Wednesday, April 25

Tower of London


Crown Jewels of England were once kept at Westminster Abbey. Following their theft in 1303, they were moved to the Tower of London and have remained there ever since. Incredibly, the items stolen from the Abbey were recovered within days after being discovered in the window of a London jeweller's shop.

However, much of what is on display today differs from the collection stolen 700 years ago. Oliver Cromwell melted down most of the royal regalia during the English Civil War. Charles II replaced most of the destroyed items when the monarchy was restored in May 1660,. This new collection included St Edward’s Crown, which continues to be used in coronation ceremonies.


Last week Garry and I took his parents to see the Crown Jewels, along with other sights at the Tower of London. The Tower is an amazing place. Its oldest structure, the White Tower, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Today’s it’s the oldest surviving building in London. History has it that William built the tower to impress the locals as much as to protect his victorious Normans from harm. Upon completion it remained a royal residence until Oliver Crowell’s day.


The crowds were certainly out in force on Saturday. We found ourselves joining a mass throng taking part in one of the Beefeater’s ‘complimentary’ tours. With more than 900 years of history to cover, the stories we heard were many and varied.

My favourite tale was that of Thomas Culpeper, executed after committing adultery with Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII. His fate was apparently sealed by Catherine’s last words before she herself was executed. “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpepper." So much for slipping away unnoticed by the blood-thirsty crowd.

Traitor's Gate

We saw all of the usual tourist highlights including Traitor’s Gate, the infamous Ravens and carved graffiti from prisoners held in Beauchamp Tower. Some of the graffiti dates back to 1569. One name that caught my eye was Philip Howard, the 20th Earl of Arundel. He was incarcerated in the Tower in 1585 after being accused of treason. His name stood out because Garry and I toured his house last September. His final digs weren't as luxurious.


As expected the crown jewels were fabulous. While not as spectacular as the Tsar’s armory in the Kremlin, they are impressive. The Cullinan Diamond in the royal scepter is every bit a big as its record status implies - a stunning 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g). However, the item that caught my eye was the 500 pound solid gold Grand Punch Bowl. This is no ordinary punch bowl. You could drown a young adult in it, while the weight could hold back a scrum of All Black forwards.


Viewing the jewels is almost an adventure in itself. Visitors are transported past the most precious items using a slow moving conveyor belt. The belt is a great idea, ensuring that everyone gets the same viewing time. I recall that the crowd was impossible 17 years ago during my first visit to the Tower. A definite improvement, with the option of going around again. Rhonda and I did so three times. You can never have too much 'bling' in life.

All in all we had a great afternoon reliving more of London’s colourful history.

Tuesday, April 24

More adventures on the way

With so much happening at the moment I'm struggling to keep up. Over the next few days I'll be posting updates on our visit to The Tower of London, a gondola ride in Venice and a day on Murano, home to the artisans of Venetian glass.

Posts on more travel adventures will follow soon after. Next week I'll be in Milan and Munich for business and then we're off to Turkey for nine days. However, our adventures pale into insignificance compared to the latest news from Mike and Bondi on tour in Eastern Europe.

UPDATE
I've added posts on our trip to the Tower of London and a final series of tales about Venice, including a sunset gondola ride and an afternoon exploring Murano.

Temple


In March 1095 Pope Urban II called upon all Christians to join a war against Turkish Muslims attacking the Byzantine Empire. Crusader armies went on to defeat Turkish forces at Dorylaeum and Antioch, before marching on Jerusalem. The Holy city finally falling to Christian forces in 1099.

A wave of pilgrims followed as news of Jerusalem’s conquest spread across Europe. A new military order was established in 1118 to protect the growing number of religious travelers. Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici was the first of these Christian knighthoods, eventually becoming the most famous. The order, popularly known as the Knights Templar, operated for almost two hundreds before being finally disbanded by Pope Clement in 1312.


The London headquarters of the Knights Templar was based at Temple, a central city location wedged between Fleet Street and the Thames embankment. Its round church nave still stands, more than 800 years after it was built. It recently featured in the Dan Brown movie, The Da Vinci Code.

The nave is noted for nine life-size stone effigies of knights resting in the centre of the floor. Several are heavily worn and barely recognisable, while others remain in remarkably good condition. The nave is stunning, capped by a simple, vaulted wooden roof. The church has undergone extensive restoration after being set alight by German incendiary bombs during the Second World War.

Last year Garry and I tried to visit Temple but arrived after closing time. This month we finally got a chance to see inside. The building itself is rather simple but still commands respect. I still find it hard to fathom that this building has stood since 1185.


Outside the church sits a simple pillar, topped by a knight on horseback. It marks the Western edge of the Great Fire of London in 1666 where the flames were finally extinguished. This simple monument stands in stark contrast to Christopher Wren’s towering column almost 2 kms east. In London, history constantly finds itself colliding wherever you look.

Monday, April 23

Family ins and outs


We've had plenty of family coming and going in recent weeks. Hamish, Karin and the girls dropped in for dinner the night before we flew to Venice. Everyone was in good spirits after a day of tourist adventures in town. Stephanie and Nicole were particularly pleased by their ride to Swiss Cottage on a red double-decker bus.

After dinner the girls drew us pictures of the Easter Bunny with felt pens they'd picked up from Hamley's, a giant toy store on Regent Street. These were no ordinary pens. They let you draw light colours on top of dark colours - all without ruining them. We now have them on proud display by dining room table. The girls were delighted later in the evening to discover photos in the home office that they'd framed for me using tinfoil during my last visit to Austria.

Our guests also left behind some Mozartkugel chocolates. These are a truly heavenly Austrian creation. I am trying without much success to ration myself to only a small handful each day. All in all it was wonderful to see Hamish and the family again.

Last week while I was in Paris Garry's parents borrowed the car and drove North. They returned on Friday night full of tales about Blackpool, the Lakes District, Glasgow, Edinburgh and York. The ease with which they've toured has convinced Garry and I to make an effort to go North before we finally leave the UK. This week they're off to the Cotswold, Bath and Stonehenge.

Friday, April 20

Dinner on the Seine






So often I visit wonderful cities while on business and never see anything more than my hotel, the airport or the office. Two examples come to mind. I've been to Milan twice in 12 months and seen little more than the Dumo from the corner of my eye while rushing to a client event. I've also visited Bangkok three times but never left the airport.

This week, while in Paris, a group of work colleagues and I decided to make an effort and see a few of the local sights. On Tuesday night we found ourselves enjoying a delicious meal while cruising down the Seine. Bateaux Parisiens took us past many of Paris' most memorable landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides (the final resting place of Napoleon I), Museem d' Orsay and Notre-Dame.

The cruise was truly magic, watching the sun slowly set over so many classic buildings. However, for me one of the evening's more memorable highlights was passing under one stunning bridge after another. Without a doubt, everything in Paris has been thoughtfully planned, including its many bridges. Sadly, London has simply planted bridges in chaotic shapes, sizes and rather dubious aesthetics.


Main entrance to the Ritz Hotel

I've also found time to see landmark locations synonymous with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It's hard to believe the tenth anniversary of her death takes place in August. While returning from the Seine cruise on Tuesday, our hotel minibus passed through the same tunnel where Diana lost her life. It was a poignant moment as I watched the deadly tunnel pillars streak past.

The following evening we stopped at the Ritz Hotel for a cocktail in its famous courtyard. Again, the sensation was odd, passing through the same doors that feature in images taken moments before Diana sped off to her death. History really does come alive in Europe.

La Joconde


17 years after last setting foot in the Musée du Louvre I was back again today. I've been in Paris on business since Sunday, working from 8am until late evening. This afternoon I found myself with a few spare hours after such a hectic schedule. I decided to treat myself and a staff member to an afternoon tour of the Louvre's more famous highlights.

Forget the art, the Louvre is a destination all of its own. Originally a Royal Palace, it first opened to the public as a museum in 1793. French royalty lived in style. Each gallery, stairway and grand, sunlit hallway is an exquisite masterpiece of decoration and architecture. Many of the rooms have painted and gilded ceilings, progressively completed over the course of several hundred years.

The Louvre's most recent addition is the Pyramid, an enormous glass structure in the central courtyard that opened in 1989. Designed by Chinese architect Ioeh Ming Pei, the Pyramid serves as the main entrance for visitors.


Today we were in luck. There was no queues waiting to enter. Within minutes we found ourselves wandering the halls. Over the next few hours we feasted on original Egyptian artifacts, Mesopotamian antiquities, Italian sculptures and Italian paintings. We found time for most of the Louvre's most popular items including The Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo, Canova's Psyche and Cupid, Michelangelo's The Dying Slave and of course, La Joconde, more commonly known as Mona Lisa.


We also encountered several surprising works of art including an ensemble of white statues standing on a stairway in Cour Puget, an enormous glass-enclosed courtyard. Each statue held a simple clock set to the correct time. Very surreal. I was equally dumb-struck by tiled walls from the Palace of Sargon II and sheer scale of the giant bull capitals that decorated the Apadena (audience chamber) of Darius' palace at Susa.

However, the most memorable moment came as we entered the Salle des États. To our surprise the Mona Lisa stood alone in the centre of the room. We stood in front of her for several uninterrupted minutes, marvelling at both Leonardo's masterpiece and the tranquility surrounding us. We agreed that she was indeed smiling. Of course it couldn't last. As we turned to view Veronese' floor to ceiling painting of The Wedding Feast at Cana, an unruly horde of backpackers swarmed into the room. The Louvre is a magic place.


The Louvre wasn't my only art experience this week. On Wednesday afternoon we dashed down the the dusty paths of Jardin des Tuileries to the Musée de l'Orangeries des Tuileries. Here Monet's enormous water lily panoramas are on display in two simple, naturally-lit oval rooms. It was wonderful to sit for several minutes and simply absorb the peace and serenity on offer. Paris is a magical city.

Place Vendôme's central column clad in spiralling bas-relief bronze plates

Saturday, April 14

The Dame Edna Treatment


Australian entertainer Barry Humphries has played the character of Dame Edna Everage for more than 52 years. Edna first appeared during a Melbourne comedy revue in 1955. Over the years she's appeared in numerous television shows, had her own award-winning Broadway show and made guest appearances at major events like the Closing Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

Currently Edna is starring in a weekly television chat show here in the UK. Last night Garry and I secured studio audience tickets and took his parents to watch ITV record an episode of the Dame Edna Treatment. The experience was certainly memorable. Along with our tickets we were given a pass for the Green Room after the show where we met Barry Humphries over beer and champagne (along with a room full of other guests).

The guest list was fantastic. We watched Dame Shirley Bassey perform her new single, The Living Tree, due for release for on April 23. Shirley was in fine form, all but lifting the roof with her performance. The single is well worth buying. Shirley and Edna then took time out to deliver a hilarious duet of "Big Spender".

Other guests included Susan Sarandon (of Thelma and Louise fame), Kimberly Stewart (Rod Stewart's daughter), Richard O'Brien (author of the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Ian McShane. We couldn't have picked a taping with a more entertaining line-up.

All in all last night was an incredible evening of stars, laughter and entertainment.

Friday, April 13

Duge tombs and bits of coloured glass


Our second full day in Venice was spent exploring the area surrounding Chiesa dei SS Giovanni E Paolo, followed by a leisurely afternoon on the island of Murano. The first major sight of the day was Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli. This is a simple baroque church whose entire exterior and interior is clad in slabs of heavy-set, coloured marble from floor to ceiling. Everything from the pulpit bible stand to the altar balustrades were also carved from marble. The entire building is topped by a stunning wooden roof. Impressive!

We wandered on towards Chiesa dei SS Giovanni E Paolo. Here many of Venice's many Duge (city rulers) were entombed. Each successor seemed determined to out do his predecessor with an increasingly elaborate tomb. One such monument literally took an entire section of the building stretch from the floor to the rafters soaring way overhead. Other tombs had life-sized horses or bedchambers carved from enormous marble slabs. Equally stunning was the Rosary Chapel whose walls and ceiling were ornately carved and painted by masters such as Veronese.

Completed in 1430, almost 100 years after construction began, it makes for a commanding statement of wealth and power. The building is simply huge. I didn't appreciate just how big it was until we saw it from San Giorgio Maggiore's bell tower located on the opposite side of Venice. Even from this distance it dominates the skyline, standing out as an enormous red brick edifice.


After a hearty Italian coffee, we made our way to the lagoon's edge and caught a vaporetti across to Murano. This idyllic island is home to Venice's glass and crystal industry. It artisans had been effectively banished here in 1291 to reduce the risk of fire posed by the glass-working kilns. Over time Murano glass became an industry standard across Europe, so much so that glass-blowers leaving the city were charged with treason.


Murray and Rhonda spent hours visiting every gallery in search of the perfect souviner. Garry and I simply enjoyed the sun and tranquil canals while his parents vanished through doorway after doorway. Perhaps the most novel highlights of Murano were its giant coloured glass 'Christmas tree' and the simple white lighthouse standing watch over the bustling lagoon.

Our boat ride home gave us an opportunity to enjoy more of Venice's classic scenes including the Ponte di Tre Arche (triple arch bridge) and much of the Grand Canal itself. At times Venice feels like a living work of art.

Gondolas and Loggia


The gondola probably symbolizes Venice more than any other mode of transport. Four hundred years ago they were the easiest (and often the) way to move around town. Over time, smaller canals have been filled in and new footbridges have been built. As a result, today it’s often faster to reach your destination by foot rather than by boat.

However, the gondola lives on as a popular tourist pastime. Each vessel is built of wood, more than 280 pieces, assembled over a four week period by a master craftsman. Expect to pay upwards of €50,000 to take possession upon completion. Since 1630, the city has decreed that all gondolas be pained black.


On our last full day in Venice, we decided to treat ourselves to a ride through some of the cities quieter canals. As the soft light of early evening fell we boarded a gondola staffed by an elderly man and his young apprentice son. Murray recognized the senior gondolier. He’d seen him having a beer at a local bar – the one we’d stopped at earlier to enjoy Happy Hour. It was also a bar decorated by row upon row of discarded bras hanging from wires attached to the ceiling. We discovered these discarded souvenirs soon after we’d ordered. This wasn’t quite the cosy jazz bar indicated by the doorway signage.

Needless to say we soon realized that our gondolier had seen better days (probably, more sober ones as well). His antics soon resulted in the son taking matters into his own hands. Strong Italian words were exchanged and our gondola ride continued without incident.


Drifting through the canals was magic. You’re able to nosey into other people’s back entrances, see life go on as normal, with laundry hanging from windows and locals watering flowers in their window boxes. This was the perfect way to end our Venetian vacation.

All that remained was to gather early the following morning outside San Marco. We wanted to beat the enormous crowd we’d seen all weekend queuing to enter the basilica. We timed our arrival perfectly, and soon found ourselves inside San Marco less than ten minutes after opening. The interior immediately speaks of both age and wealth.

The floor is an undulating series of mosaic tiles. Mosaic floors were preferred to marble slabs, as they coped far better with the city’s constant subsidence. Every inch of the walls and ceiling are decorated by mosaic tiles, many gilded thus giving the interior a dull yellow tone.

Murray and I also took it upon ourselves to climb the narrow stairway up to the Loggia. Here we were afforded stunning views of the ceiling, as well as the gallant bronze horses stolen from Constantinople. The originals are displayed inside while skillful replicas are mounted outside, directly over the basilica’s main entrance. The sloping terrace behind them provides a sweeping view of Piazza San Marco.


From here it was back to our hotel to gather our bags, check out and catch a waiting water taxi to the airport. Our five days in Venice were over.

Lido di Venezia


Some of the world's most colourful festivals take place just prior to Lent - Mardi Gras in Rio and Carnevale in Venice. They mark a final chance for decedance and frivolity before 40 days of piety and restraint herald the start of Easter. Carnevale has been taking place in Venice each year since the 15th Century. It most famous highlight is the Gran Ballo delle Maschere or Grand Masked Ball. Attendees dress in period costumes and suitably lavish masks.


Over the centuries masks and their craft have become one of Venice's most enduring art forms. On our third day in town we decided to wander the lanes behind San Marco that are home to many of Venice's talented mask craftsmen. Each mask is a work of art. The basic design is first moulded using paper mache, then painted and decorated with feathers, beads and other accessories. In one small shop we came across an old woman painting finishing touches on a series of spectacular masks.


As lunch approached we decided to venture across the Venetian lagoon to Lido di Venezia. The lagoon is protected from the Adriatic Sea by a line of barrier islands. Lido is the largest. It can be reached by a short boat ride. After an enjoyable pizza lunch, we wandered down to the beachfront for a brief paddle in the Adriatic. The beach is rather drab and sand a dirty shade of grey. Perhaps its most striking feature is row after row of beach huts and changing cabins. Literally thousands stretch as far as the eye can see along the coastline.

Lido's only redeeming feature was its gelato. We found the best vendor in all of Venice while strolling back to our homeward bound boat. My three sccops were heaven!

Thursday, April 12

Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore


Across the water from San Marco lies the spectacular church of San Giorgio Maggiore. It sits on a small island at the southern end of the broad, busy Canale della Giudecca (Giudecca Canal). We visited the island on our first full day in Venice, initially to simply escape the maddening, noisy crowds around Basilica Di San Marco. As our vaporetti water bus pulled away peace fall across the island - a marked contrast to the bustle we'd left behind.


The church itself is a wonderful balance of scale, space and relatively sparse decoration. It's easily my favourite church in all of Venice. It was built between 1565 and 1580 and includes a 60 metre high bell tower. The views from the tower are stunning, offering easily the best panorama of Venice. The view from San Marco's Campanile tends to be dominated by a sea of red tile roofs, while Giorgio offers a truly classic Venetian skyline.


From San Giorgio we ventured up Canale della Giudecca, visiting Chiesa del Redentore before crossing to enjoy lunch on the waterfront by Chiesa dei Gesuati. Chiesa del Redentore is almost as grand as San Giorgio, commanding attention from almost any vantage point. It was commissioned to commemorate the passing of the plague in 1577. Its interior is grand and vast, built to accommodate crowds of thankful pilgrims. As with so many churches in Venice, its walls are also littered with canvases painted by more than one local master.


Over the course of five days we ventured into many of Venice's churches. The number of churches in the city is staggering. Each has its own identity, some simple, others grand. One quickly gains a sense of the central role played by the church in earlier times. Perhaps our century will be best remembered by its many cinemas and shopping malls?

Wednesday, April 11

Drowning in a sea of people


The Grand Canal is the main boulevard of Venice. Like any boulevard its a hive of activity with people and traffic flowing in directions - with one difference. Everything takes place on the water. Look one way and you'll see an Ambulance boat. Look another and you'll see water taxis, rubbish barges, boats delivering goods and water buses. Throw in the odd black gondola and you'll have the average Grand Canal vista before you.


Upon arriving in Venice we caught a water taxi across the lagoon to our hotel. I'd booked the taxi in advance to ensure an easier late evening airport transfer. The ride was an adventure all of its own as we sped through the dark in a long, slender mahongany speed boat. Our driver even stopped to refuel at your typical Venetian gas station - a canal-side pier with an Esso bowser.

The Grand Canal is about 3.8 km long, no more than 6m metres deep and crossed by only three footbridges (along with two road/rail bridge at its northern most industrial extreme). Prime Venetian real estate has always include a canal view. At a result, its shores are lined with no fewer than 185 private buildings of heritage value.


Our first glimpse of the Grand Canal was breath-taking. As we drifted through a dark and lonely side canal a white marble-clad, baroque house slowly came into view. Ca' Pesaro was built in 1710 and is now an art gallery. This beautifully restored building was lit by spotlights and literally shone in the dark. Moments later we swept into the Grand Canal and Ca' Pesaro was gone.


Our next breath-taking moment occured as we rounded the corner and the classic Rialto Bridge swung into view. We docked at its foundation and literally walked into the lobby of our hotel. After checking in we took a quiet stroll over the bridge before settling down for coffee at a bustling cafe along side the Grand Canal. It was clear we were in for a truly memorable weekend.

La Serenissima Repubblica


In 1444 Leonello d'Este, the Marquis of Ferrara, married Mary of Aragon, the illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso V of Naples. The wedding, held in Venice, was a spectacular affair culminating in a procession down the Grand Canal. Naturally people gathered on the only bridge crossing the canal to watch. However, the surging crowd's weight caused the timber structure to suddenly collapse. A replacement was duly built, only to suffer a similar fate, collapsing in 1524.

This series of failures prompted the construction of a sturdier bridge built from stone. Designed by Antonio da Ponte, a new, impressive white marble structure was finally completed in 1591. Today, more than 400 years later the Rialto bridge remains one of Venice's most recognised landmarks. Last weekend it also formed the backdrop for a five-day Easter vacation for Garry, his parents and myself.

We based ourselves at the Rialto Hotel. Unlike many similarly named venues, this hotel really was within a stone's throw of its namesake (its the pink building to the right in the photo above). Each morning we stepped out of the lobby into a bustling streetscape dominated by Venice's most famous bridge. The scene was made all the more enjoyable thanks to five days of gloriously sunny weather.



The hotel was excellent. The staff were friendly, helpful and discrete. Our rooms were wonderfully appointed with authentic period furniture, padded fabric walls and windows secured with heavy wooden shutters. The only minor disappointment was a rather simple fare offered for breakfast each day. I've had far a more sumptuous complimentary meal at lesser establishments.

It's been 17 years since I last visited Venice. It would be fair to say that I remember little of my last visit. As a result, last weekend was a whole new journey of discovery. It was clear that Rhonda and Murray loved the experience as much as I did.


We walked miles every day exploring passage after passage, canal upon canal, bridge after bridge. It's easy to appreciate why Venice was known as La Serenissima Repubblica, or the Most Serene Republic. It's truly a remarkable place - one of the few great cities on Earth where the only sound you'll often hear is the patter of footfall on cobblestones accompanied by muffled human voices. Ancient cities were undoubtably far quieter places than today's modern metropoli.

Over the next few days I'll do my best to capture some of the many highlights from a wonderful vacation. Along side classic tourist adventures (a gondola ride at dusk) we enjoyed moments of personal discovery (like the old woman we found painting traditional Venetian masks in a quiet side lane).

UPDATE:

I've finally updated the blog to cover our day on Murano, the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore and our thrilling night ride through the Grand Canal.


Monday, April 2

A Spring excursion


The sun was streaming in the windows this morning, promoting another delightful Spring day. Signs of the season are everywhere. Outside our bedroom window birds are building a nest. I've never had a bird build a nest in front of me - certainly not in the heart of the city. It's wonderful to watch their new home taking shape.


We decided to show Murray and Rhonda a few of Spring's delights with a brief walk to Primrose Hill. The view over London was rather hazy today. On a spur of the moment we headed over to The Regents Park for a glimpse of the daffodils. We were in luck with splashes of yellow everywhere.



In Queen Anne's Garden the tulips were out in force creating a riot of spring colour. The roses were in leaf and the feilds were smothered in white daisies. Down at the boating lake herons were tending to their giant nests. Close by ducks were pairing up and building nests. We finished our Spring jaunt at Baker Street tube station, stopping briefly to admire the life size statue of Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, April 1

Rabbits, religion and racism (but is it art?)


Garry and I are seeing London for the first time again. Today we took Garry’s parents for a tour of Bankside, one of London’s older and more colourful river districts. They marveled at sights all day including many I’d long forgotten were anything special. We started the day with a tube ride to London Bridge. Our train halted briefly at Baker Street while the police escorted singing football fans from their carriage.

Our first stop for the day was Borough Market. Murray and Rhonda loved it. Goose eggs, goose fat, giant French cheese wheels and gutted rabbits captured our eye at every turn. We stopped to sample everything on offer. The chocolate brownies were particularly good! At one point Murray asked how much a giant cheese wheel cost. We decided to pass after being offered a discount on the £700 asking price.


Our next destination was right next door; Southwark Cathedral. This gothic building is more than 900 years old. From here it was down a short lane to the Thames bank, stopping to admire a replica of the Golden Hind. This was ship used by Sir Francis Drake to circumnavigate the world.

Lunch was taken on the river bank at The Anchor. This pub was rebuilt in 1676 after fire devastated the area. Its original structure has been added-to over the centuries, creating a maze of odd little rooms, brick fire places, warped oak beams and worn, creaking floorboards. It’s hard to imagine that people have been dining and drinking here for more than 300 years.



With our appetites sated it was time to feed our souls. First item on the menu was Tate Modern. In 2000 this modern art museum opened in the shell of a former power station and has been a popular every since. This weekend marks the closing days of Carsten Höller’s installation art sculpture called Test Site. This work is simply a series of stainless steel slides spiraling down from various levels to the floor of the turbine hall. Queues of people were waiting their turn to slide, but is it art?



Next up was St Pauls Cathedral. To reach it we crossed the Thames using the Millennium footbridge. The Cathedral simply took our visitor’s breath away. It was wonderful to see them marvel in the opulent art and design of this grand building. Garry and I have visited so many religious venues we’d simply forgotten how magic the first one really is.

The Crypt was a magic experience. Here we saw the tombs of the Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, Alexander Fleming and Christopher Wren (the cathedral’s architect). We sat for a while under the main dome soaking up the space, height and grandeur. Cathedrals really are art on a gilded scale. Our souls revived, we made our way home to rest our weary feet.


However, our day of art had one last finale. After dinner we wandered up the street to our local theatre for the final night of a first run production. King of Hearts was a hilarious comedy. We saw it all from our front row seats as the future King of England made plans to marry a Muslim. The political games of the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Leader of the Opposite had us in stitches until the final curtain. The perfect end to a day filled with rabbits, religion and just a hint of witty racism disguised as concern for the British monarchy.