Thursday, August 10, 2017

Daytrip from London

A rainy day in London is the perfect time to write about our also wet weekend get-away to Bath back in February. We spent nearly 48 hours in this historic city and found plenty to keep us occupied, although I have heard of tourists seeing this great city in just one day. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend spending a whole weekend in Bath. Read on to find out why.

Canary Gin and Wine Bar
The Canary Gin and Wine Bar is the go-to destination in Bath for gin lovers as its home to the famous Bath Gin Company. Oddly enough when I asked for a vodka cocktail I was told that this was a gin bar. Duh! Well, I had a glass of wine because gin is hubby’s drink of choice not mine. The bar has a cool atmosphere and is definitely good for a drink IF you like gin cocktails.
Stay at a Historic Hotel
Luckily, hubby decided to cash in some credit card points so we stayed two nights at the Francis Hotel – MGallery Collection, a beautiful townhouse in the heart of historic Bath. The hotel occupies seven of the nine original townhouses, built between 1728 and 1736 and designed by English architect John Wood the Elder who is credited with the city’s great architecture. Wood designed the surrounding townhouses to look out onto Queen Square in the middle. He even lived at No. 9 because it had the best views of the square, and this townhouse is now the entrance to the Francis Hotel.
Bath Abbey and Bell Tower Tour
Don’t miss your chance to see historic Bath from above by taking one of the hourly Bath Abbey Bell Tower tours! After climbing up more than 200 steps to the top of the tower, you are rewarded with spectacular views of the city even on a wet, windy day like we had. You’ll also be able to stand on top of the Abbey’s vaulted ceiling and sit behind the clock face.
Three different churches have occupied the site of today’s Abbey since 757 AD. The present-day church was first repaired in 1616, additional structural changes made in the 1830s, but the most significant changes occurred in the late 19th century. From 1864-1874, Sir George Gilbert Scott transformed the inside of the Abbey with Victorian Gothic architectural details and replaced the ancient wooden beam ceiling with the beautiful stone fan vaulting instead.

Cute Coffeeshops
Just because you’re not in the big city anymore doesn’t mean you can’t find a decent cup of coffee in Bath. We popped into Cascara for two flat-whites, but the nearby Society Café would have been a good option too.
The Roman Baths
Visiting the 2,000-year-old Roman Baths in Bath is definitely the city’s most popular attraction. On Saturday morning, the queues to get inside wrapped around the building, but then we learned a trick. We stopped by the Visitor’s Information building and learned we could buy a triple-play Museum Saver ticket to the baths, the Victorian Art Gallery and the Fashion Museum for £21.50, saving us £7, and allowing us to skip the line. Bloody brilliant!

On the next day, we arrived about an hour after the museum opened because we wanted to avoid the crowds, especially in my photos. I love some good ruins and the Roman Baths did not disappoint. The Romans founded the city of Aquae Sulis around the natural hot springs and built the great bathing and socializing complex in 70 AD.
Today, nearly 1.2 million liters of steaming spring water, reaching 46 °C (115°F) still fill the bathing site every single day. (The steam makes for fantastic photos!) The Romans believed that this was the mystical work of the Gods, but we now know that geothermal energy increases the water temperature miles below the surface. Then, under pressure, the heated water rises to the surface through cracks in the limestone and fills the Great Bath. Inside the baths, you’ll even find remains of the ancient heated rooms and the plunge pools. Allow yourself at least 2 hours to see everything in the Roman Baths and to take photos.
Crossing Pulteney Bridge
Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, the Pulteney Bridge is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world with shops built into it. We also found a good cup of coffee here at the aptly-named Bridge Coffee House. The bridge, completed in 1774, provided a much-needed non-waterway connection to the newly-built Georgian town of Bathwick on the other side of River Avon. The bridge, one of Bath’s well-known images, also is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Explore Georgian Architecture
Since Bath is known for its Georgian architecture, it’s fun simply to wander through the city and find these notable buildings. Besides the townhouses on Queen Square, don’t miss The Circus and the Royal Crescent.

The Circus, named for the Latin word “circus,” which means a ring, oval or circle, was built between 1754-1768. Originally called the King's Circus, the three buildings were designed by John Wood the Elder, but he died less than three months after the first stone was laid and his son helped finish the plan. Interestingly, the same dimensions of Stonehenge, 318 feet in diameter is seen in The Circus because Wood was convinced that Bath had been the main center of Druid activity in the U.K.
Just a few blocks away, you’ll find The Royal Crescent, a row of 30 impressive terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent overlooking a large grass field. Designed by the Wood’s son, John Jr. and built between 1767-1774, this 150-meter long, Grade I-listed building is noted to be one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in the U.K. At No. 16, you’ll find the luxurious 5-star Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa, which also has a wonderful Afternoon Tea menu, but you must book weeks in advance. Sadly, we missed out, but we did peak into the beautiful spring gardens out back.
Sip on Afternoon Tea
I think there are at least 10 places where you can have afternoon tea in Bath. You can read about our high tea experience at the Bath Priory here.
Dress Up at the Fashion Museum
Who knew that a Fashion Museum could be so fun and that even my partner would like it? Apparently, the Fashion Museum in Bath is one of the world’s top 10 museums of fashionable dress. There are more than 160 dressed figures wearing clothes from the past 400 years – from historic Georgian ballgowns to simple cotton dresses to cutting-edge fashions by some of today’s leading designers.
The museum also is housed in part of the Assembly Rooms, another Georgian building designed by John Wood Jr. in 1769, where locals used to gather to dance, drink tea, play cards and listen to music. Entry to the stately Assembly Rooms is included in the Fashion Museum ticket.

Would you like to visit Bath? 
Or if you’ve been, do you have any tips for Bath?

I'm obsessed with photographing doors whenever we travel. Here's a small sample from Bath, UK.
My Traveling Joys

Monday, July 31, 2017

Somehow July is already over and I’ve tried to find the time to write this new blog post about summer roses in London.

Here in London, our summer weather has been basically crap. We had a couple hot days in June and July, but generally the skies like to remain gray, often rainy, with temps only in the low 20s C (around 70F).

Still, I’ve found time to get around on my precious days off to explore some of London’s beautiful gardens. Did you know that London’s land includes nearly 6% of park and garden space, with eight Royal Parks, and a total of 47% of Greater London is considered green space (according to the Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, 2015)?

The Brits seem to love their roses and I’ve found quite a few garden spots to recommend for you. Peak bloom time for roses is June and July, but I found some blooming as early as May and some still going strong in late July. With our cooler weather, I’m sure some of these rose gardens still will be blooming in August.

1. Queen Mary’s Rose Garden
Situated in the heart of Regent’s Park, the Queen Mary’s Garden is home to the largest collection of roses in London – a staggering 12,000 roses to be exact! The world-famous gardens, named after the wife of King George V (the grandson of Queen Victoria), opened in 1932. Today, they feature more than 85 single varieties – from classic to the more modern English roses, including one called the “Royal Parks” rose.

If you’re a romantic at heart, plan ahead like some of the couples I saw here and bring a picnic blanket, some nibbles, and of course, some bubbly.

2. The Rose Garden at Hyde Park
With as widespread as Hyde Park is you could easily miss The Rose Garden, located in the southeast corner of the park, south of Serpentine Road near Hyde Park Corner. Opened in 1994, the garden was designed by Colvin and Moggridge Landscape Architects in the shape of horns sounding one's arrival into Hyde Park. I’m not sure if I could figure out that design, but the summery gardens are lovely!

Here, you’ll find several different varieties of roses, especially some wild roses that smell amazing, mixed in with hollyhocks, columbines, statice and more. The mix of flowers reminded me of the gardens both my mother and my grandmothers had when I was a child growing up in the Midwest.

3. Holland Park by the Orangery
Formerly part of the grounds of Holland House, Holland Park incorporates the remains of 17th, 18th and 19th-century park and gardens, which originally covered 500 acres. Following restorations and repairs after World War II, the grounds opened as a public park in 1952 and contain several formal and informal gardens. Next to the Orangery, found in the southwest corner of the park, you’ll find wonderful wisteria blooms in the spring and bountiful rose blossoms in summer. Stop at a nearby café and bring a take-away lunch to enjoy in the gardens.

4. Hampton Court Palace
Before you even set foot into Hampton Court Palace, you’ll find a lovely walled garden complete with formal rose beds set amongst green lawns and beautiful statues. I couldn’t find any history about these gardens, but the best thing is they are free to visit! However, I highly recommend visiting the entire palace including the 60 acres of spectacular formal gardens within the palace’s walls. During the past year, I’ve visited the palace three times with visitors and once by myself.

5. Kew Gardens
I love going to Kew Gardens during any season, especially when I get to see the free-roaming peacocks! Did you know that Kew is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage site?  Kew has a formal Rose Garden by the Plantation House as well as a beautiful rose-filled archway in the gardens that contain 102 separate beds of plants and flowers.

6. Morden Hall Park
Back in mid-June, I ventured to Morden Hall Park in zone 3, and I didn’t even feel like I was in London anymore. I took a quirky little tram from Wimbledon to the Phipps Bridge stop and then stepped across the tracks into a giant open field. Was I really in London?

Morden Hall Park is a National Trust park, located on the banks of the River Wandle in south London, covering more than 50 hectacres of parkland. Once home to a fancy manor house and deer park, a 2.5 acre rose garden was added around 1921. It is believed that Morden Hall rose garden represents a very unusual example of an inter-war period rose garden, featuring a design well ahead of its time with 48 irregular rectangle and circular beds of roses. The National Trust is in the process of trying to re-create that historical garden, and I simply think they’ve done a good job as the roses are spectacular!
You can easily make a whole day or at least an afternoon by strolling through the Morden park, having lunch at The Potting Shed café, which served a delicious seasonal soup, and the attached greenhouse and garden store.

Don’t forget to take time to stop and smell the roses!

My Traveling Joys

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Z is for Zeugma Museum

For my final contribution to the A-Z Guidebook posts, I’ve dug back into my photo archives from five years ago when we visited the Zeugma Museum located in Gaziantep, southeast Turkey.

In 2012, the museum, less than a year old then, was fascinating because it is the world’s largest mosaic museum – containing 1700m2 of priceless mosaics from the ancient Roman town of Zeugma, which means “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek. 

Wandering through partly reconstructed ancient Roman villas, excavated on-site around the Euphrates river, one can almost travel back in time to nearly 2,000 years ago when Zeugma was a popular trading center along the Silk Road route to China. Zeugma was founded along the river in 300 BC by one of the generals of Alexander the Great and reach its peak in the 3rd century AD before being abandoned due to raids and earthquakes.
Today, much of the ancient town and its modern counterpart of Belkıs lie under the reservoir created by the construction of one of Turkey's largest dams in 2000. The massive Birecik Dam is located less than a mile from the site. 

Fortunately, international archaeologists were able to save many artifacts and these impressive mosaics before the dam flooded the area. The Zeugma Museum attempts to recreate the atmosphere that once prevailed in this prosperous Roman town. Though you’ll find plenty of Greek and Roman gods preserved in the mosaics, my favorite is the Gypsy Girl, known for her emotive eyes that seem to follow you wherever you go in the dark room where she now lives.
Looking back now, we were very lucky to travel through southeast Turkey when we did. The people we met were wonderful, the food was delicious and the historical sites were memorable. And that is what travel is all about for me!

I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures, who has kindly hosted this link-up for the past 26 months! Thank you! Each month featured a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “Z.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more A-Z travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Y is for Yerebatan Saray Sarnıçı in Istanbul

Hidden beneath the historical area of Sultanahmet in Istanbul is one of my favorite sites to show visitors, especially during the hot summer months.

After walking down a few flights of somewhat slippery steps, you’ll find yourself in what is commonly known as the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıç in Turkish) because it lays beneath the Stoa Basilica, a grand Byzantine public square. The cistern also is called the Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray Sarnıçı) because of its gorgeous 336 Byzantine marble columns and impressive size – nearly 9,800 square meters (2.4 acres)!

Did you know that this dark chamber has the capacity to hold near 80,000 cubic meters of water (21 million US gallons) of water?

In fact, when Istanbul was Constantinople, hundreds of Byzantine cisterns were located underneath the old city and were used to store fresh water. The Ottomans used the Yerebatan to supply fresh water to the Topkapı Palace. You can still find a few cisterns around Sultanahmet that are used in restaurants or simply forgotten about.

The Yerebatan Cistern is the perfect retreat from Istanbul’s sweltering summer days. The cavernous room is cool and dark, lit only by lights along the elevated pathway and to illuminate some of the columns. Water droplets of condensation fall down on you as you’re exploring this underground treasure.
I also always imagined that the cistern would be the perfect location to fill a horror movie as well!
Did you that one of the old James Bond movies was filmed in the cistern? Not too long ago, I had to rewatch From Russia With Love especially the scene when Bond is seen rowing a small boat between the cistern’s columns?

When you visit the Yerebatan Cistern, don’t forget to look for the mysterious Medusa-like head as well!

I’m linking this post to the monthly A-Z travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “Y.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Friday, June 16, 2017

Afternoon Tea in Bath, UK

The idea of nibbling on dainty sandwiches and sipping tea out of delicate English tea cups did not seduce my husband.

However, he finally gave into my pesky demands to try this English tradition when I suggested the champagne afternoon tea option. Back in February, we took the train out to Bath, about 90 minutes west of London, and spent the weekend there. Besides sightseeing, I booked us in for Afternoon Tea at The Bath Priory, an elegant 1835 Georgian manor (now hotel, spa and a-Michelin-starred restaurant) nestled within four acres of beautiful gardens.

The setting couldn’t have been lovelier for my first time…noshing on afternoon tea that is. But the weather was typical English crap, and we walked nearly 2 km from the city center past the Royal Crescent building and botanical gardens in an ugly, drizzling spring rain. Once we shed our damp jackets at reception, we settled into a corner table overlooking the wet gardens. The hotel has a splendid terrace for dining when the weather cooperates.

The Bath Priory offers its Afternoon Tea with champagne for 44 (30 without) so the cost makes the tea a special treat (though definitely far cheaper than the ones I’ve seen in London.) Like I said I had to tempt hubby with the booze option, so we chose the champagne menu. We also received an unique tea menu where we actually could smell the different teas before selecting the one we wanted. I had no idea it would be so involved!
Soon the tower of afternoon tea treats arrived. Basically, you better come to tea hungry because you are eating a full lunch. We ate breakfast around 10 a.m., knowing that tea would be at 3 p.m. We started with the finger sandwiches, and although well made, the flavors didn’t really wow me. The sandwiches included: roast chicken with tarragon, local ham with mustard, egg salad with watercress and smoked salmon with cucumber.

But then we dived into the petite pastries and scones. OHMIGOSH…the scones! These were like nothing I had ever eaten before. Picture the most tender, flakiest buttermilk biscuit you’ve ever had in your life – served warm with a giant mound of English clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. Holy cow! The clotted cream reminded me of Turkish kaymak (a clotted cream made from water buffalo’s milk).
Forget about calories and just eat the damned scones! They were sooo delicious! I wanted to spread the cream on everything and just eat the scones!
Surprisingly, the British tradition of afternoon tea is only about 200 years old. In the 1830s, Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is credited with first making Afternoon Tea into a formal social occasion. Finding herself quite peckish in the gap between lunch and dinner, the Duchess began inviting friends to enjoy tea and light snacks at the Woburn Abbey. When she returned to London, she continued the practice and thus Afternoon Tea became a fashionable ritual for the upper classes.

In the 19th century, tea rooms were becoming quite popular and were THE place to meet friends and gossip. They were also considered respectable places for young women to meet without chaperones, so a perfect excuse to get out of the house, in my opinion. In Bath, there are several cafés and formal tea rooms that offer afternoon tea. Reservations are highly recommended, even weeks in advance if you are going to Bath on the weekend.

Just like anything else when it’s your first time, afternoon tea started out a bit awkward for these two Americans. We weren’t quite sure what to do or how to properly act. Should we have our pinkies out as we sipped tea, perhaps? Well, we ended up devouring nearly our entire tower of treats so I’d say we mastered Afternoon Tea and had a grand time doing so. Maybe I could convince hubby to do another round?

One of the formal sitting rooms at The Bath Priory.

My Traveling Joys

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