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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

World Class Art Museum

Last Sunday I posted about a piece of performance art that I saw at the Tate Britain Museum so this week I thought I'd post a little more about the museum itself.  From 1897 to 1932, this museum was known as the National Gallery of British Art and from 1932 to 2000 it was called the Tate Gallery after it's founder Sir Henry Tate.  In May of 2000, the now famous Tate Modern was opened in a huge building that formerly housed a power generation facility.  With it's prominent location directly across the river from St. Paul's Cathedral, it seemed to quickly overshadow it's older sister.

In my opinion, this is a museum that should not be missed on any visit to London.  So, if the Tate Modern is on your list, try to squeeze in a visit to this outstanding museum too.  I'm pretty sure you'll thank me.

The art inside the museum is inspiring, provocative, imaginative and beautiful as it should be in any grand museum of art.  Here are two that particularly drew my attention.

This one is called "Crowd, Earls Court" by Edward Middleditch.  It was painted in 1954.  Middleditch was one of a group of artists called the "kitchen sink" artists who were at the forefront of realist art in the 1950's.

I wondered if he was related to Michael Middleditch, the creator of the London, New York and Paris MapGuides that I have used for many, many years.

This is a 17th century painting, artist unknown but and inscription reads that it is of two sisters of the Cholmondeley family who were born on the same day, married on the same day and gave birth on the same day.  The true identities of course are unknown but, it is thought that the painter may have been from Chester, near the Cholmondeley Estate.  I love a good mystery so this one appealed to my sense of intrigue.

On one side of the museum, I found this enclosed stairway area that I thought was an architectural work of art.

  I couldn't resist photographing the clean lines of this very quiet area of the museum.

Of course, when I'm in a grand museum of this scale, I always see ways to create my own artistic take on my surroundings.  That's why a photo of the grand dome over the center of the museum was a must.

And, a photo of the gorgeous spiral stair case under the dome was also appealing to my artistic side.

I am sad to say that I hadn't been to this museum since 1999.  I won't let that much time go by again. On that earlier visit, I saw a contemporary work that affected me in so many ways.  It made a powerful statement on society and morals and I can still picture it to this day.  It was called "Scrapheap Services" by Michael Landy.  The Tate still owns that piece and I gather it has been on display again at the Tate Modern.  (If you are curious, click the link)

On my next trip to London, this museum will be prominent on list of places to return to.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Performance Art at the Museum

When I visited the Tate Britain at the beginning of October, I didn't expect to see a performance art piece in one of the galleries.  In what is called the Duveen Galleries, I observed three lovely young women moving through the galleries and stopping occasionally to strike a classic pose.

The piece was created by British/Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein who creates performance pieces as well as drawings and installations.  His work is all based in architectural interpretations.

I believe the piece was called "Historical Dances in an Antique Setting".

The women seemed to glide from room to room, totally oblivious to the people around them enjoying the performance.

I really love a museum that challenges the mind and invigorates the spirit and the Tate organization certainly does that.  You never know what you will see or experience in one of their museums.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Those Crazy Love Locks

I thought all those crazy locks on the bridges in Paris would be gone.  

I had read several articles about how the city was removing them because of the damage to bridges.

But, as you can see they are still around.  I wonder if these were moved to this location or if this is a spot they haven't yet stripped of the tons of locks.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Home of a Victorian Artist

I'm not sure how I heard of Leighton House but it was on my list of places to visit while I was in London so on one of the gloriously sunny days I recently spent in the city, I made my way to Holland Park to visit the home of Frederic, Lord Leighton.

Leighton's home bears the famous blue plaque, a historic designation and is operated as a museum.

Photography was not allowed inside the house, a point that was made very clear to me probably because I had a camera hanging front and center around my neck.

However, not being one to follow all the rules, I did manage to snap two shots inside the house using my cell phone in a stealthy sort of way.  (After all, there are dozens of photos on the internet, just Google Leighton House and look at the images.)  This room on the ground floor is called the Arab Hall and is covered with beautiful Arabic and Islamic tiles.

The home was designed by architect George Aitchison guided by Leighton's precise specifications.  It was built to be an artist's home with a studio at the back of the house, facing north with floor to ceiling windows to allow in as much light for the painter to work with natural light flooding the room.  I wish I could have gotten a photo of that room, it was beautiful but carefully patrolled by museum guides.

The second photo I took was from the stairway looking down into the Arab Hall and the entrance foyer in front of it.

If you haven't heard of Leighton the artist you might want to check this link to see his most famous painting called "Flaming June".  I've never seen that painting in person but, I've seen many a photo of it, especially in art gallery gift shops.

The painting belongs to the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.

While I was at Leighton House, I heard one of the guides mention the the painting was on it's way to London for a temporary exhibit at Leighton House from November 2nd 2016 to April 2nd 2017.  So, if you are a reader who will be in London during that time, I would recommend you go see it.  You will get to see the artist's fabulous home and his most famous painting all in one visit.  Here is a link to an article about the painting and it's upcoming visit to London.  The article tells quite a story surrounding that famous painting.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

That Little Belgian Detective

If you happen to be a fan of the detective series that aired on television between 1989 and 2013 called Agatha Christie's Poirot, you will be familiar with this building.  This is the building that was used for all the exterior shots of where Hercule Poirot lived in London.  Being a huge fan of the art deco era in building and design, the look of this building always appealed to me.  I also thoroughly enjoyed David Suchet's portrayal of the eccentric detective with the waxed mustache and those busy "little grey cells."

When I went to London back in 2013, locating and photographing this building was on my list of things to do.  However, when I got there I was dismayed to find the front of the building covered in scaffolding because of renovations.  Oh well, I snapped the above photo anyway.

So on this most recent trip to London I decided to try again and I was happy to find the front of the building clear of all construction and I was able to snap a few photos.

However, I couldn't get the exact shot I wanted.  This time when I got there, the little park in front of the building was all torn up and completely fenced in making it impossible to take a photos directly in front of the building.

Oh well, such is my luck.  The top photo and this one and the one above will have to do.

I did manage to walk up to the front and snap this photo through the door.  I was very pleased to see that the lobby of the building has maintained that 1930's art deco style that I recall seeing portrayed in the television series.  Everything looks so incredibly vintage with the exception of that security monitor in the upper right corner.  I'll just pretend it isn't there.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

King, Queen, Bishop, Knight

Of all the towering statues and Egyptian sarcophagi, I found myself most intrigued by this small little treasure when I recently visited the British Museum.  The Lewis Chessmen are a group of 12th century chess pieces that were discovered in 1831 on the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.  They make up the most complete surviving medieval chess sets in the world.

The museum thinks the chessmen were probably made in Trondheim Norway sometime in the 1100's. They are carved mostly of walrus ivory with a few pieces made from whale teeth.

I'm not a chess player so I'm not quite sure why these little chessmen drew so much of my attention.  It probably has more to do with the age of the set and the details in the carvings and the fact that a game that is popular today has it's roots so deeply imbedded in history.

The chessmen in the set reflected the order of feudal society and the game was devised to sharpen the tactical skills of knights.  It became one of seven knightly accomplishments.

One of the information cards at the museum said that this set is one of the most popular and well traveled of it's exhibits.  Pieces from the set have traveled all over the world for different exhibitions. I had it all to myself for quite a while.