Sunday, April 30, 2017

Choosing a Hotel in London

Finding a hotel in London is always a bit of a challenge, especially if you are budget minded as I am. Over the years I've stayed in a variety of places from Hilton Hotels to someone's home via Airbnb.   On my last trip to London, I was going to be there for two full weeks so I wanted to find a place that was economical and still be located in a convenient neighborhood.  I got lucky when I found the Imperial Hotel on Russell Square in Bloomsbury.  I couldn't have picked a better location for walking in every direction.

The Imperial Hotel is located on South Hampton Row directly across the street from the lovely Russell Square park and less than a 10 minute walk from the British Museum.  The entrance to the hotel is off of the busy street and in a sort of courtyard away from the heavy traffic.

While my single room was modest in size, it was comfortable and provided everything that I needed.

When I'm on a trip to a cities like London, I'm only in the room to sleep.  There are too many things to do and places to see to sit around a hotel room.

I was on the eighth floor so I had a great view out the window.  

I could even see the iconic "Shard" piercing the sky off in the distance.

The lobby of the hotel was quite elegant in a 1970's sort of way.

My room was all the way to end of this hall.

The public areas near meeting rooms were nicely decorated and quite bright with those big windows that looked out over the street.

I found the little spiral staircase leading up to the second floor meeting area a charming addition.

The hotel offered a breakfast buffet every morning in a huge dining room and although I'm not a "big breakfast" kind of person, I did eat there several times during my stay.  They had everything I could want.

Probably my only complaint about this place were the hotel bars.  In spite of having two very attractive bars, they didn't have a friendly feel and the wine was of poor quality. On the upside, I was in such a great location that finding a nice, friendly place to indulge in a glass of wine in the evening was a simple task.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Truth or Consequences

When I went to visit Spaceport America, (I posted about that visit here) the closest town to the site is a place called Truth or Consequences New Mexico.  Located in the southwest of the state, it's a sleepy little town that the Interstate Highway system bypassed many years ago.   I arrived mid-afternoon and since my tour of Spaceport was early the next morning, I checked in to the local Holiday Inn and decided to explore the town.

When I was a little kid, my family used to take "road trip" vacations and I recall traveling through this town with the funny name sometime before Interstate 25 breezed right by it.  With the exception of some colorful paint jobs, the town looks much the same.

Back in the day when television was just starting to become a household fixture a man named Ralph Edwards had a TV game show called Truth or Consequences.  In 1950, he made an on-air promise to air one of his TV shows from the first town to rename itself Truth or Consequences.  The town of Hot Springs New Mexico took him up on the challenge.  They renamed the town and Ralph Edwards upheld his part of the bargain.  In fact, he aired his show from the town the first weekend of May for the next 50 years.

There really are hot springs in T or C (all New Mexicans refer to the town as T or C) and it's still a popular weekend escape for many residents of the state.

In fact, I was surprised to find a large lake and quite a lot of sailboats a little way out of town at a place called Elephant Butte Lake.

Just look at all those sailboats.  Not a sight you expect to see in the desert southwest.

I decided to have dinner at a local restaurant rather than one of the well-known chain restaurants located near the interstate.  I chose this colorful place called Latitude 33.  (It looks like it's not open, but it was.)  They served an interesting selection of Asian food.

The place was busy while I was there but, clearly I was the only stranger in the place.  Everyone else was greeted by their name as they came through the door.

The town of Truth or Consequences may be just a blip on the map or a refueling spot for most people but, I enjoyed my short time there exploring the colorful, old-west atmosphere and bringing back a few childhood memories.  It's slow-paced lifestyle was a perfect unwind after the long drive down from Santa Fe.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bridges of Venice

When a city is made of islands that are floating in an Adriatic lagoon, there are bound to a lot of bridges needed.  Such is the case for the splendidly beautiful city of Venice.  Some of those bridges are well know like the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal pictured above.

At least one bridge has a legend attached to it.  Such is the case for the tiny Bridge of Sighs pictured above.  It connects the Doge's Palace (where one might be tried for a crime) to the prison cells (where one would serve their sentence).  The legend says that prisoners would cross this bridge and look out one of those tiny windows and sigh at their last glimpse of Venice.

There are more than 400 bridges in Venice connecting the islands and spanning those watery streets.

They come in a variety of shapes and materials.

You will see some with neatly plastered sides creating a smooth arch.

Some are made of wrought iron and have a more modern utilitarian look.

Quiet bridges make the perfect place for a gondolier to take a break and check his emails.

The bridges also make the perfect place to stand and take a picture and if there happens to be a lady with a colorful umbrella, even better.

Some bridges are sporting greenery that has volunteered to grow along the sides.

And some bridges are so pretty that even a local resident can stand at the window to admire them.

Bridges, canals, plazas, and gondolas, there is an endless supply of things to photograph in one of the most famous cities on the planet.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Queen of Time

I have been shopping at Selfridges in London on past trips but I didn't know anything about the history of that great store on Oxford Street.  Then, last year I watched a television series called "Mr. Selfridge"  about the life of Harry Gordon Selfridge so a visit to that store had a lot more meaning on this last visit to London.  Did any of you see that show?  What a fascinating man.  Selfridge was an American who had made a career in retail at Marshall Field's in Chicago, another grand department store.  When he felt his career had taken him as far as it could in Chicago, he decided to start his own store in London using the more "American" version of department store retailing.  He built the store in phases between 1909 and 1926 and his brand of retail sales became such a success that it was copied by other big stores in the city.

Selfridge always had some new idea that would put his store in the forefront of the news.  In 1931, he commissioned a clock to be created by sculptor Gilbert Bayes and installed over the front doors of his magnificent store.  The sculpture was called the Queen of Time and was made of bronze with a polychrome finish.  It is a stunning piece of art that is as beautiful today as it was when it was first unveiled.

But not wanting to just stand outside and admire the clock, I decided a little retail therapy was in order so I went inside.

Selfridges has the second largest retail space in London after Harrods.  It boasts the largest shoe department in the city with over 4,000 pairs of shoes at any given time. My kind of place!

After browsing that shoe department, I had a wonderful lunch at one of the many restaurants inside the store.  I knew there were quite a few places to eat so I asked a sales clerk for a recommendation and she didn't steer me wrong. I had a delicious salad at Aubaine, a French Bistro.

After lunch I did some more shopping around the store and found myself on the lower level looking at kitchenware and cookbooks when I spotted Harry Gordon's Bar & Kitchen.

I couldn't resist so I treated myself to a glass of champagne while admiring the portrait of Harry Gordon Selfridge as he looked before losing his place at the helm of the store he created.

If you watched the "Mr. Selfridge" series, you know the story.  He was a genius at retail marketing but he had a little problem with gambling and women that led to his loss of control of the store.  However, his store has survived.  Actually, it has thrived and it still bears his name.  That certainly says something for his ingenuity and marketing prowess.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Visit to Stonehenge

I first learned about Stonehenge when I was in grade school and I was immediately hooked.  When I learned how far away it was, I was a bit disappointed thinking I would never get to see it in person.  During my childhood, air travel seemed like an impossible hurdle.  Little did I know that one day I'd be flying to and from work assignments.  Back in 2000, I made my very first visit to Stonehenge when I took my dad on a trip to London.  It was his first trip to Europe.

When I visited London last year, I made a point of going to see Stonehenge again.  This time I took a train to Salisbury and then the "Stonehenge Bus" from the train station.  It was very easy but, it did confuse me a little bit.  I had some pretty distinct memories of how the roadway and parking area looked and nothing on this trip matched up.  I remembered a tiny little brick building that was the visitors center and a walkway that went under the highway and over to the monument.  On this trip, there was a huge parking area and a huge visitors center and all of it was so far from the monument, it required a shuttle to drop visitors close to the site.

After doing a little research, I learned that back in 2013, the road was actually moved as part of a conservation effort.  Regardless of my confusion over roadway changes, the magic of Stonehenge still remains.  Visitors can't get up close to the stones but with the help of the telephoto lens, I can take a closer look.

I can even see how neatly those top stones are fixed to the standing stones.  It remains a bit of a puzzle as to how those ancient people built such an amazing structure.

I walked the path all the way around the structure contemplating its purpose and imagining what it looked like when it was first built.

As I made my way around the path, I spotted a kite flying in the sky above the stones.  I didn't see any of the visitors flying a kite so I'm not sure where it came from but I think it adds another element of mystery to an already mysterious place.  Can you see it up there to the left in the photo above?  I'm very happy that I made a second trip to Stonehenge.  It makes no difference if you take a day trip on a bus or take the train to Salisbury, the magic of Stonehenge is worth every minute of the experience.