A Travellerspoint blog

November 2011

The Pride of London

sunny 14 °C

We arrived in England nearly a week ago and discovered that we were not alone in thinking London is the best city in the world - the old gal was just heaving. But as we jostled our way through the gilded halls of Harrods, (with our wallets firmly in our pockets), and fought our way past the emporiums of Oxford Street, we realized that most of the shoppers were foreigners taking advantage of the bargain-basement pound.
But who needs money in London? New York may boast that the Staten Island Ferry offers the best free show in the world, but the sights of Manhattan pale in comparison to the delights of Greater London. Here’s a snapshot…
Big Ben’s iconic tower is just one of hundreds of instantly recognizable landmarks liberally scattered across this ancient city that turns any walk into a fascinating journey through history. Who would not recognize Buckingham Palace, the infamous Tower of London, the soaring span of Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, the Royal Albert Hall, and Sir Christopher Wren’s gothic masterpiece of St.Paul’s Cathedral…
But there are thousands of lesser known architectural wonders lining the wide boulevards and riversides of London and you can stroll for days along its famously named thoroughfares staring in awe at the grandeur created in times past: see sections of the 2,000 year old Roman wall, the medieval castle that is the Tower, the Tudor palaces and houses, the great Georgian terraces and the magnificent Victorian railway stations, or gape in wonder at the myriad of modern wonders like London Eye…
London can be expensive whatever the state of sterling but beyond the cost of food and lodging it can be the cheapest place to visit on earth. London, with its wealth of public buildings and parks, is in itself a great free museum, but it is also home to some of the greatest museums, libraries and art galleries in the world - and they are all absolutely free to visitors. And then there are the parades…
There is always some ceremonial event taking place in London, even if it’s only the daily ritual of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and we struck gold. We arrived in time to see the Lord Mayor’s Show…
This is the new Lord Mayor’s gilded coach led by a procession of bands and floats totaling more than 6,000 people…
Sheila particularly liked the beautifully groomed horses…
The Lord Mayor’s Show is an annual event to celebrate the anointing of the new incumbent and it is followed by a magnificent firework display on the river – and it’s all free. The following day was Remembrance Sunday with another great parade at the Cenotaph – and that was free as well.
Enough of this free stuff – we’re off to the countryside to visit friends and relatives for a few weeks before we return to Canada. Cheerio for now, but look for a special blog entry when we get back to our island home in mid-December.

Posted by Hawkson 01:44 Archived in England Comments (6)

Paradise inn Bologna

semi-overcast 16 °C

Nearing the end of our trek from Istanbul to London, though not on the Orient Express, we chose Bologna in Northern Italy as our last stop. If you are thinking you've never heard of Bologna, ask yourself where spaghetti Bolognese comes from. But, Italy isn't all about pasta: Modena, the balsamic vinegar place, is just up the road, as is Parma - famous for its ham and Parmesan cheese...
Bologna is a shopper's paradise with mile after mile of covered arcades dating from the mid-seventeen hundreds. These majestic buildings would completely overshadow the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, (supposedly the biggest in North America)...
But there is much more to Bologna than food and elegant 18th century shopping arcades. There are many historic towers, numerous renaissance churches and, being Italy, a monstrous medieval castle. But perhaps our greatest surprise was a little backstreet alberghi called the Hotel Paradise - although it didn't look much from the outside...
In contrast, this is the outlandish art nouveau facade of the Grande Albergo Ausonia Hungaria, touted as one of the most prestigious hotels in Venice...
The Ausonia Hungaria certainly wasn't bad. We had a nice room to escape to during a wet weekend, but it wasn't a patch on the apartment sized suite we had at the Hotel Paradise in Bologna...

The Paradise is owned and run entirely by women, and they know exactly how guests like to be treated. From the moment we walked into the lobby we felt like prodigal children - nothing was too much trouble for Monica and Marissa and their staff and they had thought of everything, including poetry cream...

So, here's a couple of tips for travellers: Never judge a hotel by the flambouyance of its exterior, and if you plan a trip to Bologna - stay in Paradise.
And finally - you haven't eaten pizza until you've had one in Italy...

Next stop... London. Just in time for the Lord Mayor's Show.

Posted by Hawkson 13:32 Archived in Italy Comments (5)


rain 15 °C

We are in Venice and we awoke to a very watery world today, leading us to question whether the city is sinking, the tide is rising or the sky is falling. It seems that all three are true and we are all to blame. Venice was built on marshland and, as the city is slowly sinking into the mud, global warming is raising the sea level and dumping more rain. Northern Italy has been drenched for a couple of weeks now, although we've been lucky enough to dodge the worst of it, but the net result is that St. Mark's Square became St.Mark's Lake this morning...

Canny trinket purveyors quickly hung rubber boots alongside their richly adorned Venetian masks and flashy Murano glass...
It will take more than a few pairs of wellies to keep the tourists coming and a gargantuan effort is underway to save the city by barricading off the inlets from the Adriatic, but the perilous state of the Italian economy may yet scupper the multi-billion euro project.

Venice is a pedestrian's paradise, devoid of the noise, smell and danger of the dreaded machinas that plague most cities of the world. Ancient alleys, squares and canalside walkways are as uncluttered by motorised monstrosities as they were in the city's heyday five hundred years ago. As we stroll the quaint laneways, unaccosted by cars, trucks and motorbikes, it is easy for us to imagine ourselves in a quieter, calmer, era, when elegantly dressed Venetians stepped ashore from their gondolas and walked to their palaces on the banks of the Grand Canal...
The palaces are still here, but most are now uppity hotels or havens of the nouveau aristocracy, but there are plenty of side canals where the proletariat live and work...
The gondolas are also here, just for the tourists, although there's not a lot for a gondolier to do on a blustery wet November day...
Venice is still packed with tourists, but the big spenders left months ago and most of the hoteliers and restaurateurs are happy to squeeze what they can out of us latecomers. But hold onto your hats - two cappuccinos and a couple of small pastries still cost $33.00 if you take a seat at one of the high spots on the Grand Canal - location, location, location - just around the corner the same can be had in a cozy cafe for $7.00
Even in the November rain Venice is probably the most beautiful and romantic city in the world and it should be on the top of everybody's bucket list. There is so much to see here - the gold-plated ceiling of St.Marks; the Doge's Palace; dozens of historic houses; and the magnificent paintings of Tintoretto that entirely plaster the inside of the Scuola di San Rocco - no photos allowed.

If you don't love Venice - you don't love life. But come soon; if the Italian economy sinks further it may well take the barrier and Venice under with it.

Posted by Hawkson 11:55 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Love Letter from Verona

overcast 14 °C

Romeo: "Juliet, Juliet, wherefor art thou Juliet?"
Juliet: "In Verona sweet Romeo, upon the balcony."
Romeo: "But pray tell Juliet. Upon which balcony;
Upon this...
or this..
or this..."
Juliet: "Nay Romeo; on none but mine own balcony."
Romeo: "Then I might find you hidden 'mongst the roses
Upon this verdant balcony..."
Juliet: "Oh! Romeo thou art blinded by the moon.
That is not my balcony. And neither roses are they, nor I."
Romeo: "What's in a name, Juliet. That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Juliet: "But I have no scent dear Romeo. I am but a myth.
A mere fancy penned to existence by Luigi Da Porta
And ignited to saintliness by Master Shakespeare in 1596."
Romeo: "Then answer me this riddle Juliet. If thou art as thou sayest
A mere will-o-the-wisp, nothing more than a notion,
And a figment of fiction. Why dost the throngs flock to thine house
And paper thine walls with their lovestruck entreaties; Why dost the thousands
write to you of their lovelorn agonies; Why dost the heartsick
bow down at your balcony?"
Juliet: "Because, dear Romeo, romantics always want to believe.
But I have no house - I am fiction. My balcony was added in 1936 by the government to attract tourists.
As for the love letters - volunteer teams of agony aunts answer them on my behalf. "

And so ends the myth of Romeo and Juliet. But this is a love letter - our love letter. We loved Verona. It is bursting with the ambiance of a medieval Italian city...
With a splendid Roman arena...
and ancient castles...
We loved the vistas, the parks and the (generally) friendly people. As for the romantics who arrive here in search of love from all over the world: as Shakespeare wrote,
"If they may seize on the white wonder of Juliet's hand,
And steal immortal blessings from her life,
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin."

Posted by Hawkson 11:48 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

The Devil Wears Prada

sunny 17 °C

The Duomo of Milan…
It’s All Saints’ Day so we thought it appropriate to visit Milan’s impressive cathedral for Mass, and we expected to find it packed with pious Italians. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that barely a handful of celebrants had shown up and most of the choristers were having the day off. It’s a religious holiday so where were all the Milanese? At the shops of course. After all, this is Milan. God may dwell in the Duomo, but the Devil wears Prada…
And when it comes to a toss-up between three alleluias, two amens, and these nifty little numbers from Dolce & Gabbana at $3,000 each, we all know where the average Italian man will put his money if he wants to get lucky…
On the other hand the average Canadian, (namely James), is much more likely to have accidentally left his credit card at the hotel. Milan is at the epicenter of the world of fashionistas and there is no shortage of places for them to worship…
All the renowned fashion houses are here, along with many we’ve never heard of, but Milan isn’t all about shopping. It has some splendid architecture and this is the well-preserved 15th century fortress of Castello Sforzesco….
However, this is the disappointingly bland façade of the world famous La Scala opera house…
But, despite it’s many churches and sacred buildings, the true bastion of religion in this bustling Lombardy city is the great crystal-roofed cathedral of the splendid Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II; an opulent shrine dedicated to worshippers of conspicuous consumption that houses the icons of wealth and one-upmanship that make Milan the dream of every shopaholic. Come and enjoy, but make sure you bring your flexible friend if you want to take home this nice little alligator bag for just $2,500…

Posted by Hawkson 09:20 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

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