Sunday, January 22, 2017

And the surprise was....Prague!!!

This time last week I was in my hotel room at the Ibis hotel near Gatwick airport getting very nervous and excited about where I would be going to the next morning.  As I knew it was Easy Jet thanks to my credit card bill I did some snooping investigating on flight times.  Once I got the weather report emailed to me three days before I figured it was either Krakow or Prague.  Yes I know, I should be a detective!  

Most of Easy Jet's flights take off from the North Terminal so I went there to wait but of course mine took off from the South so I had to take the shuttle back to that terminal but still had plenty of time to get my boarding pass and go through security before the 9 a.m. flight.  My email came in about ten minutes  before 7 a.m. 

I'm not going to tell you everything I did in Prague - that will be in more detailed posts when I get home.  I will tell you however that for me anyway, Prague is a damn confusing city!  If you recall from my previous posts almost two years ago I kind of "pouted" my way around Prague last time as I was tired and grumpy.  Well this time I wasn't tired but being constantly lost got me kind of grumpy I must admit and I don't recall swearing and muttering (and yes, sometimes almost yelling) "where the f*ck am I" so much.  I didn't think I would ever find my hotel and it didn't help that locals kept sending me in different directions! 

Expedia did book me so I had maximum time there with a morning flight out and a late evening flight back. I covered quite a bit in those three days including a day trip to enchanting Cesky Krumlov.  

Here's a quick look at the highlights...


The Jan Hus memorial (he was burned at the stake in 1415 for proposing radical church reform...sigh...religion!) with St. Nicholas church in the background in the Old Town Square .


The Astronomical Clock in the Town Hall that has dancing saints and a crowing cock on the hour.


Kiosks selling pastries, ham and other meats and hot drinks.


Yes that is snow. 

Cesky Krumlov was like stepping into a fairy tale - having snow just made it seem even more so.  





There will definitely be a post just on this marvellous town! 


My hotel was in the Old Jewish area of the city so I explored that one morning - here is the Spanish Synagogue.



The Old Jewish Cemetery - so interesting


Names of people taken to the Internment Camps...red is the surname and the dates are the dates of their birth and the day they were taken to the camp from Nazi records...So poignant and sad.  There were rooms of walls like this. 50,000 from Prague alone....  I will be doing a post on Jewish Prague as well. 

I crossed the beautiful Charles Bridge over to the Mala Strana...


Much quieter than it was when I was here two years ago!!


One of the many statues of the bridge.


I gave my regards to the John Lennon peace wall and toasted him (twice!) in the John Lennon pub later.

And I walked back via another bridge but not before revisiting this amazing view and saying hi to the swans. You can see the amazing Charles bridge in all its beauty. 


I couldn't leave Prague without having one of these....a trdelnik. (yes that's how you spell it..as for how you pronounce it who knows but I pronounce it DELICIOUS!!) 

So this was a quick overview of what I got up to - believe me I took a ton of photos and have many stories to tell but just not enough time to tell them while I am on this unbelievably wonderful holiday.  
 Prague is a beautiful city, it really is.  It's not one that stirs my heart strings though....it's not one I will dream about visiting again or be nostalgic when I see it pictured on TV.  I can't explain why really but that's how it is.  You can't control your reaction to a place.  I'm certainly glad I was given another chance to explore it however. I always give a place a second chance. 

As for the Surprise trip, I am so glad I did it.  And I would really recommend it - I think it would be a great gift for your partner as well. (as long as you went along too of course!)  Communication was good, the hotel was fine (okay the walls might have been a bit thin) although if you are used to four or five star you may have a problem with it. The website is here however this is only for the UK.  I am told the United States has a few companies including one called Pack up and Go.  As far as one in Canada I am not sure.  It was certainly a crazy feeling not to know what city you were going to be sleeping in the next night!  Would I do it again?  If I lived in the UK I would for sure but being as time is precious I likely won't do it again.  My trip cost 139 pounds which included return flight and three nights in a hotel.  I thought that was very reasonable. 

I'll be writing in depth about my time in Prague and especially gorgeous little Cesky Krumlov that did tug at my heart strings.  It is definitely on my "must return to" list! 

For this week it's off to York and Brighton with a High Tea in there as well and exploring more of London. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seville - the middle bit

I was in Seville for 72 hours (more or less) so I have broken it into three posts...the first 24 hours, this post and there will be another one soon(ish).  

After visiting the Real Alcazar (Royal Palace) which totally blew me away I went back to the room to rest.  With four totally dead camera batteries.(yes I blew through both batteries for both cameras)..and two plug ins in the room which included the one in the bathroom I got a bit perturbed.  And I had a phone to charge as well. First world problems I know.  In Europe, in order to save energy you enable the power in your room with your room key which means unless you can sneakily put paper in you are SOL if you've got charging to do yet want to be out and about.  Normally it's a key card but this one was an actual key on the same ring as my room key.  Why didn't I just slide it off and leave it on? The part you pull apart to put a key on was soldered together so I could not slide it off!  Of course I could not double lock the door either unless I pulled out the power key which I needed to charge my batteries all night so I put a chair under the door knob! While I rested I did what I could do with the batteries, fretting the whole time. (as any crazy photographer would)  I must say here I am not happy with my Nikon P530...okay it does take good photos but 1) sometimes it refuses to focus so you have to switch it off and on 2) the battery does not last long and 3) the battery takes forever to recharge! I'm sure my Nikon D40 is sitting at home feeling very smug and thinking "you should have taken me even if I am a heavy sucker". (told you I am a crazy photographer) 

I then headed out for something to eat...more tapas.  Seville is known for its variety of tapas so what could I do?  Tonight it was two small pieces of Quiche Lorraine, some sauteed vegetables and a Greek Salad.  Delish! I sat outside of course...every chance I could get I was outside.  That was peach juice...very little alchohol on this trip due to my heavy cold.  Tragic, really but I did not feel like it - when I wanted sangria again I knew things were looking up. 


Back to my room and the charging dilemma!  I still wasn't feeling up to snuff and I had been up early so it was a crawl into bed and read my kindle kind of evening.  On one of my middle of the night "potty runs" I changed over batteries and  devices...fellow photographers will understand! 

That morning I visited the same cafe I had been to the morning before - right around the corner from me with a huge bull fighting theme.  There was even a bull's head on the wall...kind of hard to avoid in Seville.  They like their flamenco and bull fighting!  I had my usual...toasted baguette but with cheese this morning. (it varied between ham, cheese or both!) 

Today was a hop on/hop off bus day.  I went over to the starting point which was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel.  I stayed on for the entire circuit and found nothing outside the centre that really interested me enough to either "hop off" then or go back later.  If I had more time perhaps but everything I wanted to see was smack in the middle.  However it certainly gave me a better perspective of the city and I think the "hop on/hop off" tour is an ideal way to orientate yourself to a new city.  Once the bus started on its second circuit I got off at the first stop and promptly got myself misplaced.  However I did see a memorial to Christopher Columbus (yes I know now we think he was a villain but I grew in the time he was a hero) in a park so had to take a photo or two...



With the help of one of the locals I was set on the right direction to Plaza Espana...I passed through a park and came across this fun fair with a skating rink and rides.




I decided I had better have the Spanish version of a "bratwurst" as I realized I hadn't had one yet this Christmas season.  A tiny chorizo - red in colour because it is seasoned with Spanish paprika.  (I found that out later) 

I found my way to Plaza Espana and wow.  My friend Pat had told me about a "1929 building" but I wasn't sure where it was exactly.  Wow!  This building was built for the World Exposition in 1929. What impressed me the most was the tiling everywhere.  I love tiles and ceramics and I was in awe. Each area of Spain has its own ceramic mural and benches on the side of the building.  


My jaw flapped opened when I came across this beautiful building!


There was a canal around it and an opportunity to rent a boat and paddle.





I kept running my hand along the smooth tiling - blue and white tiles.  I can't get enough!



Blue, white and yellow tiles send me into a frenzy!  Blue and yellow are my favourite colours.  Picture these all along the side of the building...what a sight!



I had to have one of myself sitting on "Malaga!!!!




If you go to Seville (and you should) don't miss Plaza Espana!  You won't see it from the hop on/hop off bus - but there is a stop close by.  Most people probably aren't as directionally challenged as I am though.


I wandered over to Parque de Maria Luisa which is right beside the Plaza and very pleasant.  I sat for a while and watched the ducks then wandered around a bit.





I had lots of fresh orange juice in Seville needless to say!



What a beautiful park!  So quiet and peaceful as well.   I then walked along the river back to the Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold) to take some photographs. 


This was constructed early in the 13th century and was used as a prison during the Middle Ages.  It was never gold - the name came from the golden shine it projected onto the river. 

Then back to the room for a rest before going out for another meal of tapas.  But you are just going to have to wait until the next post to find out what the best tapas I had on the trip was! 





Saturday, January 14, 2017

It's a mystery to me!

Well the big thing on my mind right now is my surprise trip - two more sleeps!  I got an email on Friday giving me the weather forecast for the city they are sending me to.  I will be gone three nights and right now I have't a clue where I will be.  Hotels and airfare are paid for and for the rest I am on my own.  I made sure I have plenty of cash to exchange in case I am out of the euro zone.  My bank card will go "tut tut tut, no no no" as if I don't know where I am going my bank certainly doesn't!

So I think it's safe to say I'm not going back to Spain!  Of course because I am nosy I went on the Easy Jet website (I know I am flying with them as that was on my credit card) seeing what flights leave around 9 a.m. to places in northern Europe and then checked the forecasts.  I have a couple of ideas! Because I have to  be at Gatwick so early (7 a.m.) and with the trains being unpredictable these days I decided to stay out at Gatwick tomorrow night so I got a cheap room at a chain hotel.   I'll head out there late tomorrow afternoon.  I finally was able to find a carry on that fits my needs - a duffle type bag on wheels but with the option of having a long strap to put over my shoulder when I go home. (I need a hand free to grab a   Only 8 pounds.  Of course I don't expect it to last long but for that price that's quite all right!

I've had a laid back couple of days.  Yesterday I stayed in South London and took the train from Streatham station.  I was able to get the Thames Link train (they are not on strike - it's Southern Rail) to Herne Hill.  Herne Hill was "on the list" of places I wanted to see.  Of course flakes of snow were coming down so not the ideal time for sightseeing.  Coming from Canada I am used to cold so it wasn't like at home but it's very damp here and silly me neglected to put my fleece jacket on under my winter jacket.   I had a flat white and an apricot danish at the Bluebird Bakery and caught up on my journal.  Coffee shops seem to be my favourite haunt to catch up on my writing.   I went into the smallest book shop I've ever been in and because I wanted to support him I got a greeting card.  There were a few nice shops but not as exciting as I had imagined it to be.

Saw this mural on the way to the park...




And this one as well...




Need I add I didn't walk in the park - too damn cold! Stood here and took two photos and scadaddled!

I got a bus to the Horniman Museum - I had been there before two years ago when I was staying in Brockley.  This time I was approaching it from a different direction.  I went to see the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.  This one was free and almost as good as the International one at the Natural History Museum that I paid for.  Unfortunately there was some sort of informal childrens' play group in the corner and one kid never stopped shrieking.  It was really hard to study the pictures while that racket was going on but I was impressed nontheless.

The gardens were a bit snowy and oh boy that wind...so I braved it for a few minutes to snap a few photos.  In the summer the gardens must be a real picture. I had been there before as well - on a much nicer day!




There's the Shard in the distance...the area isn't called Forest Hill for nothing.



This huge walrus has been here over a decade - it's from Canada (Hudson Bay).


I was able to find a place despite the swarm of yummy mummies and their huge strollers (called push chairs here) in the museum cafe so had to have a chocolate walrus cookie..oops sorry..biscuit, with my tea.  It looked better than it tasted...I think (I know) I bought it just for the photo opportunity.

Then it was back on the bus to Brixton - we passed through Dulwich Village which is charming and I had intended to stop off but by now I was too cold and wet. (it was raining and miserable)  At Brixton market I got my carry on which I am so pleased about...you don't know how long I've been looking for one.  And it holds more stuff than my backpack!!!

Then back here for a ready meal from M & S.  (braised beef with roast veggie mash - and cooked brussel sprouts on the side if you are interested!)  Had a great TV evening - yes Corrie was involved.

Today (Saturday) was market day!  I got the train to Balham and got some cash out and then on to Waterloo on the tube.  I found my way to Little Marsh market but what a disappointment...turns out they have a wonderful food market during the week but mainly bricbrac on the weekend.  And there was barely any of that... boo!  I did find my way into a gourmet type grocery store and got a small quiche with a sweet potato salad - so that's tomorrow's meal before I head out to Gatwick.  That's where I found out that the weekday market is much better.


Doesn't that make it look exciting?  Guess I will have to go back during the week - now that I know how to find it!

Thanks to google I was able to get to Maltby market on a direct bus.  This was disappointing as well...not as big as I had imagined and the food did not appeal.  Well okay maybe a table full of different gourmet brownies did but I resisted.





This is the dish I had in Belgium with potatoes, ham, wine, butter and all other sorts of naughty things.

It occurred to me that we had passed Tower Bridge Road on the bus and there was a pie and mash shop on that road somewhere that I had wanted to visit for years.  Google to the rescue and turns out it was a 6 minute walk - well make that a 12 minute walk for yours truly.


Memorial to a local war hero


M M Manze - purveyors of pie, mash and eels since 1902.  It wasn't something I had planned to do today but everything worked out well.  I am so glad I didn't find anything tempting to eat at the market!


Pie (only one kind..beef), mash and liquor (Parsley sauce - no liquor in it!)  For five pounds I got this and a can of coke - you can't get many meals that cheap in London!  I commented to the lady waiting on me that I didn't have the nerve to order eels and she said she would give me a sample..it was a tiny piece but was so disgusting looking and the taste was meh....not much of anything.  I had three bites and once was enough thank you very much!


Loved the tiling everywhere.



The line was out the door when I left.

And time to head back "home" to an afternoon of binge watching BBC iplayer programs in bed.  Ah, this is the life!

My laptop is staying behind so the next post will be next weekend...unless I get really inspired and do a post on Seville tomorrow.  But don't count on it.

Now, back to binge watching...