Sunday, January 22, 2017

In the Footsteps of the Knights Templar

As many times as I've been to London, I had not yet visited Temple Church until this last trip.  I'm so glad I finally made it and got to walk in the footsteps of the Knights Templar.  The church was consecrated in 1185 and at that time only the round part or the nave existed.  It was known as the Round Church and it was modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The longer part of the church or the "chancel" was added in 1240.  In the foreground of the photo above, you will see some effigies on the floor.  Two of the effigies were of William Marshall I and his son, William Marshal II who were instrumental in the events that lead to the creation of the Magna Carta.

In a glass case in another location in the church is this statue of a 12th century knight in a regal pose.

The dome in the round part of the church is topped with beautifully fitted wood planks and surrounded by windows to show off it's rich, auburn color.

Because of damages during the bombings of WWII, the stained glass in the church has been replaced with 20th century glass with images that depict the long history of the church.

This panel depicts the great fire of London in 1666.  Temple Church survived that crisis making it one a few medieval churches that remain.

The rose window depicts Christ surrounded by angels.

A morning spent admiring this church was a morning well spent.  I was happy to sit for a while and 
take it all in while listening to the soothing music coming from the pipe organ.

If you visit Temple Church, check for opening times.  The church keeps odd hours that change with the seasons.  

There is a small charge for visiting the church but, it is well worth every penny to see such a storied place.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The "Chunnel" Experience

On my most recent trip to London, I decided to spend 24 hours in Paris visiting some Chicago based friends who were going to be in the city.  I had traveled on Eurostar's train between Paris and London before but, it was years ago when the train still left from Waterloo station.  Since that time, the London departures are now going from St. Pancras Station and the trains have been updated.

Checking in for the Eurostar train is simple, I just scanned the bar code on my ticket and the gates opened to let me in.  There is a security check point much like an airport and then you arrive at a booth for passport control.  They stamp your passport to leave England and a few feet (4 steps actually) is another booth where the French attendant stamps your passport for arrival in France.  All in the space of about 4 feet.  Then you wait in the passenger hall for your train to be announced on the monitors.  I got to thinking that you are really in a sort of limbo sitting there waiting.  You've officially left England without actually leaving and you've officially entered France without actually entering the country yet.  It was kind of a strange feeling.

There are a series of monitors in each train coach and they give all kinds of interesting facts about the tunnel.  This one says the deepest part of the tunnel is 75 meters below sea level (250 feet).

This one is saying the tunnel is 50.45 kilometers in length (31.4 miles).  It takes approximately 35 minutes to travel the length of the tunnel while the whole trip from London to Paris is about 2 hours and 50 minutes.  The tunnel is the 11th longest tunnel in use today and the 4th longest used by a railroad.
There are actually 3 tunnels below ground, two for trains and one tunnel for service.  Up to 400 trains pass through the tunnels every day.

After my 24 hours in beautiful Paris France, I headed back to the train station (Gare du Nord) for the trip back to London.  The security and passport control was almost exactly the same.  First my passport was stamped as leaving France and then 4 feet further it was stamped again as returning to England.  Once again I sat in limbo in the waiting area until my train was announced.  It actually is quite simple and easy to do.  I couldn't help wondering if any of this will change when the 'Brexit' work is done.

In a little less than 3 hours, I was back at St. Pancras station ready to hail a cab for the trip back to my hotel.  The channel tunnel has been recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.  It is well worth experiencing.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

400 Year History

I've been thinking a lot about visiting Santa Fe New Mexico again after I learned that American Airlines recently introduced direct flights to the city from Phoenix.  Whenever I travel there,  I like to stay at the La Fonda Hotel, the only hotel located right on the Plaza in Santa Fe.  It was named the 2016 Best Historic Hotel in It's Class by Historic Hotels of America.

The hotel has a very warm and authentic New Mexico style that is both welcoming and comforting.  It is located on the site of town's first inn dating back to when the town was founded by Spaniards in 1607.  That makes it the oldest hotel "corner" in America.

On my last trip to Santa Fe, my room looked over the famous Loretto Chapel.  I posted about the chapel back in 2015.

Today's hotel was built in 1922 with architecture influenced by Mary Colter and John Gaw Meem.  Original elements can be seen throughout the hotel including hand carved beams and stained glass.  In 1925, the hotel was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and leased to Fred Harvey who was renowned for his sense of hospitality and service.

The La Fonda remained a "Harvey House" until 1968.  I have a post about "Harvey House" hotels here.

The last time I was there, I had a wonderful dinner in the main dining room which is surrounded by stained glass window panes.

The food was superb and the service the same.  If you find yourself in Santa Fe, I highly recommend the La Fonda.  You won't find a hotel more centrally located.  The wonderful atmosphere of Santa Fe is right outside the doors with museums, galleries and historic spots just steps away.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Say Cheese!

My friend and fellow blogger, Mo (Fresh Eyes on London) introduced me to Neal's Yard located in  the Borough Market of London back in September when I was there.

She was stopping in to pick up some cheese for dinner later that day but, for me it was quite the experience.  There is quite literally no cheese shop in the states that looks anything like this place.  At least none that I've ever seen.

I was in total awe seeing all those wheels of cheese stacked high on one wall.  I had never seen anything quite like it.

So while Mo was purchasing a few different cheeses, I was snapping photos like crazy.  I'm sure the clerks behind the counter were amused at my cheese shopping innocence.

And I have to say, all of the cheeses she purchased were delicious.

As a side note, a week after I returned home from that fabulous trip, I was shopping for some cheese at my local Whole Foods Market and was surprised to find they had some Neal's Yard cheeses in their cheese case.  I asked if they had imported them from England and the man behind the counter said yes.  He said they get cheese from there quite often.  Of course, the cheese display at Whole Foods, is nothing compared to this wonderful shopping experience.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Shopping in London

Three years ago when I went to London, I was there in November so I got to experience a lot of festive lighting in the streets and inside the major stores that were decorated for the holidays.  Last year at this time I featured a post about holiday shopping at Harrods.  This year I'm featuring photos from one of my favorite places to shop in London, Fortnum and Mason.

The Fortnum and Mason store is a perfect setting for a lot of festive decorations.  The central, spiral staircase is always decorated with some new and colorful feature.  And that red carpeting throughout the store just seems to say "Merry Christmas".

I saw quite a few people ordering up these fun baskets filled with all the special treats that are so popular at this store.  Everything from chocolates, to teas, to jams and biscuits.  You could even order one filled with cheese and pate if you wanted.  And, Fortnum and Mason will deliver it right to your door.  Well, if you live in London they will.

Merry Christmas from Sharon's Sojourns.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Paris at Night

My twenty-four hour visit to Paris might have been short but, my friends and I covered a lot of ground while I was there.  Our evening on the town included a stop at Georges at the top of the Center Georges Pompidou.   I love how you get there through the gerbil-tube-like enclosed escalators on the side of that ultra-modern building.

Once at the top, we were seated at a table on the large patio overlooking the city.  We took turns making our way to the edges to snap photos of the of the lights of Paris.

Before we left, we took a tour of the inside dining area with its undulating walls and cave-like rooms.  The space was designed by Dominique Jacob and Brendan McFarlane and it is described as a "designer restaurant with spectacular views".

It made me feel like I had walked into an avant-garde art opening from the late 1960's.  I kept waiting for Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein to come walking around the corner or maybe spot James Bond at the bar with a martini....shaken not stirred.

It was a perfect place to end a night on the town in one of the world's most beautiful cities.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Embraced by a Rainbow

While planning my trip to London back in September, I learned that close friends who live in Chicago were going to be in Paris that first weekend that I was in London.  They suggested that I come over and spend a day with them and I thought it sounded like an excellent idea.  I made the arrangements for a quick twenty-four hours in the City of Light and then started to think about where I'd like to go with such limited time.  The decision turned out to be easier than I first thought.  Ever since visiting Sainte-Chapelle years ago, I've wanted to go back with a better camera so I could capture the magnificent beauty of the place.

Sainte-Chapelle or Holy Chapel is located within the Palais de Justice complex on the Ile de la Cite in the center of Paris.  I'm sure that many tourists miss this jewel of a place simply because its location is a bit tricky to navigate.  You literally have to enter through the Palais de Justice security checkpoint and you will find yourself in line with a few other tourists but mostly with people there for court appearances or to pay a fine.

Once inside the complex courtyard, the chapel looms as a tall but somewhat nondescript building.  Its rather plain exterior serves as a good disguise for its spectacular interior.

This church was built at the instruction of Louis IX, King of France to house holy relics he had acquired.  The relics included the Crown of Thorns and fragments from the True Cross.  Louis had purchased these items in 1239 from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II for an exorbitant sum of money, 135,000 livres.  The chapel itself only cost 40,000 livres to build so that should give you a idea of the price he paid.  Construction was completed in 1248.

The structure is long and narrow and built in two stories.  The lower chapel served as the palace parish for all the servants and palace workers to use.  The upper chapel was where the relics were displayed at that time and served as the royal chapel for the king and his family.
Visitors enter through the lower chapel which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  This chapel has low vaulted ceilings resting on fine columns.  The ceiling is painted to resemble the star-filled heavens.

After climbing a narrow, spiral staircase we emerge into the upper chapel.  To me, it's like stepping into a jewel box filled with precious jewels of every color.  The upper chapel is virtually all stained glass.  On a bright, sunny day it's like being embraced by a shimmering rainbow that bathes the interior with brilliant color.

The soaring ceiling is supported by very slender piers above spectacular stained glass windows that make up the walls of the chapel, 6,456 square feet in area.  Each panel soars nearly fifty feet high.  I read a quote somewhere that sums it up brilliantly; "This was a building designed to set the soul soaring and fill the mind with wonder."  And, it's still doing that eight centuries later.

The panels of glass tell the full biblical story of humanity from creation through Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and so on.  Every picture on the windows tells a story and they are in order if you read them up and down.  I think anyone who tries will end up with a permanent crick in his neck from standing an looking upward for so long.

It is truly an amazing site to see and even with all the other wonderful things to see in Paris, I'm glad I returned to this impressive piece of Gothic architecture with its inspiring beauty.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A New London Ritual

Back in 2013 when I went to London, I paid my first visit to the newly restored St. Pancras Station and I visited the "mile-long" champagne bar that I had heard so much about.  Before I stopped at the bar, I stopped at the Neuhaus Chocolate shop and picked up a couple of tasty chocolates to enjoy with my glass of champagne.

It was a treat that I remembered very well.

The champagne bar featured a huge selection of champagnes from all over France.  I don't recall which one I selected but I have a clear memory of having quite a lot to choose from.

So on this most recent trip to London back in September, I decided to repeat that little event that I enjoyed so much three years ago.

First I tried to find the Neuhaus Chocolate store only to find that it had been replaced by Godiva chocolates.  Oh well, those are pretty good too.

Next I found a little table overlooking the lower level of the station and perused the champagne menu.  Well, that had changed too.  No longer did they offer a huge selection of champagnes.  In fact there seemed to be only two brands available and one of them bore the same name as the bar "Searcy's".  Who knows who the actual vintner was.  I was somewhat disappointed but I ordered a glass anyway.

While I sipped my champagne, I did however enjoy sitting there and watching the people below me all headed in various directions and I enjoyed watching the Eurostar trains coming and going behind me.  So the experience wasn't a complete loss.  I may not repeat the glass of champagne experience but, it's certain that I will return to St. Pancras station.  It's a beautiful place with lots of activity and it's the only station where you can catch the Eurostar to Paris or Brussels.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Waterhouse Square

Because I love the city so much, I've been to London many times and there is one thing every visit has proven to me, there is always something new to discover.  On this last trip in October, I spent less time riding the tube to destinations and more time walking and that is how I discovered this beautiful place.  It's located along busy Holborn Street near the boundary with the City of London (the square mile financial district).

The building appealed to me immediately with it's arched entrance and more arches on the inside courtyard.  The building is historically listed and was designed by architects Alfred Waterhouse and his son Paul Waterhouse and was built in phases between 1885 and 1901.  (Alfred Waterhouse is the same architect who designed the Natural History Museum in London, another gorgeous Gothic building.)

It was originally built for the Prudential Assurance Society who resided there until 1999.  It is now home to a variety of business offices and offers space for parties and banquets.  The offices of English Heritage are now located here.

Back in the far corner of the vast courtyard, there is a memorial to the staff of Prudential who died in WW1.

If I lived in London, I'd find this place a very appealing place to work.  I sat for a while in the courtyard just enjoying the surroundings.