the recorder, clarinet, flute and violin.

We headed on past the Monument (that’s the one to the Great Fire of London) and down to the riverside by Old Billingsgate, Mike continuing to paint a picture of the sickness and fear that these men, women and children who’d been torn from their loved ones, faced firstly on-board the slave ships then upon their arrival, where they’d be poked and prodded like animals before being sold, and finally in being ‘seasoned‘ on the plantations of Barbados and Jamaica.

Our next to last stop was Lloyd’s of London, a towering metal edifice of power and money.

Lloyds of London

The original Lloyd’s of London was a coffee house in Lombard Street and as well as playing host to the wheeling and dealing of London’s businessmen, became known as a place where one could obtain marine insurance – much like it is today. That the slave trade was conducted across the Atlantic suggests that Lloyd’s too has its roots steeped in the horrors of human trafficking.

Just down a nearby alley stands the Gilt of Cain, a memorial to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 that was erected in 2008. It was a fitting way to end the tour.

Gilt of Cain (360x640)

I walked thoughtfully back to the tube station, comparing what I’d seen in movies with the stories of the people who perpetrated, fought and suffered that I’d just heard. There was so little humanity and dignity in each of the different stories that Mike had shared. Some of this I recalled as I walked but in essence, it felt like a fraction of the full story.

There’s a part of me that wants to learn more. While I’ve seen 12 Years a Slave – and found it viciously confronting – somehow each tale told over the two hours of the walking tour left more of a mark. I’m travelling to Liverpool next week, the largest of the old slave trading ports and home to the International Slavery Museum so it is a perfect opportunity.

But it also feels a bit raw – I feel appalled, my belief in the human spirit dented a little so while I will make the most of the educational opportunity that Liverpool will afford, it may be a little while before I venture into anything more.

The story of Spitalfields

I love discovering London’s hidden stories and last Saturday I joined Blue Badge Guide Paula Cooze to discover to the story of Spitalfields.

It’s not the first time I’ve ‘toured’ with Paula, having started my fan-dom in September 2013 in the shoes of Matthew Shardlake followed by an architectural wander around the City four months later and then an amble around the Globe mid 2014.

So you can see that it’s been some time since a missive from Paula has found its way into my inbox and it was perfectly timed as Spitalfields is an area I brushed past earlier in the year and I have been itching to do ‘more’.

Wave after wave of immigration has shaped this gritty pocket of London and what was once slum housing and dangerous streets, has become regarded as one London’s places to be. In fact the gentrification of Spitalfields is fostering considerable debate and even protest, the most recent being the attack on the Cereal Killer Cafe at the top end of Brick Lane in September.

It’s a part of London bursting with expression, riven with side streets and alleyways and clothed in a patchwork of colour and smell. I was so excited that, in babbling on about it to friends after I’d booked my place, I actually inspired a couple of them to come along.

Spitalfields was named for the priory of St Mary Spittel, founded in 1197 in a field right next to the site of the current market. The area lay just outside the walls of the City of London and attracted many merchants and craftsman who were not part of the restrictive City Guilds operating inside the walls.

The multicultural history of Spitalfields is steeped in the ‘rag trade‘ and a fitting place to start our trip down memory lane was with a visit to Petticoat Lane. This street – now called Middlesex Street – was home to many Spanish immigrants in the early 17th century and although the famous market was only formalised in the 1930s, it has always been the place to come for cheap, second-hand clothing.

Petticoat Lane(640x360)

The Huguenot silk weavers arrived in the late 1600’s to capitalise on the area’s burgeoning reputation as a garment district and were followed in the early 1800’s by the Jews fleeing the pogroms in Russia. Both fled persecution with little but their trade and so their sewing machines were a life-line, the only way for them to earn a living and survive each day in this then slum-ridden part of London.

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This beautifully preserved silk weaver’s shop and residence in Raven Row is now an art gallery so you can take a wander through to see how the more affluent lived in the past and how the locals are expressing themselves today.

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When we turned around from the silk weaver’s windows, Paula pointed out this controversial facade running along the back of Lilian Knowles House.

We headed down Artillery Row – the name a nod to King Henry VIII’s gifting of the area to the military during his reign in the 16th century – turned left into Crispin Street and passed alongside the Providence Row Night Refuge (now called Lilian Knowles House). It was here that Paula added yet another immigrant community to her story – the Irish, arriving in the mid 1700’s with their dreams of escaping the potato famine in Ireland to build a brand new life in America. The majority could not afford the dream and so stopped where the money ran out – in London.

We walked around past the ‘new’ frontage of Spitalfields market, stopping to admire number 40 Brushfield Street. Verde & Company Ltd is a tribute to both the slow food movement and the history of the area – Paula mentioned that author Jeanette Winterson is one of the owners…and that a hot chocolate will set you back about £5. (Just as well the more affordable – not by much – Patisserie Valerie is across the road.)

Jeanette Winterson shop (640x360)

We then turned right to head north(ish) though Bishops Square, pausing at the old Huguenot silk weaver’s residence at 18 Folgate Street (which has been painstakingly restored by Dennis Severs – pundits really rate the multi-sensory tour)…

Cotton Merchant (358x640)

…and with a quick left down the alley at the end of Blossom Street (the most inappropriate name for a street ever), we emerged at the bottom end of Shoreditch High Street. Ambling along Bethnal Green Road and back down to Brick Lane Paula explained to us a little about the street art scene.

Locksmith

This commissioned street art adorns a local locksmith on Bethnal Green Road. That’s the entrance on the right painted as the opening of a vault.

still there

Nice to see two of my favourites from my walking tour through Shoreditch in June – Gregos on the left and Ronzo on the right.

Locals

Life imitating art? Or is it the other way around….

Transport

Street art frames transportation for the young…while this Vespa was one of many I saw, perhaps appealing to the young at heart?

After cutting through the Old Truman Brewery complex and along Commercial Road (this is the side of Spitalfields Market that has had its original facia preserved), we made our way down Wilkes Street – where Keira Knightley‘s pad is up for sale – and into Fournier Street.

Keira's pad(640x360)

Keira’s townhouse has been up for sale for a while – I’m not sure whether it’s the price (the guide price on rightmove.com is a paltry £3 million) or the purple that’s deterring prospective buyers…

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Wonderfully preserved buildings along Fournier Street.

And it’s here that Paula told the last of her stories and bade us all farewell. Another great tour from Paula – done.

It’s extraordinary to think that we spent a story-packed couple of hours in such a small area – here’s a rough map of our route…

Spitalfields Walking Tour map

So I’d really encourage you to have a look around the area for yourself – I’ll be checking out a visit to Dennis Severs’ house to really immerse myself in history.

But really, to get the full story, you’ll have to wait – perhaps patiently – for the next time Paula crosses the city.

4 days in Stockholm: Photo tour

My recent city break to Stockholm has resulted in plenty of amazing photos. It is always a difficult thing, choosing the best to share without me clogging up your respective internet pipes. Many pictures evoke quite vivid memories of the moment itself which, while having special significance to me, may be lost on those who have not been.

So in creating this photo tour, my hope is for you to enjoy some breathtaking views of this beautiful city.

If it inspires anything more, that’ll be a bonus.

Symbols

Left: On the way to Djurgarden  Right: Crossing the bridge from BlasieHolmen to Skeppsholmen

Royal palaces

Top: Kungliga Slottet (The Royal Palace) in Gamla Stan Bottom: Palace of Drottningholm on Lake Malaren

Admin

Left: Stadshuset (City Hall), Kungsholmen  Right: Riksdagshuset (Parliament Building), Gamla Stan

Bikes

Top: From Kastellholmen  Bottom: Waterfront between Blasieholmen and Djurgarden

Boats

Left: Old boat moorings, Skeppsholmen   Right: Skeppsholmen Church and moored freighter, af Chapman – built in 1888 and serving as a youth hostel since 1949

Rooftops

Top: View of Stokyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) from the rooftop deck at the Lord Nelson Hotel, Gamla Stan   Bottom: Adolf Fredik Kyrka, Norrmalm

Streets

Left: Hilly streets in Sodermalm   Right: Dappled lanes in Gamla Stan

Colour

Left: View of Riksbron from Norrbro   Right: Jacobs Kyrka, consecrated in 1643, Norrmalm

View from Sodermalm

View of Gamla Stan from Monteliusvagen, Sodermalm

4 days in Stockholm: Celebrating me

Earlier this month, I spent 4 days welcoming a new city to the Gidday repertoire, Stockholm. It was also my birthday so you could say that my Stockholm city break was essentially a big fat Happy Birthday to me.  And after my arrival and check-in in the heart of Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) and some wandering and a canal cruise to get my bearings the afternoon prior, said birthday dawned bright and sunny and the delights of Djurgarden were beckoning.

After an invigorating 40 minute stroll from Gamla Stan along the water’s edge, my first official stop was the Vasa Museum. Everyone I mentioned my upcoming trip to recommended this and so at 10am on a Saturday, I joined the unexpectedly short queue and walked into the museum to see this…

Vasa 3 (640x480)

Yes, it’s so big I could not fit it all into the camera frame. I had another go later with my phone…

Vasa 1 (640x360)

The good ship Vasa is a warship that was built in the 1600s. It was the largest ship ever built at the time, able to carry 64 cannons (over 2 decks) and 450 people, and was commissioned by King Gustav II Adolf to bolster his aggressive campaign to bring the Baltic region to Sweden’s heel. If this was not through force then the sheer awe/terror inspired by the Vasa’s size and splendor was intended to intimidate his enemies into submission. The ship set sail from Stockholm Harbour on 10th August 1628…and capsized just off the southern tip of Djurgarden, a voyage of about 1300m.

Just to put this into perspective, I swim further than that – 1600m – each ‘dip‘.

Our animated guide Stefano explained it all very clearly. While the ship had been built to be taller (and more intimidating) than any before, its width had remained the same and when combined with 2 levels of open and fully loaded gun ports, all it took was a ‘puff’ of wind to send it toppling over. This is the view of the stern looking up from the water line – yes the water line, not from the bottom of the ship – I couldn’t fit all of that in.

Vasa 2 (360x640)

So Sweden’s most glorious and expensive PR campaign of the age sat at the bottom of Stockholm Harbour for more than 330 years before its rediscovery (in 1956), salvage and conservation. The museum was opened in 1990, less than a nautical mile from the site of the disaster.

This museum is definitely one of my Stockholm highlights. There’s loads to see and do from the numerous viewing platform levels around the reconstructed Vasa itself (98% original), videos of the salvage and conservation as well as free guided tours and visits to the recreated gun deck and showcases of items retrieved during the salvage operation. It was also my first decent wi-fi access since my arrival so whilst watching the salvage film in the auditorium, my phone was inundated with a veritable deluge of lovely birthday wishes (and thanks to those of you who sent them).

After 2 and a half hours, I emerged into the warm sunshine to meander a little further along Djurgarden’s main drag in search of sustenance (including some pretty delicious Swedish apple cake)…

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…and a blast from my past: Benny, BjornFrida and Agnetha – ABBA!

ABBA montage

You could make The ABBA Museum quite an interactive experience if you like that sort of thing. You can record yourself belting out an ABBA tune in the sound booth or make your own music video. You can even sit in the ABBA Arrival helicopter  or perform on the ABBA stage alongside Benny, Frida, Bjorn and Agnetha.

For the record, this wasn’t what what I was up for. Instead I spent a couple of nostalgic hours here, listening to the myriad of interviews with the band themselves and to all of the songs I sang along to as a child (as well as the questionable-sounding results of a couple of young fans in the non-sound-proof sound booth). It was great fun and really fantastic to see the important part that ABBA’s Australian record label, RCA, played in building their fan base and huge success Down Under.

With a few more hours of daylight still ahead of me, I decided to venture a little further along the road to visit Skansen.

Skansen montage

Skansen is in open-air museum and zoo that has been in operation since 1891. It combines history – 150 buildings from different eras from all over Sweden have been re-assembled here…

Skansen Buildings montage

…with fantastic views…

Skansen view 1 (640x480)

…and an opportunity to play ‘Spot the [insert relevant animal]’…

Skansen animal montage

After a few hours of wandering around Skansen’s 75 acres and a celebratory ice- cream (after all, it was my birthday) it was time to head back to the hotel and put my feet up for an hour or two before heading out again for dinner.

Bistro Pastis, a tiny French affair, is tucked away on a cobbled street running down from Stortorget in Gamla Stan and in spite of it being a busy Saturday night, I managed to nab a table outside. The food was absolutely delicious – a warm beetroot and goats cheese salad followed by a fillet of shark (my first) in a champagne sauce – and all washed down with a divine glass of bordeaux. And as the Swedish twilight stretched well into the evening, spending a relaxed dinner enjoying both the view and the gentle flirting from my lovely waiter was the perfect way to end a day designed to mark the beginning of yet another year.

Happy birthday to me and may the year ahead be filled with many more moments like this!

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Entry fees (in case you are interested!)

Vasa Museum – 130 SEK

ABBA Museum – 255 SEK

Skansen – 170 SEK

And 2 courses, wine and coffee at Bistro Pastis came to 389 SEK. This was after the 25% discount my waiter offered because ‘he was so busy and I had to keep waiting’ (And he didn’t even know it was my birthday!) This girl’s still got it….