Rocking Down Electric Avenue, Brixton

Electric Avenue is the Brixton, South London street that gave its name to the song that was No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1983. I know the song and started humming it immediately after I spotted this sign above a row of stalls in Brixton Market last summer. However, I did not know about the street. 

Electric Avenue Brixton

What a happy coincidence, I thought as I stopped to take this photo. I looked forward to sharing my find with family and friends when I returned home.

A few days later, as I walked down Electric Avenue with one of my cousins, a history buff and a child of Brixton, he pointed to the sign and waving his hand towards the street, announced quite proudly, “This is the first market street in all of Britain to get electricity, that’s why it’s called Electric Avenue. It doesn’t look like much now but can you imagine how it would have looked then?”  I couldn’t but he had my attention. 

Electric Avenue runs between Brixton Road and Atlantic Avenue. It has had electricity since 1888. Old photos show an elegant, gently curved street of Victorian row houses with distinctive iron canopies.

Electric Avenue, 1912
Electric Avenue, 1912 from urban75.0rg

Now part of Brixton Market, Electric Avenue is a bustling area of street and indoor markets with restaurants, coffee shops, and stalls selling clothing, household goods, meat, fish, vegetables, and produce from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.  Except for the canopies, which were removed in the 1980s because of damages they had sustained from World War II bombs, Electric Avenue looks much like it did in 1912. The row houses are still there though they’re now partly obscured by vending stalls.

By the time the British Guyanese singer, songwriter and producer, Eddy Grant’s eponymous song became a hit (in 1982 in Britain, 1983 in the US), Brixton had been home to thousands of Caribbean and African immigrants who began pouring into the area in 1948.

With few jobs and poor housing, crime spiraled. In 1981, the police instituted the ‘sus law’ that allowed them to stop and search anyone they suspected of criminal activity. A riot broke out causing hundreds of injuries, damage to property and scores of arrests. Although there is no mention of the word ‘riot’ in Electric Avenue (the song), and no rioting on Electric Avenue (the street) , it is this riot that Grant references.

Electric Avenue is easily accessible from the Brixton Underground and several London bus routes, including the 109, 250, 333 and 415.

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

 

Budget Travelers Sandbox

Top Five Budget Destinations for 2016

For those seeking a memorable holiday that won’t break the bank, in this piece we’ve selected 5 budget destinations for 2016. These fabulous locations offer value for money while ensuring you get some indulgent luxury on your holiday.

Bulgaria
With some of the most affordable beach resorts in Europe, sun-kissed Bulgaria may not remain a well-kept secret for long. The famed resort town of Sunny Beach offers a hedonistic mix of nightlife, beachside restaurants and luxury resorts. It’s all available at half the cost of the more popular coastal hangouts of Spain, Greece and Italy. Aside from beachside bliss, visitors can travel further inland for adventurous pursuits from skiing to rock climbing and caving.

Mexico
El Castillo @ Chichén Itzá
Travelling to a far flung paradise may seem like a costly option but the great value all-inclusive resorts of Mexico remain an exception. In the lively region of Cancun, you can stay in luxury without the price tag and there are plenty of nearby attractions to enjoy. Swim with dolphins at Mexico’s largest eco park, admire the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and scuba dive the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Portugal
Whether you’re planning a family vacation or seeking a romantic retreat, Portugal’s rugged coast is guaranteed to impress. The Algarve is home to a selection of resorts with something to cater for all budgets. In a region famed for its endless days of sunshine, it’s a great choice for fans of the outdoors. Hiking the many coastal paths promises stunning scenery that won’t cost you a penny.

Greece
Ia
Few places in Europe offer the scenic beauty and romantic allure of the Greek Islands. Although you’ll be spoilt for choice, Corfu remains one of the more affordable options and there are plenty of secluded places to stay. San Stefanos on the north of the island remains quiet throughout much of the year and features hidden coves without the crowds of tourists. Alternatively, those who enjoy some nightlife should stay at the town of Kos where megaclubs regularly host international DJs.

Spain
Spain’s Costa Del Sol which translates to ‘Coast of the Sun’ is a holidaymaker’s haven. With scores of boutique hotels and sprawling resorts to choose from, prices remain competitive throughout much of the year. For an authentic taste of the region, travel to Estepona which has kept its traditional charm intact. The winding streets of this coastal town are home to stunning historical architecture and some of the best tapas restaurants in the region.

Travel to one of these destinations on your next adventure, save some money and create some lasting memories. A trip to any of these destinations can be organised quickly and easily online. Once you go, you’ll never look at budget holidays the same way again.

Images by Redeo and Μanu used under Creative Commons License.

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On Location in New York City

Several times a month, especially in the summer, I see ‘No Parking’ signs like these taped to utility poles in my neighborhood. I always stop and read them.

On Location in New York
No Parking sign, Harlem 

Which movie or television show will they be filming?

According to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment’s website, New York City had a supporting role in 46 television series and 256 movies during the 2014-2015 season. The industry contributed $8.7 billion to the local economy.

With this much filmed entertainment, it’s not surprising to spot a star or two. But the city, with its many iconic locations, is without doubt, the real attraction.

Late last year, I took the When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour, which On Location Tour organizes. Starting from 55th Street near 8th Avenue, the bus tour winds it way around the Columbus Circle area into Upper Manhattan revealing 30 spots that were featured in classic and contemporary movies or television shows.

Tour guides are local actors and actresses who know all about the City’s rich movie history and share them eagerly.

As the tour got underway, our guide (sorry, I neglected to note his name) asked us to share where we were from. There were people from Toronto, Tokyo, Australia, Brazil, the Midwest, California and other parts of the US but I was the only person from New York.

The first location our guide pointed out was the Soup Man. You might remember it from Seinfeld. About the size of a New York deli, I had passed it without even noticing.

On Location in New York
Soup Man

Towards Columbus Circle, our guide drew our attention to the statue of Christopher Columbus, which can be seen in several movies, including Ghostbusters.

On Location in New York
Lincoln Center fountain (photo taken prior to the tour)

Leaving Columbus Circle, we headed to the Upper West Side and Lincoln Center’s famous fountain. It’s really an impressive sight, especially at night. We didn’t stop but if you get a chance, go see it or look for it in Moonstruck, Glee, Sweet Home Alabama and Pitch Perfect.

At 69th Street and Columbus Avenue, we found the location, now an organic cleaners, of Meg Ryan’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail.

We stopped for photos of Tom’s Restaurant at Broadway and 112th Street. Seinfeld fans will recognize it as Monks.

On Location in New York
Tom’s Restaurant, Monk’s in Seinfeld

Still on the Upper West Side, we cruised pass Café Luxemborg, which you might remember from When Harry Met Sally, then stopped at long enough at Café Lalo for those who wanted to could get coffee. Café Lalo is where Tom Hanks attempted to meet Meg Ryan for their date in You’ve Got Mail.

On Location Cafe Lalo
Cafe Lalo

If you’ve seen Manhattan, with Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, you might have seen Zabar’s on 80th & Broadway. Carmine’s on 91st was in Keeping the Faith with Ed Norton and Ben Stiller.

Central Park has played supporting roles in movies like Home Alone II, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Smurfs, Friends with Benefits, Angels in America, Elf, Kramer vs Kramer, and The Avengers.

On the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile, you’ll find the Museum of the City of New York where the star of television’s Gossip Girl goes to school; the Guggenheim Museum where Isaac and Mary meet in Manhattan; also Men in Black, When in Rome, and other movies.

On Location in New York
Carmine’s – Keeping the Faith

Further down Fifth Avenue is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, our last stop. Who doesn’t want to sit on the graceful Met Steps, like the Gossip Girl did? The Met was also the setting for I Am Legend, When Harry Met Sally, Hitch and Maid in Manhattan.
The Carnegie Mansion was the backdrop for films like Arthur, Working Girl and Marathon Man.

We passed by these other Upper East Side locations before returning to 55th & 8th Avenue: the Lutheran Church featured in the Devil’s Advocate, the New York Armory in Boardwalk Empire (television show), the Met Life Building in Superman, Barney’s in Will and Grace, the Pierre Hotel in Scent of a Woman and the St. Regis Hotel from Miss Congeniality.

Current shows that are filmed in New York: the Blacklist, Blue Bloods, Elementary, Good Wife, Law & Order SVU, Limitless, Madam Secretary, Mysteries of Laura. Morning and late night shows such as Saturday Night Live, the Today Show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Good Morning America, Live with Kelly & Michael, The View, The Chew, the Rachel Ray Show.

Also filmed in New York: Bridge of Spies, On the Town, On the Waterfront and West Side Story.

When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour Particulars

Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Cost: $37 (adults), $21 (children)
You meet the tour bus at McGhee’s on 55th between Broadway and 8th Avenue

The When Harry Met Seinfeld Tour was complimentary; this recap my own.

 

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

Budget Travelers Sandbox

9Also linking to Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, TheCrowdedPlanet, ContentedTraveller, Safari254, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders.

Mail and Fly Gets Your Items Back from Airport Security

Mail and Fly is a service that sends you your items that have been confiscated by airport security.

Last August, I watched as my knapsack glided down the conveyor belt at Heathrow Airport and suddenly veered into another lane. It stopped behind a few others that were being hand checked by a security agent.

What did I have in my bag that caused it to need further inspection?

I searched my brain trying to remember what I’d stuffed into my bag. Nothing I could think of caused me to be concerned.

May I search your bag? she asked as she got to my bag.

You may, I replied.

I was impressed that she even asked but did I really have a choice? Not if I wanted to fly that day.

She pulled out my small cosmetic bag, took out my liquid lipstick, mascara, eye drops and a small tube (30 ml) of hand cream and put them into a clear plastic bag. Even though there was room to spare, she still weighed them.

I can’t tell you how many international airports I’ve traveled through with roughly the same items (which are as essential as food for some of us women) and they never raised an eyebrow – sculpted or not.

She continued rifling through my bag and when she took out two bottles of jam and said ‘we have to take these,’ I realized why my bag was flagged.

It’s jam, I said. Like surely, that can’t be prohibited.

No liquids, aerosols or gels, she replied dryly.

But it’s jam, I protested. It’s not exactly a liquid, neither is it an aerosol or gel. I was baffled and steaming.

I had bought the jams at the Jane Austen Center in Bath. Mindful of weight and airport security, I had selected the smallest size – about 3 ounces. The bottle, with the Jane Austen Centre label and its little fabric cover was charming. I was looking forward to spreading some on crackers and enjoying it with a soothing pot of tea when I returned to New York. Now they were being confiscated.

According to the UK Government website, liquid and semi-liquid foods such as soups, jams, honey and syrups are not allowed in hand luggage. 

The question I’d love an answer to is, how can anyone use jam to take down a plane?

She must have seen my disappointment.

If you really want them, she said, you can have them sent to you.

I perked up. Really?

We can send them to you via Mail and Fly.

I’d never heard of Mail and Fly, which operates only in the UK, US and Sweden at the moment. She explained that it is a service that sends you your items that have been confiscated by airport security. 

What a fantastic idea, I thought.

She walked away and returned a few minutes later with a large plastic bag into which she put my jam, sealed it and gave me its detachable flap that had a number and barcode.

Enter this number at the website and follow the instructions to get your jam mailed to you.

I logged into the site a few days after I returned to New York, mostly curious to see what it would cost to have my jams, which I paid about $5 each for, shipped.

Except for a little glitch with entering the item number (their instruction said to include the airport code but I discovered that it wasn’t necessary), the site was easy to navigate. 

However, instead of the $30 or so I was willing to pay, my total was now a whopping £80.94! Back in August, it would have been $124.88.

Had this been a treasured item, sure, I’d grit my teeth and spend the money. But jam, even Jane Austen jam, couldn’t pry that money from my hands.

Mail and Fly keeps your item for up to 42 days. On October 7th, I received a follow-up email from Mail and Fly that the status of my item had changed. I logged in to find out that my jams were discarded. I wonder if it was or if it ended up in a store that sells items that have been confiscated by airport security.

Resources:

Check the TSA list of items that are prohibited from entering the US and a discussion of liquids. The UK list is almost similar.  

 

The Secret Cottage Tour of The Cotswolds, II

Leaving Chastleton House, we drove directly to the Secret Cottage, which is about 5 minutes away. Built in 1580, the cottage has the typical thatched roof, with kitchen and living room downstairs, and sleeping quarters upstairs. 

Secret Cottage
Secret Cottage

When we arrived, we were greeted with a colorful spread of scones, clotted cream, cookies, jams, coffee and tea. 

Cotswolds Strawberries

Cotswolds Tea

With its crackling fire (sorry, no pics of the fireplace or the family’s living space), the cottage felt so cozy, I could have been tempted to stay but we had a full itinerary. Leaving the cottage, we stopped to admire Becky’s garden with its beautiful blooms. (Wish I knew more about flowering plants.) 

Secret Cottage garden
Secret Cottage garden

Cotswolds Secret Cottage bees

Cotswolds Secret Cottage succulents
Secret Cottage succulents

I took a few shots of the flowers but I was most interested in the thatched roof. According to Robin, our driver, the roof is made from Norfolk or water reed and costs approximately £30,000 (about $45,000).

Detail of a thatched roof
Detail of a thatched roof we saw in one of the villages

The reed, which is waterproof, is cut, dried and installed in layers. Once installed, the roof keeps the home warm in winter and cool in summer. I was surprised to hear that these roofs can last about 50 years. The ridge, however, must be replaced every 20 years. (Wonder how long a conventional roof lasts?)

Upper Oddington

Our next stop was the village of Lower Oddington, a preserved area with no new buildings.

Cotswolds Street

The two villages, Upper and Lower Oddington, have about 400 residents. We exchanged waves and hellos to a few of them as we left the car. 

Cotswolds Beauty

Adlestrop

Next was Adlestrop, a pretty little village of about 120 people. Adlestrop has a post office and a church, St. Mary Magdalene. 

The poet, Edward Thomas (1878-1917) wrote a poem around 1912 which celebrated its beauty. Sadly, Thomas died in WWI, 5 years after the poem was published.

Adlestrop Post Office
Adlestrop Post Office

Jane Austen stayed at Adlestrop House, which was then the rectory where her mother’s cousin, the Rev. Thomas Leigh, lived. Adlestrop House was Austen’s inspiration for her novel, Mansfield Park

Adlestrop House
Adlestrop House
Cotswolds St. Mary Magdalene Church Adlestrop
St. Mary Magdalene Church
Cotswolds Adelstrop hedge
A thatched cottage in Adlestrop

Great Tew

When Mr. Boulton, the owner of the manor house died in 1914, he didn’t leave an heir. Fifty years later, they found someone to assume ownership but in the intervening years, many of the cottages fell into disrepair, some swallowed by thick vegetation.

Great Tew
Great Tew

Robin said that the new lord sold two of the paintings from the manor and got enough to renovate. Of 100 cottages, 80 are thatched, 90 are owned by the manor.

Cottage overrun by vegetation
Cottage overrun by vegetation
Falklands Arms
Falklands Arms

Approximately 150 people live in the village, which has a pub, the Falkland Arms.

The Rollright Stones

Near Chippen Norton, Robin slowed and pointed to the location of the Rollright Stones, a monument about the same age as Stonehenge. The Rollright Stones further establishes that this type of monument construction was common in prehistoric Britain. 

Cotswolds Dry Stone Walls

Dry stone walls, like these are an enduring feature of the Cotswolds. Surprisingly, they are made without mortar or cement and can last for many years with little attention.

Cotswolds stone fence
Dry stone wall, made without mortar or cement
Stone wall, detail
Stone wall, detail

Bourton-On-The Water

We drove through this picturesque town that is large enough (approximately 3,000 people live there) to accommodate tour buses, hence it receives lots of visitors. Bourton-On-The-Water is located on the  River Windrush.

Upper and Lower Slaughter

Upper and Lower Slaughter (from the Old English word, Slohtre, which means muddy place) are two pretty villages located on the River Eye.  Upper Slaughter is called a “sainted village” because it lost no one in WWI. `

Cotswolds Lower Slaughter
Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter

Cotswolds Lower Slaughter4

Lower Slaughter has a waterwheel, and an old mill which has been converted into a tea shop and store. Although it is located near Bourton-On-The-Water, because of the narrow streets to the village, Lower Slaughter isn’t accessible to large tour buses.   

Approximately 170 people live in Upper Slaughter, 200 in Lower Slaughter.

Cotswolds Thatched Roof Cotswolds Thatched house

We also drove through the villages of Wyck Rissenton and Cornwell before returning to Secret Cottage for coffee and tea. Robin took us back to the train station at Merton-in-Marsh in time to catch the train to London. 

Some Old English Words and Meaning

Chest, Shire – fortified settlement.
Chipping, from ‘cheapen’  – market.
City – has a cathedral.
Comb or Combe – valley.
Cots – sheep.
Dovecot or dovecote – a place for doves and pigeons. The scrapings are collected and used to fertilize the fields. Its size is usually a sign of the wealth of the landowner.
Ford, as in Oxford – a way across a river.
Ham, e.g., Cheltenham – a settlement.
Slaughter, e.g., Upper Slaughter – from Slohtre meaning a marshy, muddy area.
Staddle stones – used to prop up graneries to keep the rats out.
Ton, e.g., Oddington – an enclosure.
Town – a community of 1,000 people or more.
Wold, Wolde – a hill.

Some Famous Residents of The Cotswolds

David Cameron, PM
Kate Winslet
Hugh Grant
Patrick Stewart
Kate Moss

Secret Cottage Tour Details

6-hour guided tour of select Northern Cotswolds villages, tea, coffee, pastries, buffet lunch, and traditional cream tea – £85 or US122. For more info, check out the Secret Cottage site. Enjoy!

 

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

Budget Travelers Sandbox

The Secret Cottage Tour of The Cotswolds, I

The Cotswolds covers an area of approximately 100 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south, and about 25 miles from Oxford in the east to Cheltenham in the west.

The region is covered in oolitic limestone, called Cotswold stone, which varies from honey colored in the north, to golden in the central areas, and cream or white in the south.

The stone is mined from local quarries (some still in operation) and used in building the distinctive cottages and churches, and walls, made without mortar or cement, that crisscross the area. Full of rolling hills and open spaces, The Cotswolds was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966.

Cotswolds Countryside
Cotswolds Countryside

The Cotswolds has been on my radar for a few years and as soon as I decided to visit relatives in London, I started looking for tours to the area. I opted for a walking tour so that, like a delicious meal, I could move slowly and savor the experience.

Unfortunately, after one too many glasses of wine at my cousin’s birthday party the night before, my enthusiasm lost the battle to exhaustion. Although I woke up on time, I felt tired and instead of pushing myself, I relaxed. 

Later, as my energy and reasoning returned, I started to regret not forcing myself to go. I knew I’d kick myself when I returned to New York so I pulled out my iPad and began another search.

I looked for tours of no more than 15 people that offered pickup from a railway station. Several fit the bill. I was about to book one I thought I’d like when I saw Secret Cottage‘s 6-hour guided tour of “hidden villages that are inaccessible to public transport.” I was sold. 

In addition, according to Secret Cottage’s website, Becky, the owner, would invite us in for a peek at her cottage offer traditional English cream tea and pastries, as well as lunch.   

I was excited (did a little Happy Dance), relieved and justified that I didn’t push myself to do the walking tour. The Secret Cottage tour would definitely be better – I knew it! 

A few days later, I was on the 7:50 a.m. train from Paddington Station for the 90-minute ride to Moreton-in-Marsh (such a descriptive name, isn’t it?) in the Northern Cotswolds where Becky’s driver would pick me up at 10:15.

Cotswolds Merton in Marsh

Two Mercedes SUVs pulled into the station’s parking lot at 10:15 sharp. Once the drivers sorted out who was waiting for the tour, we split into two groups of seven and got into the cars.   

As Robin, our driver, eased out of the parking lot, he explained that the name Cotswolds comes from the Old English words, Cots (sheep, sheep pen) and Wold (hill). He also gave us a brief history of wool and its impact on the area.

A Wooly History of The Cotswolds 

England, in the Middle Ages, was famous for its wool and the best fleece came from the Cotswolds, from the local Cotswold sheep. By the 15th century, wool was the country’s main industry.

England was so wrapped up in wool that the Lord Chancellor of the House of Lords sat on a woolsack, a chair made of wool.

During Charles II’s reign, the Burial in Wool Act of 1667 and 1678 directed that all bodies (except those who died from the Plague) had to be buried in wool; the coffins lined with the material. Anyone who violated the Act had to pay a fine. This Act stayed in effect until 1814!

The demand for wool created great wealth for The Cotswolds area merchants built lavish homes and fine churches. Many of these churches (called wool churches) were so large they dwarfed the villages in which they were located. 

By the 1700-1800s, however, competition from wool production in other parts of the world caused a decline in the English wool industry and without a diversified economy, the country and The Cotswolds suffered. The decline had another effect: that of preserving much of The Cotswolds architecture that now makes it special.

Though wool is no longer its primary product, you can still see sheep grazing in the fields, as well as acres of barley, wheat, corn and rapeseed.

Chastleton Village, Chastleton House

As we drove from Moreton-in-Marsh to Chastleton Village, which has about 30 homes and 75 residents, Robin explained that villages have about 100 people, towns about 1,000, and a city has a cathedral.

Villages typically had a large house for the landowner, smaller cottages for the workers as well as a church, a shop and a school. The cottages traditionally had a room with a fireplace and kitchen on the main floor, living quarters on the upper floor that were accessible by a ladder.

Chastleton House
Chastleton House

Though it wasn’t open yet, we stopped to have a look at Chastleton House, which was built between 1607 and 1612 for Walter Jones. The house stayed in the family until 1991, when the National Trust acquired it. Seen from the main gate, it is quite impressive. 

Chastleton House, back view
Chastleton House, back view

Robin led us round the back of Chastleton House, which was protected by a wall however, I was able to climb up and snap a photo.  The best view was of the Topiary Garden.

Topiary Garden
Topiary Garden

A church, St. Mary’s, which dates to the 12th century, is located near the house. 

St. Mary's Church
St. Mary’s Church
Dovecote or Dovecot
Dovecote or Dovecot

Across the street, there’s a dovecot or dovecote, basically a large birdhouse for pigeons and doves where workers collect the droppings to use as fertilizer. The size of the dovecote is usually a pretty good indicator of the wealth of the owner. 

One famous resident of Chastleton House was Robert Catesby, the leader of the famous Gunpowder Plot, the failed 1605 assassination plot against King James I.  

In 1866, croquet rules were standardized at Chastleton House. It was also one of the locations for the 2015 BBC series, Wolf Hall.

Chastleton House is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12:30 – 3 from March to October, 12:30 – 4 from April to September.

 

In Part II, we’ll go on a tour of Upper Oddington, Adlestrop, Great Tew, and Upper and Lower Slaughter. Hope you stay tuned.

Linking up 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. Be sure to head over and check out more travel photos from around the world.

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
Also linking with Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Michele at Malaysian MeandersReflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, ContentedTraveller, Albom Adventures, Safari 254, and FamiliesGo.
 

A Photo Review of 2015

The end of the year usually inspires reflection on the year that’s ending and a look forward to the one that’s approaching.

Maybe it’s getting older, but it seems like time moves more quickly now (I’m beginning to hear myself lamenting its rapid passage just like my mother did. I, however, prefer to think that I’m packing in 1000% more into my life, and this makes the days, weeks and months zip by in a blur). So it’s good to have this time to slow down and look back.

Photos are great for doing that. Think of them as moments of emotions frozen in time, that are re-released each time you look at them.

Unlike previous years, I didn’t have many new travel experiences in 2015 – or so it seemed until I started looking at my photos, a lot of which never made it to the blog because I didn’t post as often as I used to.

Still, whether I’m in Montego Bay or New York, I’m in a prime vacation destination. People, lots of them, leave home to see the things I pass by without noticing.

A Photo Review of New York

Take Times Square, for example. I avoid it as much as I can but every so often, it surprises me. Like the night I was hurrying through after seeing a play and saw this: two giant, colorfully illuminated lights wishing Happy Birthday to the late Bob Marley, the reggae superstar who would have been 70 last February 6th.

Times Square Marks Bob Marley's 70th
Times Square Marks Bob Marley’s 70th

Later that month, during Japan Week, I watched as a bride-to-be (winner of a contest) was dressed in a traditional wedding kimono, called uchikake, in Grand Central Station. Japan is a country steeped in culture and tradition so it was fascinating to watch this demonstration. 

On a personal note: I started learning Japanese this year. Hopefully, by the time I make it to Tokyo, I’ll know enough to get around.  

Bride-to-be being dressed in traditional wedding kimono
Bride-to-be being dressed in a traditional wedding kimono – Japan Week 2015

It goes without saying that the arts are big in New York. Here’s a look back at a few of the exhibitions I saw last year. 

I went twice to Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery to see Romare Bearden’s collages, drawings and watercolors that he based on Homer’s epic poem, The Odessy. I’m a Bearden fan – I even have one of his collages – but this piece touched me to the core. 

House in Cotton Field, Romare Bearden
House in Cotton Field, Romare Bearden

At the Brooklyn Museum, I revisited Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, which is on permanent display. Each time I see it, I marvel at Chicago’s vision and her celebration of womanhood.

The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago
The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago

Also at BAM, I saw Kehinde Wiley’s, A New Republic – portraits of contemporary blacks painted against Old Master backgrounds, like the one below of Michael Jackson on a horse. I also breezed through (the museum was closing) Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Unknown Notebooks

Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson) Kehinde Wiley
Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson) Kehinde Wiley

I rush to see Cecile McLorin Salvant, who at 25, has been called a jazz “phenom.” The Grammy Award winning artist has a voice that recalls Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Betty Carter. She grabs hold of your attention whether she’s singing in English or French, her own compositions or jazz standards.

Cecile McLorin Salvant performing at Ginny's Supper Club
Cecile McLorin Salvant performing at Ginny’s Supper Club

When the Whitney Museum of American Art relocated to its new building in the Meatpacking District this spring, it hosted a Block Party that drew thousands of visitors. Although I hate crowds, I was curious to see the new space. Plus, the warm temperature made it the perfect weekend – the one where you linger over brunch, look at art and take long walks. 

Museum goers at the Whitney Museum's Block Party
Museum goers at the Whitney Museum’s Block Party

We waited on line for close to an hour (the museum handed out bottled water) however, by the time we got to the inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See, I was so over stimulated visually, I couldn’t appreciate anything I saw. I just wanted to get back outside. 

High Line Park
High Line Park

We walked the length of the High Line from the Whitney (Gansevoort Street, south entrance) to the north end at 34th Street. It was a glorious day to be out.  

In June, we saw Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt, run the 200 meters at the Adidas Grand Prix at Ichan Stadium. 

Usain Bolt after winning the 200m, Ichan Stadium
Usain Bolt after winning the 200m, Ichan Stadium

I love going to Coney Island but I prefer the quiet of the off-season when there are no crowds and I can hear the sounds of the waves crashing to shore, birds cawing overhead, walk the beach and look for shells.  

Luna Park, Coney Island
Luna Park, Coney Island
Coney Island beach. Where's Everyone?
Coney Island beach. Where’s Everyone?

Soon the hectic pace of summer gives way to the calm of fall. This year, we hosted Pope Francis, as well as more than 150 heads of state, including President Barack Obama, at the UN General Assembly.

Since my office is close to the UN and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the Pope celebrated mass, I had to plan ahead to avoid street closures and ‘frozen zones.’ I’ve never seen Fifth Avenue so deserted. 

Fifth Avenue closed for the Pope's visit
Fifth Avenue closed for the Pope’s visit

The first Sunday in November, the city slows down for elite and everyday runners and wheelchair athletes who come from all over the world to participate in the New York City Marathon.  

Wheelchair athletes
Wheelchair athlete – I doubt this is as simple as it looks
Marathoners
Marathoners, photo taken from my window 

New York does it up big for Christmas and the UNICEF Snowflake Star at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue is an important symbol of the season. 

The Star
The Star

A Photo Review of 2015’s Memorable Eats

Aren’t these cupcakes eye-catching? 

St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes
St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

When I lived in DC, my colleagues and I would go to Cristfield Seafood for lunch every payday. My favorite thing on the menu: a cup of lobster bisque and a shrimp salad sandwich. The salad was so stuffed with shrimp, I’d save half for dinner.

I returned to Cristfield’s after my White House tour and was pleasantly surprised to find the bisque and the sandwich taste exactly the same as they did the last time I had them – more than 10 years ago.

Shrimp Salad Sandwich
Shrimp Salad Sandwich

Whenever we visit my friends in Toronto, they always have a hot, new restaurant for us to check out. Last time, it was Quatrefoil and I selected this entree.

Year in Review - Quatrefoil Restaurant, Toronto
Salmon Meal, Quatrefoil Restaurant, Toronto 

The first time I had bangers and mash was at The Shakespeare in New York City, just before my trip to London. My writing group had one of our social events here. 

Bangers and Mash, The Shakespeare
Bangers and Mash, The Shakespeare

My 2015 Travels in Review

So where did I go in 2015? I visited Toronto a few times but my major trip was to London. I’ve written several posts about London, Stonehenge and Oxford. Stay tuned for my posts about Edinburgh, where I spent a day. 

If you read paperbacks, I’m sure you recognize the logo. This plaque marks the location where Penguin published its first paperback. 

Penguin
Penguin

Ede & Ravenscroft, London’s oldest tailor and robe makers, has been around since 1689. In case you’re wondering, they also do women’s clothing.

Ede & Ravenscroft Royal Robe Makers
Ede & Ravenscroft Royal Robe Makers

This needs little explanation.

Look Right
Look Right 

Red phone boxes similar to these probably made their way to all of Britain’s colonies – we had some in Jamaica. But with cellphones so ubiquitous these days, phone boxes are not so necessary anymore. After I took this photo, I noticed that there was a guy sleeping in the middle booth. 

Iconic Red Phone Booths
Iconic Red Phone Booths

I look forward to flying into Laguardia Airport for one reason – this incredible view of New York City.

Aerial View of New York CityAerial View of New York City

Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog and for taking this look back through 2015 with me. 

In appreciation for your support, I’d like to offer you a chance to win one of ten GPSMyCity‘s Self-Guided City Walks Apps. The app is available on iOS and Android and you can select one for the city of your choice (Please check the GPSMyCity for a list of cities). 

If you’re one of the ten lucky winners, you’ll receive a promo code that will allow you to download a full, FREE version of a City Walks app. The app includes a detailed, fully functional city map and several carefully selected self-guided city walks.

 
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Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday, hosted by Nancie at Budget Travellers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations. Be sure to check them out!

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Christmas in Manhattan

Christmas is only a day away but with temperatures in the 60s here in New York, if the city hadn’t decked itself out for the season as spectacularly as it has, you might be tempted to think it’s Spring.

To be honest, I’ve been a little preoccupied with work – and a cold that for the last two weeks has stubbornly refused to clear up. A few weeks ago, though, I read Michele at Malaysian Meanders’ post about Saks Fifth Avenue’s Enchanting Holiday Windows and was inspired.

Saks Lights

I was also surprised, pleasantly so, to see a place I’m familiar with through someone else’s eyes. Instead of rushing past Saks’ window, as I normally do, after reading Michele’s post, I slowed down and looked, not just at Saks but also at the city. 

Saks Light Show6

I started looking at the decorations with different eyes – how long it takes to plan each show, how many people and time it takes to decorate and dismantle each display, what electrical cost might be, etc.  

Saks Light Show4

One Friday evening after work, I walked by Saks to take some photos and was surprised by the crush of people who had gathered outside the store to look at the windows. There was hardly room to walk as people stood cameras in hand, mesmerized by the light show which is synchronized to Christmas music. Being rush hour, traffic practically inched along Fifth Ave. 

Saks Light Show1

But it was worth standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-Ninth Street and watch for while. As the music washed over me, I felt my somewhat indifferent feeling towards Christmas lift. I smiled as I remembered Christmases past. 

Saks Light Show2

As I walked towards the bus stop that evening, I decided to get out by 7 a.m. to take some photos without the crowds and the traffic.

The following morning, I hit the main spots: Rockefeller Center, Saks, 59th Street. 

Across the street from Saks is Rockefeller Center and the famous Christmas tree. This is the view towards the Rockefeller Center skating rink.

Rockefeller Christmas
Rockefeller Center Angels

 And the view towards Saks. 

Rockefeller Angels1
Looking towards Saks, from Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Christmas2

The corner of Fifty-Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue is lined with high end stores, like Tiffany, Bulgari, Bendel’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Burberry, Piaget – you get the idea – and they’re awash in lights.

Christmas 2015 Harry Winston

Harry Winston shimmers like diamonds – each window a well thought out setting.

Harry Winston Lights 

Bulgari
Bulgari

Bulgari, detail

Christmas 2015 Tiffany Splendour.
Tiffany’s
Piaget's
Piaget’s

 

New York Star

Christmas 2015 58th Street Lights
59th Street

Merry Christmas!

How does your city celebrate the season? 

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday which is 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

The White House Tour

Approximately 2000 people visit the White House daily. Last month, I was one of them. I’d been thinking about visiting for a while but kept putting it off because I thought it would be difficult to get in, and I’d have to get up really early.  Turns out it was pretty straight forward. I mentioned it to one of my aunts who lives in the area and she did the rest. 

Once the date was confirmed, we received a welcome note with instructions and a list of prohibited and allowable items.

Welcome to the White House

The White House is the official residence of the president of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in NW Washington, DC. The residence was designed by James Hoban and built between 1792 and 1800.

White House from Pennsylvania Ave
The White House from Pennsylvania Ave

John Adams, the second president of the US was its first resident. He moved to the White House in November 1800 but didn’t live there long as he was defeated by Thomas Jefferson who took up residence in 1801.

View from the Ground Floor
View from the Ground Floor

Prior to 1811, the White House was known as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion or President’s House.

Here are the highlights of the self-guided tour.

The Library 

White House Peek at the Library
A peek inside the White House Library

On the ground floor, I drooled over a sumptuous display of presidential china, some dating back 200 years. There’s also the White House Library which has over 2700 books on American life. We weren’t allowed in but the door was open, so I snapped this photo. 

The Grand Staircase connects the main floor to the first or State floor, where the Green Room, Red Room and Blue Room as well as the State Dining Room are located. In addition to the Ground and State Floors, there are the Second and Third Floors and basement, which takes up two floors.

The Green Room

The Green Room
The Green Room

Thomas Jefferson hosted dinners in the Green Room which has been a parlor since James Madison’s presidency. You’ll see John and Abigail Adams’ silver coffee urn and James and Dolly Madison’s French candlesticks. The American furniture was made 1800-1815.  

The Blue Room

The Blue Room
The Blue Room

Oval in size, the Blue Room is used as a reception room. President James Monroe furnished the room in the French style in 1817. Original objects include gilded chairs, sofa and the clock on the mantel. Grover Cleveland, the only president to have a White House wedding, married Frances Folsom in 1886 in the Blue Room.

The Red Room

The Red Room
The Red Room

First ladies receive their guests in the Red Room, which has been used as a parlor since the early 19th century. The Red Room is also where President Rutherford Hayes took the oath of office in 1877. The American Empire style furniture was made in New York, 1810-1830. The marble mantle has been in the White House since 1819.

The State Dining Room

State Dining Room
State Dining Room

The White House hosts official dinners in the State Dining Room. As many as 140 can be seated in this room. The presidents and their families use the smaller dining room.

View of the North
View of the North Entrance

White House exteri

As this is a self-guided tour, you can go at your own pace. It took us about 2 hours to complete. National Park Service employees, posted in each room, are available to answer questions.

White House Tour Essentials

Admission to the White House is free. US citizens must contact their Member of Congress to request a tour, non citizens must contact their embassy in Washington, DC.
Tours are available Monday to Saturday, except on public holidays.
US citizens can use their driver’s license, military ID, or passport. Foreign nationals can also use their passports to get in.

The White House is very strict on what you cannot take in. No bags of any kind are allowed, including handbags, purses, book bags and backpacks. Also, no video cameras, tablets, iPads, camera sticks, strollers and diaper bags. You can, however, take a compact camera or camera phone for still photography only. Texting or talking is not allowed.

The most convenient way to get to the White House is by subway. Take the red, orange or blue line to Metro Center, the blue or orange line to Federal Triangle, or McPherson Square. There is also paid parking nearby. 

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 with Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Malaysian Meanders,  Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.
 

 

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