Oxford, City of Dreaming Spires

Oxford, in my mind, is probably as equally well-known as a university town as it is for the television series about the fictional detective, the opera-loving, often morose, Inspector Morse. 

Despite its strong connections to Oxford and the university – Colin Dexter, the author of the novels that the series is based on, worked at the University of Oxford for more than twenty years – Morse, a brilliant and perceptive detective, surprisingly did not receive a degree from any of the city’s famous schools.

I don’t remember much about Oxford from my only visit in the early 1970s but watching the series, which was filmed around the city and the university, made me long to return and do a proper tour.

I found a free 2-hour walking tour with Footprints Tours  (If you have a good time, leave us a tip. If not, it was nice to meet you! their website declares) and met the group at Oxford City Center – an easy, 15 minute walk from the train station.

I was late joining the tour and was surprised to hear the guide’s American accent. It felt disorienting to be on a tour of Oxford, England and hear the accent I left in New York. That’s not to take anything away from the guide, who was very enthusiastic, or the tour, which was chock full of history, insider information, and not one boring moment.

Oxford – a short back story

Oxford started humbly, very humbly in AD900 as a river crossing. The name comes from the Old English words (ox/ford) which mean a place (ford) for oxen (ox) to cross. Today, it is a city of approximately 160,000 and home to the University of Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. The university has been around since at least the 12th century, its earliest colleges – there are 30 of them in all – since the 13th century. 

A Few Places to See

The Sheldonian Theatre: Located on Broad Street, The Sheldonian got its name from Gilbert Sheldon, a chancellor at the University of Oxford. The theatre was designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral among other notable buildings). Construction started in 1664 and continued until 1669. The Sheldonian is used for lectures, concerts and graduations. 

Oxford The Sheldonian Emperor
The Sheldonian ‘Emperor’

Thirteen heads, called herms, or termains, philosophers and emperors, each wearing a different beard greet visitors to the Broad Street entrance to the Sheldonian. It’s unclear what they mean or why there are thirteen of them.

Oxford, Radcliffe Camera
Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera: Built between 1737 and 1748, the Radcliffe Camera (Latin for vaulted room or chamber) is a science library. The library got its name from John Radcliffe, a medical doctor who left the funds for its construction. 

Oxford Hertford Bridge
Hertford Bridge

The Hertford Bridge over New College Lane connects Hertford College’s administrative offices and its students’ accommodations. A popular landmark, it is referred to as the Bridge of Sighs. Just past the bridge, on the left, is the entrance to the alley to Turf Tavern.

Christ Church College: Known officially as The Dean, Chapter and Students of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry the Eighth, Christ Church is the only academic institution that is also a cathedral. Part of the University of Oxford, Christ Church is the alma mater of politicians, including several British prime ministers, scientists, philosophers, academics and entertainers. 

“Find us if you can, and you’ll be back.”

Turf Tavern: Walk down St. Helens Passage, a narrow alley off Hertford Bridge, and you’ll arrive at The Turf Tavern, an Oxford institution that has been around in one form or another since the 13th century. Once a malt house, a cider house in 1775 and an inn, The Spotted Cow in 1790, it became the Turf Tavern in 1847.

Among the well-known who have passed through its doors – I hope none of them bumped their heads on the low beam near the bar – are Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Oscar Wilde, Ben Kingsley, and Richard Burton. 

The Bear Inn: Dating to 1242, the Bear Inn is the oldest pub in Oxford. It is also well know for its collection of ties from the early 1900s. You can find it on the corner of Alfred and Blue Boar Streets.

I could have spent an entire day walking around Oxford and probably not see the same thing twice. It is a beautiful city with spectacular buildings from all of England’s architectural styles. 

Oxford Travel Essentials

Oxford is accessible by train from London’s Paddington Station, and by coach from Victoria, Marble Arch, Notting Hill Gate, Shepherd’s Bush.  

 

Linking this week to Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travellers Sandbox, Ruth at Tanama Tales, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations.

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
 

5 Quirky Things to do in Barcelona

If you’ve ever gone on any Barcelona weekend breaks in the past, then you’ll know that the city is replete with amazing unique cultural experiences, from its tasty regional food to its numerous beaches, and iconic buildings such as the Sagrada Familia. But the capital of Cataluña has plenty more to offer those who’re willing to make their way off the beaten path. 

Barcelona Park Güell

If you’re going to Barcelona and want to discover a few strange but great things to see and do, here are 5 of the quirkier spots to head to.

Park Güell

This public park located on Carmel hill is composed of a mixture of gardens and strange architectonic elements, including a variety of Gothic inspired buildings that might remind you more of a scene from Willy Wonka than a park at the heart of one Europe’s great cities. But with brilliant features like animal sculptures and bright mosaic patterns, along with stunning panoramic views of the city, you’ll find that a trip to this park is both quirky and oddly romantic.

Parc del Laberint d’Horta

Few visitors to Barcelona make their way to this historical garden, but if you’re looking for a unique experience, this labyrinthine park that sits on the former estate of the Desvalls family comprises both an 18th century neo-classical garden as well as a 19th century romantic garden.

Amanecer en la Playa de Barcelona

Head to a Nudist Beach

If you’re feeling a little adventurous then consider head down to the Playa de Sant Sebastia, Barcelona’s primary beach for anyone wanting to ditch their swimwear and bathe in their birthday suit. The beach offers everything you would usually expect from a city beach, including showers, toilets, and lifeguard stations.

Ice Barcelona

For those after a unique and cooling drinking experience in this usually toasty city, a trip to Ice Barcelona might be just what you need. Found on the beach at Port Olimpic this chilly spot serves up both delicious cocktails and warm parkas to keep your night going. The bar tends to get quite full after 11, so get here early or be prepared for a bit of a wait.

The Giants of Santa Maria del Pi

Santa Maria del Pi is a 14th century Gothic church located in the Gothic Quarter of the city, but what it is perhaps best known for is the giant statues that greet visitors when the enter the church. at the entrance, inside a floor to ceiling glass case, you’ll discover huge wearable puppets, some of which date as far back as the early 17th century.

If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona but think you’ve seen all this city has to offer, then think again—there are plenty of fun and strange things left for you to see and do.

Images by Wolfgang Staudt and Antonio Tajuelo used under the Creative Commons license. 

5 Great Winter Destinations

Have you recently found yourself researching flights to great winter destinations? Well, if you’re looking for a place to head for vacation this winter and haven’t yet settled on where, there are plenty of great options offering everything from snowy peaks to sand beaches. If you can’t quite make-up your mind on what best suits you, here are 5 great winter destinations that are bound to impress.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/9997823784/

Iceland

For those willing to head deeper into the winter dark, the North Atlantic country of Iceland has some wonderful natural wonders to offer, including the world-famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a number of breathtaking volcanoes, the stunning Gulfoss waterfall, as well as Thingvellir National Park, which was once home to Viking Althing, the parliament which was first held here in 930 AD.

Greece

Greece is home to a number of important historical sites, including the Athenian Acropolis, which houses such buildings as the Parthenon, as well as the Delphi Archaeological Site, which sits on the slopes of the beautiful Mount Parnassus and holds the temple of Apollo. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, then consider heading to one of the Greek islands, where you’ll be able to enjoy life as the locals do outside of the booming tourist season.

Italy

There is never a bad time to visit Italy, and as this country attracts millions of tourists a year, heading here in the off-season will not only make your travels cheaper, but it will also cut down on queues for many of the major sites, such as the Duomo and Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and tours of the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome. Venice is also a wonderful city to visit in the winter, as the canals and narrow walkways create a whole new misty atmosphere in the cold weather.

Croatia

Croatia might be best known for its beautiful Dalmatian coast, and while there is still plenty of things to do and see along the coastline and in cities like Dubrovnik, in the northeast of the country, just outside the capital of Dubrovnik, you’ll find the wonderful Mount Sljeme, a ski resort which features offerings for all levels, from beginner to expert. If you’re stuck halfway between a winter-sports vacation and a trip to the coast, then Croatia might be the place for you.

Phuket, Thailand

Thailand

There are few countries that can match the type of winter weather that you’ll find in Thailand, where this season actually provides the country with its most comfortable and enjoyable climate. With some of the  world’s best beaches, extremely kind locals, delicious food, and luxurious resorts and hotels, if you’re looking to trade-in the cold and dark of winter for a traditional beach getaway, there is no better place to head.

Wherever you decide to go for your upcoming winter break, be sure to plan in advance to ensure you get all the best deals possible.

Images by Moyan Brenn and Jeff Gunn used under the Creative Commons license. 

Stonehenge, Repackaged

Stonehenge was a bit of a disappointment when I saw it in 2011 and for several days after, I tried to figure out why.

One thought was that Stonehenge could not compare to the inflated images I had in my head – images that had been shaped by television, stories I had read and my own very fertile imagination.

Another was that my mind was still fresh from seeing the Eiffel Tower a few days earlier. Unlike Stonehenge, I hadn’t longed to see it or created personal myths around it. It was a blank slate, and when I finally saw it up close, its size left me speechless – and that’s not easy.

The Eiffel Tower soared over the city of Paris like the centerpiece on a spread of buildings against which I could make a quick, visual comparison. I could appreciate its towering scale.

Except for a line of trees in the distance, there is no structure near Stonehenge that I could compare it to, and the flat, open plain that surrounds it makes its 50-ton stones, which are nearly 30 feet high, seem stunted.

The entrance to the monument was unremarkable. My only memory of it was seeing a drawing depicting how Stonehenge would have looked when it was intact.

The Repackaging of Stonehenge

Since my last visit, Stonehenge has had a long overdue overhaul (from some articles I read, it was nearly 30 years in the making).

A handsome new £27,000,000 ($41,000,000) Visitor Center, which echoes the design of Stonehenge’s iconic trilithons, now greets visitors. It houses a ticket office, exhibition space displaying more than 250 artifacts found at the site, a gift shop, gallery, café and restroom facilities.

Since most people never get to see Stonehenge from inside the circle, there is an audio-visual presentation that simulates the view during the summer and winter solstices. During my visit in August, there was an exhibition of postcards, guidebooks and photographs chronicling the different ways that we have experienced and interpreted Stonehenge over the years.

A recreated Neolithic village of thatched cottages occupies a prominent space just outside the Visitor Center. Appropriately, there’s a gigantic sarsen stone that visitors are invited to try to pull. Even though the stone sits atop logs – experts’ best theory of how the builders of Stonehenge moved those massive stones – it was still difficult to move it.

Stonehenge sarsen stone
Larsen stone – Think you can move this?
Stonehenge moving the sarsen stone
Not as easy as it looks

To provide access to the now roped-off stone circle, a trolley service ferries visitors the mile and a half trip from the Visitor Center. The monument is also wheel-chair accessible.

Rounding out the repackaging of Stonehenge, is a larger parking lot that can accommodate cars and tour buses. A minor road that ran through the site has also been closed.

These improvements make Stonehenge the first class facility it always should have been. However, I was shocked by the crass commercialization that it has embraced. To me, mead and curd fit better into the milieu they’ve created than Stonehenge water, shortbread or cheap-looking Made in China baubles.

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales and, Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations 

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
Also linking to Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Rhonda at Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Traveller, Safari24, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders. 
 
 

 

Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Pt II

After leaving Stonehenge, we drove through the English countryside towards Bath, arriving there just before lunch. Named  World Heritage Site in 1987, Bath is a picturesque city located on the Avon River in Southwest England, and part of the south Cotswolds. Its well-known Great Bath (Bath Spa) and historic Georgian structures attract more than 250,000 visitors annually. 

What Not to Miss in Bath:

  • The Royal Crescent – Designed by John Wood the Younger, between 1767 and 1774, the 30 Georgian style terraced houses are laid out in a crescent shape.
  • The Circus – John Wood the Elder began construction on the Circus, a group of Georgian style townhouses arranged in a circle, in 1754 but died before he could complete it. His son, John Wood the Younger, finished it in 1768
  • Bath Abbey – The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was founded in the 7th century.
  • Pulteney Bridge – Completed in 1774, the bridge is one of four in the world that have shops that span its full length on both sides.
  • Jane Austen House – the author of classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, lived in Bath from 1801 – 1806. The center on Gay Street, about a 10 minute walk from the center of town tells the story of Austen’s time in Bath. There’s also a small gift shop with Jane Austen-themed goods. A must for Austen fans!

Westbury White Horse

The Westbury White Horse was not on our itinerary but it’s hard not to miss it standing as it does against the green Westbury Hill. The horse is 180 feet tall, 170 feet wide and was carved around 1778 into the chalk soil of the area.

Westbury White Horse
Westbury White Horse

Silbury Hill

At about 5,000 years old, Silbury Hill is about 130 feet high. It is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Made primarily of clay, which is all over the area, it is still unclear why it was created.

West Kennet Long Barrow

Located near Silbury Hill – you can see the hill from the barrow – and about 2 miles from Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow is a prehistoric burial ground about 330 feet (100 meters) long. When its five chambers were excavated, the remains of about 40 adults and children who were buried around 3,600 BC were found along with grave goods, pottery and stone implements.

Avebury

I didn’t know what to expect as we headed towards Avebury from West Kennet Long Barrow. Then I noticed a few small upright stones. If this is it, I thought, I’m not impressed. But our driver kept going. Where was he going? I wondered.

As he continued, I started seeing more and more stones, planted in a row – like fence posts – and they seemed to go on and on.

Whereas the circle at Stonehenge is concentrated in a comparatively small area, Avebury’s circle and ditch are spread over nearly 30 acres.

That is impressive!

Constructed around 2600 BC, with three circles – the outer one measuring 1,088 feet, and a henge 460 feet across – Avebury is the largest stone circle in Europe. Unlike Stonehenge that is in a wide open area where you can see the circle clearly, Avebury’s circle and henge are part of the community with houses close by and a busy main road which dissects the site. 

Avebury circle and village
Part of the circle and village of Avebury

Although Avebury is free and open to the public, it wasn’t overrun by visitors as Stonehenge is. It also isn’t strictly controlled. While we were there, I saw people climbing on top of the stones, sitting on and posing for photos on them. 

If you’d like to see a real henge monument up close and without the crowds, Avebury is the place to go. 

Avebury and Stonehenge were co-listed, along with Durrington Walls, Woodhenge, West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill as Avebury, Stonehenge and Associated Sites, and were inscribed in 1986 to UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Avebury, the Red Lion pub
Avebury, the Red Lion pub

Once you leave the site, walk over to the Red Lion  – look left, look right, then left again before you cross the road – and have a glass of wine, a pint or some fish and chips. It’s not hard to miss.

Avebury, Prince Charles portrait
Avebury, Prince Charles portrait at the Red Lion

PS: You won’t find a pub anywhere near Stonehenge!

Linking to Budget Travelers SandboxRachel’s Ruminations, and Tanama Tales.

Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Part I

I didn’t plan to return to Stonehenge – the Neolithic stone circle located on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. I’d been there only a few years ago, in 2011, to be exact. It was during that tour that I heard about Avebury.

If you like Stonehenge and have time, the guide said, you should visit Avebury. It’s quite impressive!

I was intrigued. I couldn’t imagine anything more impressive than Stonehenge. If Avebury is that impressive, I thought, why hadn’t I heard about it?

Disappointed because I was leaving London the following day, I promised that I would visit Avebury on my next trip. I started looking for a tour as soon as I knew I was going. Since all the tours I found included Stonehenge, I concluded that it’d be good to experience both. 

So early one morning in August, I boarded a small tour bus with our guide, Edward, an archeologist from Tours from Antiquity, and about 15 others for a day-long tour of Durrington Walls, Stonehenge, Bath, Silbury Hills and Avebury.

It’s clear now why the tours to Avebury include Stonehenge and I’m glad that I saw them both on the same day. With only a few miles separating them, seeing these sites together makes it easier to understand the context and appreciate their connection. 

Durrington Walls

Our first stop was Durrington Walls. Located about 2 miles from Stonehenge, it is the area where the builders of Stonehenge lived. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in thatched huts and moved around the landscape hunting red deer, wild boar, and aurochs (wild cattle, now extinct).

They’d gather in the thousands in the Durrington Walls area for the winter and summer solstices. Tests done on animal bones found there suggest the animals, some of which came from as far away as Scotland, were killed at about 9 months.

Woodhenge

Located in Durrington, about 1000 yards from Stonehenge, Woodhenge is a six-ring wooden circle that was discovered in 1925. It was built about the same time as Stonehenge and has a similar layout but it is still unclear how the site was used. The posts were of different sizes, with those in the largest ring up to 30 feet (9 m) high. Some of the posts were aligned to the direction of the summer sunrise and the winter sunset. A ditch enclosed the site, making it a true henge. 

The site was excavated by Maud Cunnington who discovered the remains of a 3 or 4-year old child (a cairn marks the spot), who Cunnington interpreted as having been sacrificed. However, scientists have not been able to analyze the remains as they were destroyed when the museum in which they were being held was bombed during World War II. Also found buried among the posts were pottery, tools made of flint, carved chalk objects, and other items of everyday use.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge has changed since my first visit. Now a sprawling new £27,000,000 (about $40,000,000) Visitor Center, a gift shop, a small museum and a replica of a prehistoric village, anchor the site. Visitors are ferried 1 1/2 miles by buses from the Visitor Center to the site of the circle.

The stones were straight ahead as we arrived at the drop-off point and with people already milling around, it was striking how small they looked in comparison to the size of the stones. 

Even though I’ve seen them before, the stones were impressive. I’m happy I visited when I did and that I was able to go inside the circle as access is now restricted, the site now roped off.

A few things to know:

  1. Although it’s called Stonehenge, strictly speaking, it isn’t a henge. A henge is a stone or wooden circle with a ditch on the inside. The ditch at Stonehenge is on the outside. Woodhenge and Avebury are true henges.
  2. Archeologists believe Stonehenge was created around 3000 BC.
  3. Stonehenge was a burial site.
  4. Stonehenge is made up of two circles – an inner circle of smaller bluestones, which weigh about 4 tons and came from the Preseli Hills, 150 miles away in Western Wales, and an outer circle of sarsen stones that weight approximately 50 tons.
  5. Trillithons is a structure created by two large vertical stones topped by a horizontal stone (a lintel). The lintels are secured ‘Lego-like’.
  6. Stonehenge and Avebury were named World Heritage sites in 1986.
  7. There is a £5,000 fine for trespassing.

Stonehenge Travel Essentials

Hours 
Mar 16 – May 31  9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Jun 1 – Aug 31  9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 
Sept 1 – Oct 15    9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Oct 16 – Mar 15  9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
** Last admission – 2 hours before close

Admission Price: 
Adults (Free for members of English Heritage) £15.50 / $23.93
Children (5-15 years) £9.30 / $14.36
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £40.30 / $62.22

Bond in Motion at the London Film Museum

Now on view at the London Film Museum is Bond in Motion, a must-see permanent exhibition that traces the history of the franchise through the many vehicles (cars, boats, motorbikes, sleds, jets, helicopter and more) that James Bond used over the years.

I’m a huge Bond fan, but I hadn’t heard about this exhibition until I spotted an ad at a tube station in London in August, 2015. It didn’t disappoint.

As you walk into the museum, you can’t miss a helicopter hanging from the ceiling. My first thought was that it was the same one from which Major Onatopp, one of the villains in GoldenEye (1995), rappelled down to catch James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in a chokehold. But I found out that it was from Skyfall (2012).

Also on the upper mezzanine are concept art and storyboards which have never been seen before. It was exciting to see each frame of this scene in From Russia with Love (1963) one of my favorites, detailed on paper. 

Bond in Motion
Storyboard, From Russia with Love 1963
Bond in Motion Concept art, Moonraker
Concept art, Moonraker 1979

Down the stairs (you can also take an elevator) to the lower level are the vehicles – 50 of them. If you love cars, this is the place to go.

It was thrilling to see Auric Goldfinger’s classic 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III, Goldfinger (1964). It’s as clean as a whistle as if Oddjob, his henchman or some other underling, had just finished detailing it.

Bond in Motion 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III Goldfinger
1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III, Goldfinger 1964

Tracy (Diana Rigg) and James escaped Ernst Stavros Blofeld, head of SPECTRE, in this red Mercury in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). This is the only film that starred George Lazenby (not my favorite Bond) and the only time Bond got married. Sadly, Tracy was killed just after the wedding. 

Mercury Cougar, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969
Mercury Cougar, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969

Halle Berry (Jinx) emerging from the sea in Die Another Day referenced Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder) in Dr. No, the first Bond movie (which was filmed in Jamaica, where Ian Fleming escaped to write the Bond stories) but the cars were unmistakably modern, even a bit futuristic.  

Jaguar XKR, Die Another Day
Jaguar XKR, Die Another Day 2002

Except for Skyfall and the latest, Spectre, I’ve seen each Bond film at least 50 times – they never get old. But I felt an adrenalin rush when I saw this car, the Aston Martin that Daniel Craig (my other favorite Bond) crashed so spectacularly (the car rolled seven times!) in Casino Royale (2006). With Skyfall, Craig convinced skeptical fans who’d never seen a blond Bond, that he was Bond. 

Aston Martin, Casino Royale 2006
Aston Martin DB5, Casino Royale 2006
Casino Royale, 2006
Casino Royale, 2006 – James’ bloodied suit in the background

Some of the other vehicles you’ll see at Bond in Motion: Little Nellie, You Only Live Twice (1967), the Ford Mustang Mach I, Diamonds are Forever (1971), the AMC Hornet Hatchback, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), the Lotus Esprit S1, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Citroen 2CV, For Your Eyes Only (1981), and the Q Boat from The World in Not Enough (1999).  

All the vehicles in Bond in Motion are originals that were used for filming. The majority of them are on loan from the EON Production archives and the Ian Fleming Foundation, which located and restored many of them.

I remember this scene at Valentin Zukovsky’s Caviar Factory in the World is Not Enough (1999). And thanks to the plaque on the model, now I know how they did it.

Bond in Motion
Miniature model of the Caviar Factory, The World is Not Enough, 1999

The Art Department created the model “so that production could work out how to construct the real set and perform the scene. It has little red dotted lines to indicate where the breakaways are for the helicopter blades.”  

If you want to be Bond for a minute, there’s a photo studio in the back of the museum where you can don the classic suit and take your photo.

Bond in Motion - Being Bond
Be Bond for a Minute

There’s also a museum shop in the back of the lower level where you can buy licensed Bond memorabilia and Bond in Motion souvenirs. 

The Cars of Spectre at Bond in Motion

Visitors to Bond in Motion will be in for a rare treat as a new exhibition, The Cars of Spectre, opens on November 18th.  This exhibition will feature never before seen vehicles, props, models and costumes from Spectre, the latest Bond movie, which opens today in US. According to the website, the exhibition will include the Hero Aston Martin DB10 and a stunt- damaged Jaguar C-X75.

Travel Essentials – Bond in Motion

Hours: Everyday 10 a.m. to 6:00 pm except Saturday 10 a.m. to 7:00 pm. The last entry an hour before closing
Tickets: Adult £14.50, Children (5-15) £12.50, Family £38.00 (includes admission to The Cars of Spectre)
Photography (no flash) allowed 

London Film Museum
45 Wellington St
Covent Gardens

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday Link-up hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox, Budget Travel Talk, Tanama Tales, and Rachel’s Ruminations.

Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Priestess

She is the only woman among Jamaica’s seven national heroes. Her bravery and skill as a military strategist are unparalleled.

Born in the 18th century in Ghana, Queen Nanny became the spiritual leader of the Winward Maroons, the enslaved Africans who fled to the rugged mountains of Jamaica’s eastern parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, and St. Mary. It is from this her stronghold that she led her people in several decisive battles against the British army, bringing them to heel.

However, unlike her male counterparts, very little was written about Queen Nanny. The recently released documentary, Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainness, will change that.

Conceived by veteran stuntman and award-winning filmmaker (Akwantu, the Journey 2012), Roy T. Anderson, and Professor of History, Dr. Harcourt T. Fuller, both Maroon descendants, and filmed in Jamaica, Ghana, Canada and the United States, Queen Nanny shines a light on the indomitable spirit of this larger-than-life woman. It tells her story through songs, performances and reenactments, interviews with Maroons, and scholars who are experts in Caribbean history and the study of slavery.

The documentary also examines the legacy Queen Nanny has bequeathed to contemporary Jamaican women.

Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainness had its World Premier at the United Nations on October 19th, the day that is celebrated in Jamaica as National Heroes Day.

The screening was part of the UN’s 2015 Remember Slavery Programme of Activities, which included a solemn commemorative meeting of the UN General Assembly, film screenings, roundtable discussion and an exhibit. The events also draw attention to the International Decade for People of African Descent.

This year’s theme of Women and Slavery pays tribute to the many enslaved women who endured unbearable hardships, including sexual exploitation, as well as those who fought for freedom from slavery and advocated for its abolition.

Every year on 25 March, the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade offers the opportunity to honor and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system. This historic day in 2015 marked the unveiling of a Permanent Memorial to Slavery at the UN Headquarters in New York. Titled the Ark of Return, it was designed by Rodney Leon, an American architect of Haitian descent.

 

Gear Review: The Sleeper

It happens almost every time I travel. I fall asleep, wake up when my head jerks forward or rolls to one side. I look around sheepishly wondering if anyone noticed that I’d fallen asleep. Invariably, the person across the aisle is sleeping peacefully, with a pillow supporting her neck and I think, next time I’m bringing one of those. But I never do.

Recently, I received a sample of The Sleeper. Unlike the pillow that we’re used to, the Sleeper, which resembles a sleep mask with adjustable straps, is designed to hold your head in place while you sleep.

Here’s how it works: Once you get to your seat on a plane, bus or train, you tie the Sleeper to the back of your seat, tighten to your head size then you pull the mask over your eyes. You can adjust the straps to keep your head in place. 

It’s actually pretty simple to use. I got some curious stares when I used it on the bus to DC a few weeks ago. My seat mate wanted to know what it was and I had to explain to the guy sitting behind me why I needed invade his space to tie it to the back of my seat. 

Since I’ve never used a mask to sleep, I was unsure how I’d fare with the Sleeper, whether I’d want to take it off or whether I’d sleep at all. Sleep, I did and my head didn’t roll like it would have had it not have support. 

The Sleeper did let a bit of light in at the nose area and that was a bit distracting but on the whole, I think it’s a great sleep aid.

Speaking of seat, the Sleeper’s strap (1.5m x 2cm) is suitable for seat backs that are 35 inches (90 cm) or more wide.  

The outer side of the Sleeper is made of hypoallergenic material that is suitable for those with sensitive skin, the inner side of fleece. The mask itself measures 10.6″ x 4.3″ (or 270 x 110mm). The whole thing fits into a little pouch so you can have it handy whenever you travel. And its bright orange color makes it hard to miss.

The Sleeper was invented by Lana Dey, a self-described travel addict, who on a road trip took a belt and tied her head to the headrest of a car. (The Sleeper is a better idea, Lana.) A recently closed Indiegogo campaign raised some of the funds Lana and her team need to begin mass production of the Sleeper.

 

 

 

Above the Trees in a Hot Air Balloon

Would you like to ride in a beautiful hot air balloon?  

Well, I wanted to and after many years of thinking about it, I finally did when friends and I attended the Adirondack Balloon Festival at the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Glens Falls, New York. Glens Falls, a small town of about 15,000, is located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, north of Saratoga Springs and the Hudson River.

The festival was started 43 years ago to attract visitors to this beautiful area of Warren County. Held initially at the local community college, it moved to the airport to accommodate the estimated 30,000 who attend each day of the four-day event. 

With that many people going, we were advised to get the site before 5:00 a.m. to meet our pilot. We left our hotel by 4:15 and by the time we drove the 10 minutes to the airport turnoff, there was already a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot. 

Gigantic spot lights bathed much of the tarmac and the surrounding field and the  area was buzzing with activity. We followed the crowd towards the hangar where a line of people, about a half mile long, some in T-shirts and shorts, some wrapped head to toe in blankets, was waiting in the cool morning for the Big Breakfast that was scheduled to start at 5:00 a.m.

Nearby, on the fringes of the hangar, balloonists were picking out their launch spots and vendors were setting up stalls for the craft fair that takes place after the ascension. 

Night receded slowly, revealing a persistent fog that covered the area like a blanket, and making us wonder whether we’d be able to go up.

At about 5:30, we made our way to a pre-arranged place to meet our pilot, Pete Griswold of Balloon Rides, LLC, and his brother, Scott of All Above Balloon Rides. Pete drove us to a wide open, grassy lot where he and his assistant, Bryan, unloaded the balloon and the basket that we’d ride in. 

While Pete and Bryan unfurled and spread the 75 foot long, 250 pound balloon (also called an envelope) on the ground, I watched another ballooner as he blew air into his balloon, the first part of the process of getting the balloon aloft.

Pete asked one of my friends to hold the mouth of the balloon open then turned on a large fan that blasted up to 90,000 cubic feet of air into the envelope. It took about 30 minutes for it to be fully extended.

Pete did a flight check. Landings, he said, can be bumpy so we should squat or bend our knees so as not to injure ourselves.

Once the balloon was full of air, he lit the propane tank, righted the basket (or gondola) and told us to climb in. It’s about a 3 feet high step over the lower edge of the gondola – you can’t be dainty about it and if you’re a woman, it’s better to wear pants. Running or flat shoes are also preferable.

As we slowly – it almost didn’t feel like we were moving – and noiselessly left the ground, Pete told us that hot air ballooning started in France in 1783 when Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes piloted the first manned craft. Ten years later, in Philadelphia, Jean-Pierre Blanchard flew the first balloon in the U.S. Today, there are balloon festivals in nearly every state.

About 80 balloonists participated in this year’s Adirondack Balloon Festival among them, some specially shaped ones with distinctive names: Snobird Penguin, Humpty, Betty Jean Butterfly, Joelly the Baby Bee, Sunny Boy, Pandy, Stinky, the Purple People Eater and Pig Headed. 

As the balloons climbed above the tarmac, the bluest of skies turned all colors of the rainbow. The sun was brilliant, the winds no more than 8 mph – perfect for flying. We glided leisurely over the airport, drifting noiselessly down, rising again as Pete lit the burner to heat the air inside the envelope, then up again. As we passed over a tree, Pete brought the balloon down so we should pick a leaf then bringing it close to another balloon for a “kiss” (bumping another balloon mid-air). 

When it was time to land, Pete looked for a large cloth spread on the ground – a sign that the home owner is inviting balloons to land on his property.  Each balloonist rewards the owner for his kindness with a bottle of champagne.

Once we landed, Pete and Bryan packed up the balloon and the basket, loaded them onto the truck and drove us back to the festival grounds. There, Scott, his brother opened a bottle of champagne and toasted the ride with the Balloonist Prayer.

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

The next Adirondack Balloon Festival will be September 22-25, 2016. Visit the site for a schedule of balloon events around the US.

Resources –

  • CNY Balloon Rides, LLC Peter Griswold, pilot 315-263.6124 
  • Above All Balloon Rides, Scott Griswold, pilot 315-263-0385