Johannesburg: Seeing My Hometown Through New Eyes

Johannesburg. Jozi. Jo’burg. Egoli. The City of Gold.  There are lots of names for Johannesburg, the city I was born in and the city we returned to in 1982.  I may have lived in Jo’burg for 25 years but it was only in the last 2 years that I began to explore more of what my hometown has to offer in terms of culture, history and attractions. Isn’t that crazy? Well, I fly out tomorrow for my first visit in two years and I am quite determined to make the most of my time.  These are the top five things I want to do while I’m there (apart from suntanning, dining in excellent restaurants and seeing my family and friends):

Explore the Apartheid Museum. I last visited the Apartheid Museum six years ago but our visit was cut short due to family commitments. I am passionate about South African history and this time I am planning to investigate every single corner of this museum about the most horrible 40 years in South Africa’s history.

Power Swing at Orlando Towers. Almost ten years ago, Stephen bungee jumped from the world’s highest commercial bungee jump at Bloukrans Bridge near Port Elizabeth. I cowered well away from the edge of the viewing platform, overcome by my fear of heights. This time the tables are completely turned! I totally want to power swing from the Orlando Towers in Soweto while Stephen refuses to even go up on the viewing platform.

Orlando TowersSoweto - Orlando Towers uploaded Gerson Gomes Martins on Flickr

Visit the Kliptown Freedom Charter Memorial. The Freedom Charter was to South Africa what Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech was to the civil rights movement. It became the basis of South Africa’s Constitution, one of the most liberal and progressive in the world and the highest law in the land.  I find it hard to put this into words but I simply want to be there, to stand at the memorial and take it all in.

Meet an Elephant at the Sanctuary in Hartbeespoort Dam. Hartbeespoort Dam is just outside Johannesburg but there is something new that wasn’t there when I last visited South Africa – an elephant sanctuary.  Now most South Africans I know were forced to read Dalene Matthee’s Kringe in ‘n bos (Circles in a Forest) at school, a book about deforestation and the extermination of elephants in Knysna in the late 1800’s. This book instilled in me an absolute respect of elephants, of their intelligence and fury and although I’ll admit to being a little frightened, I can’t wait to visit the elephant sanctuary!

Hartbeespoort Elephant SanctuaryHartbeespoort Elephant Sanctuary uploaded by Malangali on Flickr

Pay My Respects at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. 16 June 1976 was one of the most horrific moments in South African history.  Police opened fire on children taking part in a peaceful protest and resulting violence became know as the Soweto Riots.  Hector Pieterson was widely accepted to be the first child to die that day and this memorial and museum was opened in his name.

Fingers crossed that I get some of this done and don’t while away the days suntanning by the pool!

You’d be correct in observing that my visit this time focuses a lot on South African politics and history. These are things that I have always wanted to do but naturally, this is not all there is to do in Johannesburg.

For animal lovers there is the Johannesburg Zoo, the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, and the Lion Park.  Wild Waters Water Park will keep children and most adults entertained for an entire day and Gold Reef City is a theme park based on Johannesburg’s history as the City of Gold. You can visit the Old Fort where Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were incarcerated or visit Johannesburg's Constitutional Court complex. Lovers of archaeology and natural beauty should visit Maropeng, the Cradle of Humankind where the oldest human and humanoid remains in the world were discovered.  Don’t forget to visit the nearby Sterkfontein Caves.

What are you doing to escape the northern hemisphere winter this year? (Or did you somehow manage to escape the southern hemisphere winter?)  I’ve been inexplicably gleeful for much of autumn and winter but I do think that is because I'm breaking up the winter with a sunny interlude.  I’m starting to think that I’m solar powered and need winter sunshine to survive!  Perhaps next year I’ll finally achieve my dream and go to Tenerife over December. 

A Guide to Road Tripping in Britain

A short while ago, I wrote about rail travel in Britain and how travelling by train is my favourite mode of travel.  I guess I made it seem like travelling by car is less than ideal but there are two important aspects of car travel that absolutely trump rail travel: time and freedom

When you go on road trips, you have the time to lie in bed a little bit late one morning and there is no reason why you can’t spend that little while longer in a coffee shop or museum.  You have the freedom to choose the scenic route, you can stop to admire breathtaking scenery and you have significantly less chance of being thrown out of a moving carriage for singing at the top of your voice.

Road trips are about much more than just traveling between two points, they are about the journey, and road trips are as much fun to plan as they are to experience.  Many of the recent trips we’ve taken have been to specific destinations for example, Snowdonia in Wales and Windermere in Cumbria but I’d like to tell you about some of the best road trips I’ve undertaken in Britain and one that I have begun to plan.

England’s Ancient Heritage

London – Stonehenge – Bristol – Bath – Oxford – London

Our first road trip took us through thousands of years of English history from the ancient standing stones of Stonehenge to the remains of the Roman baths in Bath and finally on to Oxford.  This road trip took us two nights / three days but it would be really easy to add on another day or two if you wanted to extend your trip further west.

Stonehenge - main circle

Our first stop was Stonehenge.  Unless you’re there for the summer or winter solstice celebrations, there isn’t much point in hanging about more than an hour or so and so we headed off to spend the night in Bristol.

-> Detour: At this point it would be really easy to head north to Gloucestershire where you could spend the next day exploring the Forest of Dean and old town Gloucester. Alternatively, you could head further west and spend a day in Cardiff.

Early the next morning, we drove to Bath where we spent the day exploring the old town and the fabulous Roman Baths.  After Bath, we drove on to Oxford and spent the next day on a walking tour of the old colleges before returning home again that evening.

Northern History and Intrigue

London – Warwick – Liverpool – Manchester – York – St Albans - London

On our second English road trip, we stuck to our historic theme but this time delved into the more modern histories of Liverpool and Manchester, contrasted with the medieval histories of Warwick and York.  This road trip was slightly longer at four nights / five days

Leaving from London, we spent our first day in Warwick exploring the fabulous exhibits at Warwick Castle.  We then drove up to Liverpool, where we spent the night, and we spent the next day exploring the Pier Head, Albert Dock and tracing the Beatles’ footsteps. 

-> Detour: If you’d like to add an extra day into your itinerary, it would be a good idea at this point to head off to the fabulous walled city of Chester or you can also spent a day in Blackpool, a seaside resort town which I love but which most people say is a bit gaudy.

The Royal Liver Building as seen over the Cunard Building

Our next destination was Manchester, the home of Manchester United, where we spent the night.  We spent the next day and night taking advantage of Manchester’s great shopping opportunities and fabulous pubs, with a quick visit to Old Trafford. 

Bright and early the next morning, we headed off to York where we discovered York Minster, the Shambles, Clifford’s Tower and the York Castle Museum.  The next morning we headed home to London but made sure we stopped off at the Roman Ruins in St Albans on the way.

Breathtaking Vistas in the Scotland Lowlands

Edinburgh – Crieff – Aberfeldy – Pitlochry – Perth - Edinburgh

We spent a week in the Scottish Lowlands in 2010 and took several day trips from our base in Loch Monzievaird.  I was absolutely enchanted by Scotland and was especially taken with the buildings in their creepy, Scottish Baronial style.

This trip wouldn’t have been possible without a car though, so I am going to suggest a four night / five day road trip of the area (with a bonus photo!)

The View From Edinburgh Castle

On the first day, arrive in Edinburgh and spend the day exploring Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town and Princes Street Gardens.  From Edinburgh, drive to the market town of Crieff and spend the next morning exploring the old town, Drummond Castle and Gardens and The Famous Grouse Experience.

Drive up to Aberfeldy where you’ll spend your second night.  The next morning, you can explore the old town, visit the Watermill bookshop and check to see how the rebuilding works are going at the Art Deco cinema The Birks. 

Crieff (8)

After lunch, you’ll then head off to Pitlochry, the home of Heathergems and Pitlochry Festival Theatre, where you’ll spend your third night.  Pitlochry is especially popular among walkers and hikers so do keep that in mind if you arrive in season. It might be worth spending an extra night in Pithlochry if that interests you.

The next morning, you’ll drive down to Perth where you’ll visit Lochleven Castle and The Scottish Deer Centre.  You’ll spend your final evening in Perth before returning to Edinburgh the next morning.

A Short Tour of East Anglia

London – Bury St Edmunds – Norwich – Cambridge – London

Once again, we spent a week in Swilland Mill when we took our tour of East Anglia last December, but our adventures wouldn’t have been possible without a car.  I’m going to suggest a short three day / two night road trip.

From London, drive up to Bury St Edmunds where you’ll spend the day exploring the ruins of the Abbey of St Edmund and the present day St Edmundsbury Cathedral.  Spend the night in town, or perhaps drive through to one of the seaside towns of Aldeburgh, Southwold or Lowestoft. 

Spend your second day in Norwich and be sure to check out Norwich Castle, the Royal Arcade, the market and the Church of St Peter Mancroft.  Norwich really comes alive at night, so I’d definitely recommend you spend your second night in or near to the city.

Kings College Cambridge

You’ll return to London the next morning but do be sure to stop by the ancient university town of Cambridge on your way back.  Take a long stroll around the colleges and down the canals and perhaps even indulge in a boat ride if weather permits. 

From Train Windows to Reality

London – Lincoln – Whitby – Newcastle – York – Nottingham – London

I’m pretty good at turning road trip plans into reality but there is one road trip I’ve been planning since 2010 which is still but a dream.  The problem is that there is so much to see and so far to travel and while I’d like to think this is possible in five days / four nights, that might prove to be too tiring.  This is a rough idea of the next road trip that I am planning:

On the first day, travel up to Lincoln where you can admire Lincoln Cathedral and also explore some of the abbeys and monasteries lying in ruin since the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Ruins of Whitby Abbey

Travel up to Whitby the next day where you can explore one of the most famous ruins of all, Whitby Abbey.  Be sure to stop off in town for some famous fish and chips too or indulge in some Gothic or Bram Stoker-themed adventures.

The third day would be spent in Newcastle, a town I have wanted to visit ever since passing through there on a train.  The fourth day would be spent in York, exploring some of the Viking activities that we missed during our first visit and the last day would be spent following in Robin Hood’s footsteps in Nottingham.

What do you think? Too ambitious?

I hope that you find these road trips useful in planning your own around Britain. Personally, I can’t get enough of the history, architecture and countryside on this island.  Finally, I bring you some valuable tips if you are considering taking a road trip.

Five Tips for Road Tripping in Britain

Plan ahead but take it easy. Do plan your trips in advance to ensure that you make the most of your routes and don’t miss out on any attractions.  Conversely, don’t be afraid to stop off somewhere unexpected or to take it a little easier if you’re beginning to feel fatigued.

No room at the inn. Britain is not like the continent and you might run into trouble if you don’t book your rooms ahead.  Not only that, but you can lose out on some fantastic online or advance deals if you book ahead. We alternate between cosy country inns and the unbeatable £29 deal from Premier Inn.

Definitely learn the rules of the road. South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians can drive on their existing license for up to a year, whereupon they can exchange it for a British license.  The problem is that the rules of the road can be pretty different.  For example, speed limits are really clearly marked on all roads in South Africa but in the UK, you’re expected to remember what the standard speed limit is on a country road, a dual carriage way or the highway. Really, learn the rules of the road before you get behind the wheel!

You really don’t need to own a car. It is really easy to hire a car in the UK and it doesn’t have to be expensive either.  We’ve used Enterprise before when we’ve travelled to Liverpool and we also hire a van from them every time we move house. It is at least four of us on our road trips so the cost of car hire is far less expensive than individual train tickets for those journeys.

Satellite navigation is your best friend. I can’t stress this last point enough. In addition to the road trips listed above, we’ve visited Wales, Cumbria, Isle of Wight and even France, and we’ve also undertaken countless journeys to visit family in Liverpool and Manchester. We use a Tom Tom and we ensure that we update it before each journey and we also subscribe to live traffic updates. Beg, borrow or steal a SatNav if you have to, even use your smart phone or Google Maps, but don’t try navigate a journey in Britain without these modern conveniences!

Do you have any road trip ideas? Be sure to share them below so that other people can follow your routes.

9 Things I Learned on a Bowl of Chalk

Jonnie from a Bowl of Chalk Our excellent tour guide Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk

Not last Saturday but the Saturday before, a couple of us got together and went on a pay-what-you-want walk with Jonnie from Bowl of Chalk.  I'm going to start off by saying that the tour was excellent and Jonnie's knowledge of London, especially the Great Fire of London, was astounding.

We met up just behind St Paul's Cathedral and wound our way round the cathedral and over the Millennium Bridge to the Bankside area. There we explored Borough Market and the high street before crossing the Thames again and landing up at The Monument.

It was not a short walk and took about three hours. I slept very well that evening but my sleep was all the sweeter for the new titbits of information I picked up that day. So without further ado, here are 9 things I learned on a bowl of chalk* in London Town. I was going to list 10 but I think 9 is just as fine.

I’ve walked up and down Cheapside countless times but it never occurred to me to question the rather unusual name of this street located just behind St Paul’s Cathedral.  In medieval English, ‘cheap’ was the word for market and at that time, Westcheap was one of the main produce markets in London.  Many of the roads leading off from it are named after that produce: Bread Street, Milk Street, Poultry (which like Cheapside, is simply known by one word).

You really want to visit Cheapside, because it is where One New Change is located.  This shopping centre has a roof terrace with some incredible views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the changing London skyline.

St Paul's Cathedral from One New Change St Paul’s Cathedral and London Skyline from One New Change

Just down the road from Cheapside is Threadneedle Street which most likely derives from ‘three needles’, the sign of the merchant tailors.  Their 14th century guildhall Merchant Taylors' Hall is located on Threadneedle Street to this day.


I did know there are no roads in City of London but I didn't know this comes from the actual definition of the word road which in this case is a thoroughfare that goes from one point to another with no houses or shops on it. 

Since Roman times, The City of London has been one of the most important destinations in the world and as you know, all roads lead to Rome London, so there would be no roads in London because once you’d arrived here, well, you’d arrived at your destination.

The Shard from One New Change The Shard and London Skyline from One New Change

Being that it was the only bridge linking the City of London to the slums of the south, London Bridge was actually closed at night.  Of course, back then London Bridge was almost a town in itself and there were houses, shops, pubs and all sorts of buildings on the bridge.  For this reason, there were loads of inns down what is now Borough High Street where you could stay the night or await a stage coach.

Just in case you were wondering how gruesome medieval London really was, the severed heads of traitors and executed criminals were impaled on spikes and displayed on top of the southern gatehouse to London Bridge.  This served as a warning to all who entered London of the fate that awaited them should they step out of line.

Borough Market and Shard Borough Market and the Shard at Dusk

Great things happen in London. Really scary and monumental occasions in London are called "great". So you have the Great Plague of 1665-66, the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Great Frost of 1683–84 and the Great Smog of 1952.

If you have a vision of a dark and foggy London, you’re not far wrong.  The Great Smog of 1952 was so severe that 4,000 deaths were immediately linked to it.  It was largely attributed to air pollution and resulted in the Clean Air Act of 1956.  Fireplaces and stoves that produce smoke are still banned in the City of London.

Umbrella Installation at Borough Market Umbrella Art Installation at Borough Market

I already knew that the Great Fire of London was started by Thomas Farriner at his bakery in Pudding Lane but I had no idea that ‘pudding’ had a really different meaning back in 1666.  Basically, pudding refers to the lovely stuff that is left over once you take all of the useful bits off a carcass, in other words, it meant offal. I guess I can see the link between that, black pudding and the art of putting leftovers in a crust to make a pie.  Still, it is rather grim.

I also knew that Thomas Farriner was a king’s baker but I learned that this isn’t as fancy a title as I’d imagined.  Essentially, it just meant that he baked for the royal navy.

The Shard from the George The Shard as seen from The George Inn

I knew that the old St Paul’s Cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of London and that what we see now was built by Sir Christopher Wren.  I didn’t know that Old St Paul’s Cathedral was massive, an imposing compound that dominated the London skyline.  It was so big with its thick stone walls that Londoners thought that it could not possibly fall prey to the fire that was raging through the city in early September 1666. 

People began to store all sorts of valuables in the cathedral such as books, works of art and furniture.  Everything was lost.  Not only did the fire reach the cathedral but the scaffolding caught alight, the lead spire melted and centuries of valuable objects were lost.

The George Southwark The George Inn, Southwark frequented by Charles Dickens

Lord Mayor Thomas Bloodworth is now infamous for being the most useless mayor in the history of the City of London. As Lord Mayor, it fell to him to give permission to demolish adjoining properties which could have prevented the Great Fire from spreading right across London as it did. 

He was summoned from his bed and refused to grant the necessary permission, infamously saying that "a woman might piss it out" before going back to bed.

Thanks for that Lord Mayor Bloodworth.

The MonumentThe Monument to the Great Fire of London

Conspiracy theories were rife after the Great Fire of London. People thought it was retribution for the August 1666 raid on the Dutch town of West-Terschelling  in which the entire town was burned down by the English Fleet. It didn’t take long for Londoners to begin killing foreigners, Catholics and anyone else they didn’t like the look of.

It was up to the Duke of York, James to protect these people from the mobs and he began “arresting” foreigners to keep them safe.

So that brings me to the end of my thoroughly useful titbits of information gleamed from the Bowl of Chalk tour.  I absolutely intend to go on Jonnie’s other two walks so do let me know if you’d like to join in next time.

* Have you figured out what a bowl of chalk is yet?  Well, I’ll give you a clue, it’s cockney rhyming slang but you’ll have to visit the Bowl of Chalk website to figure out what for!

A Gorgeous Saturday Morning in Broadway Market, Hackney

St John’s Church Gardens

After our visit to Hackney Homemade on Saturday morning, Kat and I realised that we had over an hour to spare and we decided to walk down to Broadway Market.  We made a quick detour into Primark first because even though it looked pretty warm and sunny outside, it certainly wasn’t!  With a brand new teal scarf and smart-phone-ready gloves for me, we carried on with our journey.

Flower Sellers and Sheep Sculpture in London Fields

We walked through the beautiful London Fields, a very old park between Hackney and Regent’s Canal, which was historically used as a pasture field for cows and sheep.  Wikipedia tells me that there has been a park here since 1540 and I imagine that this pebble-clad statue of flower-sellers is meant to represent the various merchants who have passed through this way over the years.  There were sheep gathered around their feet and a couple of families were resting there on this quiet Saturday afternoon. 

Little Francesca Juice Bar at Broadway Market

We soon reached the Broadway Market and were treated to splashes of colour and mouth-watering aromas.  I’m learning to love markets and Broadway is one of the most vibrant and colourful London markets I’ve visited recently.

Truffles by Coco and Me at Broadway Market

Our first stop was the Coco & Me stall, which is one of Kat’s favourites. The lady behind Coco & Me is so lovely and friendly! She is a blogger too and I will definitely be visiting her blog and her stall again!

Delicious pies and quiches at Broadway Market

There is food to suit every taste at Broadway Market and I noticed that many of the stalls focused on sweet goods including an array of cakes, truffles, tarts and desserts.  If you have a sweet tooth, you simply must visit this market! Of course, those are savoury tarts and quiches in the photo above, which looked very tempting indeed.

I visited the Polish Deli and I sampled a cheese pieróg (a cottage cheese, onion and potato dumpling) and a kabanos.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love sausages of all sizes, shapes and origins?  Well, unfortunately, I was juggling a camera, handbag, kabanos and pieróg and managed to photograph neither the Polish Deli stall nor the absolutely divine food.  Needless to say, Polish food now lies firmly in my top 5 foods now, along with German, Italian, Spanish and Greek food.

Lunch at Broadway Market in London Fields

Kat made it as far as the German deli stall and had a massive Bratwurst.  I have to admit, given my love of sausages, that this would have been my choice too had we arrived here first, but I am glad that I made the choice that I did.

Regents Canal in Hackney

It was a mile walk from Hackney Central to the bottom of Broadway Market and then we decided to walk another mile east towards Haggerston Station along Regent’s Canal.  It was a really beautiful walk and Regent’s Canal never fails to lift my spirits (not that I was sad to begin with) and leave me feeling refreshed and happy.

Cycles in Hackney

The only thing that bugged us a little bit was the extremely rude cyclists.  The signs to the canal walk clearly state that pedestrians have the right of way and still cyclists charge down the canal walk, ringing their little bells and bullying walkers to move out of their way. Not cool at all.

Far too soon, our visit to Hackney, London Fields and Haggerston was over.  It was my first visit to this part of town and like Dalston which I visited in the summer (but didn’t blog about as it was meant to be a family visit) I’m really keen on exploring more of this area.  I don’t really mind the Hipsters as I was young, insecure and arrogant once too.  If anything, they are fun to look at if they’re not trying to ride you into a canal!

Broadway Market
Broadway Market
E8 4PH
Nearest station: London Fields

Featured Photo: Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum London

I often hear people say that London is one of the most expensive cities on earth but you’d be surprised just how much there is to do for free.  Most of our art galleries and museums are free and if you go to any of the major museums during the week, you will see that they are full of little groups of school children absorbing a world of information and knowledge.  It is what I love most about London, even if I do try to get ahead of the school groups and away from them as soon as possible!

This autumn and winter I’ve promised myself to go to far more museums and art exhibitions than normal and to go to new ones too.

This all started when I went to the Natural History Museum at the beginning of October.  It started with the realisation that there is more to this fantastic place than just the Dinosaurs section.  My favourite sections are Creepy Crawlies and the entire Red Zone which features a journey to the centre of the earth and a really realistic earthquake simulation.

Of course, we spent the entire week exploring London that week and we barely touched the surface.  This became really apparent to me when I saw this list of Free London Attractions and I realised just how much I still need to see.  At the very top of my list (and only on the first page!) is the Bank of England Museum, The British Postal Museum & Archive, Museum of London, and Museum of London Docklands. 

Not only that but I’ve also made a pact with my colleague to go ice skating at Somerset House and finally attend Winter Wonderland. Can you believe that I’ve been here over five years and have never managed to do either of those things?

It is such an exciting time to be in London and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on earth right now.  How is your autumn / spring going?

Featured Photo: St James Park in Autumn

St James Park in Autumn

October was about falling in love with London all over again.  I don’t really remember ever falling out of love with London, but this month I’ve taken the time to explore, visit new places, try new restaurants and meet up with friends old and new.  Which is probably just as well because this weekend, the slightly wet (if not rather mild) autumn turned into winter as the temperatures suddenly dropped and we experienced icy Arctic weather.  To think that I thought I was overdressed on Friday morning with gloves, scarf and hat! 

I took this photo on Friday morning on the way to walk.  When I get up early enough in the mornings, I catch the train to London Victoria and walk down Buckingham Palace Road, past Buckingham Palace, along The Mall to Trafalgar Square and then on to the Strand.  It is a walk that takes at least half an hour and then there is the problem that I can’t help taking a couple of photos along the way.  This one was taken on my iPhone.

We don’t usually experience such a bright array of colours in autumn in London as the leaves usually dry up and fall to the ground quite quickly.  However, because we had a really wet summer, trees have been able to retain their leaves longer than usually and London is a real treat at the moment. 

You can read a little more about it here: Colourful autumn in store, says RHS.


Castle-Hopping in Caernarfon, Wales

The Flag of Cymru Flies High Over Caernarfon Castle

There is no denying that I’m a bad blogger.  Sometimes I let life get it the way of writing new posts and at other times I get distracted by new trips and neglect to finish blogging about old ones.

Every now and again, it is neither life nor distraction that prevents me from blogging, it is something else.  When we went to Caernarfon Castle in Wales last June, it was a cold, wet and gloomy day.  I was really disappointed by the weather, especially seeing that the sun is my Automatic Photographic Enhancer™.  So needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased at the time with how my photos came out.

During our trip to Windermere in June this year, I learned to appreciate dull weather, to embrace the clouds and gloominess.  You kind of have to when you’re vacationing in Britain during the ‘summer’.  I’m glad I did because it made me revisit the photos I had taken of Caernarfon Castle and I’d like to share some of my favourites.

Approaching Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle is one of the castles that Kind Edward I built in the north-west of Wales in his attempts to rule over the Welsh population.  Construction began in 1283 but like Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey, the castle was never really completed.  Walls were built around the entire town of Caernarfon between 1283-1285 and I wrote about the town walls of Caernarfon previously.

Approaching the Queens Tower in Caernarfon Castle

It is pretty significant because here in the courtyard, on that circular plate, is where Queen Elizabeth II invested Prince Charles with the Prince of Wales coronet in 1969.  He was formally named the Prince of Wales in 1958 but his investiture was conducted when he was 21 years old.

Courtyard of Caernarfon Castle

I love exploring castles and my favourite part of the experience is walking along the narrow corridors inside the castle walls or climbing up the dark, steep stairs to walk on top of the walls. 

Caernarfon Castle Interior

I like to lay my hands on the cold stone and imagine what those walls might have seen. It is a little bit more difficult with Edward I’s castles because so many of them were not finished and they weren’t actually lived in. Still, I like to let my mind wander just a little bit.

A Lone Seagull at Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle is vast and it is perhaps the biggest castle I have visited in Britain.  It is a reflection of how strategically important Caernarfon had become and in his book The Medieval Castles of Wales, John Kenyon estimates that £12,000 was spent on the castle by 1292 (approximately £5 million today) and only the eastern part of it was built between 1283 and 1292!

The Vastness of Caernarfon Castle

I imagine that you could only get a complete photo of the castle from over the water but the views from the castle walls were breathtaking, even in the inclement weather.  The tower you can see to the left in the photo above is the Black Tower and that is the King’s Gate to the right.

Caernarfon Outside of the Walls

These houses lie outside the boundaries of the Caernarfon town walls.  I adore their bright and colourful facades! 

Caernarfon Town and Castle

Did I mention that it was wet and cold the day that we visited the castle?  I was beginning to wonder about the wisdom of my decision to climb nearly every tower in the complex but I was certainly rewarded I reached the top of the Chamberlain Tower.  You can see the North-East Tower, the Watchtower and the Queen’s Gate in the photo above.

Courtyard and Cannon at Caernarfon Castle

In addition to the immensity of the castle complex, the castle also houses the fantastic Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum.  I would suggest that you put aside at least 2-3 hours for your castle visit.

Address: Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon, LL55 2AY.
Entry fee: £5.25 (£4.85 concessions)
Open: every day except 24, 25, 26 December and 1 January.

Have you ever been to a castle before? If so, which is your favourite?

Magic and Enchantment in Munich’s Marienplatz

Marienplatz sign, Munich

There is little on earth that will rival a little girl’s imagination.  When I was a little girl, I thrived on tales of magical kingdoms and enchanted forests, wishing chairs and talking owls.  Mine was a world of fairy rings, magical creatures and enchanted lands far, far away.

We might not have made it to Schloss Neuschwanstein on this visit to Bavaria when I first laid eyes on the Altes Rathaus in Marienplatz, I thought I was seeing a real fairy tale castle!

Marienplatz and Altes Rathaus Munich

Marienplatz translates as Mary’s Square or Our Lady’s Square.  It is a lovely old square in the centre of Munich and it is here that we first saw the Altes Rathaus or Old Town Hall. 

The tall spire that you see was once the Talburgtor which was one of the five gates of the city wall which was built around Munich in the 12th century. Talburgtor was the smallest of the gates and it was redesigned as part of the Old Town Hall when it was constructed between 1392-1394.  The neo-gothic design of the Altes Rathaus was implemented during a restoration in the late 19th century and I think it is really very charming.

Altes Rathaus

Don’t you agree?

One feature you can’t help but notice in Marienpatz is the imposing Marian column Mariensäule or Statue of Our Lady, for which the old town square was named. This column features a golden statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon and was built in 1638 to celebrate the end of the Swedish occupation of the city.  It reminds me of the Colonne de la Déesse built in Lille's Grand’Place to commemorate the successful resistance to the Austrian siege of September 1792.


Of course, it would simply not be possible to enter Marienplatz without eventually turning to the north and taking in the vast Gothic Revival Neues Rathaus or New Town Hall, built between 1867 and 1908. 

Neues Rathaus

I am usually a great fan of this architectural style but have to admit to being more than a little awed by this massive structure.  I really do believe that it can only be adequately photographed from the air.

While the Old Town Hall appealed to my sense of fantasy, the New Town Hall appealed to my love of all things creepy and Gothic and I loved all of the tiny details, such as the scene above this entrance.

Entrance Neues Rathaus Munchen copy

When I took this photo, I stood with my back laid flat against the opposite building.  As I say, it is hard to take in the vast expanse of this grand old building.

Neues Rathaus western elevation

The Neues Rathaus is one of the most visited and photographed buildings in Munich because it is also the house of the city’s famous Glockenspiel

The Glockenspiel at Munich

It was quite cold on the day that we visited Marienplatz so we sat down at one of the cafes and ordered fries and hot chocolate.  It was such a lovely atmosphere, which I think you can experience a little bit at 2:30 when the bells began in earnest.  I do apologise for the camera flying all over the place at one point, that was just us spilling a full glass of coke all over our table!