Oxford: Words and music

Last time I posted, I wrote about my lovely afternoon ambling around the historic city of Oxford. That was just the beginning of my mini break in this delightful city and I spent a further two days indulging my passions for literature, history and beautiful architecture.

After the gentle sunshine of Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday emerged as a bit of a damp squib, the day alternating between light drizzle and heavy showers. As it turned out, it didn’t matter as it was a day of mostly indoor pursuits beginning with a tour of the Bodleian Library.

The Bodleian Library is comprised of a number of well-known buildings including the Divinity School, the Radcliffe Camera, the Clarendon Building and the new Weston Library. The library began its life in 1488 when Humfrey, 1st Duke of Gloucester (and younger brother to King Henry V) donated over 280 manuscripts to the University. The existing library in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin (in Radcliffe Square) lacked the space to accommodate Duke Humfrey’s gift so a new library was built above the Divinity School.

Divinity School + Sheldonian

The Divinity School is on the left with Duke Humfrey’s Library on the first floor. The front entrance to the Sheldonian Theatre is on the right.

The library was stripped of its contents in 1550 as England moved away from the Catholic Church under Edward VI (The Reformation) and languished for 48 years before Oxford Fellow and Elizabethan diplomat Sir Thomas Bodley (for whom the library is named) offered to fund its refurnishing. In 1602, the library was reopened and continued to prosper as Bodley persuaded wealthy benefactors and subscribers to contribute to its upkeep and extension. Bodley’s negotiation with the Stationers’ Company of London in 1610 also meant that the library was to receive – in perpetuity – one copy of every book published.

Ongoing expansion has been a theme since Bodley’s death in 1613 and the library has grown to include Nicholas Hawksmoor‘s Clarendon Building (1712-1713), the Radcliffe Camera (1860) and the new Weston Library (2014) as well as a further 153 miles of bookshelves in an off-site purpose-built warehouse facility in Swindon (2010).

Our tour guide Matthew led us through a brilliant ninety minutes of historical facts and anecdotes. Unfortunately photos were not allowed in Duke Humfrey’s Library – the oldest part of the library with books that are hundreds of years old – or in the Radcliffe Camera to respect the privacy of students who use these reading rooms (yes they are still in use). While these were two of the highlights, it was a tour of many high points so I took as many photos as I could where I was allowed. It was an absolutely amazing visit and I’d highly recommend it.

Clarendon Bldg + Radcliffe Camera

L: Bodleian Library entrance via the Clarendon Building; R: The Radcliffe Camera

Library entrance+Quadrangle

L to R: Clarendon Building from Broad Street; delicate ironwork over the entrance; one of the old doors in the Old Schools Quadrangle

Divinity School interior

L to R: Inside the Divinity School with its marvellous ceiling; this chair is made entirely from timber taken from The Golden Hind, the ship Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the world from 1577-1580.; the Convocation House was the original meeting place for the University’s Supreme legislative body and also housed Charles I’s Parliament during the Civil War from 1642-1646.

CWren door

Images of the Christopher Wren door which leads from the Divinity School directly across to the Sheldonian Theatre which was his first architectural commission.

I left the library and wandered across Broad Street to Blackwell’s Bookstore. I’d never heard of Blackwell’s before coming to Oxford but I’d noticed a walking tour sign about The Inklings which took me to some parts of Oxford I was unlikely to have found myself.

Inklings WT

L to R: The Rabbit Room at The Eagle and Child was where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met regularly; C.S. Lewis was a rector at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin – the inspiration for his Mr Tumnus and the lamp in the woods exists in the laneway adjacent to the church (ref: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia)

I’d also heard whispers about Blackwell’s Norrington Room in the basement of store. It’s billed as the largest room built for the purpose of selling books. How many books does it hold, you ask? Well apparently it’s around 250,000 give or take a few…

Norrington room

The Norrington Room: It has an official photo point…

I wandered around for twenty minutes and was so overwhelmed that I left without buying a single book.

I headed off to the Turl Street Kitchen nearby and to the sounds of the rain pattering on the street outside, I tucked into a delicious lunch of home-made soup and bread. The wet weather showed no signs of letting up so I decided to return to the Bodleian’s Weston Library and thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the Jane Austen exhibition for an hour or so before heading back to the B&B.

Later I headed out for a little night music at Merton College with Richard Goode

Merton College

Waiting for the concert to begin – a recital by renowned pianist Richard Goode in the chapel at Merton College.

The program was fantastic – comprised of Mozart, Debussy, Beethoven to name a few – and I had a great view of both the pianist and the chapel. (The photo on the right above was taken while I was sitting in my seat.) After almost two hours of spectacular music, the audience finally released Goode from its applause and we filed out.

What an awesome day of words and music I had.

And there was still one more day to go. If you’re still interested, feel free to tag along next time…

En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…


After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.


Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…


A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.


Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…


View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…


There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.


This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..


A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.


June: The stages of life

June brings us up to the half way point of the year so it’s time for the interval, the intermission, the half-time break. So what’s been going on in the closing stages of the first half? Plenty as it turns out.

The headlines have been all about the referendum – the lead up and the fall-out – and we are still waiting to see who will step up to the mark and lead Britain into this next stage of our history. Attending a panel discussion hosted by The Guardian entitled ‘What will the world look like in 2025’ yielded little in the way of answers other than in this world where nothing seems to last, getting skilled in the art of managing uncertainty is a smart thing to do. And while all of this was going on, a new stage closer to home came to pass with a change of ownership at work and new management marking the occasion with a rather delicious cake to welcome us to the fold. I like them already.

This month I also started volunteering again and spent a morning at one of the local secondary schools…with more than 200 fourteen year old girls taking to the stage. This definitely took me out of my comfort zone and at the same time, left me feeling really inspired. More on this in a later post.

I was also delighted with another discovery of the stage variety this month: The Invisible Hand, a play running at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. I even managed to get a little education on high finance as I watched high-flying banker Nick Bright, kidnapped by Pakistani militants, use his knowledge of how money works to stay alive. The cast of four were outstanding and combined with the compelling plot, I found the whole production both gripping and thought-provoking. However it finished at the Tricycle – itself a great find – on July 2nd, otherwise I’d encourage you to book your ticket but you should definitely keep an eye out for another run of this.

Staying with theatre exploits, I enjoyed a couple of previously live-screened plays in the comfort of my local cinema this month. The dark and broody staging of the RSC’s latest production of Hamlet was as one would expect but was also elevated by its militant Africa backdrop as well as by an extraordinary performance from 25-year-old Paapa Essiedu in the lead role.

At the other end of the spectrum, I spent a light-hearted evening with Oscar Wilde’s cast of pretentious yet lovable characters in The Importance of Being Earnest. David Suchet – you may know him as the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in many an Agatha Christie whodunnit – sashayed around the stage as the inimitable Lady Bracknell and with witty repartee and oodles of innuendo, it was a very entertaining couple of hours indeed.

I also spent a hour or so wandering in between various stages of Undressed. No not me personally. It’s an exhibition on the history of underwear at the V&A running until March next year. Seeing some of those teeny tiny corsets up there on their podiums made me feel quite Amazonian in stature and also rather glad that I live in an age where I can dress in relative comfort and not have to worship at the altar of society’s [size 6] ideal. The blokes are not exempt from a little vanity either – there were quite a few examples of ahem, shapewear (not to mention that my ‘mens enhancing underwear uk’ google search yielded more than 76,000 results).

But without a doubt, this month’s highlight was The Battle of the Big Bands at Cadogan Hall. The Jazz Repertory Company recreated the famous 1938 battle on the stage at Carnegie Hall, a musical masterclass between the established Benny Goodman and the up-and-coming Glenn Miller. Compere cum clarinet maestro Pete Long (he was absolutely awesome and fairly made that clarinet talk) brought this great rivalry and the eventual changing of the guard to life with his savvy storytelling. With all of my favourites on offer – Sing Sing Sing, Little Brown Jug and In The Mood – the whole night was just brilliant, foot-tapping fun and In The Mood was definitely how I felt going home on the tube.

That, my dear Gidday-ers, was June and as the curtain falls and June takes its bow – having been fun and full of plenty – I’m already off treading the boards into July…

What’s that? An encore you say? Well okay – here are a couple of my commuting gems from Victoria Embankment, the site of many of the Thames’ old landing stages

Have yourselves a fabulous July peeps.

[Exit stage left]

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


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).


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…

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)…

Cake (640x360)

…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!


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….

Composers, Canalboats And Christmas Cheer…

What with lots of changes, challenges and general excitement over the last few months I’ve been a little lax in my pottering about London (note I do not include my recent tourist-ing with Lil Chicky in this – that was by no stretch ‘pottering’) and today it was a combination of music and markets that had my full attention. Having been in Chicago for work this week (and slept the morning away yesterday ‘in recovery’), today saw me up, about and out the door for a little culture and some festive cheer. 

First stop (well after the tube ride and the large soy cappuccino purchase at Caffe Nero) was Kings Place for Bach Unwrapped, a one hour concert featuring the work of JS Bach, his protege JG Goldberg, and his son, CPE Bach. For those of you in the know about these things, today’s Trio Sonatas programme consisted of:

Trio in G for flute and violin
Trio in C for two violins (collaboration with Goldberg)
Trio in D Minor for two violins (collaboration with his son)
Trio Sonata from Musical Offering

(For those of you who know nothing about these things, the violin, cello and harpsichord were joined by another violin for the second and third pieces and a flute for the first and the fourth.)

Apparently the last piece, Musical Offering was borne of the composer’s meeting with Frederick The Great in 1747 – the King challenged Bach to improvise over a theme he had written and while Bach rose to the immediate challenge, on returning home he composed Musical Offering and despatched it to King Frederick. The programme note claimed that Musical Offering has been dazzling musicians with its brilliance ever since.

While I don’t know very much about classical music, I find it incredibly moving and very easy to lose myself in the ebb and flow of the music so after an enjoyable hour, I wandered out and headed back to Kings Cross Station in a leisurely snap-happy stroll. 

Despite my having been there several times, I had never actually walked out the back of Kings Place before today – lo and behold there’s a rather lovely deck which overlooks Regent’s Canal…

…and the stroll back to the station along the canal was quite pretty too.

The area around Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations has been undergoing a major redevelopment since 2008 and in the midst of the construction site, there’s quite a pleasant walkway – dotted with titbits about the area’s history – which connects the stations to Regent’s Canal. This is the view coming back from the canal, the spire of the Grade I listed St Pancras International station building standing tall above the ‘debris’.

The forecourt between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.

The second half of my Sunday foray was spent wandering along the Southbank Christmas Market. There is something deliciously festive about this market. The decorated stalls stretched along the riverside path from The London Eye to the National Theatre with stallholders plugging their wares (hand made gifts and eclectic arts and crafts feature heavily), tempting passersby with a fresh waffle, a little glühwein or perhaps some kind of German sausage concoction.

Nearly there – this glimpse of Big Ben framed by the railway bridge caught my eye from Concert Hall Walk on the way to Southbank.
This ‘urban’ paint job decorated the entrance at the back of Royal Festival Hall. 
Traditional festive cheer above one stall…
…faced off against Scrooge on another.
German sausage concoction? Enough said…

The twinkling lights, the smell of roasted chestnuts…I just love it. Even the nip in the air as I snuggled deeper into my coat, hat and scarf was a reminder of the merriment to come…in just 31 sleeps.

Needless to say I’ve started my Christmas shopping…

London Lullaby…

This week has been an absolute treasure trove of fascinating finds.

It started out with my foray into John Lanchester’s Big Fat London Novel, Capital on Monday night.

Friday night I went off to The Lost Lectures, an evening of enchanting topics for enquiring minds in a ‘secret’ London location.

And mid-week I was checking out my daily fix of clever clogs-ness on Springwise when I came across a rather beautiful and inspiring idea.

Great Ormand Street Hospital (GOSH) is a children’s hopsital in London which is famous for its innovative research and forward-thinking practices in child healthcare. As part of a redevelopment project, it has had the exterior pipework on a section of their building repurposed to create a Lullaby Factory, a series of horns and tubes which play sounds to soothe the young patients recovering from illness.

Image Source: www.studioweave.com

StudioWeave created the intricate piece by adorning the existing pipework with horns of all shapes and sizes which can only be seen from inside the hospital. The ‘music’ was composed by sound engineer Jessica Curry and can be listened to on the Lullaby Factory radio station or through special listening tubes. Between them they have fashioned a kind of industrial lullaby.

In 1929 Great Ormand Street Hospital received the rights to J. M. Barrie’s work Peter Pan – the royalties from this continue to help fund the work of this amazing hospital. So it seems fitting that they continue to create a little Neverland-style magic for the children of London.

Eat, Sleep and Be Merry…

Over the last couple of posts, I have shared quite a sombre side of my Krakow experience. And it is true that the dark period in Krakow’s past is an essential part of understanding its character and place as an historic and cultural centre of Eastern Europe.

But Krakow is also filled with a sense of warmth and joyful spirit. The people are friendly. Its medieval history is stamped indelibly in its glorious architecture, cobbled streets and picturesque plazas. It has a wonderful – and accessible – music scene, delicious food and a rich spiritual lineage as a main centre for Catholicism in Europe.

For my part, it would be a shame to let a dark past overshadow your armchair tour of this beautiful and soulful city. I had such a great time that it would be remiss of me not to encourage you to visit. And what better way to wrap everything up than by giving you a list of my favourite bits and a few recommendations to boot. So here goes…

Generally food is tasty, filling and good value and the best local tipples are beer and vodka. (The Poles are not hugely into wine, but this market is growing.) Suffice to say I ate and drank well.

I tried both pierogi and borscht for the first time on this trip – with great success I must say. And my top dining out tip? Miod Malina (translates to Honey Raspberry) a short walk from Rynek Glowny towards Wawel Castle. I sat outside and enjoyed a glass of wine and three delicious courses to the strains of a classical string duet…for about £20.

My first pierogi (dumplings) – sitting looking over the hustle and bustle of the main square on Day 1 – were filled with a delicious mix of cabbage and mushroom. My second helping was on Night 2 (at Miod Malina) – a scrumptious blueberry version served with soured cream. Sigh…I ‘heart’ pierogi!

Spacious, cheerful and unbelievable value – that’s Hotel Benefis. This small 4 storey hotel sits across the river from the main hubbub of Krakow but it’s only a 15 minute walk to Rynek Glowny. I had a large 4th floor room with a balcony and a view of the spires of the Wawel Cathedral, Main Square Tower and Mariacka Basilica for slightly less than the price I paid for a box-size room in Rome. Oh and the staff are great.

Hotel Benefis –  highly recommended!

Be Merry
Without a doubt, music be the food of Krakow and play on it did from the bugler’s haunting hejnal from the tower of Mariacka Basilica each hour, an impromptu choir outside the Church of St Adalbert in Rynek Glowny and any number of concert options for a bargain price. You may sniff at the leaflet bearers and their nightly programs as ‘tourist-y’ but for the equivalent of about £12, it is possible to enjoy a healthy dose of the remarkable talent available in this incredibly musical city. Here’s just two:

Day 1: Chamber music at the Church of St Peter and Paul
The Thursday billing was Classical and Film Music so there was the well-known – Mozart, and Vivaldi, Over The Rainbow and Schlinder’s List – and some new discoveries for me. As I sat in that glorious church, the haunting notes of Morricone’s Once Upon A Time In America filling the nave, I felt moved and incredibly blessed to be there.

The Church of St Peter & Paul

Day 3: Chopin at Bonerowski Palace
Chopin is one of Krakow’s most famous sons and every night you’ll find concerts throughout the city featuring his music. The deft fingers of Pawel Kubica introduced me to my first Chopin on a sparkling Saturday evening that had been left refreshed by the day’s rain.

The salon at Bonerowski Palace

Aside from music, there are many other treats in store if you get yourself to this delightful city. Mariacka Basilica, with its uneven towers soaring above Rynek Glowny, is glorious inside and lush with intricate detail. Rynek Underground is a fascinating museum located under the Cloth Hall in the Main Square which traces the archaelogical history of Krakow. And make sure you wander past The Papal Window and give a nod to Poland’s other favourite son, Karol Wojtyla, who moved to Krakow to attend university, joined the underground seminary during the occupation and rose through the ranks of the Catholic church to be elected its 264th pope, John Paul II, in 1978.

The Cloth Hall in Rynek Glowny. There’s a market inside but its real treasure lies underneath.

So that’s it. Four days in Krakow filled with amazing and moving experiences that I’ve done my best to share with you through this series.

I hope you’ve been inspired to visit.
Other posts in the Krakow series
It Starts With The Locals
Lightly Salted
The Dark Side
A Monstrous Vision

Axis of Awesome…Funny Dudes

A couple of months ago, I was asked by some friends whether I wanted to see Axis of Awesome with them.

“Who?” I asked, handing over my ticket money in the belief that I could trust said friend’s taste.

(Failing that, it would just be a great opportunity to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.)

Axis of Awesome are an Australian (yes, let’s get that out there right now – never let it be said I am unsupportive of my native countrymen) comedy band who, unbeknownst to me, are something of a Youtube sensation. They specialise in the ridiculous and this tour brings their silly songs (their words not mine) and Aussie banter to the stage across Europe. Well Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland and the UK anyway.

It’s a blend of cleverness and irreverence that had the audience, including moi, rolling in the aisles.  I wanted to capture the hilarity provoked by the show for you but it was hard to choose one thing – there was Bird Plane, How To Write A Love Song and Can You Hear The ****** Music Comin’ Out Of My Car – but the one that has made them stars the world over, thanks to the wonders of Youtube, is the 4 Chords Song.

Based on the premise that a large proportion of music is based on the same 4 chords, their original sketch has attracted over 20million hits on Youtube since 2009:

They have re-released this with new songs added which was featured in Thursday night’s show so you can click here if you want to see their latest video.

These are some funny, funny dudes so if you enjoy a good belly laugh, you should get along to see them while they’re touring Europe (OK Germany, Holland, Ireland and UK) or catch them when they get back to Oz. You can find show dates by going to their official website www.axisofawesome.net or by clicking here.

In the immortal words of Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum (the Australians reading this will get this reference), do yourself a favour!

Rip and Review…The Music That Moves Me

One of the tasks that I have left undone of late has been the transformation of my CD library into a seriously space-saving digital collection.

By undone, I mean that I started it about a month ago along with a little ‘sorting by genre’ on the sideboard. Today I have resolved to complete this chore and make the place look ‘tidy’ so am currently in the midst of what I like to call a ‘rip and review’ – ripping all of these tunes may take time but is made infinitely more bearable by dipping into each and deciding whether or not they should go into the Faves Playlist.

The Faves Playlist is the one that I play in the background whilst doing other things.  Sorting the Spring/Summer wardrobe and packing away the Winter Woolies?  Faves Playlist on shuffle.  Tending to my small but thriving garden patch.  Windows open and Faves Playlist on shuffle.  Reading The Times newspaper from Saturday?  Faves Playlist on shuffle.  Writing my latest blog post?  Well, you get the gist.

I am sitting in my front window, the sun is shining after a brief ‘fat-raindrop-style’ shower earlier and I am currently listening to the students from the University of Granada (a CD I picked up whilst travelling in Spain in 2002), The Florestan Trio (a legacy of my brief but rather lovely subscription with the Australian Chamber Orchestra) and Acoustic Love (a CD I bought in 2006 in the honeymoon period of a relationship, you know when the world is shiny and people/things don’t p**s you off nearly as much as usual) all the while dipping back into a few existing faves like Lady Gaga, Chris Daughtry or some 70s Disco (Born To Be Alive, You Make Me Feel etc).

I’ve come across some real joys this afternoon.  Music that takes me back to events and places and moments I’d forgotten about, some tunes that I’ve listened to today as if for the first time.  But I was unprepared for the effect of one particular tune – from the first moment I heard it until right here and now in my front window, it still moves me to tears.  It’s not necessarily the words or any memory it evokes – it’s just the most beautiful song and it’s definitely worth a blog post to share it.

So here’s Eva Cassidy’s version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow to enjoy on your Sunday wherever you are.