London at Dawn: The Golden Hour

We knew the precise moment when dawn broke during our London at Dawn workshop in April.  One moment the world was exquisitely hued in blue, pink and light grey and the next minute, there was golden light covering every surface.  It was simply magical.

The Shard at dawn6.17am The Shard

This marked the end of the first hour of our workshop and the beginning of what is known in photographic circles as the golden hour. The golden hour is the first and last hour of daylight in a day where the light is softer, more diffuse and it has a specifically golden hue.  It was lovely to behold.

 All Hallows by the Tower6.23am All Hallows by the Tower

We left the Tower Bridge Millennium Pier where we can spent the pre-dawn hour photographing The Shard and Tower Bridge and we climbed up behind the Tower of London.  We spotted All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in London which was founded in 675AD and we marvelled at how the light seemed to draped itself over the Tower of London.

The Tower of London at dawn6.41am The Tower of London

Is it just me, or is the Tower of London a specifically difficult complex to photograph?  I never seem to do it any justice.

Neptune at Ten Trinity Square6.46am Neptune at Ten Trinity Square

I was quite enamoured by the building above, known as Ten Trinity Square.  Built in 1922 as the headquarters of the Port London Authority, this is where the inaugural meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations took place in 1946.  That is Neptune you can see ruling the building and the seas from his high perch.

While Neptune was certainly impressive, I was far more impressed by the grace and beauty of Britannia, the goddess and embodiment of Great Britain, who sat on her throne on the eastern side of the building.

Britannia at Ten Trinity Square6.47am Britannia at Ten Trinity Square

Something about the tiny medieval St Olave’s Church appealed to me.  Perhaps it was the ghoulish skulls above the gate?  St Olave’s is known for being one of the few medieval churches to escape the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Skulls at St Olaves Church6.50am Skulls at St Olaves Church

Samuel Pepys is buried here.  He deemed St Olave’s “our own church” and it is noted on a sign beside the gate that Pepys “came through this gate from the Navy Office and his home in Seething Lane to worship here”.  The Perpendicular Gothic style of the church must have impressed Charles Dickens for the sign goes on to state that he included it in his short story collection The Uncommercial Traveller, renaming it The Churchyard of St Ghastly Grim.

St Olaves Church

As we began walking the streets of the City of London, I thought that we were noticing more people out and about.  Well, that was until I realised they were pouring out of a nightclub and were still awake from the night before! They certainly weren’t fit to publish on this site!

Instead, I looked the other way and noticed this monument to the Crutched Friars (see below).  The monument adorns the corner of the building at 6 Crutched Friars at the intersection with Rangoon Street.  The term does not imply that the friars depended on staff but is a corruption of the word “crossed”.

London EC3

Before long, we arrived at Aldgate and could see the beautiful 30 St Mary Axe (commonly known as The Gherkin).  I must admit that it was a beautiful day to photograph this modern architectural masterpiece (I might be biased – did I mention I love this building?) and boy, did I photograph it.

The Gherkin 30 St Mary Axe7.03am 30 St Mary Axe

We were standing at the original site of Aldgate which was demolished in 1760.  Aldgate was the eastern entrance into the City of London through the old London Wall leading to the East End.  While there is little evidence of the existence of the gate, St Botolph without Aldgate, built in 1744, stands to this day.  The “without” part of the name refers to the fact that it stood just outside the city walls and there is a St Botolph without Bishopsgate too.

Aldgate7.04am St Botolph's without Aldgate

In 1976, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement was founded at this church and the church still welcomes LGBT members.  The church is close to where the Aldgate Bell Foundry once stood, the home of the Bells of Aldgate.

Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School7.09am Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School

By the time we reached the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School, the sky had turned a bright blue and we realised that the golden hour had passed.  There were still plenty of photographic opportunities to come, of course, as the sun rose high into the sky.

Disclaimer: My attendance on the workshop was kindly sponsored by London at Dawn but you can still book places on their two day photography master classes taking place on June 30th & July 1st and August 4th & 5th. I simply cannot recommend these workshops enough. The knowledge and technical skills imparted by Anthony Epes and Nick Mortimer have proved invaluable and I am still shooting on manual to this day.

Featured Photo: Inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne

Inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne is situated in within the old town walls of Boulogne-sur-Mer.  The dome of the basilica dominates the skyline in all directions and can be seen peeking over the old town walls from miles away.  Despite having spent the better part of three hours photographing the dome from the streets of Boulogne, nothing prepared me for its interior beauty.  It was absolutely breathtaking and perhaps the most perfect structure I have ever had the pleasure to photograph.

I got to see my blog on someone else's computer on Friday and was quite surprised! It looked completely different to what I usually see and everything just looked too big for the screen. Now I know from Google Analytics that most people use the same resolution as me or even higher but I was wondering, do any of you find that the images are too big now?

Doors and Windows of Boulogne

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 1

If the eyes are the windows of the soul, what possible wonders lie behind the windows and doors of a European city?

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 2

I didn’t set out to photograph all of the windows and doors in Boulogne-sur-Mer, but as we began our tour of the walled old town, I found myself captivated by the charming façades with their colourful window boxes, filigree balconies and old-fashioned shutters.

 Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 3

And the doors… how could I forget the doors, each one bright and colourful and unique?  I began to dream about living within the old town walls, swooning over the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne and visiting the medieval castle.

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 4

Of course, not everyone can live within the walls, but the houses on the outskirts of the old town and leading into the modern city were no less beautiful.

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 5

In fact, in many ways they were more interesting and sometimes a little bit gritty.

La Casa San Martin Boulogne France

Many of the houses were of significant historical value, such as the building above which is the Casa San Martin.  Once the consulate of Argentina in France, this is the house where José de San Martín, liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, died.

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 7

Can you imagine what these old houses have seen? These houses have stood while countless generations went through history, with the French revolution and the fall of the monarchy, and through the First and Second World Wars.

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 8

Many of the buildings had offices on the ground floor, such as the one above, but I still noticed the ornate balconies and decorations adorning this building.

Some of the buildings weren’t quite as pretty, such as the one below, but it still had a certain kind of charm, non?

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 9

Boulogne really is a beautiful city, especially the walled old town. While we sometimes part places with a bittersweet sense of longing, I can say that our little four day journey into the north of France was so easy and I am quite certain that I will be visiting Nord Pas-de-Calais and Boulogne again soon.

Windows and Doorways of Boulogne France 10

Featured Photo: The Rescue

The Rescue

When we visited Lille, we parked really far away from the centre of town.  As we began the long walk back to the car, we got increasingly uneasy as response cars and fire trucks raced up the road, sirens on and lights blazing, and soon we noticed a lot of smoke.  We had the whole conversation about just how much trouble we’d be in if it was our car on fire, despite being insured.  Let’s just agree that we’d probably still be in France sorting it out.

It turns out that a fire had broken out in a nearby apartment building and we reached the scene in time to watch people being rescued from the building.  The whole situation was very calm and professional and as far as we could tell, everyone was rescued and reached safety.

And we were very, very lucky too.  We were parked in that precise part of the street, one street along.  Apart from having to conduct an illegal u-turn and drive into oncoming traffic, we were able to get away just fine.  I guess the poor people in France have come to expect that from GB drivers anyway.

The Splendour of Lille’s Grand’Place

Vielle Bourse, Grand Place, Lille

In the heart of Lille, you will find the Grand’Place, the favourite meeting place of countless generations of Lillois.  It was once home to an important medieval market and today displays a proud array of architecture from the 17th to the 20th century.

In 1944, the Grand’Place was officially renamed to the Place du Général-de-Gaulle in honour of Charles de Gaulle who was made an Honorary Citizen of the City of Lille. It can be confusing as signs, maps and guidebooks refer to both places but it is one and the same.

Dominating the square is La Vieille Bourse, the site of the old Stock Exchange which was built from 1652 to 1653.

Mercury in the Belltower of La Vielle Bourse

La Vielle Bourse is a truly spectacular example of 17th century Flemish renaissance style architecture and is notable for the intricate detail on its facade and the gilded figure of Mercury dancing upon the ornate belltower.  La Vielle Bourse is made up of 24 identical townhouses that open up onto a central gallery overlooking a courtyard.

La Vielle Bourse detail

Today, you can walk through the central courtyard of La Vielle Bourse and browse through the books or records on sale under the ornamented archways.  At night the courtyard is often cleared to make way for dancing couples.

Inside La Vielle Bourse

Mercury is not alone in gracing the Grand’Place and there are in fact four very important women looking out over the square. The first is the statue of the Goddess, standing above her column to commemorate Lille’s successful resistance to the Austrian siege of September 1792. Despite being surrounded by an Austrian force of 35,000 men who pummelled the city with cannonballs, the far smaller Lillois force stood firm, causing the Austrians to give up and retreat eight days later.

There are still houses in Lille that bear cannonball damage to this day.  Sadly, we’ve only seen photos of these houses with their distinctive circular scars but we did not find any ourselves.

The Goddess, GrandPlace, Lille

In addition to the Goddess, the statue of three women stands watching over the Grand’Place at the pinnacle of the stepped roof of the La Voix du Nord building.  Known locally as the Trois Grâces (Three Graces), they represent the three former provinces of the region: Flanders , Artois and Hainault.  La Voix du Nord is the regional newspaper (The Voice of the North)and has been running since 1941 when it was an underground newspaper of the French resistance.

La Voix Nord et La Grand Garde, Lille

It is quite easy to walk past the former site of the Grand’Garde with its classical architecture and dominant staircases but the building above once housed the soldiers from the King’s sentry guard.  Today the Grand’Garde (meaning “the outpost”) is the home of the Théâtre du Nord.  Like I said, we walked right by this building as our eyes were firmly on La Vielle Bourse but it does have some lovely details, including the weather vane on the triangular pediment, depicting the sun, emblem of King Louis XIV.

Chambre de Commerce

Wherever you stand in the Grand’Place, you can see the splendid 76 metre high belfry of the Chambre de Commerce peeking out behind La Vielle Bourse.  This beautiful neo-Flemish building is the official home of the Lille Chamber of Commerce and is situated in the Place du Théâtre behind the Grand’Place.  Built between 1910 – 1921, it was designed by architect Louis-Marie Cordonnier who chose to design the building in line with the nearby 17th century houses.

Next to the Chambre de Commerce is the Opera de Lille with its beautiful high relief of Apollo and his muses.

Opera de Lille

Opera de Lille boasts a full calendar of opera, dance and concerts each year and is one of the reasons that Lille is such a popular Eurostar destination.  One thing is for sure, their tickets are far more affordable than the Royal Opera House in London.

Ala Cloche d'Or

Finally, just before we exited the Grand’Place and began our stroll through the narrow streets and alleyways of Old Lille, we took the time to appreciate the old storefronts of the businesses facing the square.  I thought that these looked magical and reminded me of fairy tales about clockmakers and shoemakers, poor little match girls and whimsical princesses.  Have I mentioned that Lille really inspired my imagination?

Montre Omega Lille

Featured Photo: Cap Blanc Nez, Côte d'Opale

Cap Blanc Nez, Cote d'opal

Just five minutes from our hotel in Sangatte lies Cap Blanc Nez on the Côte d'Opale.  Translated as the Opal Coast, the Côte d'Opale is a beautiful length of coastline stretching along France’s north coast from Calais to Berck.  On this particular day, we could see all of the way to the white cliffs of Dover although this particular photo was taken to the south west.

Lille and the Art of Zen Travelling

Palais Rihour, Lille

When I travelled to New York in 2009, I went to great lengths to plan every single moment of my trip.  Of course, I was travelling alone with only my own experiences to think of, and I had no idea of when next I would venture across the pond.  I had to experience every moment to the full.

Our experiences in Britain and Europe have been quite different.  We tend to drive to random locations or pick up vague recommendations of places to visit.  Sure, it’s nowhere near as well planned but it’s a lot more magical and rather like a treasure hunt. 

That is why I had no idea of what the next four days held in store for me when I packed my suitcase last Saturday morning, but I stubbornly packed my beachwear in the entirely mistaken belief that I was heading for a beach holiday.  Let’s just agree that the weather in France was the opposite of beach weather and we soon found ourselves on an altogether different type of holiday than originally intended.

But therein lies the charm.  On Sunday morning, we took a drive up along the coastal roads from Sangatte to Dunkerque and discovered that nothing in France is open between 12pm and 2pm and certainly not on a Sunday.  Not wanting to wait around for two hours on a wet and rainy Sunday (we had arrived at 11.35am), we then took to the road again and headed for the historic city of Lille.

Palais Rihour, Lille, France

Despite the unseasonably cold and wet weather, we opted to take a self-guided walking tour through Old Lille.  We began our journey at the Palais Rihour, which is all that remains of the 15th century palace that was built for the Duke of Burgundy. The coat of arms for the dukes of Burgundy is just visible in the top left photo.

My photos didn’t come out as well as planned (I blame the gale force winds and the challenge of juggling a camera and umbrella in one hand while trying to control my hair with the other) but in my next post I’ll take you on a tour through the Grand Place and then on into the heart of Old Lille.

Rue de Palais Rihour

By the way, the title of this post refers to a little known art I picked up in South Africa known as Zen driving. Essentially, it involves following the next car that looks like it knows where it’s going when you’re lost. I often use this tactic when I’m out walking in London too and we certainly used it around the little villages in France when the satellite navigation lost the plot.  In time, this technique has evolved into something more.  Nowadays I am happy simply to head out in any direction and explore any area, just to see what I can see. 

When was the last time you wandered aimlessly, or do you prefer to plan every minute and make sure you live each moment to the full?

Featured Photo: Le Barbue d’Anvers, Lille

Le Barbue dAnvers, Rue Saint Etienne, Lille

The city of Lille is situated in northern France and we spent a long time exploring this magical city on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon in June.  Isn’t it strange then that despite the wealth of 17th and 18th century architecture, with its palaces, courtyards and alleyways, that it was this doorway that captured my imagination so? 

Le Barbue d’Anvers is a famous restaurant that occupies an 18th century building next to the old Hotel de Beaurepaire.  I loved the doorway at the end of the cobblestone courtyard, tucked away in a corner of Rue Saint Étienne.