Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bond, James Bond

If you are a fan of James Bond movies, you might recognize this building.  It was famously blown up in the movie "Skyfall".  In reality, this building actually was attacked in September of 2000 when it was hit by a Russian-made anti-tank rocket.  The attack only caused superficial damage but, the perpetrators were never captured.  Thankfully, no such excitement happened on the day I stood across the Thames from the building and took a few photos.

This building is known as Vauxhall Cross and is the home of MI 6.  It's no secret, everyone knows it. As you can easily see from the photos, the building is of a unique style.  It was designed by architect Terry Farrell as an urban village.  When I read that he was influenced by 1930's industrial modernist architecture along the river such as the Bankside and Battersea Power Stations, I couldn't really see a comparison.  (Bankside Power Station is now the Tate Modern art museum.)  Then I read further that he was also influenced by Aztec and Mayan religious temples.  Ahhh...that I can see.

Farrell's design has received both praise and disdain.  Some have called it "a classical composition with a possible sense of humor" while others say it's too Gotham City for their taste.

Since London is a city with some of the most unique architecture anywhere in the world, I think it fits right in!  What do you think?

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.