Janis Joplin: Take it! Take another little piece of my heart now, baby! Well, New York City has taken a little piece of our hearts. We started to miss it as soon as we left last October. Coming back has felt like “home,” as we knew where everything was and how to get there. It all came back as though we had lived here for many years, not just a month.
We have been enjoying wandering around, looking UP, as usual, and enjoying all the busy-ness of the city. We did find some new things this time: High Line Park, Chelsea Market, The Vessel, and Hudson Yards. But we also revisited the familiar: Times Square, Central Park, Greenwich Village, and Hell’s Kitchen. And we’re not done! We have several more days for exploring. So here are our photos and impressions thus far – enjoy the color, and the colorful doings, in NYC!
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This post will wrap up our doings in London. It felt so luxurious to stay in one place for over three weeks, rather than moving every few days. We are planning to spend more time in London next year, since we enjoyed it so much. We will then visit more of the places and things we didn’t get to see this time!
As we always tell people, when you are traveling 365 days/year, you can’t treat your life as a vacation and fill every day with sightseeing. While here, we mostly just picked one thing to do. Sometimes it was a local attraction, sometimes a movie. Yes, we go see movies on the road. If we don’t, we don’t ever see them! The good thing about Great Britain, of course, is that we don’t have to ask what language it is in. In many other countries we find many movies in English with foreign (i.e., local subtitles), but we always have to ask. By the way, one day we didn’t go anywhere, other than our daily walk, was yesterday. The tube (subway) and bus drivers held a one-day wage strike, so we couldn’t travel very far. We felt bad for those who rely on public transportation to get back and forth from work. It is a major inconvenience for them, but minor for us.
So today, you will see a quirky find that we discovered – Sir John Soane’s Museum. Soane was a neoclassical architect who died in 1837. Years before, he had arranged that upon his death, his home would be granted to the government so as to bypass his son inheriting it, as he disliked him greatly. The museum is filled with artwork, statuary, and all sorts of curiosities. It is almost like walking through an antique shop, but of really cool – and valuable – stuff. There is artwork by Canaletto. There is the 3,000-year-old sarcophagus of Seti I. You wander from room to room, floor to floor, at your own pace. Every turn is like a “Eureka!” moment. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged and accepted (of course!).
Novelty Animation is another quirky place. It is filled with old novelty games that you can actually play for 1-2 pounds. These are not pinball machines, nor are they very sophisticated. One machine is a pair of “hands” that fill with air to frisk you! Another is Bicycle Pong, where you pedaled hard to be sure you are in the right place to hit the ball and play pong! People were laughing and enjoying all the silliness.
We expected Kensington Palace and Gardens to be spectacular, but the drought has yellowed and withered green spaces all over London. You can see in the photos how barren and dry Kensington Gardens look, when due to abundant rain, England is generally very lush and green.
One day, and one day only, it sprinkled all day long. It was too unpredictable to walk any distance, so we visited the Tate Modern Art Museum, a walk of about three minutes from our hotel. Like many of the national museums, admission is free, while exhibitions cost a few pounds. It was quite crowded inside, and like all modern art, some of it was interesting and some of it was befuddling. A canvas painted the same, one shade of blue is “art.” A lopsided wooden structure with ripped white fabric hanging from it is “art.” Our photos show two things that we found enjoyable, however. There is always something, somewhere, for everyone wherever we travel.
We have been taking in a lot of London. This post is a hodgepodge of different places and sights. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich was outstanding, as it something we have all heard of, and all depend on for living according to clocks and time as a way of ordering our lives. At different times in history, other countries declared that the Prime Meridian (0 Degrees Longitude) was in their locale. Eventually all others agreed to drop their claim in favor of Greenwich. Since then all temporal and east/west measurements have begun here.
Flamsteed House housed the Astronomers Royal (the first of whom was John Flamsteed, hence the name). One of the astronomers who lived there was Edmond Halley, of Halley’s Comet fame, which made it thrilling to be there, walking where he walked. Just down the hill from the Observatory is the Royal Maritime Museum, which had interesting exhibitions and artifacts.
We went by Buckingham Palace, saw the guard doing his walkabout, and took some photos. We were surprised that we didn’t remember that the gates and fence are highly, highly decorated – but the palace itself is gray and plain. There is a lot of fun street art (as there is everywhere nowadays) on the streets of London and loads of beautiful buildings, from the ultra-modern to the much older structures.
For our health, we always like to have berries every day. Across the street from our hotel is an Amazon Fresh store. If you haven’t yet been inside one – it will blow your mind! You display a QR code in the Amazon app to enter, put items in your bag, and, as Amazon says – “Just Walk Out.” It is so weird not to checkout. In about two hours, an email arrives telling you how long you were inside, how many items you bought, and the total – and they are always correct! Once we got the hang of it, and knew we only wanted berries, our receipt would note that we were inside for 49 seconds and bought strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, along with the total charged. (By the way, we have never gotten fresher or nicer berries than in Amazon Fresh, which is really saying something.) It is a great experience. If you have one near your home, try it!
The medieval Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, an Anglican Church – Oh, my! It is London’s oldest surviving parish church and was built in central London north of the Thames (in Smithfield) during the reign of King Henry I in 1123, meaning that next year it will celebrate 900 years! Founded by Augustinian monks, they brought free healthcare to London, as they constructed St. Bartholomew Hospital at the same time. We found the church extraordinary, in that parts of the remaining church are the original construction. Half of the church was demolished in 1543, after being ransacked. But what remains is definitely unique. We decided to devote this entire post to St. Bartholomew Church, as we found it so evocative of an ancient time.
There are fascinating angles, arches, lighting, and views, as you will see in the photos. The last photo shows a few of the movies that were filmed here, but there are several others. The beautiful pipe organ “stopped working” several years ago, but replacing or refurbishing it will cost more than a million pounds. A sign asking for donations said that it costs approximately 1,000 pounds per day to keep the church up and running. We learned this from church volunteers working as greeters, who were very welcoming.
So take a peek into this extraordinary and atmospheric place. It is our hope that you will get a sense of how it casts a spell through its shadows and angles.
With our hotel in Bankside, London – south of the Thames, near London Bridge, and roughly between Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London – we are in an up-and-coming area undergoing gentrification and lots of renovation. It is one of the oldest areas of London, and feels a bit gritty (but safe and pretty cool) with lots of trains and old train tunnels. We are a few steps away from the Tate Modern art museum. It really feels like life is happening all around us. There are lots and lots of tourists in London right now, so everything is busy and crowded. We are discovering why we used to travel in the spring and fall! Summer is crazy.
Even though we did okay with the language in France, able to read menus and signs in French, and say a few phrases to locals – it sure is great to be in a place where English is spoken! We can speak without our brains going through a translation process, sometimes trying to answer in French, but with Spanish coming out (“Oh, you speak Spanish!”), and we can once again order food with items “on the side” and be fully understood.
There are statues everywhere we look, with some shown in our photos. We have walked through Chinatown and past a lot of famous landmarks, including Big Ben. Westminster Abbey charges a hefty 25 pounds ($30.53) to walk inside, but we attended an organ recital on Sunday and so entered for free. But as soon as it was over, the staff was very insistent on everybody leaving right away. Whenever we go into a church for free (none in France charged admission), we always leave a donation, since we feature them in our blog, and since we realize that they incur costs such as electricity and maintenance. Still, we don’t ever donate $61 for two of us to walk through!
Our favorite activity here, as everywhere, is just wandering the streets aimlessly and seeing what we stumble upon. We get to see fabulous architecture, street decorations, statues and monuments, and the other day we came upon Borough Market, with all of its lights, smells, and colors. There is lots here to discover! We still have almost three weeks to continue our life here, and we can’t wait to see more!
Our last full day in France was partially spent in Dijon, which was just an overnight stop as we made our way back to Paris to catch the Eurostar to London. We only had an hour or so to explore the city, so we walked around the old town and got a few photos. We had the opportunity for a home-cooked meal here, as our “hotel” room had a full kitchen with everything we could want, and even a washer and dryer.
You likely known the name Dijon from its famous mustard. Even though it is sold here, of course, it is not made here! The most striking attractions in the city are the half-timbered buildings and the 13th century Church of Notre Dame.
Atop the church is an clock with an automaton that strikes the hour called a Jacquemart. Nobody knows the origin of the word, just that it was being used from 1458. The Jacquemart was sacked from Belgium in 1382, and it was a marvel of its day. A second automaton, depicting a woman, was added in 1651 to alternate with the Jacquemart to sound the hours. The people of Dijon named her “Jacqueline.” (Who says life was hard back then, and people had no sense of humor?) In 1714, a Dijon poet asked the city to provide Jacquemart and Jacqueline with children (even though she was now 63 and he was 332 years old!). And so, Jacquelinet was added to sound the half-hours. In 1884, Jacquelinet received a sister – an automaton named Jacquelinette was added to make the family complete, as she strikes the quarter-hours. Phew! Is that complicated (and cute) enough for you??
France threw us one last curve ball as we returned our car the next day just outside of Paris. When we rented the car in Strasbourg, the agent mentioned the city where we were returning the car and didn’t say anything about it. When we looked at the address the night before, Google Maps showed that the location was “temporarily closed.” We tried calling the corporate office and every branch we could, only to get automated responses and to be hung up on. So we drove to our drop-off address, but the location had been closed for some time. It looked ramshackle, with bugs and flies in the dirty windows and mail piled on the floor. A sign on the door had an alternate address, so we drove there. It was a small back alley filled with rental trucks. We walked around and discovered a yard where men were washing vehicles. They said it was the place to return our car! There was no sign, no office – just a man who completed our paperwork on a table adjacent to cars being washed. The silver lining was that they offered to take us to the subway station and advised us as to how to get to Gare du Nord in Paris to catch the Eurostar. We made it with two hours to spare!!! Lucky us. We were on the last day of our allowed 90-day Schengen Area stay. If we had missed our Eurostar train, we might not have been welcomed back to the Schengen Area (i.e., most of Europe) for quite a while. Disaster averted!
We look at this experience as a positive occurrence, giving us the opportunity to build up more brain cells. Whenever we have to figure out something that is blowing up our plans, we get creative and start thinking out loud about what we might possibly do and how we can solve the problem. We have, so far in our travels of 20 years, averted everything in our paths that could have slipped us up, from trains not running to the city where we had hotel reservations, to train tracks under repair and torn up in entire countries, to being lost (!) countless times, to walking for an hour only to discover it was the wrong way, to missing stops on trains or subways. We’ve also been tricked in Barcelona, where the names of streets in our trusty tour book had all been replaced – Spanish names for Catalan names!! We couldn’t figure out how we were exactly where the map indicated we were, but the street names were wildly different! All of this makes us stronger and wiser, and gives us the experience we need to travel better in the future.
Avignon is famous for the Avignon Papacy of 1309-1377, wherein seven successive popes reigned from Avignon, France rather than Rome. The fabulous Palace of the Popes is actually two buildings that were joined in the 1300s to centralize the administration of the Catholic Church. When the papacy returned to Rome, the palace lost much of its former glory. However, its grandeur and immortality have captured the imagination of people over the centuries. We walked through the interior, but sadly for us, much of it has been taken over for the annual Festival of Avignon, an arts festival, and bleachers and hundreds of chairs have been placed inside, which obscured the openness and views. In addition, there is an exhibition on the Amazon (of all things), so several of the great rooms are not recognizable. We visited here 20 years ago, but today it is nothing like it was then.
The city is one of the few left in France that has retained its old walls surrounding the old town. The wall runs for 2.7 miles and encloses 370 acres. Originally, there were 12 gates that controlled access, but today there are 11 pedestrian entrances and 15 vehicular entrances. Inside the walls, it is vibrant with people drinking, eating, and attending theater shows, and it just has a vibrancy and sense of joy. There was a lot of activity! For us, it was a one-day whistle stop, as our 90 days in the EU Schengen area are up in a few days. Our last several locations were to be a bit longer, but we had to cut back our days in each after we did the math!