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Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Cotswolds Christmas

The English countryside and villages, castles and stately homes, glorious architecture, history.. wonderful in almost any weather. Recently back from a lovely lazy Christmas spent largely in a cosy cottage in the Cotswolds in front of the log fire with a copy of the Radio Times and assorted mince pies and cheeses. Its so great in the UK, you can more or less pick anywhere and be sure to have an assortment of interesting places to visit within an hours drive.

I was amazed by an almost ghostly Oxford after Christmas with almost no one around and choccas with interesting buildings and the Ashmolian museum. Warwick caste is one of the most castley castles in the UK.. they do know it of course, its a tad theme parky, people in medieval garb etc etc.. great place for kids though.

The Cotswolds itself is rammed full of chocolate box villages in golden stone.. lovely to be driving through without the crowds and christmas lights a twinkling..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paris Life


Et Pourquoi Pas?

Place des Vosges

Dont mess with the men in Uniform

Vespa at Maxim's

Le Parc

Le Cafe

Art Treasures of the Louvre

What a treasure trove, bewilderingly huge, I took a tour of the highlights then wandered off to the little visited apartments of Napoleon. I love this picture of the rabble trying to get a snap of the Mona Lisa, you want to cover her up and give her a bit of a respite. What intrigues me is im sure none of these people could tell you why its famous, it just is - its as famous as can be in the art world and therefore we are drawn to it, we have to see it, to be near it, to say we have seen it, and to show other people we have seen it, but it no longer has anything to do with the painting itself as an artistic endevour

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bastille Day

Current as ever.. here are a few shots from the 14th of July in Paris.

It was one of those times when you wonder if the crowds are worth it and ultimately I did have a long trudge home sans metro pas ce que il ne marche pas (or something along those lines), but the Eiffel tower did look particularly sparkly and I was rather chuffed to get a shot of a man with baguettes under his arm for a perfect cliche.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

As you know, I do love a good cemetery.. Why is that? anyway... Pere Lachaise, like Recoleta , falls into the dramatic Catholic city of the dead variety, with beautiful tombs and vaults. Pere Lachaise to the non-French, perhaps most famously contains the final resting place of 27 club member Jim Morrison and the much defaced but lovingly so, winged very modern looking angel protecting Oscar Wilde.

Travel Philosophy Number 9 - Get an apartment

I recently went to Paris for a few days..3 short hours door to door on the Eurostar to a cute little apartment in Le Marais. I love the apartment thing for a city stay. Its not for the kitchen,who wants to cook on holiday.Though, being able to have a cold drink in the fridge and some stuff for an impromputu breakfast is convenient and saves a bob or two. No.. its that feeling of pretending you live somewhere just for a little bit. Theres something a bit special about not having a reception with people knowing your comings and going or having the maids trolley and hoovers thundering past your door in the morning when your having a sneaky lie in. This place was in a lovely old very French building in the cobbled Rue des Rosiers, buzzing with cafes, I had a security code to get in to a courtyard and a typicaly French tiny little lift to take me up to a 3rd floor studio, with a window overlooking the street below and the rooftops of my favourite area in Paris.

Ive done this elsewhere too, that week in the 'Cher' apartment in Buenos Aires at the start of my travels last year - see previous post . And there was a lovely little place in Krakow last year with my parents. Something about that home from home in a city, with a slightly less formulaic style than a hotel room, and an individual touch and flavour of the place adds something to your stay

Even better if more than 2 of you and you get a 2 bedroom place - costs per person usually fall dramatically below 2 hotel rooms

Heres two shots taken from my window - Jour et Nuit

Friday, August 5, 2011

Issues with Wolves

The LoopThe Loop by Nicholas Evans

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

OK maybe Im feeling mean, its prob a high 3 - I did enjoy the book, in an easy non-confronting, woodsy shack in the mountains way. No complaints, just didnt grab me as much as for some others. I liked the wolfy bits best. It made me pine a bit for Prodigal Summer though, that felt much more real to me.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Bit the Germans Missed


what a wonderful part of London, eerily quiet, tucked away and cut off from the world yet a 20 minute walk from my door. An old docks area, with wonderful brick warehouses, coverted into designer flats in the 80's that somehow the Germans managed to miss in the war, piling their bombs down further north in Stepney, Whitechapel, Mile End and Bethnal Green - it does seem odd that this lot is still standing largely untouched. You can just picture it thronging with 19th century coming and goings.

Going a bit further back in time, here was the site of execution dock, where pirates were hanged, and left there until 3 tides washed over them....arrrrrrrrrrrrr. Captain Kidd was amongst them, now he has a jolly nice pub to commemorate him, where one can have a nice lunch overlooking the river.

Hidden steps lead down to bits of beach with old bricks sucked like lollies by the tides in a variety of hues and vibrant green algae climbs the timber joists supporting the buildings above.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Grand Designs - Modern

To complement my previous post, here is a small selection of London's modern architecture - principally Lloyds, designed by the chap that did the Pompidou centre - hence the inside out look, and the Gherkin, which I cant quite make my mind up on. Its an odd shaped beastie but at the same time I do think all those curved windows are quite a feat. The great court at the British museum is always stunning. I think we can rival the louvre's pyramid with that. And the millenium bridge, i'm a fan of too, esp being pedestrian only.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pomp and circumstance

So this post might reveal a little about how slack I am at blogging, as it rather obviously dates the photos to a very well known day. The Royal Wedding. Whatever your Monarchist or Republican tendencies it was inescapable and well We do do it well, don't we? put on a show, roll out the royals (sometimes in minivans if you've slipped down the rankings with all the new additions). We watched on the telly, then popped on the tube and soaked up the aftermath atmosphere with the Westminster wedding chimes still ringing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grand Designs - Period

Ah...Period England, can you beat it. Oh miss Honeyhives I do declare...

Selections from Apsley House, Blenheim Palace, Kensal Green Cemetary (tucked away gem of Victorian funerary architecture), 2 Hampton Courts - the famous one and the other one in the Country, a splash of Leadenhall Market (or the place to buy a wand in Harry Potter), and a couple of other spots.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Westminster Walk

I took these a few weeks ago on my usual walk from work to the tube, inspired by Spring in the air and the fact that I see this stuff every day of the week twice a day.. The Houses of Parliament, mostly a Victorian creation, although Westminster Hall is the largest Mediaeval Hammerbeamed Hall in England and was the scene of Anne Boyleyns trial. The back of Westminster Abbey shows its Gothic splendour and I rather like the statue of George V looking across the road towards Parliament. Westminster Tube, like the rest of the Jubliee line extension designed by Michael Hopkins and partners and v impressive.

Dark Doings amongst Tokyo housewives...

OutOut by Natsuo Kirino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was super-dark. Seedy underworld Japan. Creepy in the extreme and quite nauseating in parts. I did actually fly through the first half. It was so unusual and there was the element of whats going to happen next. How will everything become undone. It was really a portrayal of how people change through getting involved in some dark deeds, what it does to them, how they cope with it. How things that would have been unthinkable can become matter of fact. The last few chapters let it down for me, although I think I know where she was going with them.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Trial of Queen Caroline

Rebel Queen: The Trial of Queen CarolineRebel Queen: The Trial of Queen Caroline by Jane Robins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah.. tis nice to slip back into some quality non - fictch. I love a bit of controversial history. This time - Regency England. Really had no idea of this drama. I knew that The Regent, later George IV (son of the mad one) wasnt too fond of his wife Caroline of Brunswick and was allready secretly married to a Catholic. I wasnt aware of the Queens story though. Shunned immediately - three people in the marriage scenario, he had countless mistresses, she was dismissed to her own court in Blackheath. This was only 20 years prior to Queen Victoria. She heads of round Europe being loud and vulgar but seemingly quite loveable, comes back to get charged with adultery so that the old sod can try and divorce her. Public outrage with Diana style peoples princess anti-monarch feeling. Brink of civil war as radicals support the Queen over the King. Poor luv cant get into the coronation to get crowned herself - goes hurtling round all the gates to the Abbey trying to get in and embarrassing herself. Real life Regency drama, cracking good read.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome DoveLonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This probably wouldnt have been a 5 if it was shorter, funnily enough. But I feel like Ive been reading it so dern long that it earns itself another stripe just by familiarity. Its so nice when you've been in the same territory with a big long book for a while and it feels comforting to pick up and slip back in with the characters and plot with ease. I think you really feel your on the journey with them across the wide open spaces and going through their trials and tribulations. I loved Gus and Clara. I loved being in a Western and enjoying the ride, I didn't think I would. There was a fair bit of humour and some nasty surprises. You do get to wonder if theres a female in the whole of the Southern states who Isnt or has'nt been a whore at some point or at least been abused by men and been involved in some carrott wetting of some description. I thought it might get a bit much being in such a male dominated environment for so long but the emotion beneath their cowboy exteriors was intriguing.

If you caint squirt yer squirt in 20 minutes you need a doctor not a whore.

wise words indeeed

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sunday in Spitalfields and Brick Lane

Last sunday i took myself for a wander on a rather wet Sunday afternoon to Spitalfieds and through Brick lane. The catalyst for this meander was the announcement of a new Italian run cafe in Time out just off Petticoat lane market. Ive been pining for decent coffee and the sort of cafe culture establishment you can just hang out in for half an afternoon with a friend or a book. I find this sadly lacking in London - we do pubs well it has to be said, but not cafes. I think once you have lived in a cafe-centric place its hard to get out of your system. Anyway..said cafe was smallish and full but its takeaway latte was lovely and I took it on with me through the aforementioned environs taking some snaps. Brick lane on a Sunday has relatively ordinary markets but top notch multicultural snackage! There are scores of yummy looking stalls serving all manor of foods not to mention the bagel shop at the top of the road if you can actually get in. At night time the Bengali Restaurant touts come out and try to entice passers by into their neon lit curry houses like Kings cross pimps advertising a strip club. Each restaurant claiming to have won an award. Apparently those in the know wouldnt be seen eating dead here (hmm something wrong with that analogy!) but Sharon and I had a lovely if somewhat slow meal at Bengal Cuisine the other week. Regardless, its a very interesting neck of the woods. There was even an exhibition on the early years of Queen in a converted brewery - complete with white lycra catsuit. Freddy R.I.P

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Georgian Stepney

Which side of the street to do you choose to look at...

This is my latest outlook on life, along the lines of is the glass half full or empty. In my quest to not get sucked into the English doom and gloom machine, and living in what can be a gloomy wintery East end with horrific 60's council flats, I choose to focus on the historic Georgian terraces that many people pass by. Often facing an estate, like many interesting London buildings you could easily pass them by if you didnt take time to stop and look. Much of Stepney was unfortunately bombed quite badly, such as the street my Dad grew up on, but many fine buildings remain.

On my way to the tube from home and just round the corner I pass Stepney Green, the street after which the tube was named and the most desirable one in the area, fronted by a cobbled lane and gardens Also a Peabody Trust late Victorian housing estate building. The Peabody trust was set up in the area and there are many housing estates in London from this period that have loads of character and are lovely places to live if you are lucky enough to get on the list and get mega cheap period living. Sadly in later decades architects almost seemed to out do each other for the sheer ugliness of their mass housing projects.

On the Mile End road itself you have another couple of fantastic buildings that im sure most people walk past without giving a thought. Peering through the foliage clad gates of one to its tumble down steps, reminds one of the house in Great Expectations. Actually if you squint at some of the streets you could picture Dickensian London quite easily. Also on the Mile End / Whitechapel road you have Trinity Square - Alms houses from the late 1600's. The proposed demolition of which in the 1800's caused the start of the listed building program in England. Just next door is a memorial to William Booth, this was where the Salvation army started.

In the other direction towards Limehouse, across the park, you have Arbour Square, which could easilly have been used in period dramas, still retaining gas lamp style street lighting and build round a beautiful square. Again on one side the orginal buildings didnt make it, but in this case at least the Estate is 30's deco rather than 60's mass ugliness. Across the other side of Commercial road is yet another beautiful Georgian square.

So what do you choose to focus on when you wander around your area - the good, the bad or the ugly? Sometimes even the Ugly has a certain charm. Ive chucked in a crumbly down East end pub on the end of this slideshow. I think it has a certain character even if theres a good chance it had a Kray twin or two in it at some point!.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Brick Lane

Brick LaneBrick Lane by Monica Ali

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading the majority of reviews of this it does seem that the popular opinion is not great despite the critics praise. I think it had a particular resonance for me as I've recently moved into the area. I know these streets now and being predominantly Bangladeshi I found it an interesting fictional insight into these communities. Im generally not a fan of harsh grim gritty miserable novels. Although theres certainly no glamour in this, theres a lot of warmth of character and moments of humour in the dialogue. I loved the characters. In the movie the husband was not a sympathetic character at all really. In the book though my affection for him increased as Nanzeens did. His predictable lectures and commentary became quite endearing. Others have mentioned an unsatisactory ending. I have to say it did somehow fall a bit flat. There was so much build up of tension towards what would eventually happend that in the end it seemed like a little bit of an anticlimax tacked onto the end. I will always have a fondness for this book now as much for the novel itself as for the memories of this chapter of my London life it will stir up when i notice it on my shelves in the future.

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