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!

Featured Photo: Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf

I have a confession to make – I’m a little bit confused.  Every tour I’ve been on before has said that the building on the far left above, the one with the pointed roof, is Canary Wharf and that the general area is simply named Canary Wharf after this building and its proximity to Canary Wharf tube station. 

Well, it seems like that is a bit of an urban legend.  That particular building is called One Canada Square which used to be Britain’s tallest building until The Shard took that title in mid-November 2010. 

Canary Wharf in fact refers to the entire business district, of which over half is owned by the Canary Wharf Group.  For the longest time I really wanted to work in Canary Wharf but I think I’m happy where I am for now.  I’m just not naturally comfortable in tailored suits.

This photo was taken from a Thames Clipper three weeks ago.  In my opinion, the very best view of Canary Wharf at night is to be found at the steps down from the North Greenwich bus station to the drop off zone below.  One day I will capture that view.

A Romantic Thames Lunch Cruise For Two

It is incredible how fast ten years can fly by, especially when you move to a new country.  Stephen and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary this year and my mum gave us a special gift of a Bateaux London lunch time cruise on the Thames.  Of course, we were in Munich for our actual anniversary and so it happened that we only got to go on the cruise this weekend.

We arrived at the Embankment Pier just before noon on a gorgeous autumn day. The leaves are just beginning to turn golden and as we waited to board the Symphony, we saw a wedding party strolling up the Embankment to take photographs.  It was particularly fitting as it was a similar autumn day when we got married in South Africa.

Bateaux London Lunch Time Cruise

The cruise took us from Embankment Pier, up briefly past the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, before turning around and going down river under Westminster, Hungerford, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark and Cannon Street Bridges to London Bridge and Tower Bridge.  We went on all the way down the Thames to Canary Wharf and on a calm day might have travelled all the way to the Thames Barrier but it was particularly choppy yesterday and we turned back before Greenwich.

The choppy waters certainly didn’t deter us from enjoying ourselves and the food and service were both fantastic! 

Bateaux London Lunch Time Cruise - starter

Smoked and Poached Salmon Roulade
Goats cheese, Roasted Vegetables and Celeriac Mash 

For starters, Stephen went with the salmon while I had the vegetarian option on account of my pesky salmon allergy.  Judging from how quickly he finished it, Stephen certainly enjoyed his salmon but I savoured mine as the combination of goats cheese and pureed vegetables was absolutely divine.

Bateaux London Lunch Time Cruise - main

Chicken En Croute with Celeriac Mash, French Beans and Thyme Jus

The main course was really tasty and surprisingly filling.  In fact, it was my favourite of the three courses.  It amazes me how much I like green beans as an adult as they were my least favourite vegetable as a child. 

Bateaux London Lunch Time Cruise - dessert

Vanilla Pannacotta on Chocolate Macaroon with Raspberry Coulis

We finished off with a lovely vanilla pannacotta and a lovely rich, strong cup of coffee. 

As we sat back and relaxed after the meal, the boat began its return back to Embankment Pier and we were treated to a fascinating commentary on the historic sights that we were passing.  There was the Captain Kidd pub and Execution Dock, the Mayflower Inn where the original Mayflower departed from before landing in Plymouth, and Butler’s Wharf which was once the largest tea warehouse in the world.

We had a superb afternoon and we both agreed that it was a lovely surprise and something that we probably wouldn’t have bought ourselves.  Thanks Mum!

I wholeheartedly recommend a restaurant cruise with Bateaux London.  We were specifically interested in doing one of their Afternoon Tea Cruises soon but I see that they do Thames Dinner Cruises, Sunday Lunch Jazz Cruises and New Year’s Eve cruises too.

Featured Photo: Between Escalles and Sangatte

Escallles and Sangatte

When I rediscovered this photo last week while writing about the Côte d'Opale, I just knew that I should dedicate a post to it.  Sangatte is the tiny little town that we stayed in when we visited France in June.  Located along a small stretch of coastline, this is the type of town where people build their holiday cottages. I always say that you should take note of where the locals take their holidays.

We stayed in a spacious room at La Maison Blanche, located just minutes away from the beach.  There is one main road in Sangatte, a church where we witnessed a wedding party on the Saturday, a couple of restaurants and a wonderful shop where we went each day to buy fresh baguettes, cheese, meats, and the sweetest chocolate soufflé cake I have ever tasted.  It was simply divine.

We took long walks along the beach, admiring the muted tones of the grey and white cliffs, the rough, pale sandy beach and the turquoise sea.  All along the coast were the remains of wartime lookout points where the German’s held strategic positions and kept the Allies at bay.  To this day, the brutal concrete structures remain as if to remind us how close we came to defeat. 

It is impossible to visit this region without confronting its wartime history.  Less than an hour up the coastal road, you will find the city of Dunkerque (anglicised as Dunkirk) and there are several war museums and memorials situated throughout Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This is an area where history is alive and you can almost taste the metal and shrapnel still present on the wind.

A Study of the House at 221B Baker Street

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

When I was planning our activities for last week, there was one destination in London that soared to the top of the must-see list.  My teenage visitor and I are huge fans of the BBC series Sherlock so naturally we decided to visit the most famous address in the world: 221B Baker Street.

Strictly speaking, the Sherlock Homes Museum isn’t located at 221B Baker Street at all but is more accurately described as 237-241 Baker Street, London, NW1.  Located in an 1815 Georgian townhouse, the museum opened in 1990 and was granted permission by Westminster Council to use the address 221B Baker Street.  We were told that the museum receives thousands of pieces of fan mail a year, addressed to the great detective.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

Stepping inside the Sherlock Holmes Museum is like stepping back in time to the height of the Victorian era.  The house is faithfully arranged as it might have been during those times and the furniture, trimmings and trinkets are all carefully chosen in keeping with the era.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

But of course, this is no ordinary house.  This is meant to be the home of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson, tenants of landlady Mrs Hudson.  In Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, the consulting detective and his friend lived at 221B Baker Street from 1881 to 1904.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

We wandered through the bedrooms of both Holmes and Watson, and lingered in the famous first floor study overlooking Baker Street.  My favourite part was Doctor Watson’s medical books and supplies but that should not be surprising as Watson was always my very favourite character.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

The second floor of the house featured a host of various characters and props from the various Sherlock Holmes stories and included the original chair as used by the illustrator Sidney Paget to draw Holmes seated with Watson in the books.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

It was interesting to see the house as it must have appeared in the books.  The study is massive in Guy Ritchie’s films and still rather large in the BBC series but in reality, the stairways would have been dark and cramped, and the rooms would have been cosy, to say the least.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

The best part about the tour is picking through all of the clues and references to the cases.  On the second floor of the house, there were wax models of Holmes, Watson and even Moriarty.  Can I just say that Andrew Scott makes a far better looking Moriarty than the original image created by Sidney Paget?

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

The Sherlock Holmes Museum is open every day of the year except for Christmas Day.  It costs just £6 for adults and £4 for children to enter the museum and it is open from 9.30am to 6pm daily.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

You don’t have to book ahead for tickets but it is worth noting that there is an approximate wait of 30 minutes to get into the museum.  The nice thing is that they don’t let too many people in the house at one time but they also don’t seem to warn you that you should purchase tickets in the gift shop before getting in line for the tour.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London 221B Baker Street

All of this simply made me want to read al of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories as I realised what a rich and wonderful world he created.  Of course, that wouldn’t be the first time I was encouraged to return to the source last week following visits to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff and the Harry Potter Studio Tour.  That is all the topic of another post though!

London in a Golden Autumnal Glow

The City of London from the Millennium Bridge

After spending a fantastic day in London today, we walked out of the Tate Modern at dusk and noticed that London was bathed in the most exquisite autumnal glow.  It really was the golden hour and we couldn’t help snapping away with our cameras.

Blackfriars Bridge from the Millennium Bridge

To the west, there were soft clouds on the horizon and to the very left, a pinnacle of a tall building bore a sharp reflection of the sun.  I could barely look in that direction, so chose to leave it out of my photo.

St Pauls Cathedral from Millennium Bridge

Straight ahead, we could not help but marvel at how beautiful and peaceful St Paul’s Cathedral looked.  We felt drawn to cross the bridge and had a giggle at the poor city bankers trying to walk against the flow of the relaxed and wandering crowds.

Locks of Love on the Millennium Bridge

We were thrilled to discover that several padlocks have recently been attached to Millennium Bridge.  Locks of Love are popular in Europe but I haven’t seen them in London before.  I wonder if they will stay for long?  British officials are not known for their sense of humour.

The Shard from the Millennium Bridge

The Shard looked beautiful, as always, but knowing my bias it is possible that I am not the most objective source.

St Paul's in Beautiful Autumnal Light

St Paul’s Cathedral was draped in a soft light.  This is one of the many locations in London that I feel unable to stop taking photos of.

St Paul's Cathedral in Beautiful Autumnal Light

I loved seeing the plane as it came into the shot.

St Paul's Cathedral

Many planes fly over London on route to and from Heathrow and London City Airport.

St Paul and his Cathedral

We wandered into the gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral and my final photo before the end of the golden hour was of St Paul and his Cathedral.

I’m undecided now as to whether I prefer the golden hour at dawn or dusk.  I’ve posted about London at Dawn and the Golden Hour before but this light felt slightly less muted and more positive and uplifting.  There is the promise of a whole new day at daybreak but the lighting this afternoon seemed to convey that the day was far from over.  Which do you prefer, dawn or dusk?

I must apologise if my posts been a little erratic lately.  I had a visitor last weekend and this week I am spending a whole week with my best friend’s daughter taking her around London.  I usually wouldn’t mention it but next week I begin studying two nights a week again and am taking two subjects at the same time.  I know I’ll be happy about this in 8 weeks time but for now must beg your indulgence if the posts become a little spotty.