All of Brugge is a Museum

Early this morning we were surprised to discover the temperature was going to not go above 75 degrees all day. We are so thankful for this because in July this part of Europe suffered from a brutal record breaking heat wave.

The buffet breakfast prepared for us was like one you would find at an exclusive hotel. Fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee was served to us outside where lazy ducks swam in the canal. There was a fresh fruit salad, fresh baked breads right out of the oven, and crispy croissants along with cheeses and meats.

We walked to the Market Square where we were treated to a carillon concert. Some of the songs were show tunes so it was really nice. We discovered some Tintin shops. My sister Jane loves Tintin and I love how I can send her instant photos from my phone to her on FB.

We bought the Brugge Museum card and visited three today. The first one was Groningen Museum. It has a large collection of Flemish art and art known as primitives which show the world in a lot of detail. Some of the paintings are brilliantly restored with bright rose and gold oils. They are joyful and pleasing to the eye. Other paintings showed grim scenes with death and destruction caused by the devil to all sinners.

Our next Museum was Gruuthusemuseum. Here you can journey through rooms showing the history of Brugge. It’s in a beautiful palace with stunning bright primary colored tiles on the main floor. My favorite part was a chapel on an upper floor where the royal family could look down on the mass going on in the church from above. I am not sure why they didn’t just go to the service but it was an incredible piece of architecture connecting the palace with the church.

Our final museum was St. John’s Hospital. Housed in a hospital used until the early 21 century, it had some stunning artwork depicting Christ and different saints which was supposed to bring peace to the patients. They also had a large church like structure covered with gold and fine art work that told a story. The museum features the brilliant artwork of Hans Memling. He is probably the most famous artist known for Flemish Primitives.

We took a 30 minute canal boat tour which was narrated by the driver in English, French, and Spanish. They decided since it was the last boat to pack it in. I was squished between the driver and the front of the boat, but surprisingly it put me in a position for a great view. As we glided along the narrow canals we passed under several low bridges which elicited cries of “ooh!” from the crowd. For the first time it started to rain. Umbrellas were passed out among great laughter and just as they were all opened it stopped.

We stopped at the Waffle House. It was packed. We had fluffy waffles dusted with powdered sugar, served with whipped cream, strawberries, and chocolate. Dinner tonight was at a very old world style restaurant. It’s the type of place where there are only 4 choices for your main course. David had filet of place which was delicious. I ordered a chicken dish which turned out to be too rich for me to enjoy, but the ambience of the place made it worthwhile. Tomorrow we have another full days worth of adventures planned.

Through the Chunnel on the Eurostar: London to Brugge

I have always been curious about the Chunnel, the 31 mile long tunnel that runs under the English Channel from southeastern England to Calais in France. I remember seeing newspaper articles about the day the two sides of the Chunnel met in the middle and seeing the opening ceremony on television in 1994. Although a little nervous about the idea of being under the ocean, I decided this was the year I would step out of my comfort zone and travel from London to Brussels by Eurostar.

We booked this part of our trip months ago and by doing so, the tickets cost less than $100 each for standard premier which felt first class to us. Arriving at St. Pancras station at 8:00 am was pure chaos. Another Eurostar train was leaving for Paris and everyone had to go through baggage check and French passport control even though we were in London. I wish we had been able to look around the station. Recent renovation has returned it to its Victorian glory days.

The Eurostar is a long sleek modern train. We were Coach 1 and it took ages to get there. Once the train departed, the service was first rate. We were served a breakfast on real plates with real silverware and glasses that consisted of French bread, yogurt, a croissant, juice and coffee. We were offered water, chocolate croissants, and fresh apples.

I wondered if we would know when the train reached the Chunnel, but there were no announcements. The train paused for about five minutes at the entrance and I could see on my phone app we had arrived. I felt very excited. I glanced around to see who else shared my enthusiasm about this experience, but there was no one. For people living in Europe, this is an every day ordinary mode of transportation. People just sat and read books while the train plunged into darkness speeding its way under the sea to France. I have never been on a train that travels this fast. As an interesting activity, VR glasses were available to give people a virtual reality experience of being under the sea with whales and dolphins.

I found myself dozing off until suddenly a chime went off. I opened my eyes just as we emerged into daylight and were warmly welcomed to France. However, on closer inspection out the windows, we could see huge fences to keep migrants from sneaking into the UK by hopping on the back of a truck traveling through another part of the Chunnel where vehicles are put on trains,

Once we arrived in Brussels we took a local train to Brugge. We are staying at a lovely B&B Huis Koenig. We have a beautiful large room and there’s a back porch overlooking a peaceful part of the canal.

We decided to tour a folk museum. It was very nicely done with rooms for 19 and 18th century schools and craft trades such as cobbler or barrel maker. They had cute children’s activities in each room, but I thought they could become a distraction for school groups leading to cries of, “I didn’t get a turn.”

Brugge looks beautiful. We stopped for a drink at an outside cafe near the market square where I enjoyed a large mug of iced tea. There’s a dance festival in town so dinner was at an Italian restaurant, Carlitos, away from the city center. It’s been a long day and we’re anxious to explore tomorrow.

A Day for Art

It’s our last day in London. We had heard that it was supposed to rain all day, but even by 5:00 in the evening we had not seen a drop of rain.

We began our day by taking an enjoyable walk down Sloane Street onto Knightsbridge and then on to Apsley House, home to the Duke of Wellington. This is a real treat for both students of 19th century British history and art history in general as Wellington, in addition to being the famed victor at the decisive battle of Waterloo, was an avid collector of art, and Apsley House has, among its impressive collection, works by Titian, Goya, Velasquez, and Reubens. While photography was not allowed at Apsley House, we were impressed by the superb audio tour, eager-to-please docents, and the overall impressiveness of this English heritage site. What a stirring way to experience a pivotal time in British history and insights into the remarkable life of the Duke of Wellington.

Lunch was at the Crypt Cafe at St. Martins in the Field. For under $20 we had quiche, couscous, and roasted baby potatoes in their jackets seasoned with fresh herbs. We visited the famous church which is actually simplistic in style and noticed they were preparing for a piano concert. The pianist himself was there in coat and tails for a rehearsal, but we missed it.

The National Portrait Gallery is free to visitors and has portraits dating back to the 1300s. Some were larger than life size such as Prince Albert and others were whimsical such as Elton John. It spans from the Tudors all the way to 20th century movers and shakers and pop icons. I was particularly fond of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth with her corgi. We spent some time relaxing in their elegant cafe while classical music played.

Tonight we went to a special Van Gogh exhibit at the Tate Britain. It celebrated the life and times of Van Gogh from the time he lived in London until his death. I learned that Van Gogh spoke four languages and read classical books. His art was inspired by the books of Charles Dickens. Van Gogh also wrote many letters to his brother which were too fragile to transfer from Amsterdam, but exact facsimiles were on display. On exhibit were many paintings that inspired Van Gogh as an artist as well as paintings by those inspired by him. It was sometimes hard to tell which was which from a distance except the Van Gogh paintings always had a crowd in front of them. A sign cautioned people to not block others with their cell phones, but they did. It seemed as if no matter what painting I wanted to study, a lady in a teal blue muumuu was in front of me.

Dinner tonight was at Zizzi. It’s a pizza place that’s very affordable. Tomorrow the alarm will go off at 5:45. We leave on the Eurostar for Brugge at 9:00am.

A Day at Kew Gardens

This morning it was a bright and sunny day with the temperature in the high 70s. We met a local who apologized to us for the hot weather, but to us it felt great.

We took a scenic 90 minute boat ride down the Thames to Kew Gardens. Our captain was very friendly and narrated the entire cruise. He pointed out old boats moored in the river used at Dunkirk as well as describing the history and future of many old world bridges. To me the river looks muddy and I am aware it can be a treasure trove of artifacts at low tide, but our captain explained it is one of the cleanest rivers in the world.

I have always known about Kew Gardens. Perhaps I came here as a child, but today I follow them on Facebook so when I spotted the iconic glass conservatory, I knew we had arrived. Located in southwest London, the gardens have one of the most diverse botanical collections in the world. Dating back to 1840, a stroll through the gardens is a stroll through time. We were especially struck by a collection of plants including palms and cactus honoring Princess Diana. The main greenhouse known as the Palm House was a little overwhelming with palms and ferns from all over the world. It was humid and crowded so we escaped out the door.

This month there is an exhibition of blown glass interwoven throughout the immaculately maintained grounds. It was quite clear that a tree no matter how exotic, would not have orange, red, and yellow branches, but we had to read the sign to know some huge white waterlilies were not real. Another interesting sight was two botanists at work in chest high water.

We decided to take the Underground back to Sloane Square. Right outside the station we spotted a pub serving Bloody Mary’s made with fresh squeezed organic tomatoes so we decided to check it out. The pub was in an old train station and retained many of the original features including the old clock. The village outside the train station was charming with lots of independent clothing and book shops.

The department store Harrod’s is just a 15 minute walk from our hotel past high end stores including Gucci, and Prada. Along the way we came upon a restaurant where a party was taking place. Many people were outside photographing cars parked there which included Porsche’s, Bentley’s, and Ferrari’s. I visited Harrod’s as a child and going back tonight it was fun to see it has retained a lot of its old world charm. We spent our time looking at their gift shop featuring traditional souvenirs, We ate dinner at Wolf and Lamb again and dined on vegan burgers and vegan burritos. It is supposed to rain tomorrow so it will be a Museum day.

On to London Town

The sun was shining brightly this morning in Harrogate and with a clear sunny forecast in store for us, we set off to return our car to Leeds. Thank goodness for the GPS. There are so many roundabouts here we would never be able to navigate it all with a paper map.

Once in Leeds we boarded a high speed train to London. Buying same day tickets can cost a fortune we have learned over the years, but if you purchase them in advance, it’s a real deal. We traveled first class with a meal and wine service included for 75US for both of us. I love to travel by rail watching the changing landscape out the window and imagining what it would be like to live in different places along the way. I observed the people around me. One man was watching a funny movie with wireless earbuds while another woman read a novel The Rumor while a wooden westie dangled from her dog print bag.

We are staying at the Sloane Square Hotel which was recommended by my nephew Chip. He told me that this was a favourite hotel of my sister Susan whenever she came to London. We have a small room, but a sweet teddy with a message that he was up for adoption greeted us on the bed. Of course we said yes. The room overlooks the Holy Trinity Church. We walked around the area and the brick architecture of the buildings is beautiful. There’s a lovely square in front of the hotel where hand painted horses are displayed to remind people of the importance of protecting horses all around the world.

Behind our hotel we found a small pedestrian zone with cheese and wine shops. We visited a small shop with all high end items such as coffee, tea, and wine, and surprisingly even a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with churros and a bottle of Aunt Jemima

Dinner tonight was around the corner at the Wolf & Lamb which is vegetarian. Their spinach and mushroom sourdough pizza with a side of potato, endive, artichoke, and radish summer salad seemed as if was picked right out of the garden.

Tonight we walked around the neighborhood discovering elegant residential streets with many homes with historical markers. We have stayed in South Kensington the past two years, but this area is very special and I can see why my family and sister Susan liked it so much. I lit a candle in her memory tonight in the Holy Trinity Church next door.

Step Into the Past at Harewood

“We are what we make.” This is the theme we encountered today when we pulled up to Harewood House known as Yorkshire’s most vibrant home. Not sure what this was about, we soon learned the exhibition celebrates 26 makers and how their craft can play in culture, identity, and society. In every room, a different craft was featured. For example, the craft of doing woodwork around the floors and ceilings was introduced with the story of the craftsman along with what being a maker means to them. Other crafts included the art of weaving rugs, designing textiles, decorating tiles, and even the art of making ballet slippers and each craft was carefully described in the artist’s own words,

While most heritage homes celebrate the wealthy family who lives in the home, this home told the stories of those who worked below the main floors. We heard recorded stories from cooks, housemaids, and cleaners.

Outside the grand house is a garden terrace designed with shrubs trimmed into geometric pyramids. Flower beds are meticulously maintained along with pools with statues.

What was perhaps most enchanting were the activities for children, A small farm animal exhibit allowed children to watch, but not pet, goats, alpacas, and exotic birds. Children were also directed to a mini beast trail where they could capture a bug, sketch it in the art area, and release it back into nature.

Just down the hill from the house is a small lake with a tiny ferry only big enough for 12 people. Pulled by chains, it picks up passengers every 6 minutes. On the other side of the lake we found a delightful walled in pleasure garden with 36 speakers disguised as bird houses, placed throughout the garden. As you move about, mystical music plays along with sounds of nature. I am not sure it was a place for 4 year olds to play a rousing game of hide and seek as we saw, but it was very relaxing to be there.

Tonight we decided to find a restaurant serving fish and chips. It was delicious and came served with mushy peas. We talked about our day at Harewood. I think what was most extraordinary for me was I left knowing more about all the people who helped make that house a home rather than the people who actually lived there. That made it a really special experience for me.

Of Victorian Art and an Ancient Abbey

We have been so lucky this year. England is notorious for rain, but so far we have just experienced warm clear sunny days.

Right across the street from our hotel in Harrogate’s oldest surviving spa dating back to 1806 is the Mercer Art Gallery. It’s a small gallery celebrating the art of William Powell Frith known as the people’s painter. Frith painted people in every day situations in panoramic style. For example, Life at the Seaside (1851-1854j depicts a seaside scene at Ramsgate Sands. There was a station set up in front of the painting inviting visitors to experience the painting as the Victorians did when they came to single painting exhibitions. Using a timer, the visitor today is asked to study the painting for 10 minutes and journal their thoughts after doing so. This was a good activity for me because my friends and family know I tend to look too quickly and not take time to ponder the paintings. It was a great mindfulness activity even though the power went out while I was studying the painting.

Other paintings on exhibit showed a study of aristocrats from fame to poverty and a scene from a railway station. Photographs were exhibited showing the same scene in modern times. I felt completely relaxed at this Gallery.

After picking up our rental car we drove to a National Trust Site: Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. It’s located in a rural natural park like setting. We toured the Studley House where we learned that during the depression era, Mr. Studley hired young boys in the area to train so that they could eventually build a village with small homes in a rural area. It reminded me of the Levittown concept in New York after WWII. Sadly many were unable to adapt to rural life.

Walking along the well maintained gravel paths lined with Queen Anne’s Lace and purple wildflowers, lazy fat bumblebees buzz about everywhere as the coo of wood pigeons echo down from ancient trees. The ruins of the Abbey tell of 400 years of monastic life dating back to 1132. Long ago crumbling ruins were in favor, but there is evidence of stonework to preserve what remains. Although there is no roof, statues, or elaborate stone work, it is a very peaceful place with a bubbling stream alongside it. We followed the stream down the hill to some man made pools and stopped at the small cafe. We both agreed we could have spent an entire day there.

Tonight we walked around the town to window shop and tour some of the old world establishments. Dinner was at Wagamama which is also in Boston but we like their pan Asian food. After dinner we stopped at an old fashioned hotel called The Swan Hotel to have coffee outside in their garden. It is the type of place where Ode to Joy plays in the lounge and handbags your great granny might have carried and poodle gemstone pins she might have worn are displayed for sale in glass cases. It has been a relaxing day but one we will long remember.

Harrogate: An Old World Yorkshire Town

Breakfast this morning was no ordinary experience. We were served fried mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach sitting on top of scrambled eggs with Baker Tom’s fresh herbal bread. We do not know who Baker Tom is but his name is on menus at all the best cafes.

We took a short haul flight from Newquay Airport, a small Cornish Airport, on Flybe. The flight to Leeds/Bradford Airport in Yorkshire took just under an hour. Our hotel, Studley Hotel is in the city center right near shops, museums, and gardens, Long ago this was a spa town with sulphur water and there’s evidence everywhere of the Victorian spa town days.

Just down the road from our hotel is Valley Gardens. Filled with colorful flowerbeds, hidden duck ponds, and old shade trees, it’s one of the most beautiful and peaceful parks I have seen. We noticed an old Victorian ice cream shop in the middle that serves homemade ice cream. We will check it out tomorrow. Toward the back of the park was a kids play area with a large splash pool called a paddle pool, zip lines, climbing structures, tennis, crazy golf, and pitch and putt. We played a round of crazy golf on the simplistic course and it was lots of fun.

Exploring the area around our hotel we noticed a restaurant called Lettuce and Slug. I love that name and we hope to stop in there tomorrow.

Tonight we ate dinner at the pan Asian restaurant in our hotel. The crispy lemon chicken and beef with noodles was excellent. We walked around town and discovered an old spa from the late 1800s that is now a fun place for an after dinner drink. Six business men kept ordering bottles of Budweiser at the bar. I was getting irritated they kept ordering while we were ignored so I moved. Finally It was my turn so I ordered two limoncellos. They did not know what I meant so I ordered two Irish coffees. I was thinking they would probably pile it high with canned whipped cream instead of the real thing which would be ok with me, but instead we got two diner style coffees mugs with a little Irish whiskey in them and were directed to a self serve coffee machine. We pressed the cappuccino button and it was ok, but not what we were expecting.

Harrogate looks like a really interesting town. We are hoping for good weather tomorrow.

Traveling Deeper into Cornwall

When I visited Cornwall with my parents growing up,we spent a lot of time driving around visiting small fishing villages. I remember one time we pulled over to the side of the road to photograph a small island with a castle on top, but although it looked intriguing, we moved on. I’ve often thought of that island and today we went for a visit.

St. Michael’s Mount was built 1500 years ago as a monastery,but was later converted to a fortified castle, and eventually into a home. Now overseen by the National Trust we were thrilled to find a parking space until the lot attendant said, “St. Michael’s Mount is closed on Saturdays.” Why Saturday of all days I did not know, but it really was not a problem. With the tide out, we walked across the stone causeway and were able to tour the base of the island where 39 people live in stone houses. It sounds so rustic, but when I opened the creaky wooden door to the bathroom I was greeted with a recorded voice that said, “Welcome. Please wave your hands if you are visually impaired and instructions will will be given.” I have never experienced anything like that.

Back in town we stopped at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the island. Children with bucket and spade in hand either dug in the sand or went meticulously tide pooling.

The sun came out as we headed to our next stop which was the ancient village of Chysauster. It’s the archaeological remains of a prehistoric village high on a wind swept hill. Walking up the gravel path to the site we stopped to admire miniature ponies munching on grass while bees buzzed about the raspberries growing along the hedge. Once we reached the top of the hill, signboards explained each dwelling. All that remains are the stone foundations but they stir the imagination. Some people believe that if Christ visited Cornwall which he may have because one of his disciples was a tin trader, its the round stone thatched roofed houses he would have seen.

Our last stop today was St. Ives, a seaside town with an expansive beach. Finding a parking space was a nightmare. We ended up driving along the beach with hundreds of people oblivious to a car behind them. The streets were so narrow everyone pulled in all their mirrors.

At the promenade I bought a Cornish clotted cream vanilla bean ice cream cone. As I stepped out onto the beach it suddenly felt as if someone threw a stiff pillow at my head. It happened so fast that before I knew it, my ice cream cone was being carried off by a resourceful seagull. We’ve heard stories about this. All I remember is a flutter of wings and it was over, a total ambush right on the beach.

Dinner tonight was again at Indidog in Falmouth. It is a new restaurant owned by Simon and Vanessa who own our accomodation and it was delicious. We had hake and mussels fresh from the sea. All this while enjoying a view of the harbor. Tomorrow we leave for Yorkshire.

A Sentimental Journey

I am a very sentimental person. If I start to clean a closet the whole thing comes to a standstill when I find a box of postcards, letters, and photos. I will sit down and look at them all. Before we came on this trip I poured over all my old postcards of Cornwall. Last year we made a memorable journey to St. Mawes, a seaside village where I spent many summers growing up and after introducing it to David last year, we both could not wait to return.

This area once had strategic forts to protect the English coastline from Spanish and French invasion from the sea with two 16th century stone castles built at the entrance to the harbor: one outside Falmouth and one in St. Mawes. This morning we visited Pendennis castle which was situated high on the hill with cannons pointed out to the sea. The self guided tour inside was interesting with a video of men in silhouette taking you back in time by discussing an impending invasion. On the expansive lawn, dogs played and the Heritage site guides led activities for children. It was well done.

Our journey to St. Mawes took us around the peninsula, through long winding hedgerow lanes, and down to the River Fal for the King Harry Ferry. It’s a wonderful old car ferry pulled by heavy chains. They had a pop up exhibit of pictures by local Cornish artist Matt Johnson. We had ordered the poster at the top of the page before we arrived and he kindly delivered it to our accommodation. Once on the other side of the river, it’s a quick 15 minutes to the parking lot of an old wind blown castle ( the twin of Pendennis) which is situated at the top of the hill.

Walking down the long winding lane into St. Mawes, it felt like coming home. I only remember warm sunny days in St. Mawes which I am sure with wet English summers was not the case, but today the weather was perfect.

For many years, my family stayed at the Hotel Tresanton overlooking the water. They have a beautiful outdoor dining area on their upper level terrace where we had lunch today. White coated servers brought us crab sandwiches and salad fresh picked right out of the garden. All around us were families just enjoying the ambience. Dessert was chocolate mousse and fresh picked strawberries with homemade strawberry ice cream.

Everything today looked perfect in St. Mawes. Children swam in the crystal clear water, sailboats glided gently in the wind, and paddle boarders rowed out into the water, many with dogs onboard. Just watching them made you feel as if you were in a dream state.

At the head of the town overlooking the harbor is the Idle Rocks Hotel. I stayed there with my parents for several years and I remember it as having a seaside vibe.

Last year we attempted to recreate a photo on the terrace of the Idle Rocks of me with a boy I had met from Wales when I was 13, but the wind was so strong we could not do it. Today while enjoying a melon cocktail on the terrace, a kind man restaged the photo for us. I’m squinting in the bright sun, but look closely and you will see it was taken in the exact same spot.

Before reboarding the car ferry we visit St. Just in Roseland. We visited a beautiful old stone Anglican Church located in a cove with old gravestones right down to the water’s edge. I have an old photo of me looking at the hydrangeas and admiring the church. It felt very familiar and peaceful. We wrote prayers and hung them on a special tree designed for this purpose.

Dinner tonight was back in Falmouth at Zizzi which serves delicious pizza. We are tired after a day of adventure and fun, but looking back, it has truly been a magical day.