Tuesday, February 28, 2012

One Last London Walk

This past weekend was our last in our London flat! We will check out of our apartment this Friday and head to Sue and Mark's for a brief stint before setting off on our European adventure. I wanted to take advantage of the weekend and check off one last must-do activity in London - visiting Borough Market. David and I set off first thing on Sunday morning and hopped on the train to London Bridge station.

The weather on Sunday was absolutely beautiful; sunny and temperate all day. David and I were feeling pretty cocky, until we arrived at Borough Market and discovered it's totally closed on Sundays. This would have been sad if it wasn't so funny, how unlike us it is not to check something like that beforehand. Sigh!

Borough Market. FYI - closed on Sundays.
Ah well, it was a beautiful day and we were together in central London. We decided to do one of our little walks around the area and just enjoy the city. We walked along the Thames toward Millennium Bridge, and decided (on my request) to cross it and walk back toward Tower Bridge, which I hadn't crossed before.  London was feeling surprisingly calm and quiet at this time of the weekend, and we drank it in as the sun shone down on our grateful vitamin-D-deficient faces.


David in front of the Tate Modern.


I've probably taken this same photo five times but I don't care!

Little house front near Shakespeare's Globe.

The Millennium Bridge looking toward St. Paul's - doesn't it look like the waters parting?

Another photo I never get tired of taking.
Fountain near St. Paul's

Midway through our walk we came upon the Monument, Christopher Wren's commemoration of the 1666 fire that destroyed most of the city. The Monument is supposed to mark the spot where the fire started, in that if you laid it down on its side (not sure this has ever been attempted) its point would touch the spot where the fire began.

We saw people up at the observatory at the top, and decided to do the climb ourselves and take in the city. It was 311 steps to the top!



In you go!
Ten steps down, 301 to go...
 After conquering the narrow staircase we were treated to some wonderful views of London. It really is neat seeing a city from high up - I guess I have done this from the CN Tower in Toronto, the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur in Paris, and now in London. It's striking how different the character of each different city is. London's architecture is so eclectic, drawn from so many different time periods. It's very noticeable from above, and yet at ground level it has a kind of harmony about it.


The as-yet-unfinished Shard.
The Gherkin
Back down we go!
After that we continued on our way towards Tower Bridge, passing by the Tower of London as we went.



The infamous Traitor's Gate!

Tower Bridge - one of my favourite features of London's cityline
 I was actually really excited to have the chance to cross Tower Bridge and see it up close. After a year of living here, I think my favourite city view is Tower Bridge from London Bridge, in the evening when it's dark and the city is lit up. Amazing. This view was quite different, beautiful sunshine and happy tourists wandering along (lots of joggers too), as the modern cars zipped across this very "historical"-looking bridge.

Under the bridge, about to climb the stairs onto it.

London City Hall behind the girders of Tower Bridge.
Wow.

By then we were about ready to head home (back to reality and more packing!) We stopped off briefly for a coffee and croissant at Pret. David was pleased with himself because he found us the perfect table, half-and-half sun and shade - sun for me, shade for him.



I will miss playing tourist in London! As of Friday we will once again be "homeless," but of course I'm looking forward to our next adventure.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hilary and David's Europe Trip - Itinerary


The countdown (not to mention frenetic packing, packaging and pre-emptive income tax preparation - shudder) has begun for our adventure in Europe during the months of March and April. I am so excited for this trip - I feel like it should be somebody else's life and I'm just getting to hear about it!  We have done a ton of planning in advance - I think we're actually a bit fed up with planning and want to just go and do it, which is a great place to be!

I will be taking lots of pictures on our trip, of course, but I will only be blogging sporadically from David's iPod when I have access to a wifi signal. We'll have a chance midway through the trip, when we're staying with my parents, to catch up on some computer things, which is when I plan to do a big dose of updates and upload my photos.

Here is our itinerary, with most of the details worked out. The biggest sections up in the air will be what day trips we take while staying with my parents in Geneva - watch this space.  :)

Erica Anderson, my charming associate, if you are reading this, it will give away all the surprises - so don't read it!!  ;)


Itinerary
Hilary and David’s Europe Trip 2012
March 4 to May 9, 2012

PORTUGAL

 Fly to Lisbon (March 4)
·         Sightseeing and exploring the city

Day trip: Sintra
·         We have heard this is a neat little spot with a fantastic, fairy-tale-like castle (actually called the Palácio Nacional da Pena).

Leave Lisbon; travel to Lagos 
·         We will use Lagos as a base to explore some different parts of the popular and geographically stunning Algarve region of southern Portugal. We will take in the beaches, markets and cliffs and eat sardinha assada: just-caught sardines grilled by the shore.

Day trip: Sagres
·         1-hour walk to promontory of Cabo de São Vicente (where Vasco de Gama launched; south-westernmost point of mainland Europe)

Day trip: Silves
·         Morning market at Fabiricia Ingles; 13th-century Cathedral of Silves


SPAIN

Leave Lagos for Seville 
·         We'll take in the riverfront walkway, the immense Cathedral, tapas bars, and more


Granada
·         We will explore the Alhambra, and hopefully take in a flamenco show, as well as wandering the ancient Moorish streets. Our apartment is in the shadow of the Alhambra!

Xàtiva 
·         This is a small town dominated by a Borgia castle which I can’t wait to explore. David thinks there might be some nice leafy walks to be done around the area, too.
·         This great blog entry has more details, and have a look at the cute hotel where we'll be staying!

Barcelona 
·         Major trip highlight for both of us
·         Must-sees for Barcelona: Mercat de la Boceria (which I totally saw on that PBS show Spain: On the Road Again), Gaudi’s Basilica Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, the Fundaciòn Mirò, and of course the inside of numerous tapas bars!


FRANCE

Leave Barcelona for Narbonne
·         Small town in the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France
·         A bit of a quieter stop; our hotel apparently has a shed full of bikes available to guests. We’ll take it easy and possibly poke around the local covered market which I’ve heard is interesting.

Cluny
·         We’ll be staying in an ancient stone farmhouse-turned-B&B outside of Cluny, actually in Lieu-dit la Pierre Folle, Burgundy, France
·         Have a look at the B&B, it's so cute:  La Pierre Folle Chambre d'Hôtes 
·         We will stay over one night and meet up with Mom and Dad / Andrew and Wendy at the B&B in the morning! Much merriment to ensue. They will bring us borrowed camping gear in preparation for our next stop.

Leave Cluny for Taizé
·         What I am possibly looking forward to the most – we will spend a long weekend at the Taizé Community, culminating in worship on Palm Sunday morning.
·         Accommodation: a tent, the ecumenical community of Taizé
·        My parents will stay on at the B&B in Cluny, and join us for the worship services.


SWITZERLAND

Leave Taizé for Geneva
·         Staying chez Andrew and Wendy
·         We’ll visit with my parents and see their new surroundings, explore Geneva, meet Dad’s new people at the WCC and attend worship there (as well as my parents’ new Lutheran congregation), sleep, catch our breath and I’ll download the bajillion photos I’m sure I’ll have by then!
·         We will also take this time to make day trips into different parts of Switzerland and France; these details are not totally worked out yet. I am particularly hoping to visit Gruyère and Lucerne.
·         Dad will leave for a two-week meeting in Florida on Easter Monday, so David and I will be keeping my Mom company during that time!
·         We’ll celebrate David’s 28th birthday on (Good) Friday, April 6 and attend, I’m sure, multiple worship services on Easter Sunday, April 9.

Leave Geneva for Montreux 
·         Magical, sound-of-music-esque town on the edge of Lake Geneva
·         We’ll take a stroll down the lakeside promenade to the 13th-century castle of Chillon, and also take a mountain train up to les Rochers-de-Naye (6,700 feet), which aside from being breathtakingly picturesque in itself, boasts an alpine garden and a marmot zoo. (Say what?)


ITALY

Leave Montreux for Florence 
·         Staying: Milligan apartment, central Florence
·         We’ll spend ten nights with Florence as a base and enjoy being in David’s old stomping grounds from OCAD days.
·         We’ll take a couple of day trips into other parts of Italy; I’m especially hoping to visit Siena again, and if the weather is warm, the beach at Viareggio.


BELGIUM / FRANCE

Leave Florence for Brussels
·         Staying with John Fass and family for two nights (John is a friend of David’s from the MRes programme)

Leave Brussels for Arras/Vimy
·         We will take the train to Arras, France and continue on to the site of the Canadian World War I monument outside Vimy, returning to Arras for the night.


LONDON

Leave Arras for London
·         Eurostar, with a transfer in Paris
·         On a quick stopover, we'll stay at Sue and Mark’s house in Dulwich

After a couple of days, we'll fly from London to Toronto!  Home sweet home.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

36 Hours with Amy


David's next younger cousin, Amy, is living in Aberdeen and doing a master's degree in Medieval history. We've been chatting since September when she moved there about the possibility of her coming down to London for a visit. As January whooshed by we all realised David and I won't be in London much longer, and quickly put a plan together. Amy hopped on a plane to come stay with us - a late night arrival on Friday and a morning flight back to Aberdeen on Sunday meant we would have to make the most of the time, but we were game for a challenge!

David went to collect his cousin at London Victoria and got her safely back to our place. We enjoyed a late-night catch-up and a sleep-in with a slow breakfast on Saturday morning. Then, we bundled ourselves up again the cold February weather (we've definitely had a cold snap in London in the last couple of weeks) and set out to explore the city.

Cousins.

Check out those icicles! Brr.
Cousins!
We made our way around "David's Greatest Hits Walking Tour of London," chatting and catching up along the way. It was great to have the chance to hear in more detail what Amy is working on in her master's studies. With close to ten years' experience in campus living between us, we had lots of stories to swap about community life.

This was another great opportunity to get a good look at Westminster Abbey (though we didn't go in for a service this time), and I got some pictures that had turned out blurry last time.




Dr. King, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John - 20th cent. martyrs above the  west entrance.

Modern sculpture displayed in front of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
We had a tasty lunch in the Crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and David and I had the chance to introduce Amy to the St. John's Bible project and drool over the handwritten manuscripts together. 

After that, we hit up the National Gallery (first time for all three of us) and David skilfully took us around to all the most famous holdings. This was high on my list of tourist destinations to catch before we left, so I can now cross one more thing off my to-do list. I was particularly taken with a painting by Sassoferrato called "The Virgin in Prayer." It is a very simple icon/portrait, but - as David explained to us - the virgin's blue cloak is painted with ultramarine, a pigment that contains crushed lapis lazuli. This gives it what I can only describe as a mesmerising quality, which seems almost lit from within. David pointed out part of the impact comes from the red shade of the garment underneath which peeks out around the blue veil, creating a sharp contrast. I kind of wanted to buy a print, but realised quickly that no reproduction could really do justice to what is most attractive about the piece, the electrifying blue colour. In a room full of masterpieces, this painting was impossible to look away from. It was amazing!

We also took in The Ambassadors, Van Gogh's Chair and Sunflowers, and the famous Arnolfini Portrait. Only the most ridiculously famous paintings will do for THIS day of tourism!

I also took us on a whirlwind tour of the Tudor section of the National Portrait Gallery - I really wanted to make it there one more time as I really enjoy the collection. Let it also be known that it was around then I started droning on to Amy about The Tudors the show, and she tells me she went home and started watching it and is now addicted. You're welcome!  David took a time out on a bench and Amy and I wandered around taking in all the monuments to old men and discussing the female condition in the 19th century.

After all that culture, it was time for a snack. We went for one more visit to nearby Cafe Vergnano, our favourite cafe discovery in London. You know you've found a good espresso bar when most of the patrons are speaking Italian to each other. I had a wonderful latte and David splurged (allergically speaking) on their amazingly rich hot chocolate.




So great to have family come to visit!

After that we explored a really cute, tucked-away shopping arcade that David has been wanting to show me. We were window shopping for sure (cashmere sweaters, vintage Tiffany diamonds and leather steamer trunks were on offer in abundance) but it was very enjoyable and you couldn't beat the company.

After fighting our way home in the rush-hour tube, we cooked dinner and had a great chat. David and I have both really been missing our Eberlin family so this was a wonderful dose of cousin time. Before we knew it it was Sunday morning and David was bringing Amy back to London Victoria to get the coach to Luton. Good luck with your year of studies, Amy, and we'll catch up again somewhere else in the world!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"More haggis?" - Burns Supper at All Hallows

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut ye up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!


At the end of January we attended a wonderful evening organised by the church we've been attending, All Hallows by the Tower - their annual Burns Supper. This is of course an evening honouring Scottish poet Robert Burns, in which tartan is worn, toasts are made to the lads and lassies, and the occasional wee dram is enjoyed.

We bundled up to go down to the church. There is an adjoining restaurant to the building which has a partnership with the church, and is named "The Kitchen @Tower." I really recommend it as a quirky, tasty, welcoming spot for breakfast, lunch, or tea nearby the Tower of London. It suffers a bit from being not obvious to see from the street - so if you find yourself in London, go search them out!

We enjoyed a bowl of hot Scotch broth (delicious) and a glass of wine as the guests arrived - I lamented my lack of tartan, in that I apparently do not own one thing that is plaid. Maybe back in Toronto. At any rate, Bertrand eventually stood up to begin the formal evening, and read us a witty life history of Burns. Then the anticipated moment arrived - the haggis was piped in.
  
Piping in the haggis.
The Kitchen's chef mugs for the camera while processing his 20-person haggis.

Burns' "Address to Haggis" was read and the haggis was cut, and distributed. This was David's and my first time having haggis. It was delicious! It tastes like the filling of a tourtière. It was accompanied by the requisite "neeps and tatties" - turnip and potato.


"Yum, another bit of haggis, please."
This lady did a wonderful job "addressing" the haggis - and shared a dram of  whisky with the table.

The vicar Bertrand, who is French by birth, was looking smashing in his highland attire:


We had a great time and rolled home to digest. People were asking us, "how much longer do we have you for?" Not long now! People, especially the Taizé crowd who we know from Wednesday nights, have told us it feels like they have known us longer than only a year. How kind! I'm not ready to think about saying goodbye to All Hallows - I've come to love it very much.