Friday, 15 August 2014

Visiting Krušedol Monastery in the Fruška Gora

Krusedol monastery doorway

When we were planning our time in Serbia, my friend Aleksa asked me what I wanted to do during my time there and I immediately knew my answer. “I want to eat lots of Serbian food”, I said, “visit some monasteries and spend as much time with my friends as possible”. He was pleased because he could help me with all three.

But visiting the monasteries was not without its controversies.

Serbia is primarily an Orthodox country and the church is important from a religious, cultural, historical and political standpoint but just like in any country with a strong, established religion, there are those who feel that the church aids in the oppression and exploitation of vulnerable communities. One of my friends decided not to join us on our excursion to the monasteries on these very grounds, citing a prominent patriarch who had blamed the recent catastrophic floods in Serbia on the fact that Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision song contest.

I completely understood and respected my friend’s point of view.

It was interesting because it made me examine my reasons for wanting to visit the monasteries. I am interested in both history and politics and have, for example, read up on Byzantium and the rise of the Orthodox church in order to understand relations in Europe during that period. I will often visit churches, synagogues and mosques in foreign countries because I find that it helps me to understand the history and architecture in a country.

Krusedol Monastery, entrance

I was also aware of the religious aspect of the difficult history of the Balkans and how it fed into the conflict in both the Second World War and the conflicts in the 1990s. In short, I knew just how important the Orthodox Church is to Serbians and I wanted to see the monasteries for myself. Little did I know what an emotionally wrought day it would turn out to be.

Our first stop was the distinctive red  Krušedol Monastery in the Fruška Gora. Krušedol Monastery was founded by the Despot Đorđe Branković in 1509 and he built it as a mausoleum to his family. The monastery was attacked by the ruling Turks in 1716 and many important relics were destroyed.

The church spire at Krusedol Monastery

The church steeple at Krušedol Monastery

The entrance to the inner monastery at Krusedol

The entrance to the monastery from the grounds

I have never seen anything like I saw in that church that day. Every inch of space on the walls, ceilings, arches and columns was covered in depictions of saints and important holy figures. The paintings are extremely old, some dating back to the 1500s, and they are badly in need of restoration.

The lighting in the church is kept to a minimum, to prevent further damage to the paintings and when the patriarch bent down to show us the age of a piece of work, paint and mortar crumbled away to the floor. It was painful to see and no doubt painful for the patriarch to experience.

Krusedol_0001

For obvious reasons of conservation, there is no photography allowed inside the church and this is the reason I’ve included the post card above. Perhaps it would help to click on the postcard to view an enlargement.

I was able to take some of the outside of the church, depicting artwork from perhaps the last restoration in 1750.

Paintings of exterior of church at Krusedol Monastery

Paintings on exterior of church at Krušedol Monastery

The monastery was a quiet place, certainly a place of reflection and while my friends lit a candle and prayed, I observed the patriarch in a moment of peace. Well, to be fair, he was peaceful until he spotted me taking his photo and so I quickly put my camera away.

Grounds at Krusedol Monastery

Patriarch at Krusedol Monastery

After visiting the church itself, we decided to walk around the grounds. Krušedol is a self-sustaining monastery and the monks grow all of their own food, plus they own pigs and chicken too. I had a bit of a moment when I came face to face with a cherry tree. I had never seen a cherry tree before and assumed that they grew on smaller bushes like tomatoes or strawberries! We ran into another patriarch and a young monk and they encouraged me to help myself to a cherry. Oh my word, I can’t express how divine they tasted!

Cherry tree at Krusedol Monastery

I followed this up with a drink of water from the miraculous underground well. It tasted chalky and strange as it is full of minerals but it is said to have healing properties.

We knew that we had another two monasteries to visit before lunch that day and so it was with some reluctance that we made our way back to the entrance and towards the Velika Remeta monastery.

Krusedol church

Krusedol

Have you ever visited a place that was considered controversial or unfavourable by your friends and family? What were your reasons for doing so?

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Sunday, 10 August 2014

An Afternoon Tea at the Queen’s House, Greenwich

Afternoon tea with a view at the Queen's House

Have you ever had a perfect afternoon? Perhaps I can describe mine to you.

The Queen's House Greenwich

Two friends Kat and Mandy sit on a balcony of The Queen’s House, Greenwich.

Greenwich observatory

A sitar player performs on the lawn below as the friends chat and gaze over Greenwich Park towards the Royal Observatory in the distance.

Sandwiches at the Queen's House

Afternoon tea is served with the freshest of homemade sandwiches, delicious petit fours and the lightest of scones.

Peppermint tea

All of this is served in quaint, mismatched Paragon china and washed down with peppermint tea.

Steampunk couple at the Queen's House

All around them there is merriment at The Queen’s House for this weekend is the Steampunk summer fete. Next to the friends sit a Victorian couple in all of their finery…

Steampunk at the Queen's House

… while a walk through the house afterwards will introduce them to dashing gentlemen in waistcoats and pantaloons.

Steampunk airgun at the Queen's House

There is even a chance to spy an authentic Steampunk airgun.

Henrietta Maria Regina keystone Queen's House

After their sitting, the friends take a long walk around The Queen’s House to see the impressive selection of artwork.

Artwork Queen's House

In addition to the portrait of Queen Ann of Denmark, there are works by Gainsborough, Turner and Hogarth. One of the friends quite likes the puritans in the paintings on the right.

All in all it is a perfect afternoon and one that will live long in the memories of both of the friends. When later pressed, they might not be able to pinpoint exactly why it was so lovely. The food was certainly delicious and the atmosphere one of languid enjoyment but perhaps it will just go down as a moment in time, shared by two friends in London.

How would you describe your perfect afternoon? Would you join me on mine?


Afternoon tea at the Queen’s House will run throughout the summer on Sundays and selected Saturdays until the 28th September. Booking is essential but I would say that this is the must-do event of the summer.

Afternoon tea at the Queen's House
The Queen’s House Loggia
Romney Rd
Greenwich
London
SE10 9NF

Cost: Afternoon Tea £22, Prosecco tea £27.50, Tea & tour £30, Prosecco tea & tour £35.50
Open: every Sunday and selected Saturdays. Sittings 12.30, 14.00, 15.30

We were guests of the Queen’s House during our visit. As always, I promise to share sincere and honest opinions with my readers.

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Friday, 1 August 2014

Explore Kent: 7 Must-Sees in the Garden of England

Hall Place facade Bexley

I know, I know, I’ve been super chatty this week but this will be my last post and then I’ll leave you in peace for the next couple of days! It was just one of those weeks where so much was happening and I had so much to say. This month my lovely blogging pals Emma, Kelly and Rebecca have invited me to co-host the monthly travel link up. The idea is that you write a post each month on a particular theme – it is Staycations this month – and then you can meet all the other bloggers joining in the link up and hopefully make some new blogging friends!

I’ve decided to focus on Kent in this post mostly because I adore my chosen home the Garden of England but also because I wrote a very similar post about Johannesburg just a couple of weeks ago. And so without further ado, I present 7 things you must see if you are ever in Kent.

Hall Place, Bexley

Hall Place Bexley

Bexley was an ancient parish in the county of Kent, or so Wikipedia tells me. It is also home to Hall Place, a stately home built for Sir John Champneys in 1537 and famously constructed with materials taken from the destroyed Lesnes Abbey. Today Hall Place is more famous for its topiary garden of Queen’s Beasts which were planted in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Lesnes Abbey

I thought I’d better mention Lesnes Abbey, even though I haven’t been there yet myself. If you take a look at Google Earth or Google Maps satellite view, you will see a perfect, giant footprint of an abbey on the site of what was once Lesnes Abbey on the edge of Abbey Wood. The abbey was destroyed by King Henry VIII as part of his famous Dissolution of the Monasteries but the ruins are in remarkable condition considering that they are not actively preserved. One day I’ll make the effort to visit this site which is less than 20 minutes drive from my house!

Leeds Castle

Leeds Kent

You might remember the time I famously ruined a pair of boots so that I could get that photo of Leeds Castle from across the lake. Leeds Castle is located in Maidstone, Kent and was built as a Norman stronghold in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur. It was most famously used by King Henry VIII as a residence for his first wife Catherine of Aragon.

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote

This medieval moated manor house is located near Sevenoaks in Kent. It would once have been home to a feudal lord or landed gentry and the moat would have provided protection against local thieves and ruffians. Today Ightham Mote is most famous for having the only Grade I listed dog kennel in the United Kingdom.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury is one of the most important cities in south east England, with a rich history dating back to prehistoric times. After the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170, Canterbury became a place of pilgrimage for Christians and this was why Chaucer’s pilgrims were making the journey there in The Canterbury Tales. I would definitely recommend a day out in Canterbury but I’d especially recommend that you take in the Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral – it is very special indeed.

Faversham

The Sun Inn, Faversham[8]

On the way from London to Canterbury, Chaucer’s pilgrims passed through the town of Faversham. Faversham is famous for the annual Hop Festival but it is also home to Shepherd Neame Brewery, Britain’s oldest brewer. I’d highly recommend the brewery tour and be sure to pop into the Sun Inn before you leave for lunch and some real ale.

All Saints Tudeley

All Saints Church, Tudely, Kent

All Saints Tudeley is the tiny little church near Tunbridge Wells known for its stained glass windows painted by none other than Marc Chagall. Chagall was commissioned to design one window in memorium to the daughter of a wealthy local couple. He famously entered the church and exclaimed “c'est magnifique! Je les ferai tous!” (It's beautiful! I will do all!) and so it is that all twelve windows in the tiny church were painted by the renowned artist.

If you’d like to take part in the monthly link up, simply write a post that relates in any way to the theme Staycations. Then add your link below and start hopping between the other blogs.

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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Coming Soon: Caribbean Nights!

Not too long ago, I was walking along the Southbank and there were buskers playing on their steel drums. I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of Caribbean music and it reminded me of the long summer nights I used to spend at a Jamaican restaurant back in Johannesburg. I realised just how long it has been since I stuck into a proper Caribbean feast and it made both my heart and belly ache!

I began searching for Caribbean things to do in London over the summer. Of course, there is no shortage of things to do this weekend with events celebrating Jamaica’s independence day. There is Sir John Holt & Freddie McGregor at the Indigo at the O2 and Hipsters Don’t Dance at the Shackelwell Arms in Dalston but I don’t know if those are quite my style.

Steel Drummers
Steel Drummers by Ian

One event which caught my eye and which will run right through the summer and into the new year is the Caribbean Nights at the Holiday Inn London Kensington Forum. This is a Caribbean themed event which will feature live music, entertainment and a massive feast including lamb curry, jerk pork and fried red snapper. It sounds really brilliant and prices range between £28 for the lunch time events to £39 for the evening events.

So London people – is anybody interested in joining me for an afternoon or evening of food, cocktails and limbo-dancing? You can find out more information and check out the dates at the Caribbean Experience website.

Perhaps the best idea would be to email me or comment if you are interested and I will send out a Doodle and try narrow down a date for a group of us to go together. Who is in?

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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Be Spontaneous! Grab a Last Minute Getaway

I don't know about you, but I'm no good when plans are up in the air. At the end of August, I might have the chance to hop on a plane and visit my best friend in Belfast but only if her work commitments come through. So I'm stuck - I can't book flights and I don't know what to do with my time off if plans fall through. Luckily the lovely people at Cosmos have come through with some last minute ideas for me, just in case...

Securing a holiday at the very last minute is not only exciting but can also save you significantly on the cost. This is because airlines that still have spare seats would rather have them filled at a discounted price than be empty. The same can be said for hotels that have empty rooms, which is why booking a holiday at the last minute is often a regular option for many people.

The last minute deal is not for everyone, especially if you’re the type of person who likes to plan well ahead of time. But whether you’re looking to benefit from an all-inclusive break or dreaming about cheap villa holidays, booking at the last minute is still very much an option.

Here are our top three budget destinations that are perfect for a last minute getaway - some you’ve probably never even considered:

Warsaw, Poland

Visitors to the capital city of Poland this year can benefit from hotel discounts of up to 20 per cent. So, anyone wishing to see all the sights that this historic city has to offer can do so at a significantly discounted price.

Visitors during the summer months absolutely must take in the free (yes free) piano concert held every Saturday and Sunday next to the statue of Chopin in Lazienki Park. This tradition has been going for more than 50 years and is perfect for travellers who are keeping to a tight budget.

Warsaw’s most historic part, Old Town, was heavily damaged during the Second World War but nowadays enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status due to its extensive restoration. Furthermore, visitors can take in the ambiance of Old Town in one of its many cafes and restaurants – all of which offer traditional pierogies at extremely reasonable prices.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a truly magical place and the perfect destination for a last-minute getaway from the UK. And Turkey’s economic, cultural and historical heart has much to offer the last-minute getaway visitor.

Spice-scented bazaars are what makes this capital city so special and visitors will feel as though they are in a scene from a book whilst walking through its busy streets. Add to this traditional Turkish baths and you’ve got yourself a very exciting, yet relaxing place to visit.

A neat fact for travellers is that Istanbul, historically named Constantinople, is the only city on earth that straddles two continents – Asia and Europe. And, it’s one of the few places on the globe where you will see women dressed in black burkas from head to toe shop alongside girls wearing jeans and high-heels.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam may have a reputation as the red-light capital of the world but this only adds to its charm. With intimate streets, beautiful squares and fantastic canals, Amsterdam is truly a city of wonder and intrigue

Some people might think that Amsterdam lacks history and culture but the truth is that this city has the highest museum density in the world and houses such iconic establishments as the Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum with Rembrandt’s world-famous Nightwatch.

Visitors to Amsterdam – especially those on a brief getaway – should experience the historic canal district and indulge in a canal tour. After all, this area was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011 and is therefore an area that is particularly special. Although, to afford the total Amsterdam experience a bicycle is the order of the day.

Can you recommend any last minute getaways? Where have you travelled on the spur of the moment before?

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Verona: Façades, Windows and Doorways

There is nothing so beautiful or insightful as a simple doorway, window or façade; they are the eyes of a city, providing us with a glimpse of the life and soul behind them.

Verona was the second city that we visited during our trip to Italy and although I loved Milan, it was nice to escape the hectic capital city for the quieter, more relaxed City of Love.

On our first afternoon, we took a long walk around and through the city and I simply couldn’t resist taking photo after photo of the beautiful façade, doors and windows. It was a great experience because I remember why each scene caught my eye and I made sure to compose each photo carefully, but it was rewarding to put all the photos together in the end and see how they came together as a collection.

Satis beatus, Palazzo Carli, Verona

The keystone of the 18th century Palazzo Carli reads satis beatus which translates as ‘sufficiently happy’. That wasn’t what caught my eye though, in the photo above, I loved the way the Italian flag contrasted with the burnt orange plaster of the building. This building was once the home to the Hapsburg ruler and is now NATO headquarters.

Corso Porta Borsari, Verona

For me, this scene taken on the Corso Porta Borsari was so quintessentially Italian. I love the greenery flowing down from the balcony, the green-shuttered windows and the various states of disrepair of the paint and plaster. I love to compare street signs and direction posts in the cities that I visit.

Ristorante Antica Torretta, Verona

This is the doorway of the Ristorante Antica Torretta on the Piazza Broilo. I was very pleased with how this photo turned out and was glad that I decided to take it in portrait mode. To me this doorway looks so inviting with its leafy awning and I would certainly have wanted to go inside if the restaurant were open.

Windows and Doorways of Verona (3)

It wasn’t too late in the afternoon but the shadows were already beginning to lengthen. It was the house numbers that caught my eye in the scene above. I love it when I’m able to capture a perfectly framed façade…

Windows and Doorways of Verona (4)

…because sometimes the streets in Verona (and the rest of Italy) are very narrow and your view of the façade is slightly elevated…

Windows and Doorways of Verona (5)

… or even very elevated indeed. Despite not getting the perfect photos that I wanted, I decided to keep these photos because this is what I remember of the houses in Verona – the ornate steel work of the balconies, the shutters and the plants. I have always said that I will jump at any chance to live and work in another city and I like to imagine that I could live in the inner cities of Boulogne, Verona or Lille. 

Casa di Cagnolo Nogarola detto Romeo

It looks plain, doesn't it? Well this is part of the façade of the Casa di Cagnolo Nogarola detto Romeo, the home of the entirely fictional character Romeo, of Romeo and Juliet. The character might be a fiction but this house was in fact the seat of the powerful noble Montecchi family and so the house is a fitting location to complete the myth of the star-crossed Veronese lovers.

Palazzo della Ragione, Verona

This is just a small detail of the Palazzo della Ragione in the Piazza dei Signori. Construction of this destinctive building completed in 1196 and it was the frescoes and tile work on the façade that caught my eye. It is heart breaking when you see the remains of fresco work on these buildings. The buildings were once covered with them to a great extent but they faded, crumbled or were painted over as Verona’s fortunes changed over the centuries. You’ll often see parts of a fresco under an arch or somewhere that doesn’t catch direct sunlight.

The building has had many uses over the year but it is now home to the Gallery of Modern Art Achille Forti.

Loggia del Consiglio, Verona

The Loggia del Consiglio in the Piazza dei Signori is not an easy building to capture. I specifically wanted to capture the details of the 15th century town hall, but to do so meant to elevate the angle once again. If you’d like to see the detail of the full building, I’ve uploaded it on Google +.

Windows and Doorways of Verona (9)

It took several attempts before I decided on this photo and even then, it wasn’t perfect. I wanted to capture the plainness and simplicity of the façade while still capturing it’s unique Veronese charm. I think it might have worked slightly better if I was taller!

Palazzo Cossali, Verona

This is the façade of the old Palazzo Cossali on Via Carlo Cattaneo. Again, the building was once covered by frescoes but these were lost in the first half of the 19th century. The building is now home to engineering firm Technital who have established that the building is structurally very true to its original form, except for the doorway above which was a 19th century addition.

Windows and Doorways of Verona (11)

And one final photo.  This one was taken on Via Roma, really close to the location of Palazzo Carli in the first photo. I love the weathered wooden door with its ornate carvings, the burnt orange plaster and the steelwork on the balcony and the first floor windows.

What do you most like to see in a foreign city? What types of things catch your eye and make your travel partners sigh with exasperation as you capture yet another example of that something unique and quintessential?

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Friday, 25 July 2014

iPhone App Review: Toolani International Calls

The Blue Box

Before I begin, let me just say that this post has nothing to do with Doctor Who but I thought this photo of the T.A.R.D.I.S. was a lot more original than any photos I might have of London phone boxes. The photo is not entirely irrelevant because sometimes you find yourself very far away from home and you just need to make a simple phone call. When I moved to England in 2007, I was depending on international phone cards to call home and they were an absolute nightmare. There was no way to track them and no matter whether you spent £5 or £20 they seemed to last the same time.

For a long time after that, we depended on our landline provider who seemed to offer reasonable international calls but then I discovered that there are iPhone apps that can offer much more reasonable rates.

The lovely people at Toolani recently contacted me and asked me to try out their app. Now as I mentioned, I have used apps like this before so I’m going to tell you a little bit about how it works, the quality of the calls and whether I’d considered switching over to Toolani permanently in future.

Toolani is available on both the iPhone and Android app stores and is free to download. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you go through a short registration process and you can then connect your phone book to the app. You can add people to your favourites list and you can also click on the cog icon to see the rates to call the destination of your choice.

Here are some example rates in Euro cents per minute and approximate £ equivalents:

Country Landline Mobile Landline Mobile
South Africa 1.6 cent 5.0 cent 1.27p 3.95p
Australia 1.6 cent 5.0 cent 1.27p 3.95p
New Zealand 0.9 cent 3.3 cent 0.71p 3.30p
Canada 0.9 cent 0.9 cent 0.71p 0.71p
USA 0.9 cent 0.9 cent 0.71p 0.71p

 

* Please note that these rates are indicative only and will change depending on which country you are calling from.

The rates turned out to be slightly less expensive than the app I was currently using for landlines and on par with the mobile rates.

When you use an app like Toolani, you connect to a local number and will therefore use your free minutes or, if you’re on PAYG, you’ll pay an additional amount for the price of a local call. Considering that the only thing I use my free minutes for is international calls, this is just fine by me.

So what about the quality? Well, I called my bestie in South Africa one evening and we had a nice long chat while we discovered our future travel plans. It certainly didn’t feel like we were 5,000 miles apart! I also called a friend to wish her happy birthday and although I caught her at Durban Airport, the call was perfectly clear. The test has come recently because we are selling a flat in South Africa and as you can imagine, there are almost daily calls to be made, right in the middle of the working day. Being able to pick up the phone and make long calls has been a blessing and the app has proved invaluable during this time.

Would I recommend it? Yes. I’m really impressed with the quality of the calls and the cost and as it is slightly easier to get around than the previous app I was using, I'm going to stick with it too.

Receive €5.00 free Toolani credit

Because I know that you’re unlikely to try out an app before you pay money for it, I’m offering a whopping 100 €5.00 vouchers for free Toolani calls for either the iPhone or Android apps. To grab a voucher, simply follow these steps:

  • Download the app using one of these links: iPhone app or Android app.
  • Enter the code "emminlondon" to claim your free credit.
  • Phone your friends and family up and share the love!

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

An afternoon in the Fruška Gora, Novi Sad

Recently Tricia Mitchell asked me whether I enjoyed my time in the Fruška Gora and I decided to answer her in photos. Fruška Gora is a mountain range just outside of Novi Sad in Serbia and it is known for its pine forests, vineyards and monasteries. I spent one long, wonderful day there in June and this is our story in five (or so) photos.

There was a little bit of this - Krušedol monastery, Fruška Gora:

Krusedol Monastery, Fruska Gora

And a little bit of this - Velika Remeta monastery, Fruška Gora:

Velika Remeta monastery, Fruška Gora

We also visited the women's monastery at Grgeteg, Fruška Gora:

Grgeteg women's monastery, Fruška Gora

We had a fantastic lunch at Hotel Norcev, Fruška Gora and I came face to face with a NATO missile:

NATO missile, Hotel Norcev, Fruška Gora

And finally, I saw my first ever ex-Yugoslavia spomenik, a giant concrete World War II memorial:

Novi Sad Spomenik Fruska Gora

And a final bonus photo of my time in the Fruška Gora - the communications tower targeted by NATO in 1999:

Bombed out communications tower, Fruska Gora

I can’t wait to tell you more about each of these and my post on the first monastery Krušedol is almost ready to publish!


Today is just a short post and I’m glad that I’d put this selection of photos together on Twitter because that made it a little easy. Despite having prepared my photos and written most of the content for my post on Krušedol, I simply couldn’t manage to finish it tonight. 

Life is super busy at the moment with lots of dates with my friends and family, a gruelling study schedule and long days at work where I pick up new and more challenging duties. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve become very boring, I must admit! I wouldn’t want it any other way but it does mean that for the foreseeable future, I might not have as much time to blog here at Emm in London. I’ll try not to be too negligent though!

Having said that, I do actually have some posts planned over the next week. On Friday I’ll be telling you about a long-distance call app that I tried out and we’re back next Friday too with the monthly travel link up. The theme this month is Staycations. The idea is to share what people can do in your corner of the world, whether it is an afternoon, a long weekend or a holiday. I already wrote about Ten Things To Do In Johannesburg in May, so this time I’ll be writing about Kent.

What are you up to this summer? Are you getting everything done or are you like me, trying to squeeze more hours into an already full day?

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