Monday, January 27, 2014

Simplify, simplify

I've heard it said that with age comes the desire to simplify.  I think there must be some truth to that because that is exactly what has changed the most about my method of travel.  It used to be that if I was going on a two week trip, I'd be taking one jumbo sized suitcase packed with all my clothes and one roll-on bag filled with cameras and lenses, one change of clothes (just in case my bag was lost or delayed) and anything else I thought I couldn't do without.  On this last trip to London, I changed all that.

For this trip, the cute little red roll-on suitcase pictured above, was all that I took with me along with one small shoulder bag that fit under the seat.  It's amazing how quickly you can get through customs when you don't have to claim any luggage.  

There was one other new thing I tried on this recent trip.  Instead of booking a hotel in London, I tried that relatively new service called Airbnb.  It's a service that matches people looking for a short-term place to stay with people who have rooms or apartments to rent.  In my case, I booked a room in someone's home.  The photo above was taken in my room on the morning I was leaving to return home.  The room was comfortable and I had my own bathroom to use.  My hosts were very friendly and helpful and I must say, I enjoyed their company while I was there.

Another great thing about traveling light was that when I arrived in London, I got on the underground with my bag, changed lines at one point and got off at my destination station and then followed the directions to place I was staying.  No fighting with a huge suitcase and no expensive taxis.  It was so easy and had the added benefit of giving me a great feeling of accomplishment.

Another added convenience was my great little Nikon Coolpix camera.  I only have to take one camera with me and no extra lenses.  It does it all, excellent telephoto, wide angle, macro, and a variety of settings that let me take just about any type of exposure I wanted.

So my new motto when I travel, simplify, simplify!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

San Francisco Views

When I was working in San Francisco back in 2001, a friend of mine was also working there and had been there longer than me.  I always enjoyed visiting her apartment there not only to visit with her but to get a peek of this fabulous view.

This is the building where I was living at the time.  It was new building so the apartments were fresh and new but it didn't have those great views.  No matter, San Francisco is a wonderfully walkable city and I was always out exploring.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fool on the HIll

Can you imagine my surprise while driving the beautiful roads of Vermont, when I rounded a corner and saw a hillside dotted with tiny sheep and cows.  I couldn't imagine what I was seeing.

As I got closer I could see that it was some kind of business and I knew I had to stop and check it out.

It was a gorgeous business selling fruit, vegetables, flowers and all kinds of gifts and crafts.  It was a joy walking around and admiring all the beautiful things.  Almost as much joy as that gorgeous Vermont scenery was supplying.

I did some internet searching to get more information about this place but, sadly it seems it has closed.  It was located in the town of Quechee Vermont.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Highgate Cemetery

More years ago than I'd like to admit, I took my niece who was about 14 at the time to London.  Her mother, my sister Pam went along also.  In planning that trip I bought a book about what children would enjoy doing and seeing in London and one of the things featured in the book was Highgate Cemetery.  The author of the book said the eeriness of the place was appealing to kids and fed their imaginations.  I'm not sure my niece was so keen on a visit there but, evidently the "kid" in me was all for it.  So, on a drizzly day we went and I loved it and have always wanted to go back and get some proper photos of the place.  My November trip to London gave me that opportunity.

The cemetery opened in 1839 as a privately run company but by 1970 it was no longer profitable and the place fell into the not so kind hands of nature and vandals.  It is now operated by an all volunteer group who take tours on the older side of the cemetery and use the money raised to maintain and restore the place.  
The above and below photos feature a place in the cemetery called Egyptian Avenue.  The people of the Victorian era had a fascination for all things Egyptian fueled by the discoveries of ancient treasures by the explorers of the day.

Egyptian Avenue features family vaults where prominent London families were interred.

On the tour they tell you about some of the people buried there like this fellow, Thomas Sayers.  Sayers was born into poverty but established himself as a prize fighter, a nefarious business.  Even though the fighting was illegal and frowned on by society, Sayers had developed a following.  His last fight went 40 rounds and injured him so badly that he had to retire from the business but,  his admirers raised around 3,000 pounds for him to live on but, he only lived another five years. When he died, over 100,000 mourners attended his funeral. The chief mourner was his beloved mastiff, Lion who is memorialized guarding his tomb.

The cemetery gets it's eerie atmosphere from the overgrown look of the place with tree roots and vines crawling all over the monuments.

Even though this side of the cemetery is only accessible by tour, burials still take place here.  If you have family buried here, you get an ID card that lets you in at anytime to visit the grave.

To the left is one of the recent graves. It's the grave of Alexander Litinenko, the ex-Russian spy who was poisoned by radioactive material just a few years ago.  I bet you remember reading about that incident in the news.

You can visit the newer side of  Highgate Cemetery on your own after paying an entrance fee.  That side of the cemetery is well known to many people because the grave of Karl Marx is there.  I didn't visit that side cemetery on this trip.  I was much more interested in the overgrown and tumble-down side I've pictured here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Not your usual tourist spot

Fortunately there is plenty of indoor things to do in London, perfect for those ever present rainy days.  I spent one rainy afternoon in the British Library.  I had never been before but had read about some of the interesting things to see there so I put it on my list of places to go in case of fowl weather.

The library is housed in a modern building with a large piazza in front of it and a bronze sculpture of Isaac Newton perched above.  The sculpture shows Newton crouching over some mathematical calculations.

The inside of the library is open to a six story atrium with a center bookcase that stretches that whole distance.

The huge bookcase is sealed behind glass and it contains the King George III collection of books that was originally housed at the British Museum.  That floor to roof bookcase is quite a site to see and I found myself standing in front of it and admiring all those beautifully bound manuscripts.

In another section of the library I found sculptures and artifacts like this ancient printing press on display.  In another room dedicate to the "Treasures of the British Library", I spent time  being awed by a Gutenberg Bible, pages from the original version of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", sections of the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, and the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays published seven years after his death.  And, that's just a few of the precious documents on display here.

On the lower level, I found myself struck by this wonderful 3D painting.  I stared at it for a long time and wondered how it was painted with so much depth.

Then I stepped to the side of it a saw that the depth was actually built right into the canvas.  A very interesting technique.

If you are ever at the library at lunch time, I can highly recommend the King's Library restaurant for a delicious lunch.  I ordered a very tasty chicken pie that was the perfect thing to warm me up and take the edge off of the cold and wet day outside.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Canary Wharf

A trip to Canary Wharf on the far east side of London can feel like you've left England completely.  Once the primary harbor for the Port of London, this area has been transformed into a modern business and shopping complex complete with luxury hotels and apartments.  You can get there on the Jubilee Line of the London underground and arrive at station that is straight out of an episode of "Doctor Who" as evidenced by the photo above.

When you take those escalators to the top, you will find yourself  surrounded by ultra-modern skyscrapers and briefcase carrying commuters heading to and from work.

There are skyscrapers in every direction you look and hovering over the arched entrance to the underground station and the park area that runs behind it.

In the center of the area and over the top of the underground station is a beautifully landscaped park complete with a long fountain-stream running through the center with pedestrian paths on both sides.

Along one of the paths is the entrance to Jubilee Place, an underground shopping mall that would rival any mall you would find in any American city.

Inside you will find everything a super mall has to offer, department stores, groceries, jewelry, galleries, drug stores, restaurants and trendy pubs.

When you are ready to head back to the historic city of London you can either take the Docklands light rail line that runs above ground or…..

… can go back down those futuristic escalators to the underground station and have the Jubilee Line whisk you back to the heart of London.  You might feel as though you've somehow been transported in a time machine.  Did I happen into a TARDIS without knowing it?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

More to see in Brighton

There is of course, more to see in Brighton than just the Royal Pavilion.  A stroll a few blocks away will take you through a central park surrounding a fountain.

And a short distance from the park is the Brighton Pier.  I didn't want to miss a stroll out to the end of the pier even if there was a cold wind blowing in off the ocean.

From the pier, you can look along the shoreline at all the hotels built facing the water.  Brighton is a very popular summer vacation spot.

Or, you can try your hand at one of the many games of chance inside the piers 19th Century pavilion.

Another entertainment option might be a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel at the edge of the beach.  Brighton has a lot to offer the tourist.  If I'm ever in England in the summer time, I might venture down here again and see just how busy the place gets.